Giacomo Matteotti

On the 30 May 1924, firebrand socialist MP Giacomo Matteotti rose to make a speech in the Italian parliament condemning the fascists’ widespread election fraud and political violence.

Benito Mussolini had been appointed prime minister by the Italian king in 1922, following his “March on Rome”. He rigged the law to make sure the fascist candidates got many more seats per vote in the 1924 election.

Fascist gangs, the “blackshirts”, roamed the country, intimidating voters and even murdering one opposition candidate.

When he rose to speak, Matteotti was constantly interrupted by heckling and threats of violence from the fascist benches. In the end, he spoke for around an hour and a half, denouncing the Mussolini regime.

Eleven days later the notorious fascist gang, the Ceka, kidnapped him in broad daylight, bundled him into the back of a car and stabbed him to death in the back seat. His corpse was found later near Riano, 23 kilometres north of Rome, on 16 August 1924.

Matteotti’s heroism was remembered this year at a free exhibition, Enduring Tempest, in London’s Charing Cross Library. Charing Cross Library was once the headquarters of the Italian fascist party in London from 1936 to 1940. Matteotti’s political nickname was Tempesta. Streets can be found all over Italy commemorating Matteotti for speaking out against fascist terror.

The exhibition panels illustrated episodes from Matteotti’s life and the fight against fascism. In April 1924, for example, he made a secret journey to London to seek the support of Britain’s first Labour government in April 1924.

The Women’s International Matteotti Committee, set up by Sylvia Pankhurst, tried to rescue his wife, Velia, from persecution and house arrest by Mussolini.

The “Matteotti Affair” became a huge scandal for Mussolini. A number of witnesses came forward readily identifying the kidnappers—even the car’s numberplate.

Mussolini’s own press secretary, Cesare Rossi, denounced his boss for his responsibility in organising the murder. The Italian papers took up the public outcry. Fascist badges disappeared from lapels.

For a moment, there was talk of a general strike—on 27 June, across Italy, many workers abstained from work for about ten minutes. But by 1924, the left had been beaten and bullied into political submission by the fascist terror. They were unable to organise sufficient rank and file resistance in workplaces or on the streets.

Tragically, socialist MPs chose to follow the liberals, opting for a form of passive “moral” resistance. They decamped from the parliament to the Aventine Hills in a traditional, theatrical show of disgust. They thought that this would be enough to force the king to sack Mussolini. The royal dismissal never came.

Mussolini would ride out the crisis and swiftly move to the destruction of all the remaining democratic trappings of his regime. He would not be challenged again until the 1940s.  

Mussolini initially attracted support from conservatives and reactionaries all over Europe. The political descendants of Mussolini are led by Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni.

Once more, they are courted by established politicians across Europe, such as Rishi Sunak who spoke at a far right conference hosted by Meloni in Italy in December. They are helping to rehabilitate  fascism in Italy and at home.

It is no accident that Nazi Tommy Robinson has resurfaced from obscurity onto the streets of London with up to 5,000 supporters.

We must learn the lessons of the Matteotti assassination—before it is too late, as it was for him. Even Matteotti opposed physical self defence against the fascist thugs in 1921. “Stay home! Do not respond to provocations,” he wrote. “Even silence, even cowardice, are sometimes heroic.”

We should celebrate the brave defiance of Matteotti’s speech in May 1924, but also avoid the disastrous strategy of respectable, passive opposition. That led to his murder and the consolidation of Italian fascism.

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