Why Fascism Won & Communists and Fascists by Malatesta

Vital Reading

6th June 2023
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The following two articles by Errico Malatesta were originally published under the titles “Perché il fascismo vinse” and “Comunisti e fascisti”. More info at the end of each article.

Why Fascism Won

Material force can prevail over moral force; it can even destroy the most refined civilization, if the latter does not know how to defend itself with appropriate means against the offensive returns of barbarism.

Any wild beast can tear a gentleman to shreds, even if he is a genius, a Galileo or a Leonardo, if he is naive enough to believe that he can curb the beast by showing it a work of art or announcing a scientific discovery.

But brutality hardly triumphs — and in all cases its successes have never been general and lasting — if it fails to obtain a certain moral consensus, if civilized men recognize it for what it is and, even if powerless to eradicate it, flee from it as from something filthy and repugnant.

Fascism, which synthesizes all the reaction and calls back to life all the sleeping atavistic ferocity, won because it had the financial support of the rich bourgeoisie and the material help of the various governments that wanted to use it against the pressing proletarian threat; it won because it found against it a tired mass, disillusioned and made helpless by fifty years of parliamentary propaganda; but above all it won because its violence and its crimes have certainly provoked the hatred and spirit of revenge of the offended but have not aroused that general reproach, that indignation, that moral horror which it seemed to us should arise spontaneously in every gentle soul.

And unfortunately there will be no material reconquest [riscossa] if there is no moral revolt first.

Let’s say it frankly, however painful it is to verify. There are also fascists outside the fascist party, in all classes and in all parties: that is, everywhere there are people who, despite not being fascists, despite being anti-fascists, nevertheless have a fascist soul, the same desire to abuse that distinguishes fascists.

It happens, for example, to meet men who call themselves and believe themselves to be revolutionaries, and perhaps anarchists, who in order to resolve any question affirm with pride that they will act fascistically [fascisticamente], without knowing, or knowing too well, that this means attacking, without concern for justice, when you are sure not to run danger, either because you are by far the strongest, or because you are armed against an unarmed one, or because you are many against only one, or because you have the protection of the public force, or because it is known that the assaulted person is against reporting [il violentato ripugna alla denunzia] — in short, it means acting as a camorrista and a policeman. Unfortunately it is true: one can act, and often one acts, fascistically without having to join the fascists; and it is certainly not those who act or propose to act in this way who will be able to provoke the moral revolt, the sense of disgust that will kill fascism.

And don’t we see the men of the [General] Confederation [of Labour],¹ the D’Aragonas, the Baldesis, the Colombinos, etc., licking the boots of the fascist rulers, and then continuing to be considered, even by their political opponents, as gentlemen?

These considerations, which we have made many times, came to our minds while reading an article in “L’Etruria Nuova” from Grosseto, which we were amazed to see complacently reproduced by “La Voce Repubblicana” of 22 August. It is an article by “its valiant director”, the good Giuseppe Benci, the chief[decano] of the republicans of the strong Maremma (just to use the words of the “Voce [Repubblicana]”), and it seemed to us a document of moral baseness, which explains why the fascists were able to do what they did in Maremma.

The brigandish deeds of the fascists in the unfortunate Maremma are well known. There, more than anywhere else, they vented their evil passions. From brutal murder to bloody beatings, from arsons and devastations to petty tyrannies and petty vexations that humiliate, insults that offend the sense of human dignity, they have committed everything without knowing limits, without respecting any of those sentiments that, as well as being a condition of every civilized life, are the very basis of humanity as it is distinct from the lowest bestiality.

And that proud republican from Maremma speaks to them in an unassuming tone and treats them as “people of faith”, and begs for their tolerance and almost their friendship for the republicans, claiming the patriotic merits of the republicans themselves.

He admits that “the government (the fascist government) has the right to guarantee the free carrying out of its activity”, and suggests that when the republicans come to power they will do more or less the same thing. He protests that “no one will admit that here (in Grosseto) the republican party has attempted to hinder the experience of the dominant party with any act”, and boasts of “not having hindered the action of the government in the slightest, even withdrawing from electoral battles to wait for the experiment to be carried out”. That is, to wait for the experiment of domination over all of Italy to be carried out by those people who have tormented his Maremma.

If the state of mind of Mr. Benci corresponded to the state of mind of the republicans, and if the fate of the fascist government were to depend on them, Mussolini would be right when he says that he will remain in power for thirty years. He could remain there even for three hundred. ■

(in «Libero Accordo», August 28, 1923)

[1] CGL — Confederazione Generale del Lavoro (translator)

Communists and Fascists

We are not scandalized by the violence and electoral plots [pastette elettorali] of fascism. Workers must face the matter. The communist conception of electoral and parliamentary tactics does not logically exclude, not even on our part, the… plot [pastetta]. If we could make plots and chase opposing voters away from the polls, it would be comforting because we would be closer to being able to deploy forces ripe for the offensive.

So says the engineer Bordiga in l’Unità, who aspires to be the Lenin, in reduced copy, of communist Italy.

And this is the fundamental reason why fascism was able to triumph and still continues to ravage.

There has been — and not only among those who call themselves communists — a lack of moral revolt against the abuse of brutal force, against the contempt for freedom and human dignity, which is the characteristic of the fascist movement.

Too many people, even among the victims, have thought: we would do the same if we had the force. Naturally, many who have thought so felt attracted to the side where the force was or seemed to be.

But then, if the Communists triumphed, what difference would there be from fascism?

The same bullies, the same thugs who now beat, burn and kill in the name of great Italy, would run into the ranks of the communists and beat, burn and kill in the name of the proletariat; and the engineer Bordiga would find himself in the same position in which Mussolini seems to find himself: after having incited the beast to get on [salire su], he would like to curb it in order to avoid the inevitable fall to which excesses lead, and he could not.

The revolution will have to be carried out in the name of justice, freedom and human solidarity and proceed with methods inspired by justice, freedom and solidarity. Otherwise, one will only fall from one tyranny into another.

We had already written this commentary on Bordiga’s lines, which we took from Reggio Emilia’s «La Giustizia», when we are told that from the context of Bordiga’s article those words took on another meaning.

We have not been able to obtain the text of the article, but let our comment pass anyway, because the meaning of those words seems too clear for us to speculate about it.

After all, even if Bordiga didn’t mean exactly what he said, we have heard those things, and even worse, to be said personally by many communists. It is quite the style of a sect. ■

(in «Pensiero e Volontà», May 1, 1924)

Errico Malatesta
Translation: João Black (from here, pg. 104) - Originally posted here.
Audio Reading: Nufi

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