the son of the Century
by Antonio Scurati
Comment by Lorenzo Matteoli
I have always wondered how our parents’ generation could have fallen into the nightmare of national socialism and into the subsequent world tragedies derived from the nazi degeneration of that ideology. Those born between 1905 and 1915.
Watching today the movie journals of the vast fanatical crowds cheering Mussolini’s grotesque rhetoric is an embarrassing experience. True that today we know things that those crowds did not know, most of their members at least, but the general issues, the cult of an imperial Italy, the fascist values and their qualification, the arrogance of the bosses, the utter shame of glorified racism, today are ideas which could not be accepted even by the most objectionable culture. Clearly that was not the case one hundred years ago and challenges any understanding today: to elaborate the cultural gap of one century of history is not that simple.
But then we look at our present political leaders, we listen to their talks, we see their behaviour. The style, the shameless demagoguery, the distortion of facts, the puerile manipulation of narratives, and the embarrassment becomes a serious worry. Something bad is happening, something has gone wrong with lay/liberal thought with which we have grown up and lived for the last 60 years of Italian democracy.
A malign virus has taken over the social democratic culture which we thought to be thoroughly protected against any leftist or rightist aberration. Unfortunately we did not consider the poison of “non ideas”: by definition “non Ideas” cannot be dealt with by common sense and logic. There are unpleasant questions we must ask to get some decent answers.
Now we have to face the blunt check of the good commentators who call us to order and stop our complacent leaning towards a dangerous similarity: Stop right there, they say! Fascism has nothing to do with what is going on today.
Yes, there are no truncheons, no castor oil for the designated victims, no punitive night rallies against the clubs and headquarters of those who had different ideas, there is no social confrontation between the hungry piss-poor farmers and the rich bourgeois class of exploiting agrarian landlords, no gangs of assassins…not the frustration of a war won at the cost of millions of lives, there is not the bitterness of tens of thousands of jobless veterans frustrated for the “mutilated victory”…
There are none of these ingredients which dominated the Italian society of 1918-1925 and brought Mussolini’s fascism first to power and then to dictatorship on the truncheons of the “arditi” paid for by the rich agrarian landlords with the conniving bourgeoisie terrorized by the emerging success of the Russian Communist Revolution. Nor can we expect to find in Italy, after one century, the identical social political economic conditions of a hundred years ago.
But then you join the dots…
You think about the famous line by Mussolini: “I did not invent fascism, I pulled it out of the guts of the Italians!” and you wonder what can still remain in the guts of the Italians after 100 years of history, two World Wars, 20 years of fascist regime, a Civil War aka Resistance, 10 years of Red Brigades Terror, 50+ governments DC, DC-PCI, PSI, PLI, PRI, PSDI ++, 20 years of Berlusconi’s mischievous rule, 70 years of TV cultural brainwashing, ten years of GFT and the hardship of economic inequality.
No more truncheons, but we still have violent hooligans and black blocks, maybe not paid for by anybody but operating on their own charter of dickheads, to somebody’s agenda. Not much senseless intellectual blabbing about race supremacy any more, but racism is alive and active in the stadia, in the schools, in the press, in the government. And in the people. No more illiterate hungry farmers exploited by agrarian landlords, but enslaved migrants controlled by mafia gorillas and millions of lumpenoutcasts by an out of control sovereign debt result of 40 years of corruption and squandering. No lost or sickly won war but the curse of a heavy international GFT imposed on us by the “Pax Americana” and its war agenda.
Masses available to any demagoguery appeal, not that much different from the poor farmers of 1918 to whom the Duce del Fascismopromised the distribution of the rich agrarian owners land, possibly a more sustainable idea than the social salary giveaway that will only promote generations of dole addicted bludgers.
Italy has never been able to metabolize the contradiction of the civil war/resistance tragedy that continuously lingered in the political debate, emerging as a lethal poison in different and always new and extreme forms of intolerance.
Very seldom does history repeat itself in identical forms so it is not fascism that we see in the grey shades of present day events but is something worse and possibly even more dangerous because the tools available today to opinion manipulators are ten thousand times more powerful compared to the ones Mussolini could use in 1918-1925. More subtle and efficient than truncheons, castor oil, gorillas and hitmen assassins disguised as “fascist arditi” (fascist dare devils).
If you care to understand why our fathers and grandfathers fell in the fascist/nazi trap read M il Figlio del Secolo by Antonio Scurati where the whole story is explained clearly.
You will also understand the danger we are experiencing today.
The final comment.
We find in the thorough and complex presentation by Antonio Scurati of the years from 1918 to 1925, the cheap, the grotesque, the vulgarity of language and of attitudes, the sheer horror of the willingly revolting bloody violence, performed by the hooligans of the “fasci di combattimento” (fighting fascist squads) formed by senseless hitmen, cynically used by Mussolini, but also a few less coarse aspects of quality political culture and of far sighted historical vision: Benedetto Croce, Giovanni Gentile.
Cynical shrewdness, shameless duplicity, low moralistic pseudo patriotic nationalism of the Duce del Fascismo,of party bosses and of regime lackies are described, but also sincere passion of “true believers”, affection and healthy participation, commitment to the extreme sacrifice of their life by wrong but substantially true, betrayed heroes – men and women.
Corruption, greed, ferocity of power dealers, petty and of grand speculators, are documented for the conquest of power and for its management. Scurati’s thorough chronicle and detailed narrative imagination clearly describe the difference of men and thought typical of the fight for power and of the governance of power stage and the difficulty of the shift needed to transition from one stage to the other.
These difficulties were not always solved by Mussolini who was not free from bias, weakness, temptation and greed, neither was he always in control of problems and situations, for the limits of his personal low ethical standards and of his own vulgar cultural profile (concealed by his undeniable writing skills and by his political manouvering skills), which were to be the limits to his final days, hours and minutes.
For the twenty chaotic years of the fascist regime, two features have been Mussolini’s trademarks: fierce authoritative command and ideological vision. Huge mistakes and huge achievements can be the outcome of strong personal authority (good or bad) and of clear ideological vision (right or wrong), a very risky trump card for which Italy has paid a heavy price. Mussolini paid with his own life, regrettably not only his own nor that of his generation. In fact we are still paying today.
The lethal feature of wrong decisions is that when they are made they seem to be the right thing to do – to those who make them.
The sense of the eventual tragedy is the permanent feeling while reading Antonio Scurati’s book: in each page, each episode, each character of the story and that binds the reader from the first to the last page.
The ideology of Fascism is not condemned by this quasi true novel, its tragic unavoidable mistakes, the horrible consequence of the culture of its actors and of its victims find in the monumental work of the author the deserved severe sentence of History.
If you thought you knew the history of fascism, you will have to think again.