Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Antonio Gramsci 1924

The fall of fascism


Unsigned, L'Ordine Nuovo, 15 November 1924.

Text from Antonio Gramsci 'Selections from political writings (1921-1926)', translated and edited by Quintin Hoare (Lawrence and Wishart, London 1978), transcribed to the www with the kind permission of Quintin Hoare.


First: there is a contingent political problem, which is how to overthrow the government headed by Benito Mussolini. The bourgeois opposition forces, who have posed this problem in the most limited conceivable fashion, thinking that this would make their task easier to accomplish, have been trapped since June in a blind alley. For to think one can reduce the crisis of the Mussolini government to a normal governmental crisis is quite absurd. In the first place, there is the militia which obeys Mussolini alone, and puts him absolutely beyond the reach of a normal political manoeuvre. A struggle has been going on for several months to overcome the obstacle of the militia, but on an inadequate terrain. The Army has worked at it, the King has come into the open. But in the end they have found themselves just where they were at the beginning. Mussolini will not go.

In addition, even supposing it were possible to settle with the militia at no great cost, as soon as the question of Mussolini's elimination from the government is posed concretely, a problem arises that is not only more serious but also more decisive in character: who will hold the Matteotti trial? A Mussolini government cannot allow the Matteotti trial to be held. The reasons are well known. But neither can or will Mussolini go , until he is certain that the trial will not be held, either by him or by anybody else. Again, the reasons are known to everybody. Not to hold the trial, however - in other words to free, sooner or later and perhaps sooner rather than later, those at present under arrest - means to risk an open revolt of public opinion. It means placing the government at the mercy of any blackmailer or purveyor of confidential documents, and thus walking on a razor's edge. Not to hold the trial means to leave an ever-open wound, with the possibility of a "moral opposition" that can be far stronger and more effective, in certain circumstances, than any political opposition.

Now, there can be no doubting that every fraction of the bourgeoisie would be willing never to speak again either of the crime or of the trial, if that would restore the stability of the bourgeois order. it is said that this theme has indeed already been developed, at meetings of the opposition. But it is equally true that the campaign on the crime, and for a trial, cannot simply be bequeathed to anti-bourgeois groups - for instance, to a proletarian party. To consign things to silence would by no means mean that 39 million Italians would forget them. So nothing new can be achieved by normal means. The policies of fascism and the reactionary bourgeoisie - from the day when public opinion unanimously rose up against the Matteotti assassination, and Mussolini was overwhelmed by this revolt to the point of making certain moves which were bound to have, and will have, incalculable consequences - have been blocked by an unmovable obstacle. As a result of something similar, but much less serious, at the time of the Dreyfus Affair French society and the French State were brought to the brink of revolution. But, people say, what was involved there was something deeper than a moral question; what was involved was the rotation of classes and social categories in government. But the same is true in Italy, and moreover with the appropriate aggravating features.

So we come to the second aspect of the problem, to the problem of substance: not of the Mussolini government, or of the militia, or of the trial, and so on; but of the régime which the bourgeoisie has had to utilize, in order to break the strength of the proletarian movement. This second aspect, for us and for everybody is the essential one; but it is indissolubly linked to the former. Indeed, all the dilemmas and uncertainties and difficulties which make it impossible to foresee any solution of a limited character, as the opposition and indeed the whole bourgeoisie has in mind, are a symptom of very deep and substantive contradictions. At the basis of everything, there is the problem of fascism itself: a movement which the bourgeoisie thought should be a simple "instrument" of reaction in its hands, but which once called up and unleashed is worse than the devil, no longer allowing itself to be dominated, but proceeding on its own account. The murder of Matteotti, from the point of view of defending the régime, was a very grave error. The "affair" of the trial, which nobody can manage to liquidate decently, is a wound in the régime's flank such as no revolutionary movement, in June 1924, was capable of opening. It was, in fact, simply the expression and the direct consequence of fascism's tendency not to present itself as a mere "instrument" of the bourgeoisie, but in its continual abuses, violence and crimes to follow an inner rationale of its own - which ends up by no longer taking any account of the interests of conservation of the existing order.

And it is this last point which we must examine and evaluate more carefully, to have a guide-line for resolving the problem we are discussing. The tendency of fascism which we have attempted to characterize breaks the normal alternation between periods of reaction and periods of "democracy", in such a way as may at first sight seem favourable to the maintenance of a reactionary line and to a more rigid defence of the capitalist order, but which in reality may resolve itself into the opposite. For there are, in fact, elements influencing the situation in a way that runs directly counter to any plan for preservation of the bourgeois regime and the capitalist order. There is the economic crisis; there is the hardship suffered by the broad masses; there is the anger provoked by fascist and police repression. There is a situation such that, while the political centres of the bourgeoisie are not succeeding in bringing off their salvage manoeuvres, there is a growing possibility of intervention in the field by the forces of the working class. Thus the dilemma fascism/democracy is tending to become converted into another: fascism/proletarian insurrection.

The thing can also be translated into very concrete terms. In June, immediately after the assassination of Matteotti, the blow suffered by the regime was so strong that immediate intervention by a revolutionary force would have put its fate in jeopardy. The intervention was not possible, because in majority the masses were either incapable of moving or oriented towards intermediate solutions, under the influence of the democrats and socialdemocrats. Six months of uncertainty and crisis, without any way out, have inexorably accelerated the process whereby the masses are becoming detached from the bourgeois groups and coming to support the revolutionary party and its positions. The complete liquidation of the opposition's position, which seems daily more certain, will give a definitive impetus to this process. Then, in the eyes of the masses too, the problem of the fall of fascism will present itself in its true terms.