The Thermopylae of Fascism: Benito Mussolini’s Last Testament on His Life, Fascism, and Italy
It is 1945, early in the year, IL DUCE and Fascism is near its end against the Allied leaders, yet Mussolini refuses to give up hope. What is such a cause he was willing to fight for to the bitter last battle. Along with 30,000 troops, he planned to reach Valtellina (valley in northern Italy bordering Switzerland) with a group of loyalists to lead a final resistance against an invasion from the Allies. This was the final, last major decision of his life — a choice to establish a final effort with 5,000 of his loyalist followers before Valtellina, which was controlled by Waffen-SS, or make an escape to the Swiss border. Mussolini found inspiration from Leonidas and his heroes, picturing himself as Leonidas in his situation. ‘This will be the Thermopylae of Fascism,’ he said. Thermopýles, or Thermopylae alludes to the Battle of Thermopylae (480-479 B.C.E.).
The Allied leaders repeatedly vowed to have Mussolini stand in front of an international tribunal for crimes against humanity. “I can already see the trial they will stage for me at Madison Square Garden,” he laughed, “with people in the stands looking at me as if I were a caged beast. No, it is better to die with weapons raised. Only this can be an end worthy of my existence” — stated romantically at his last; and sounding bravely poetic amidst decadence in the hour of ruin like his compatriot, D’Annunzio.
However, attempting to make a last stand for Fascism without joining the Duce at Valtellina, May 20, U.S. troops surrounded the militia of troops led by Italian SS leader, Major Mario Carita, who were gunned to the last man by heavy artillery.
In this end, Mussolini envisioned the future (Everyone now sees fascists):
“The present war will produce an alteration in order of rank. Great Britain, for instance, is destined to become a second-class power, in view of disclosure of Russian and American strength (…) In a short time, Fascism will once more shine on the horizon. First of all, because of the persecution to which the Liberals will subject it, showing that liberty is something to reserve to oneself and refuse to others.”
In Mussolini’s last testament, so to say, he speaks of hope for Fascism, his cause for workers’ labor, how his legacy would be defined by others versus what he believed it to be. This was, he explains, a revolutionary cause of socialism, that sought to adapt to reality, viewing Marx’s predictions of society as becoming by time improbable. Fascism saw and critiqued the weaknesses of the idle intellectualism and liberalism of its day.
Most importantly, he states, that “when it is written that we are the white guard for the bourgeoisie, it is the vilest of lies. I defended, and I state this with full conviction, workers’ progress. Amongst the principal causes for the fall of Fascism I blame the deaf and merciless fight of certain financial and industrial groups who, in their mad egoism, feared and hated Fascism as the worst enemy of their inhuman interests.” He terms his critics false prophets, and rails at his last, against the hypocrisy of democracies and the plutocrats, or of those we can say, enjoy their rulership today. Yet, the democratic masses still declare the solution is “more democracy.” They ask, and their rulers, playing to this desire and political language (i.e., illusions) come election period instead — when having secured victory — gives them election after election more surveillance, less freedoms, and subjugate the people (mere consumers to manipulate and manage), who grow greatly discontent.
In L’Unità, October 7, 1924, Communist Antonio Gramsci wrote an article titled Neither Fascism nor Liberalism: Sovietism! on the political crisis and strategy of destroying Fascism, that are no different than the present-day, when saying the actions of the opposition bloc are weak. However, similar and insightful observations can be gleaned, that compares to the thoughts of the Fascists, when they were considering their future and choices. Antonio Gramsci on the opposition bloc to the Fascists, had wrote of, “Its heterogeneous social composition, its hesitations, and its aversion for a struggle of the popular masses against the Fascist regime reduce its actions to a journalistic campaign and parliamentary intrigues…”
The Italian marxist and communist, Antonio F. Gramsci continues:
“In the opposition movement to fascism the most important part has passed to the Liberal Party because the bloc has no other program to oppose to fascism than the old Liberal program of parliamentary bourgeois democracy, the return to the constitution, to legality, to democracy. In the discussion concerning the succession to fascism, according to the congress of the Liberal Party the Italian people is placed by the opposition before a choice: either fascism or liberalism; either a Mussolini government of bloody dictatorship or a Slandri, Gioliotti, Amendola, Turati, don Sturzo, or Vella government tending towards the reestablishment of the good old liberal Italian democracy, under whose mask the bourgeoisie will continue to exercise its exploitative rule.”
As they do well into the present-day beyond Italy.
“The worker, the peasant, who for years has hated the fascism that oppresses him believes it necessary, in order to bring it down, to ally himself with the liberal bourgeoisie, to support those who in the past, when they were in power, supported and armed fascism against the workers and peasants, and who just a few months ago formed a sole bloc with fascism and shared in the responsibility for its crimes. And this is how the question of the liquidation of fascism is posed? No! The liquidation of fascism must be the liquidation of the bourgeoisie that created it.” (ibid.)
The life and story of Nicola Bombacci, from Communist to allied with Mussolini and Italian Fascism, after seeing the same limitation of possible choice with the alliance of the democratic societies with the Soviets under Stalin, also shares similarity to this last ditch effort of Mussolini, and how the Italian monarch’s actions, later exiled, disgraced Italy. It demonstrates, that Mussolini never really controlled Italy. Ready for the rounds of the firing squad, loyalist to both Lenin and Mussolini, Bombacci cried out as the bullets of the Communists pelted him, “Long live Socialism!” A few notable Fascist hierarchs cried out “Long live Italy!” The forces Bombacci fought against now, one will say rule the current political and economic order, which makes Mussolini’s words prophetic.
Benito Mussolini’s Last Testament
“No true Italian, whatever his political faith, should despair of the future. The resources of our people are immense. If we are able to find a common ground, we will regain our strength before any victor. For this common ground, I would give my life even now, willingly, so long as it is truly marked with real Italian spirit. After defeat, I will be furiously covered by spit, but later I will be cleansed with veneration. Then I will smile, because my people will be at peace with themselves.
The worker who fulfills his social duty with no other hope than a piece of bread and the health of his family repeats, on a daily basis, an act of heroism. Labourers are infinitely superior to all false prophets who pretend to represent them. These false prophets have an easy time of it due to the insensitivity of those who have the sacrosanct duty of taking care of labourers. It is for this reason that I was, and am, a socialist.
The accusation of inconsistency is without foundation. My behaviour has always been consistent in the sense of looking to the substance, not the appearance of things. I have adapted myself, socialistically, to reality. As the natural development of society proved more and more of Marx’s predictions to be wrong, true socialism retreated from the possible to the probable. The only feasible socialism that can be truly implemented is Corporativism—a merging point, a place of equilibrium and justice, with respect for collective interests.
The art of politics is very difficult, amongst the most difficult, because it works on matter that cannot be grasped, that wobbles and is more uncertain. Politics works on the spirit of men, which is much more difficult to define because it is subject to change. Most changeable of all is the spirit of Italians. When I am gone, I am sure that historians and psychologists will ask themselves how a single man was able to successfully lead a people like the Italian people. If I had accomplished nothing else, this single work of art would have been sufficient to prevent me from being forgotten. Others have been able to dominate with iron fists, not with consensus and agreement as I managed. My dictatorship was much milder than many democracies that are run by plutocracies. Fascism lost more men than its adversaries, and on 25th of July there were no more than thirty persons in exile.
When it is written that we are the white guard for the bourgeoisie, it is the vilest of lies. I defended, and I state this with full conviction, workers’ progress. Amongst the principal causes for the fall of Fascism I blame the deaf and merciless fight of certain financial and industrial groups who, in their mad egoism, feared and hated Fascism as the worst enemy of their inhuman interests. I must say for the purpose of justice, that Italian capital, the part which is legitimate and holds itself up with the ability of its industry, has always understood the needs of society, even when they required sacrifice to address new labour terms. The humble folk of labour have always loved me and love me still.
All dictators have always made slaughter of their enemies. I have been the only mild one: a few hundred dead against several thousand. I believe I’ve ennobled dictatorship. Perhaps I emasculated it, but I rid it of instruments of torture. Stalin sits on a mountain of human bones. Is this bad? I don’t regret to have done all the good I’ve done, even to my adversaries, even enemies who plotted against my life. I’ve done this through the provision of subsidies that were so frequent as to become stipends, as well as by saving their lives. But if tomorrow they will kill my men, what responsibility will I have for having spared them?
Stalin is left standing and wins; I fall and lose. History only concerns itself with victors and the volume of their conquests; triumph justifies everything. The French Revolution is studied for its outcomes, while those who died with the guillotine are relegated to the obituaries.
Nobody will be able to erase twenty years of Fascism from Italy’s history. I have no illusion regarding my fate. They will not give me a trial, because they know that from a defendant I would become a prosecutor. They will probably murder me and then claim that I committed suicide, overcome by remorse. He who fears death has never lived, and I have lived, perhaps even too much. Life is nothing more than an intersection between two eternities: the past and the future. As long as my star shone, I was enough for all. Now that it fades, everybody is not enough for me. I will go where destiny will want me because I always did what fate requested of me.
Fascists who will remain faithful to principles will need to be exemplary citizens. They must respect the laws that the people will give, and cooperate loyally with legitimate authorities to help them heal, as quickly as possible, the fatherland’s wounds. Whomever will behave differently will demonstrate that he no longer supports the fatherland when he has to serve it from below. Fascists, in other words, will have to act out of passion, not resentment. From their behaviour will depend a speedier historical rehabilitation of Fascism. Because now it is night, but later, day will break.”
— BENITO MUSSOLINI, 27 April 1945.
“Fascism triumphs because it is, among other things, a formula of fulfillment, which people are happy to turn to from the liberal formulas of defeat, frustration, and inhibition both of governmental and private initiatives . . .”LAWRENCE DENNIS, CODEX FASCISMO, P. 423
“I was accused of tyranny, which I imposed on the Italians. How they will mourn it. And it will have to return, if the Italians want to be a nation again and not a bunch of slaves. And the Italians will want it. They yearn for it. The furious people will chase away the false leaders, the base little men who have submitted to foreign interests. They will bring flowers to the graves of the martyrs. To the graves of the fallen for an idea that will be the light and hope of the world. They will say then, without flattery, without falsehood: Mussolini was right.”BENITO MUSSOLINI, PALAZZO MONOFORTE, MILAN (iNTERVIEW)
“I have never, with closed eyes, accepted the thoughts of others when they were estimating events and realities either in the normal course of things or when the situation appeared exceptional. I have searched, to be sure, with a spirit of analysis the whole ancient and modern history of my country. I have drawn parallels because I wanted to explore to the depths, on the basis of historical fact, the profound sources of our national life and of our character, and to compare our capacities with those of other people.” (My Rise and Fall, edited by Max Ascoli, Richard Washburn Child, and Richard Lamb, New York: Da Capo Press, 1998, pp. 22 – 23)BENITO MUSSOLINI, MY RISE AND FALL