(Published in Gerarchia, February 25, 1922)
By Benito Mussolini
Three years have now gone by since the soldiers laid down their arms; three turbulent years containing enough incident for three centuries; so much so that the Great War seems extraordinarily remote in space and time to those who fought in it, even more than to those who did not. Sometimes we wonder whether we really did live through the Battle of the Marne or Vittorio Veneto; we have experienced so much and events have followed so thick and fast that we feel overwhelmed by the past, almost as if we were already looking back on the present. When, three years ago, tens of millions of men left the trenches where, day in and day out, they had submitted themselves to iron discipline and the sacred duty of Death, and more or less in chaos streamed back into the lives of their countries, those who were students of society and those who formed the political minority in their governments found themselves wondering what would happen to this immense flood of tortured old veterans now that they were leaving the precarious shelter of their countless trenches: which way would they go? To the Left or to the Right?
Before answering this question, we need to clarify the meaning of those two words. What, in the normal language of the time, was meant by Right? And what was the Left? Let us give examples. In politics, the monarchy was, for example, on the Right; on the Left was the Constituent Assembly or the Republic; in the field of economics, capitalism was on the Right, socialism was on the Left; in the field of spirituality, the Right was represented by religious, artistic and philosophical traditionalism, while the Left contained all the avant-garde: in Catholicism this meant Christian Democracy (Loisy and Murri); in philosophy, Bergsonism and, in art, Futurism. Right meant stagnation, conservatism, reaction and aristocracy; the Left meant dynamism, revolution, democracy and above all progress. The most obvious way of determining positions were the attitudes towards socialism: those who accepted its doctrines were obviously Left; those who rejected them, Right. The expression Right or Left had meaning in the social-political sphere, above all in relation and with reference to socialism. Moving to the Left meant moving towards a period of history in which socialism would reign triumphant; moving Right meant either remaining static in the present moment of history or else moving towards other forms of civilization very different from those dreamt of by the socialists.
Is the world — or more precisely, are the societies of the white races throughout Europe and America (since the other three continents do not come under the terms of our investigation) — moving to the Left, that is to say towards a socialist type of civilization, or to the Right, that is to say towards a non-socialist society? In brief: are we or are we not moving towards the 'Socialist Revolution', towards the concrete realization of the Socialists' ideologies, which range from the abolition of private property to the creation of the International, towards the accession of the proletariat to power as the ruling class in their countries? Are we moving towards a lasting peace or must we accept that this is a Utopia?
Immediately after the Armistice there was a violent swing to the Left, both in the political and social spheres. Two empires collapsed: the Hohenzollern and the Habsburg, while a third one, the empire of the Romanovs, had already suffered a like fate. Republics sprouted like mushrooms, too many of them, some of which, such as the German Republic, did not even represent a final desperate endeavour of patriots, like the Paris Commune of '71, but merely an expedient to fall in with President Wilson's peace terms. In the years 1919 and 1920, the whole of Central and Eastern Europe was in a ferment of political crisis, as new regimes struggled to establish themselves, a ferment that was aggravated and complicated by the crisis, which we shall describe as socialist, that is, by the attempts to bring about some of the precepts of socialist doctrines. In the countries that had been beaten, the political and social crisis took extremely acute forms — as in Prussia, Bavaria and Hungary — but even the countries on the winning side, such as France and England, were not spared, as they found themselves faced by immense mass movements; and in Italy, the poorest amongst the victorious powers, the crisis assumed alarming proportions, starting with the 'caro-viveri' [high cost of living] movement in 1919 and continuing with the occupation of the factories in 1920.
The general impression of these years was that the world was swinging wildly to the Left; that the Left, in the historical sense, not in the Italian parliamentary sense, was represented by Russia, who was showing the way for all the peoples of Europe and the world. All the traditional values were turned upside down; the heroism of war was scorned and desertion was praised to the skies; the whole traditional social order was smashed (a Cossack took over command of the Red garrison of Petrograd and the unknown Krylenko was promoted supreme commander of the Soviet army); nor did the economic and technical establishment, the end-product of long selection and painstaking scientific labour, escape the fate of the others: the engineers in the Putiloff works were relegated to the coke-ovens. It seems that after that no further ore was smelted in those works. Even in this sphere, the various European countries offered a whole range of differences based on their degree of civilization and the greater or lesser extent of the social upheaval.
In Russia, the Tsar's family was summarily massacred; in Germany, the Hohenzollerns were allowed to go into exile. In Russia, the whole so-called capitalist economic system was brought to a standstill and paralysed — even the slaughter of the 'bourgeois' in Germany, including Bavaria itself, never reached the extremes of the Russians either in political or social action. All the same, in these first two post-war years, these critical developments seemed so horrifying that many of the bourgeois classes — especially the politicians — became resigned to the inevitable and, firmly convinced of an impending catastrophe, abandoned any sort of resistance; while the Italian shopkeepers handed over their keys to the Camere del Lavoro [trade councils], democratic ideologists and a large part of the bourgeois intelligentsia all tended towards the Left, which was very frequently committed, in theory and practice, to injudicious reforms, thus spreading throughout the masses the steadily increasing belief that the old world — the world of the Right — was doomed to extinction. How all these expectations coloured the minds and the actions of the working masses belongs to the history of the recent sorry past.
There is no doubt that over the whole of Europe the end of 1920 marked the highest point of this social crisis of the "Left". But in the fifteen months since then, the situation has changed. At present, the swing is towards the Right. After the wave of revolution, we have the wave of reaction; the Reds have had their time and the hour has now come for the Whites.
As always, the nation that had deviated most strongly to the Left is the one which, in recent times, is moving most rapidly to the Right: I mean Russia. The sun of the Russian "myth" has already set. Light is no longer shining from the East, where terrible news of death and famine is coming out of Russia; we are receiving desperate appeals by socialists and anarchists in Petrograd against Lenin's reactionary policies. Professor Ulianov is now a Tsar scrupulously following the internal and external policies of the Romanovs. The former Basle professor did not perhaps imagine that he would end up as a reactionary; but obviously governments have to suit themselves to those they govern and the enormous human army of Russians — patient, resigned, fatalistic and oriental — is incapable of living in freedom; they need a tyrant; now more than ever, they, like every other people in fact, even those in the West, are anxiously looking for something solid in their institutions, ideas and men, havens where they can cast anchor for a while and rest their souls, tired out with much wandering.
Without falling into the sin of Germanophilia — as our only 'philia' is for Italy — it may be said that Germany has had the most success in this present move to the Right in modern societies. Not only has what may be called the German bourgeoisie offered magnificent resistance to the attacks from the Left (the most recent example of this being the end of the latest railway strike) but the most interesting phenomenon in Germany today is the reluctance of the workers to be tainted by the Russian infection. Bolshevism has failed to infect the German working-class movement. The various uprisings, the 'Putsches' (the word is in itself significant), even the attempt to create a soviet in Munich, in no way invalidates my statement. The truth is that the large masses of the German working-class population have remained untouched by the Russian type of Bolshevism, which is restricted to a few tiny sects that are completely insignificant in the life of Germany. We need only recall that Kautsky, the greatest Marxist theoretician, has shown and proved categorically that socialism and Bolshevism are at opposite poles.
It is pointless to inquire whether Bolshevism is a German product imported into Russia for the purposes of war — a sort of ideological poison gas — with the object of putting the famous Russian steam-roller out of action. Bernstein's revelations would have you believe this, but we can say with certainty that having brought about Russia's military downfall and realizing how useless Bolshevism was even for this very purpose, Germany then became the major barrier which protected the Western world from the deadly infection of Russian Bolshevism; Germany brought the advance of Bolshevism in Europe to a standstill, helped in this by the instinctive contempt that every German feels for every Russian. After Germany, the nation that escaped most quickly from the obsession of the Russian myth was Italy, thanks to the upsurge of Fascism. We could extend our examination of Europe in the present day to the other countries, but this is unnecessary. The three nations that contain the greatest potential for future development in Europe today are Russia, Germany and Italy and it is the society and ideas of these three countries that are in fact moving markedly towards the Right.
Now that we have established beyond any shadow of doubt that men's spirits are moving to the Right, a question arises which we should like to pose in the following terms: are we moving Right in the sense that all the exaggerated extremism of the immediate post-war period is being wiped out, or are we going Right in the sense that we are undertaking a much broader and more radical revision of our values? Is it merely the events, the myths and the history of the last two years that are affected, or is it a whole century of history, beginning with the convocation of the French Estates-General and ending with the outbreak of the World War in August 1914?
Will the trend to the Right, like the trend to the Left, last only a couple of years or will it last a good deal longer? We answer the second question in the affirmative. If the nineteenth century was the century of Revolution, the twentieth seems the century of Restoration. The two immediate postwar years in which the trend to the Left reached its highest point are the last links in the chain forged in 1789 which was only briefly interrupted by the Holy Alliance in 1815. Why did the Holy Alliance not succeed in completely destroying the movement that Napoleon had aroused amongst the nations of Europe? Because these complex nineteenth-century ideologies contained vital and necessary elements by which the flame that was extinguished on the plains of Waterloo in 1815 was to flare up again in 1848. The Leftist regimes that were set up in the whole of Europe between 1848 and 1900, based on universal suffrage and social legislation, made what contribution they could.
The two years from 1919 to 1920 represent the final thread in the skein of democracy as it had been elaborated over the century. We had a taste of republics; democracy has realized all its basic assumptions; socialism has achieved its minimum programme and has given up its maximum demands. Now we are beginning to bring the century of democracy to trial. Now "democratic" concepts and categories will be subjected to pitiless and destructive scrutiny. And thus it will become plain that the democratic justice of universal suffrage is the most blatant injustice; that government by all — the Ultima Thule of all democratic hopes — leads in practice to government by nobody; that the elevation of the masses is not necessarily a sine qua non of progress; and above all, that there is no proof, in fact, that the century of democracy must prepare for the coming century of socialism. This political process is accompanied by a philosophic process: if it is true that matter was worshipped on the altars for a whole century, today it will be replaced by the spirit. Consequently, all the manifestations peculiar to the spirit of democracy are going to be repudiated: casual attitudes, improvisation, lack of any personal sense of responsibility, the worship of the majority and of that mysterious divinity called "the people".
All creations of the spirit — starting with religious ones — will move into the centre of the stage, and nobody will dare to persist in the attitude of anti-clericalism which for so many decades was the favourite occupation of democracy in the western world. When we say that God is returning, we mean that spiritual values are returning. Nobody believes any longer in fatalism or in the pseudo-scientific attitude of socialism. The century of democracy expired in 1919-20. It expired with the Great War. The century of democracy reached its apogee between 1914 and 1918 with the terrifying, necessary and inevitable sacrifice of ten million lost lives. Did not universal conscription form part of the intellectual beliefs of democracy? Thus the Great War appears to us at one and the same time as the sacred epic and blundering failure of democracy, its masterpiece and bankruptcy, its supreme height and its bottomless pit. The immense historical importance of the Great War lies in the fact that this democratic war par excellence, which was supposed to achieve its immortal principles for all nations and classes — oh! shades of Wilson's famous fourteen points, oh! what a sad sunset for the "Prophet"! — this democratic war, then, ushers in the century of anti-democracy. The principle epithet of democracy is "all", a word which completely filled the nineteenth century. The time has come to say: the few and the elite. Democracy is on its last legs in every country in the world; in some of them, as in Russia, it was murdered, in others it is falling prey to increasingly obvious decadence.
It may be that in the nineteenth century, capitalism needed democracy; today, it has no such need. The War was "revolutionary" in the sense that it liquidated — in rivers of blood — the century of democracy, the century of the majority, of numbers, of quantity. The process of restoration on the Right is already to be seen in concrete form. The orgy of licence has come to an end, the enthusiasm for social and democratic myths is over. Life is returning to the individual. A classical revival is taking place. The soulless, drab egalitarianism of democracy, which had taken the colour out of life and crushed all personality, is on its death-bed. New aristocracies are arising, now that we have proof that the masses cannot be the protagonists of history, but only instruments of history. Where this trend to the Right will lead is, at the moment, impossible to say; it will certainly range far, if we may judge by its beginnings and by the sudden collapse of all the post-war cardboard castles of the 'demagogues', while the old fortifications are being battered by the younger generation. This reaction is our revolution. A revolution of salvation because it will save Europe from the miserable fate that awaited it had democracy continued its evil ways. Democracy in the factories lasted only the space of some ghostly dream. What has become of the German Betriebsrate or the Russian workers' councils? Now it is the turn of the other form of democracy, political democracy, to come to an end — and come to an end it must. The present century promises, in a thousand and one ways, that it will be not the continuation but the antithesis of the last. And this antithesis will form the fabric and the glory of life in Europe in the coming decades.