December 11, 2018

1924. Mussolini Balks at Critics, Says All of Italy Supports Him

Mussolini Attacks Anti-Fascist Opponents
The facade of the "Autarchy" pavilion in Rome illuminated at night, featuring the Italian fascist imperial eagle above the words "Mussolini ha sempre ragione" ("Mussolini is always right") as Blackshirts guard the entrance, November 18, 1938 (source)
This article is part of a series of posts on how The New York Times covered the rise and fall of fascism in Europe. In 1924, Benito Mussolini spoke with a Times correspondent about opposition to fascism in Italy. He denied involvement in the assassination of Giacomo Matteotti, a socialist politician who ran against Mussolini in the 1924 election as part of the Unitary Socialist Party. Matteotti had been murdered by fascists after questioning the election's legitimacy.

From The New York Times, October 13, 1924:
After Contact With the "People's Naked Soul" He Scorns Infinitesimal Opposition
The Country, He Says, Pulses With Blood of New Life Fascism Has Infused
Is a Fine Thing, but Only Means Something If Coupled With Work and Duty

ROME, Oct. 12 — On his return from a triumphal tour of northern Italy through which the populations of every place he has visited greeted him with an enthusiasm bordering on delirium, Premier Mussolini received The New York Times correspondent today and made important statements about Italy's internal situation after the resolution passed by the Leghorn Liberal Congress, which has been universally interpreted as a stinging condemnation of Fascism.

Utter disregard of the opinions of the Liberals and determination to continue—alone if necessary—along the road toward the goal which Fascism has set for itself were the keynote of Signor Mussolini's declarations.

"The resolutions of the Leghorn Liberal Congress," he said, "which clearly reveal the anti-Fascist sentiment which animates about two-thirds of the Liberals, leave me quite cold and unaffected. I have just returned from a tour of northern Italy, where I have come into contact with the naked soul of the Italian people, of the true Italian people, of the humble Italian people who work and sweat and slave in silence for their country.

"With all due modesty I must confess that I have no word to express how moved I am by the truly wonderful reception they accorded me. Why, then, should I worry about a bare score thousand of those whom I have already described as 'melancholy zealots of super-constitutionalism'? Why should I worry about the decisions of a party which in the whole of Italy hardly counts as many supporters as I have in certain single cities?

Neither Seeks Nor Refuses Help

"The large majority of the country is behind me and my Government and I can today repeat what I have always declared, namely, that I neither seek nor refuse help from anyone.

"The work of reconstructing my country has only just begun, but it has already borne wonderful fruits. We will continue on our way without looking either to the right or left, always willing to accept the collaboration of any one who offers it in good faith and with the supreme interest of the country before his eyes, but also equally ready to march toward our goal as one.

"If the Liberals or any other party care to support us they are welcome. If they do not care to do so we can easily dispense with their services. We have the ability, strength and determination to carry on by ourselves and are ready to do so as long as the bulk of the country stands behind us, as it does at present. Our glory in the end will be all the greater.

"The resolution passed by the Liberals in Leghorn is not in itself anti-Fascist and most of its dictates might be accepted by us. What gives it its flavor of opposition is that it was preceded by violent speeches against the Fascist régime; that orators who tried to stick up for the Government were booed and hissed and that it does not contain a single word of recognition for what we have accomplished for Italy.

"We have undoubtedly made mistakes—every human being makes mistakes and I lay no claim to being a worker of miracles—but we have also accomplished much and it would have been only right for the Liberals to have acknowledged it. If, however, the Leghorn Congress accurately reflects the state of mind of the Liberals I am only sorry that they did not vote a resolution of clear cut opposition to my Government. Avowed enemies are always better than insidious friends."

As he said these words, which were spoken with great vehemence, Premier Mussolini abandoned himself to one of his rare gestures and pounded the table with his clenched fist.

Internal Situation Improving

Turning his attention to the internal political situation in general the Premier said that the improvement in the last few weeks had been so great that it could not have escaped even the most superficial observer.

"By this I do not mean to imply," he continued, "that it ever presented any real dangers, but there is no doubt that the gradual breaking down of the tissue of falsehoods that the Opposition press had woven around the work and intentions of my government has again raised us in public estimation to the place we occupied before the most deplorable Matteotti murder.

"The failure of the Opposition's shameless campaigning of lies and misrepresentations has strengthened the faith of those who never wavered in their allegiance to our régime. It has made fervent Fascisti of many who before supported us only half heartedly, and is attracting to our banners a steady stream of recruits who see in Fascism the only organization capable of giving their country peace, prosperity and happiness.

"Facts speak louder than words. This is a law from which the Opposition, try as it may, cannot escape. It may criticise this or that detail of our work, it may heap fraudulent evidence of our supposed misgovernment, but the facts are still there to give them the lie. The country knows that it is more prosperous than it ever was before. It feels the blood of the new life we have infused into it pulsing in its veins. It senses by a kind of instinct that we love our country better than our very lives and therefore is unwavering in its support despite anything the Opposition may do or say.

"Every accusation that the Opposition has brought against us has failed in almost miserable fashion. It first sought to prove complicity of the Government in the Matteotti murder, but that is a story which is now received with derision whenever it is repeated. Then it attempted to bring charges of graft and persecution against some of my collaborators, but the objects of its attacks promptly sued for libel and the accusations were withdrawn. Then it tried to show that the reforms introduced by my Cabinet were stupid and contrary to the best interests of Italy; but nobody listened because the increased prosperity and contentment of the country proves the contrary.

"Normalization" and "Liberty"

"All the Opposition's other attempts having failed, it has now entrenched itself behind two words, one of which is new-fashioned and ugly and the other is old-fashioned and beautiful. I refer to the words 'normalization' and 'liberty.' I have never been able to understand what normalization means, nor has any one succeeded in explaining it to me. It would appear to mean 'a return to normal conditions,' but I ask you to what normal conditions?

"Italy has just emerged from a war and a long period of strikes and internal disturbances, so that I can hardly believe that any one wishes to return to conditions which were considered normal before the advent of Fascism. What, then? Normalization means the advent of an era of peace and brotherhood and of strict observance of the laws? In that case I reply:

"'Both as head of the Government and as head of Fascism I am a most convinced believer in normalization in the whole of Italy. I wish Fascism to confer upon a united Italy for the first time in its history peace in strict observance of the laws, which is a thing that it never had before.'

"As for liberty, I think liberty is a fine thing, but it does not mean anything in the abstract, or rather it only means something if it is coupled with work and duty. The greatest trouble with the world as present is that men are too inclined to think of their rights and to forget their duties. I believe that  every one must be free to do anything he pleases, but only on condition that he remembers his duty is not to break the laws, not to make himself a nuisance, not to offend public morals, &c.

"In the same way every one must be free to think and say anything he pleases, but only if he fully understands his duty is not to libel his fellow-citizens, not to foment revolution, not to wound the religious susceptibilities of the country, &c.

"With this limitation, I believe every one should have the fullest liberty; but all the same, I believe that duties are more important than rights."

Liberty of the Press

Asked on what grounds the Opposition accused him of suppressing personal liberty in Italy, the Premier replied that most of such charges were based on the decree regulating the activities of the press. "But they forget," he added, "that the press had forfeited its right to complete liberty because it forgot its first duty—namely, to tell the truth to the best of its ability."

He thought, however, that the press in Italy even now had more freedom than in any other civilized country.

"I can state without any fear of contradiction," he said, "that if any paper in America printed even only a small part of what some Opposition papers are printing in Italy, it would have been bankrupt long ago by libel actions brought against it. I am an old newspaper man myself and I know.

"I admit, however, that the decree on the press has not worked well in practice, because by taking the control of the press out of the hands of the Magistrates and placing it in the hands of the political authorities it gave the Government the appearance of persecuting the Opposition press, even when its intervention was more than justified. Parliament, however, as soon as it reassembles will discuss more permanent and juridical measures for controlling the press."

On inquiry as to what he thought about the murder of the Fascist Deputy Casalini, he answered:

"I have nothing to say about that most deplorable affair, as the whole matter is in the hands of the judicial authorities, who, I know, will throw full light upon the matter. I wish to express my indignation, however, at the brutal way in which my dear friend and upright, faithful follower Casalini was suppressed.

"He filled many important posts in our organization, but was completely penniless when he died and totally dependent on the slender salary he received as a Vice President of Fascist corporations. He was one of the purest Fascisti, one of our most retiring and hardest workers, who had dedicated his life to the elevation of the lower classes. That is why his loss hurts so much. He went privately to see that they were properly looked after.

"Nor have I anything to say about Deputy Matteotti's murder and for identical reasons. I wish to state, however, that full light will be thrown on this affair also, no matter who may be implicated, and that the trial will be a great victory for Fascism.

"Despite the machinations of our enemies, despite the venomous campaign of the Opposition press, despite the platonic resolution of the Liberals, despite everything, Fascism is forging and will continue to forge its way ahead to ever more luminous destinies.

"In the last few days I have approved the plans for the erection in Rome of the 'Mole Littoria,' the greatest building in the world. It will be a tangible, immortal monument to Fascism, which even if the latter were to disappear today—which it will not—would leave its indelible mark upon Italy and perhaps upon the world."