Transcribing Mussolini's Intellectuals for free: Chapter Three - Elements of Fascist Doctrine

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    The Nationalist congress held in Florence in December 1910 provided the opportunity for the expression of many of its doctrinal variants. Many factions made their appearance. There were clear uncertainties. Concerning what the relationship of the movement to the Roman Catholic Church was to be, as well as how the movement’s tentative connection with the radicalism of Italian Syndicalism was to be understood. Nonetheless, by the end of the congress a doctrinal statement was put together by Luigi Valli in which a given set of “principles of nationalism” received expression.

    In providing his account, Valli followed the directive insights of Enrico Corradini. He correspondingly distinguished Italian nationalism from the sentiment of generic Italian patriotism—by defining the former of a substantive doctrine committing its followers to a set of relatively specific political behaviors. First and foremost, it was maintained, nationalists were sociologically collectivists—seeing the survival and destiny of the individuals fundamentally governed by their multifaceted involvement in community. Nationalists were to argue that in the contemporary world, that privileged community in which individuals found security and succor was the nation.

    In terms of the social theory of nationalism, its advocates were neither exclusively “primordialists” nor “instrumentalists.” They neither held nationalist sentiment to be simply primordial, nor did they conceive it to be learned behavior or the consequence of psychological manipulation by the elites. As has been suggested, Corradini held that collectivist sentiment among human beings was the product of a psychological predisposition that was itself a function of “primordialist” evolutionary selection. Corradini argued that throughout evolutionary history, individuals inclined to identify with an intact community enjoyed greater survival potential than those who lived solitary lives exposed to the threat of all. The consequence was that human beings, early in evolutionary history, were preselected to identify with an association of similars—to find comfort in their presence and discomfort in their absence.

    Such innate dispositions, the argument continued, found expression in a variety of fashions—influenced by surrounding external conditions and given instrumental specificity by meneurs—those capable of articulating emotional and reasoned arguments supporting the identification of the individual with one or another specific “community of destiny.” Nationalists thus argued that the disposition to identify with a community could find expression in a variety of forms.

    Nationalists, as has been suggested, recognized the same psychological dispositions among the revolutionary syndicalists of their time—those who argued for identification of individuals with their class associations. The sense of group identity could, under appropriate circumstances, be transferred to an alternative community. Nationalists were prepared to recognize in the syndicalist advocacy of identification with their cohorts in labor a legitimate expression of psychological collectivism. Nationalists were ready to admit that under a different set of historic circumstances, those same individuals might identify with their tribe, confederation, city-state, or political league.

    Given all that, Valli maintained that because of the historic, economic, political, and military realities of the twentieth century, the nation was the only agency that could successfully harbor, protect, and foster the well-being of individuals and groups of individuals. In an international environment of constant competition—economic, military, and demographic—the nation, as the privileged community, must be forever prepared to struggle for survival, security, and place.

    Success in that struggle required several necessary conditions: (1) an effective material base—an extensive and intensively developed industrial foundation; that to survive and expand, required (2) state support through tariff protection for infant industries and subventions for the development of a merchant fleet capable of assuring the expansion of domestic industry through the acquisition of the foreign market share. That would begin to provide the wherewithal for (3) a competent and effective military that would allow for (4) the power projection capabilities of a strong, goal-directed, and integral state that, mobilizing all the forces of the nation, would navigate the perils of an extremely dangerous international environment. The state would be “integral” in the sense that all the vial elements of the nation, without prejudice, would be therein seamlessly incorporated.

    In such an environment, one would have to be forever prepared for conflict. Such conflict might reveal itself in economic, cultural, or military competition. The nation must be prepared to enter the lists, struggle and prevail in each and every contest. In that respect, Italian nationalists held that their newly reunited nation was fundamentally ill-prepared for survival in the twentieth century.

    Italians, it was argued, suffered a flawed national consciousness. The nation was “weak and inert.” The schools, where it might be expected that citizens were to be trained in civil and military discipline, were “agnostic”—disinclined toward any expression of healthy nationalism. At the same time, one-sixth of the nation had been forced to emigrate, leaving the homeland in order to simply survive. At the same time, socialists of a variety of persuasions proceeded to alienate perhaps as many nationals in the vain pursuit of a utopian antinational “international proletarian revolution.”

    Between the first and second congress of the Italian Nationalist Association—1910 and 1912—the ideology of Italian nationalism significantly matured. After the declaration of war against the Ottoman Turks in 1911, the nation had indifferently, if with some success, pursued war in North Africa. Whatever the success, nationalist theoreticians, in general, were dissatisfied. There was a demand that the nation be more assertive, that the military be made more effective, that Italy pursue its material and “spiritual” interests with more determination.

    At the same time, between 1910 and 1912, Italian nationalism fractured on the issue of its relationship with the Catholic Church, and that the role of “democracy” in the expanding movement. Valli himself and Scipio Sighele both insisted that the movement invested itself in some form of “Democracy.” For all that, those nationalists who imagined that democracy might be constituent of an effective nationalism soon found themselves isolated in the ranks. Between 1912 and the nationalist congress in Milan in 1914, both Valli and Sighele, together with hundreds of others, absented themselves from the increasingly antidemocratic, imperialistic, Corradinian majority of the Nationalist Association. For the Corradinians, democracy had demonstrated its inefficiency in dealing with both economic competition and armed conflict. Italian parliamentary democracy identified itself with economic liberalism—a commitment to free markets and international competition that only served to demonstrate the manifest disabilities that attended the nation’s attempt to compete with better-established and more-advanced industrial nations. More than that, political democracy had shown its tendential socialist bias by supporting domestic welfare programs at the expense of the nation’s productivity. The discriminatory distribution of material benefits tended to undermine the collective effort calculated to accumulate the capital necessary for production. More than that, political democracy’s individualistic bias prejudiced the integral unity of the nation.

    Nationalists argued that distributionistic domestic policies weakened the capital accumulation and productivistic essentials of a sound economic policy. For a nation that was resource and capital poor, “equitable distribution,” the distribution of material benefits to those who would employ them for simple consumption, reduced the availability of resources for production. It signaled a failure to accumulate resources that would sustain and foster the development of essential infrastructure.

    Political democracy had shown itself incapable of pursuing all the potential delivered to Italy as a new nation after the victory in Tripoli. With its “populist,” individualistic, and distributionistic politics, it had domestically undermined capital and resource accumulation, essential to the resolution of the nation’s critical developmental problems. For the Corradinians, Italian nationalism was to be antiparliamentarian, antidemocratic, collectivistic, and expansionist—with “expansionism” predicated on rapid capital accumulation and industrial growth. Only in such fashion might Italy support and enhance its ability to acquire increasing external market shares, exercise cultural influence, as well as fuel irredentist and colonialist territorial expansion.

    By 1913, the Italian Nationalist Association enlisted Professor Alfredo Rocco into its ranks. Born in Naples on the ninth of September 1875—by the time he joined the Association, Rocco was a scholar recognized for his expertise in commercial and financial law. At twenty-four, he served as professor of commercial law at the University of Padua, to be recognized as a scholar of considerable reputation.

    As a very young man, Rocco had flirted with traditional Italian socialism—and had briefly enlisted in the Italian Radical party. Immediately before the nationalist congress in Rome in 1914, he enscribed himself a member of the Nationalist Association. He was to give explicit expression to Italian nationalism in the form of a theory of the state—that, in its time and modified form, was to inform Mussolini’s Fascism.

    By the time of his entry into the ranks of Italian nationalism, Rocco had not only accepted the essentials of the Corradinian view of the contemporary world; he had given full articulation to a program of national economic regeneration. It was based on a conviction that late industrial development in the modern world was necessarily beset by critical and disabling difficulties.

    Rocco argued that because Italy had reunified late, and had begun its industrial development equally late, it faced special infirmities. Unlike other European nations, Italy had commenced its process of growth after Great Britain, France, and Germany had established themselves as expansive, “imperialist” powers. Although only recently united, Germany had begun its industrial growth early in the nineteenth century.

    Not only had Italy united itself as a sovereign nation late; it possessed little in the way of material or capital resources to sustain development. It had embarked on indigenous industrial development only late in the nineteenth century. By the time of the first decade of the twentieth century, its per capita productivity was less than one-fifth that of Great Britain. As a consequence of its disabilities, Rocco argued, Italy was being systematically plundered by the advanced industrial “plutocracies.” English, French, and German investment, by repatriating profit from loans and investments, was depleting the peninsula of its capital resources. Fruthermore, the established economics were luring Italian labor to service their needs. Outmigration was bleeding a developing Italy of its labor. Together with all that, the advanced industrial powers were undermining the native culture of the peninsula. Foreign cultural influences were everywhere, and more often than not, more sought after by a passive population than those were indigenous.

    Cultural “imperialism” manifested itself in a variety of pernicious fashions. Rocco argued that because of their relatively unique histories a struggle against monarchial absolutism, the advanced industrial nations of Europe had committed themselves to a form of exaggerated political individualism. However efficacious that might have been in the struggle against monarchial absolutism in those environments, political individualism, when transferred to late developers like Italy, did them a grievous disservice. Political individualism made an effective defense of a recently reunited political community extremely difficult. Nations that did not enjoy a tradition of political unity suffered in terms of national consciousness when significantly influence by the culture of emphatic individualism. For Rocco, nations that had undertaken political and economic development late faced very special handicaps.

    Burdened by political individualism, those late-developing nations that found themselves in competition with early developers could not mobilize domestic forces to the tasks of solidarity and production. Fragmented by parliamentary factionalism, the uncertainties of government response to clientalistic influences, a “democratic” state that could hardly serve the collective interests of the emerging nation.

    Individuals who exclusively sought their personal well-being, to the exclusion of all else, were not equipped to defend their community or sacrifice in its enterprise. If the irreducible concerns of the individual were personal happiness and personal advantage, it was difficult to imagine that the individual might be marshaled to the defense of collectivity in the contest with plutocratic states—or to the arduous labor required by intensive and extensive industrial development.

    If the community were required by circumstances to embark on rapid economic and industrial development, it would be difficult to imagine that such a program could enlist each individual’s enterprise if personal well-being and welfare were his or her only motivations. Philosophical individualism, and its expansive civil rights, made the process of political and economic growth particularly difficult for late-developing nations.

    Almost immediately upon his accession to membership in the Nationalist Association, Rocco brought considerable theoretical depth to its doctrine. Evident in his exposition were argued insights of Friedrich List, the mid-nineteenth-century German developmental economist. List, an early contemporary of Karl Marx, had argued, in contradistinction to the prevailing free trade convictions of the time, that any economic policy not predicated on the preeminent collective interests of the national invariably betrayed that nation’s long-term interests in pursuit of the immediate benefits of living individuals. List, in effect, argued against economic liberalism as an initial strategy for late-developing nations.

    Rocco, following List, maintained that those nations that had already industrialized could very well allow economic liberalism to dictate national policy. It was policy almost exclusively calculated to deliver material advantage to individuals, and specific interest groups, rather than to support national enterprise. It was not the case that a “hidden hand” integrated the individuals, and special interest groups, rather than to support national enterprise. It was not the case that a “hidden hand” integrated the interests of individuals with those of a larger community. An industrially developed economy might function reasonably well under a laissez-faire regime—since it had already achieved the abundance that allowed it to satisfy individual demands. In such an established industrial economy, steadily increasing consumption would provide the escalating effective demand that would supply a steady profit stream for the continuously expanding industrial base.

    In a marginally developed system, Rocco argued, a disposition to increase general consumption would deplete potential capital resources. What a developing system required was not a rising or “more equitable” rate of consumption, but an increasing measure of saving, essential for rapid infrastructural, industrial, and technological development, the necessary condition for the commercial, financial, industrial, agricultural, and military expansion of a new nation prepared to compete with those established plutocracies with which it was forced to contend.

    In the twentieth century, newly developing nations were not faced with a landed aristocracy disposed to dissipate profit—extracted from agriculture—in conspicuous consumption. Emerging industrial nations hosted a class entrepreneurs prepared to invest the bulk of their profit in rapidly expanding infant industries. It was characteristic of an emerging capitalist class, Rocco maintained, that its members displayed a personal frugality that permits the resource accumulation necessary for the construction of an infrastructure necessary for broad-based development.

    With those arguments, Rocco reinforced the nationalist opposition to political individualism, economic liberalism, and Marxian socialism. With respect to socialism, he specifically argued that its entire program predicated on the “equitable” distribution of “surplus value”—presumably “extorted” from the proletariat—would inevitably diminish the rate of capital accumulation essential to rapid economic and industrial growth of development latecomers. Since domestic commodity production could hardly be well established in such circumstances, any “equitable” distribution of purchasing power would predictably see capital dissipated in the purchase of foreign goods.

    At the very center of Rocco’s account were all the elements of what had already found expression in List’s “theory of productive forces” (Theorie der produktiven Krafte). List had argued that the fate of nations was substantially influenced, if not determined, by the development of its productive forces—and that development was contingent on those factors rehearsed by Rocco.

    Young nations, List had further argued, were significantly disadvantaged in the international competition with those already established. Established nations had every reason to foster “cosmopolitan,” or free trade, orientations. Access to market supplements and investment opportunities outside the metropolitan nation were critical to the rising profit levels necessary to sustain the expanded reproductive cycles of advanced industry. “Free trade” and “free markets” served an instrumental purpose in an economic system predicated on the already accomplished extensive and intensive development of productive forces.

    For less-developed nations, List admonished, it was necessary to generate, foster, and sustain the “courage to believe in a grand national future and with such a faith to march forward with irrepressible national spirit.” With the strength born of that courage and that faith, less-developed nations were required to bring together all the spiritual and material assets required to provide the preconditions and fashion the infrastructure necessary for rapid industrial development and economic growth. Should they be unable to mobilize those energies required for such tasks, the denizens of less-developed, agrarian nations were condemned to simple agricultural purposes, “dullness of mind, awkwardness of body, obstinate adherence to old notions, customs, methods and processes, want of culture, of prosperity, and of liberty.” Such people were condemned to poverty and powerlessness. “Who had not learned,” List went on, “…how greatly the existence, the independence, and the strength of the nation depends on its possession of a manufacturing power of its own, developed in all its branches.” Because of their parlous circumstances in the modern world of reasonably well developed industrial competitors, less-developed nations were compelled to create a strong, centralized government capable of marshaling all the community’s material and spiritual forces if it were to accomplish the rapid development of its infrastructure, its agriculture, and its industries.

    In his discussion of the economic and political development of Italy, for example, List rehearsed a catalog of conditions necessary to husband that community through the phases of “slavery and serfdom, of barbarism and superstition, of national disunity and caste privileges” to national unity, the acknowledgement that collective interests might enjoy precedent over those the individual, until there was a clear onset of development. In the process, List anticipated periods of antiliberal authoritarianism of indeterminate duration. Those periods would provide the stability, the integrity, and the other, the security of property and the inculcation of institutional efficiencies essential to rapid economic growth and industrial expansion.

    List’s “theory of the productive forces” clearly conceived productivity to be at the center of human history. Those nations that had achieved a level of industrial development capable of providing them power projection capabilities were nations that exercised superior political and cultural influence over those less developed. Given their greater productive capability, their influence radiated outward to overwhelm and invest those regions as yet less developed. Until less-developed nations matured to the point where they could effectively compete with those more industrially developed, they were destined to play only tangential roles in the drama of human history.

    List’s conception of the dynamics of human history shared some critical similarities with that of traditional Marxism. Karl Marx entertained a notion of the role of “productive forces” in the course of a human development. The central conviction of historical materialism was that human history proceeded on the energy supplied by the growth of productive forces. When a community’s “material productive forces” found themselves throttled by confining “productive relations,” revolution ensued—freeing the productive forces to recommence an increased tempo of output.

    When productivity expanded, communities projected their power over lesser-developed regions. List, Marx, and Engels had all noted what was a self-evident phenomenon in an environment characterized by the industrial revolution. England’s inroads into Africa and Asia were the substance of the diplomatic, military, and colonial history of the nineteenth century. For Marx and Engels such a process was simply part of the “logic of history.” For List, they constituted a political program.

    All found the methods of penetration by the advanced industrial powers objectionable, but all recognized that such incursions “served the ends of progress.” Marx reflected on the fact that while the British exploited India and China for their own purposes, they also served the ultimate ends of progress. He maintained that the British “had a double mission in India: one destructive and the other regenerating—the annihilation of old Asiatic society, and laying the material foundation of Western society in Asia.” Driven by their search for profit, the British would advance “civilization.” Marx insisted that British imperialism had precipitated “social revolution” in Asia; imperialism “was the unconscious tool of history.” The consequence could only be massive incentives for the rapid economic and industrial development of the subcontinent.

    Engels gave expression to the same concepts in his treatment of French imperialism in North Africa. Commenting of the Bedouin resistance to French rule, Engels maintained that it “was very fortunate that the Arabian chief had been taken” by the French. “The conquest of Algeria,” Engels insisted, was “important and fortunate… for the progress of civilization, industry, order, and at least relative enlightenment following him, is preferable to the feudal lord or to the marauding robber, with the barbarian state of society to which they belong.

    Engels expressed by the same convictions in discussing the seizure of “Mexican lands” by the “energetic Yankees.” Engels argued, in the U.S.-Mexican conflict of 1848, that the “energetic Yankees” had “increased the medium of circulation,… concentrated in a few years a heavy population and an extensive trade on the suitable part of the Pacific Coast,…built great cities,…opened up steamship lines….Because be injured, but what do they count compared to such world historic events?...When it is a question of the existence, of the free development of all the resources of great nations, then…sentimentalities…will decide nothing.” It is a matter of “trade, industry and profitable methods of agriculture,… [the] level of social development of the individual peoples,… [the] influence of the more highly developed nation on the undeveloped one.”

    The expansion of an industrially advanced nation into underdeveloped regions marked a specific state in the process of international economic and manufacturing growth. Like List, Engels understood progress in history to be a function of the expansion of the more highly developed industrial nations binding together “tiny, crippled, powerless little nations… in a great empire, and thereby [to enable] them to take part in any historical role which, if left to themselves, would [remain] entirely foreign to them!...Without force and without an iron ruthlessness, nothing is accomplished in history.” The entire sequence was “natural” and “inexorable.”

    Whether Marx and Engels developed these insights from the earlier perusal of the works of List remains uncertain—and is unimportant for the purposes of this exposition. What is clear is that the notions entertained are the same as those found in the account provided by List before either Marx or Engels published their major works after 1848.

    For List, levels of productivity influence the ability of nations to extend their economic, political, cultural, and military influence over less-developed territories. That process brought “progress” and “civilization” in its wake. In his national developmental conceptions of the development of the “forces of production.”

    To find the same collection of convictions in the essay written by Corradini and Rocco is unexceptional. They understood history to move with the tempo supplied by the dynamics of production. The more-productive nations extend their influence over those less productive, to stimulate them a cycle of economic growth and maturation. Imperialist powers, “blindly responding to the natural order of things…make their ‘altruistic contribution’ to the collective good of humankind.” For Corradini, economic “imperialism is space converted into wealth through labor” and a fundamental part of the process involved in the evolution of humankind. “Young nations,” to participate in those world historical processes, were required to discipline themselves to the use of available human and material resources to sustain the rapid growth rates requisite to compete effectively in an adversarial international environment.

    Rocco’s introduction of the thought of List into the deliberations of the Nationalist Association accelerated the formulation of doctrine that was to pass almost without alteration into the mature ideology of Fascism. By 1916, with Italy at war, Corradini gave fulsome shape to nationalism’s own “theory” of imperialism, international development, as well as an attendant “theory” of productive forces.

    “In 1916, Corradini drew a picture of the modern world at the center of which were productive forces as determinants. Like List and Rocco, Corradini argued that the dynamic energy of the world as we knew it was to be found in productivity. Those communities capable of superior productivity expanded—commercially, economically, culturally, politically, and militarily. Their expansion permitted them to both inform and fashion the world around them. Out of tribes and confederations, city-states and principalities of the past, modern nations and empires were to grow, to cross-fertilize each other in a process into which the new Italy found itself thrust. If Italy was to shape, rather than be shaped, in the process, it would have to undertake industrial expansion and economic growth at an accelerated pace.

    The implications of the nationalist “theory of the productive forces” were evident in the writings that appeared in the publications of the Nationalist Association. Economic growth and industrial development, it was argued, assured the accumulation of assets that would benefit all classes and sectors of the nation. It would demonstrate the pointlessness of “class warfare.” The demand for increased productivity would place a premium on ability and competence—and would commensurately reward both. Increasing abundance would enhance the life circumstances of all and allow for the education and skill training of the least qualified members of modern society—resulting in a constant infusion of new talents into the ranks of prevailing functional elites. That would enrich the “productive aristocracy” of the nation to the benefit of all.

    In the course of its development, the new nation would generate new elites and new aristocracies—in a circulation of elites and aristocracies that would ensure a continuous reaffirmation of talent and competence. Class warfare would reveal itself as dysfunctional, fundamentally counterproductive, and irremediably reactionary.

    By the advent of the First World War, both Rocco and Corradini argued that Italy’s involvement made all that increasingly obvious. If the nation were to survive the war that had become worldwide, and historic in implication, it required a measure of technical proficiency and industrial productivity that would assure a flow of armaments and weapon platforms capable of surviving and prevailing against the products of advanced Germany industry. The extant “liberal,” “parliamentary” state that governed the nation at war had shown itself to be wanting in a variety of ways. It failed to effectively organize military production. It failed to ensure the necessary raw materials to sustain lines of production. It failed to mobilize the population to war. It failed to inspire through instruction or example. And it allowed those who would undermined the war effort to continue their subversions in both parliament and the state bureaucracy.

    By the time the Great War was drawing to its close, the intellectuals of the Nationalist Association had drawn together all the lines of argument here rehearsed. Implicit in that complex doctrinal argument was the acknowledgement that the classical Marxist argument concerning the role of the productive forces in social development carried with it the entailment that a specifically proletarian revolution made theoretical sense only in advanced industrial environments. Only in such circumstances would the “vast majority” of the working masses be urban-based “proletarians” capable of assuming the governance of advanced industrial systems. Only in such circumstances might socialism inherit the abundance necessary to make “equitable distribution” feasible without economically disabling the community. With the socialization of the fully mature “means of production,” and the distribution of its commodities, and advanced industrial system might conceivable survive and prosper. Only where industrial capitalism had matured, concentrated itself in vast conglomerates, in environments dominate by a “vast majority” of proletarians, might traditional socialism recommend itself. Rocco, Corradini, and the nationalist argued that the case was entirely different with late developing nations.

    In a community only then commencing its economic and industrial growth, traditional socialism was almost entirely without merit. Italy, as a nation oppressed by the more advanced industrial powers at the turn of the twentieth century, did not require proletarian revolution. What it required on the part of its citizens was a recognition that the welfare of all, in the long term, depended on the heroic sacrifice of individuals—intense individual labor and self-sacrificial commitment—in the short term.

    Rocco argued that redistribution at the beginning of Italy’s industrial development would net individuals but a small fraction of the benefits that a dedicated policy of broad-based industrialization would ultimately provide. He maintained that a program of heroic sacrifice and self-restraint on the part of labor would allow the rapid accumulation of capital necessary for the maintenance, fostering, and sustenance of domestic industry—which would ultimately redound to the benefit of all.

    At the same time, Rocco argued that the working classes of the new nation could not be alienated if the nation were to succeed in its development. He early maintained that the corporate interests of the working classes would be defended by any nationalist and developmental government—however authoritarian—in order to ensure that the whole would enjoy the level of collective integrity necessary for rapid economic expansion.

    To discharge its tasks, Rocco argued, the state in emerging Italy must assume onerous responsibilities. It must seek not only to bring together all constituents of the nation in an “organic and integral” unity; it must labor to foster and maintain that unity.

    For Rocco, like all the nationalists that had survived the winnowing of nationalist ranks after 1911, the state in emerging Italy was to be absolutely sovereign. It could no longer remain passive, responsive to initiatives emanating from parochial interests. The argument was that as long as the state remained unresponsive to its historic tasks, it would remain hostage to the interests of ephemeral groups and parochial concerns that found expression in a parliamentary system that was neither representative nor functional.

    What emergent Italy required, Rocco contended, was a strong state, animated by its own sovereign interests—capable of subordinating fractional and transient preoccupations to those both long term and primary. What is interesting for the purposes of exposition is the fact that, by 1914, some of the most notable revolutionary syndicalists, some of whom had long given evidence of their antistate convictions, had begun to acknowledge the historical importance of the state in the circumstances in which Italy found itself.

    As the threat of war clouded Europe’s horizon during the summer of 1914, Panfilo Gentile reminded Italy’s revolutionary syndicalists that the unreflecting rejection of the state that typified the movement in the past required reassessment. He argued that the state might serve the community even after the threat of war had passed. He insisted that whatever transpired during, and after, the war had settled down on Europe, the fact that the state could very well be a critical agency—even after the anticipated “socialist revolution.” Gentile argued that given the diverse interests that would have to be accommodated in any complex industrial community, the state, “ejected through the door [by the socialist revolution] would reenter through the window.” Evolving contemporary circumstances made it clear that any revolutionary arrangements required “an authority, a force, superior to the parts, that would discipline and coordinate all constituents to fully respect and discharge commitments made.”

    Even antistate syndicalists began to reconsider their unreflecting rejection of the political state. Obviously precipitated by the realities of war that involved everyone in a fateful enterprise, revolutionary syndicalists seemed prepared to transfer such insights to a postwar Italy that would face all the burdens of readjustment, growth, and international competition.

    By the commencement of the First World War, syndicalists argued that while class-based syndicates might very well serve the corporate interests of industrial labor, there was the evident need for some overarching national agency that could coordinate interests and negotiate differences. It was suggested that syndicalists who had learned their antistatism from the half-century-old analyses of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels might do well to reconsider the unanticipated circumstances that governed the modern world.

    Revolutionary syndicalists like A. O. Olivetti, witnessing the disintegration of “socialist internationalism” under the pressure of events during the summer and fall of 1914, made the case that some conception of a “national socialism” should not be summarily dismissed. Given the new reality, syndicalists must be prepared to acknowledge the influence of national sentiment on the overt political loyalties of Italy’s working classes. Olivetti recognized that the nation, presumably exorcised by traditional Marxism, still retained a critical hold on many. He allued to the increasingly evident emergence of a new conception of society and revolution—one that was both idealistic and aristocratic, regenerative and transformative, voluntaristic and heroic. Olivetti spoke of the first outlines of a new society that appeared to be emerging—one no longer hostage to “mummified doctrines,” materialist or hedonistic. The new society would be one of producers.

    More than that, Olivetti, long antistatist in principle, suggested that all features of inherited doctrines required review. International war had revealed how much the sentiment of nationality influenced the masses of Europe. That suggested a role for a superior agency that might mediate the differences between the constituent elements of the national community. The state might serve as that agency, representing general national interests as distinct from those that were parochial. He went on to suggest that the state might defend the general interests as distinct from any class functions it might perform. The possibility that the state, long abjured by syndicalists, might serve trans-class functions signaled a fundamental, and hitherto unexpected, doctrinal change for Italy’s revolutionary left.

    It quickly became clear that the crisis that had overwhelmed Europe at the end of the summer of 1914 had precipitated massive changes in the ideological orientation of some of the most radical of Italy’s revolutionaries. The most significant changes that took place in the thought of Benito Mussolini, political and intellectual leader of Italian socialism. As early as the end of 1913, when the clear signs of the emerging crisis became clear, Mussolini gave evidence of a kind of doctrinal restlessness.

    At that time, Mussolini was prepared to acknowledge that events had overtaken theoretical review of the commitments made by revolutionary socialists. He published a series of articles that signaled a major revision of traditional socialist postures. He spoke, without equivocation, of an anticipated “revolutionary revision of socialism.” He spoke, for example of the failure of philosophical positivism that traditional Marxists had made their own. He held that contemporary science had shown human concerns were far too complicated to be resolved, without remainder, into some set of deterministic propositions without appeal to human will and commitment.

    It was within that context that Mussolini published Giovanni Baldazzi’s article on the heroism, audacity, idealism, and sacrifice of revolutionaries like August Balnqui. The review of such elements in revolutionary activity was to serve as clear counsel to Italian socialists. Mussolini published the article by Gerolamo Lazzei, who spoke unashamedly of the “profoundly national” work of socialists. It was clear that Lazzei saw no contradiction in a revolutionary commitment to both the nation as well as to socialism. The fact that Mussolini chose to afford Lazzei space in his journal was a matter of no small consequence.

    In his journal, Mussolini published the article by Valentino Piccoli—an exposition of the ideas of Henri Bergson and Georges Sorel—that argued against the determinism and materialism of the socialism of the mid-nineteenth century. The article also alluded to the renovative influence of the ideals of Giovanni Gentile—a nationalist—on the new ideas of an emerging modern revolutionary socialism. Angelo Tasca examined the ideas of Giuseppe Lombardo-Radice, a follower of Gentile, that alluded to the role of sentiment, will, passion, faith, and commitment in human action. He spoke of the sentiment of nationality as one with which the working classes might well identify.

    As of this constituted growing evidence of the emerging affinities between nationalism, revolutionary syndicalism, philosophical idealism, and Italian socialism that had begun even before the war in Tripoli. Intimations of a form of statism, nationalism, antiparliamentarianism, together with an increasing emphasis on industrial production, began to surface in the most radical syndicalist and socialist journals. The early intellectual beliefs assumed by syndicalists like Paolo Orano—the elitism, nationalism, productivism, and tentative statism of A. O. Olivetti—together with the transformative innovations of Mussolinian socialism after 1914—began to take on more and more of the doctrinal features of Corradinian and Roccian nationalism.

    The period between the war in Tripoli and the outbreak of the First World War marked the increasing articulation of Corradini and Roccian Italian nationalism. At the same time, it is clear evidence of a transformation of the political thought of Mussolini—and many syndicalist and socialist “Mussoliniani”—away from that of an orthodox, if revolutionary, Marxism, to an heretical, equally revolutionary, national socialism. By the end of September 1914, Mussolini spoke of the “death of the traditional socialist international” and the first intimations of a new, dynamic, and revolutionary national socialism.

    In his journal, Mussolini gave prominence to an article by Mario Misiroli—at the time, a Gentilean nationalist—that spoke of the necessity of developing an industrial base for Italy. As a new nation, Missiroli argued, Italy required a broad industrial base to support the capabilities that would be essential if the nation were to face the political, economic, and military challenges of the time. Missiroli spoke of the collateral necessity of a strong state, if Italy were to develop, compete, and survive in international competition with the advanced industrial powers.

    In order to assure the degree of discipline and commitment necessary for the complex process he anticipated, Missiroli spoke of a total moral and political identification of the individual with the state and the nation. Not only would such an identification foster the developmental, regenerative, and renovative process, but would serve as the necessary condition of individual self-realization. He alluded to the philosophy of personal fulfillment to which Giovanni Gentile, a nationalist and statist, had already given expression.

    Missiroli spoke of such a “modern state,” profoundly “idealist” and “spiritual,” as the unexpected fulfillment of the promise of classical Marxism. Missiroli, in 1914, in the pages of Mussolini’s Utopia, provided the intimations of a revolutionary national socialism—infilled with the properties of a mature nationalism and an antimaterialism, neo-Hegelian idealism.

    The circumstances surrounding the Italian war in Tripoli and the advent of the First World War had transformed the political environment on the Italian Penisula. The nationalists had anticipated much of what was, and would be, transpiring. Initially, revolutionary syndicalists had not.

    Certainly, revolutionary syndicalists were philosophic and sociological collectivists. Like the nationalists, they were intrinsically opposed to the political individualism and the representative system it supported. They had early committed themselves to the role of heroic minorities in the resolution of the revolutionary problems of their time—and they fully acknowledged the role of moral purpose and ideal commitment to the mobilization of revolutionaries. Revolutionary syndicalists initially imagined that class identification was a privileged identification. As a consequence, they originally dismissed the nation, the military, and all their attendant traditions as simply “oppressive” and “counterrevolutionary.”

    Political nationalists, for their part, expected that the reality of the world at the beginning of the twentieth century, involved as it was in the relentless competition of the less-developed “new” nations against those already established, would rapidly convince revolutionary syndicalists that their interests would compel the “working classes” to identify with their “proletarian nation” rather than with some fictive “promethean, international class.” In fact, the intellectuals of the Italian Nationalist Association anticipated that revolutionary syndicalism, given the prevailing realities, would rapidly transform itself into a recognizable form of national syndicalism that would prove compatible with the emerging doctrine of revolutionary nationalism. In fact, by 1915, by the same time of Italy’s entrance into the First World War, syndicalism had already taken on some of the properties of a revolutionary nationalism. The reality of the national sentiment that mobilized the revolutionary syndicalists and socialists of France and Germany around the standards of the nation discounted the “internationalism” and “classism” of traditional Marxist revolutionary thought.

    At the same time, most of the syndicalists intellectuals recognized that Italy was industrially retrograde. As a necessary consequence, all the prognostications of classical Marxists were entirely unconvincing. There could be no proletarian revolution in Italy. The proletarians of the peninsula, even in terms of Marxist orthodoxy, were necessarily “immature.” Marxist revolution was perhaps on the agenda of a mature industrial economy—but there was a scant prospect of a proletarian revolution in essentially agrarian Italy. Where an economy was “immature,” the proletariat must be necessarily be similarly “immature.”

    In those circumstances, revolutionaries were charged with entirely unanticipated responsibilities. They were compelled to discharge “bourgeois” historic tasks: to advocate and collaborate in the industrialization of the economically underdeveloped national territory. In effect, reality dictated that revolutionary syndicalists be prepared to assume historic responsibilities Marxism had not foreseen. They charged themselves with the responsibility of bringing Italy, as a new nation, into the industrialized twentieth century.

    It was Filippo Corridoni, one of the most radical revolutionary syndicalists, who clearly articulated the changing obligations of revolutionaries. Corridoni reminded the Marxist revolutionaries of Italy that impoverished Italy was still in the “swaddling clothes” of industrial capitalism, and, by implication, innocent of the conditions necessary for proletarian revolution. An effectual bourgeoisie, failing to industrialize the nation, left the peninsula adrift, to face the depredations of foreign imperialisms. An “immature” proletariat was ill-equipped to assume meaningful responsibilities in retrograde economic environment.

    Corridoni reminded revolutionaries that Italy languished in “essentially precapitalist” economic conditions—and, as a result, proletarian revolution was simply not on the historic agenda. What serious revolutionaries were required to undertake, Corridoni asserted, was support for the rapid industrialization of Italy as a “late developing nation.” He anticipated that Italy’s historic responsibility was the rapid economic development of its backward peninsula until it could directly and effectively compete with those nations that had already developed and possessed the military and economic capabilities that made them “great powers.”

    By the time of his death in the First World War, leading an attack on the Austro-Hungarian enemy from the trenches of Frasche, Corridoni had put together an unmistakable form of national syndicalism that shared affinities with revolutionary nationalism. Corridoni, like the nationalists, had made the “material productive forces” central to his analysis—and had drawn conclusions similar to those entertained by Corradini and Rocco. At least one variant of Italian syndicalism had transformed itself into a qualified analogue of the revolutionary nationalism of the Italian Nationalist Association.

    This was the intellectual environment in which Alfredo Rocco produced the series of essays that shaped nationalist thought into a coherent, comprehensive, and explicit doctrine—one that he identified as both “organic” in character and “spiritual” in substance. He duly spoke of the articulation of principles from which doctrinal injunctions might be derived. It was doctrine with which many revolutionary syndicalists were prepared to indentify—whatever their qualification.

    In effect, by the time of the First World War, nationalism had matured into a fulsome ideology from which an inclusive and practical political doctrine might be forthcoming that could attract the most radical of Italy’s leftist revolutionaries. Rocco, like Corradini, had anticipated the rapid approximation of revolutionary syndicalism to the developmental nationalism that constituted the core of the doctrine of the Italian Nationalist Association. History was to prove them to be fundamentally correct. Thereafter, nationalism was to represent itself with an explicit political character. It was to be manifestly developmental, antidomcratic, antiparliamentarian, and statist. It was to be a doctrine that would attract leftist as well as rightist intellectuals. In historic fact, what was transpiring was a “synthesis between extreme Right and Left, which lay at the basis of Fascism.”

    As early as 1913 and 1914, Rocco, like the revolutionary syndicalists, had identified political and representative democracy with a form of debilitating individualism that made any collective, enduring, and demanding national enterprise all but impossible. Rocco, like the revolutionary syndicalists, held that any commitment to protracted sacrifice—to heroic self-abnegation—required something more than the individualistic hedonism that informed liberal democracy of then contemporary Italy. If Italy was to rapidly industrialize, in order to assume its rightful place among major powers, it would have to abandon political democracy, economic liberalism, and distributionistic socialism. By the advent of the First World War, revolutionary syndicalists like Palol Orano, A. O. Olivetti, and Filippo Corridoni were professing convictions all but indistinguishable from those of the intellectuals of the Italian Nationalist Association.

    The distinctions that remained between the doctrinal postures of the increasingly nationalist syndicalists and the nationalists of the Italian Nationalist Association turned on (1) the character of the state, (2) the role of the military in the development of the nation, (3) the nature of the relationship between the new revolutionary state and the constituents of the nation, and finally (4) the developmental strategy of the forthcoming revolution.

    Even before the successful conclusion of the First World War, the intellectuals of the Italian Nationalist Association, unlike those of the revolutionary syndicalist organizations, sought the creation of a “strong” state, more authoritarian than liberal, enjoying a measure of sovereignty not anticipated by the most heretical of syndicalists. Nationalists anticipated a recalibration of the relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the sovereign state. Since the Church had resisted the secular reintegration of Italy as a nation in defense of its own corporate interests, the initial nationalist position was tendentially anticlerical. After the war in Libya, however, a segment of political Catholicism had broken away from the traditionalism of the Catholic past and had open itself to the political suasions of the nationalists. As a nationalist, Rocco argued that the “integral” regeneration of the nation—the marshaling of all elements of the population in the mission to restore the grandeur of Italy—required a proper political concern for the all-but-universal Roman Catholic religious commitment of Italians. Revolutionary nationalism would be obliged to accommodate representatives of the Church as it would be obliged to accommodate the representatives of what had been the antinationalist revolutionary proletariat.

    Already by the time of the elections of 1913, an alliance of nationalists and political Roman Catholics had brought some success to the antiliberal and antisocialist policies of the Nationalist Association. Rocco had engineered gains for nationalism in the Veneto, and a regional federation was formed. It was to go on to publish its own newspaper, Il Dovere nazionale. At the same time, in accordance with the policy implications of its evolving doctrine, ties were forged with some industrial and technological development of the peninsula. Among the most important of the industrial notables supporting the development program of the Italian Nationalist Association were Alberto Maria Bombrini, director of the Cogne Mining Company, and Dante Ferraris, vice president of Fiat and president of Turin’s Industrial League. The growing relationship represented a convergence of interests between nationalists, who advocated rapid acceleration of Italy’s industrial and technological economic development, and industrialists, whose interests such a policy might serve. Thus, at the same time that Italy’s nationalists were fabricating a substantive relationship with the nation’s revolutionary syndicalists, they were establishing connections with the Roman Church and the peninsula’s industrialists—in the pursuit of a functional union of all within the integument of the sovereign state.

    It was during this period that nationalists formulated the first intimations of a future “corporative state,” a political arrangement in which organized Church, labor, and industrial interests would be accorded juridical recognition—in order to create a legal environment in which all would collaborate in the national enterprise committed to the creation of a “Greater Italy”—involving the rapid and intensive industrialization of the peninsula. Rocco maintained that the modern period had introduced the necessity of an organization of corporate interests—all those aggregated and articulate interests to be involved in the development of the nation.

    Rocco argued that after the turn of the century, labor had organized itself in syndicates—just as the Church had so organized itself by the time of the nation’s reunification. By the advent of the First World War, entrepreneurs had similarly organized themselves in parallel organizations. The empirical fact of such organization was demonstrable. The question was how might an emerging nation deal with such an insistent, and potentially conflict laden, reality.

    In order to embark upon its developmental program, Rocco contended that a strong state would have to organize all syndical, church, academic, educational, political, labor, and entrepreneurial associations within its compass. The rationale rested on the conviction that “democratic” and “liberal” states dissipate their sovereign energy in episodic responses to clientelistic demands—something the developmental “integralist” state could not.

    Between 1914 and 1919, Rocco clearly anticipated the creation of a revolutionary “corporate state” that would enlist all constituent corporate bodies of the nation in the service of the “massive productive enterprise” that was the necessary condition for the realization of Italy’s regeneration. Only in that fashion could the incompetent and flaccid sate of Italy’s forelorn past be displaced in order to realize the instauration of a strong, centralizing, integrative corporative body.

    Rocco had given expression to a doctrinal conviction that a revolutionary state would emerge from an Italian victory at the conclusion of the First World War. The war, he argued, had taught the nation a significant lesson. Its victory in that war argued for Italy’s intrinsic capacity to achieve the status of a major European power. Rocco insisted that what victorious Italy required was a political and constitutional revolution that would discard the liberal and representative parliament. Such revolution would put together a strong, irreducibly sovereign state, which would shepherd Italy into the modern age.

    The prospect of achieving such an end turned on the union of nationalism with revolutionary national syndicalism. By 1918, the potential for the accomplishing such a union was manifest. It was only necessary to trace the evolution of syndicalist thought, prior to that time, in the work of one of its most accomplished theoreticians to appreciate that.
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