Mauro Canali (Università di Camerino)
Spencer Di Scala (University of Massachusetts Boston)
ll delitto Matteotti, by Florestano Vancini, 1973 (In Italian)
The barbaric murder of Matteotti, committed on 10 June 1924, marked the end of the so-called ‘legalistic’ period of the Mussolini administration. Prior to that date, Mussolini had been skillfully navigating between opposite pressures that were being brought to bear by intransigent currents of Fascism, on the one side, and from moderate sectors of Fascism, on the other. The hardliners were guided by a totalitarian conception of the political struggle, a point of view that would be satisfied with nothing less than the establishment of a single-party regime; they considered the moderate outcome of the March on Rome to have been a betrayal of the Fascist revolution, resulting as it had in the formation of a coalition government that included men and political parties to which they were firmly opposed. The other, more moderate Fascists, to the contrary, considered the revolutionary period of Fascism to have come to an end with the formation of the Mussolini government, and upheld the need for a ‘normalization’ of Italian political life. Aligned with the moderate Fascists were the liberal political groups, allies of the Mussolini government, who demanded a more determined suppression of political violence, as well as a return to the presence in the Italian political process of the traditional dialectic between the majority and various opposition parties. The head of Fascism had made concessions to both alignments, and was pursuing a strategy of ‘duplicity.’ That strategy allowed him on the one hand to display a purely formal respect for the political procedures and the institutions of the liberal state, along with a certain degree of tolerance of the criticism leveled by the opposition forces; at the same time, of course, he was encouraging the use of violence and was establishing his own secret police, the so-called Fascist Ceka (modeled on the Russian Cheka), created for the purpose of carrying out actions to intimidate the most active anti-Fascist leaders. Between 1922 and 1924, therefore, a very specific political atmosphere had taken form. Despite Mussolini’s repeated assurances of his respect for the rule of law, acts of violence had continued to be perpetrated against the opposition.
It was Mussolini himself, as early as the period immediately following the March on Rome, who had insisted on the establishment of the Ceka. He did so because he considered the liberal institutional context, within which he realized he was forced to operate for the foreseeable short term, as an obstacle to the hegemonic and totalitarian prospects of Fascism. The need for Fascism to work around the garantismo (‘respect for civil rights’) of the liberal system had been nicely summarized in a statement he made, a few days after he formed his government. He had explained to his closest colleagues that “all governments undergoing a transition need certain illiberal branches to take care of their adversaries,” and also that “control of the official agencies of the state” would allow the Fascist government to “drape a cover over all its illegal acts of violence.”
One particular source of concern for the Mussolini government was the relentless activity of Matteotti, the young secretary of the Partito Socialista Unitario (PSU, or unified Socialist party). That party had been established, twenty days prior to the March on Rome, by the social-reformist component led by Turati, in a breakaway from the PSI. Matteotti was born in Fratta Polesine on 22 May 1885. After taking his degree in law at the University of Bologna, he joined the Socialist party at the turn of the twentieth century.
Matteotti’s attitude toward the Fascist government was always rigorously intransigent. He was unwilling to consider any truce, any accords, or collaboration of any kind between Socialism and Fascism.
He had begun traveling earlier than most, developing a personal culture that was cosmopolitan and open to the influences of the most mature European Socialism. He was one of the few to grasp on a profound level the laws of economics and of finance, and, as has been written, “he read corporate balance sheets the way other people read crime novels.” For these gifts, he was used by his party in the parliamentary commissions on economic and financial activities.
During the session of 30 May 1924, the Chamber of Deputies was the site of serious incidents. The Fascist government, in violation of established parliamentary procedure, accepted and followed until then, had proposed an approval en masse of the newly elected members of the majority. Matteotti had at that point taken the floor and, after depicting an unsettling national panorama of violence and criminal behavior, he had provocatively demanded the blanket annulment of the elections. Matteotti’s speech was repeatedly interrupted by furious and extended reactions from the majority, but the young Socialist parliamentarian had refused to be intimidated, and had courageously continued his speech to the very last word. As he was exiting the Chamber of Deputies, to his colleagues, who were eagerly congratulating, it is reported that he replied, “Now you need to get ready to hold a wake for me.” [From: Mauro Canali, Il Delitto Matteotti. Il Mulino, 2000]