Has Fascism Really Saved Italy?

Mussolini's Régime Has Undoubtedly Set Her on High Road to Recovery, Says American Attaché at Rome.

ALFRED PEARCE DENNIS September 15 1929

Has Fascism Really Saved Italy?

Mussolini's Régime Has Undoubtedly Set Her on High Road to Recovery, Says American Attaché at Rome.

ALFRED PEARCE DENNIS September 15 1929

Has Fascism Really Saved Italy?


Mussolini's Régime Has Undoubtedly Set Her on High Road to Recovery, Says American Attaché at Rome.


AN INTERESTING contribution to what is one of the world’s greatest political enigmas is made in a recent issue of the World’s Work. Alfred Pearce Dennis, formerly Commercial Attaché to the United States Embassy at Rome, discusses the question, “Is Italy really coming back under Fascism?” and arrives to the conclusion that there is no doubt about it.

“In the black years of 1919-1921,” he writes, “one’s general impression of Italy was slackness—endless, heartbreaking slackness. Tens of thousands of soldiers still in uniform turned their hands to no useful account. Five husky laborers on the railroads did the work of two. The country swarmed with beggars. Chaos, disorder, poverty reigned supreme. Lack of coal, lack of bread, worst of all lack of discipline. Then came Mussolini.

“ ‘Men,’ he said, ‘are perhaps tired of liberty. They have had enough of it.’

“The Italians want things. Forty-two million human beings are pent up within a narrow peninsula no greater than the state of California. Mouths to be fed, bodies to be clothed.

“The Italians are a poor folk set down in a land destitute of the prerequisites of modern industrialism. Italy produces no raw cotton, petroleum, or copper. Her iron resources are strictly limited. Her scanty forests have been cut to pieces. The country is without navigable rivers. The adjacent seas are but meagrely stocked with fish. Not a pound of good steam coal has ever been discovered in the kingdom. Italy is the least selfcontained of all the great industrial countries of the world.

“Considering her slender resources, Italy suffered intolerably in the war. She lost fully half a million men. She spent, out of her poverty, half as much as the United States spent in direct war expenditures. The cost of living represented by the figure 100 at the beginning of the war rose to 348 at the end of the war.

“Can the basic facts of a nation’s economic life be altered artificially by government decree? They can, says Mussolini, by mobilizing the country for peace, just as it is mobilized for war. And he has created such a mobilized state. It has been no small task to ask forty-two million people to surrender their right to talk as they please, to write as they please, to vote as they please.

“On the ruins of democracy Mussolini has built his guild state. He finds no fault with democracy where it can be worked. It won’t work in Italy, that’s all. In place of a government by the people he has set up a board of directors corresponding to the General Staff of an army, with himself at the head.

“It is one thing to destroy existing institutions, and quite another thing to construct something better. An idea of how the new plan has worked may be conveyed by a series of little pictures:

“Italy, brought to the verge of bankruptcy by the war, is now on the credit side of the ledger, with a comfortable balance of income over outgo.

“The national currency, which had crashed, has been stabilized.

“Mussolini has called upon the falling water to redress nature’s parsimony in denying coal to the country. Italy’s investment in hydro-electric power has risen by 400 per cent.

“Unemployment in the country has been reduced to less than one per cent.

“Strikes are unknown; labor organizations having been built into the state, strikers are promptly jailed.

“The Italian merchant marine has been restored to more than pre-war strength.

“Italy’s vast strides in industrialism are rapidly transforming the country from a purely agricultural to a manufacturing state.

“So much for tangibles. But are the people of Italy happier under the Fascist régime? Mussolini assures us that they are.

“ ‘After an absence of five years from Italy,’ he observed, ‘you note, on returning, evidences of increased happiness and well-being. Return to Italy five years from now, and you will observe even greater changes on the side of human happiness. Even the expressions on the faces of our people will have changed for the better.’

“The ‘white collar’ class has probably benefitted less than any other from the new dispensation. Jobs have diminished, applicants have increased. Before the war there were two applicants for every white-collar job. Now there are four. The shabby-genteel class, clerks, bookkeepers, human cash registers, continues to exist on what we would consider starvation wages. Even the top men in this class, such as bank cashiers, responsible for every soldo that passes through their hands, average no better than $50 a month.

“Mussolini is up against two tough domestic problems—farm relief and liquor control.

“The Italian agrarian problem may be elucidated in terms of wheat. Italians must depend for more than one-third of their daily bread upon foreign sources. Mussolini would like to do several things at once: Raise the birth rate, increase the wheat harvest, revaluate the lira, reduce the cost of living. But you can’t ask for more children, more bread, dearer money, and cheaper commodities all at the same time. Mussolini’s ‘battle of the wheat’ has managed to raise the output from 170,000,000 bushels in 1924 to 229,000,-

000 bushels in 1928, but the thing was not accomplished without raising prices.

“In regard to liquor control, Mussolini contributes the first novel and piquant suggestions that I have heard. The Italians are immoderate drinkers of wine. More than half the vineyard acreage of all Europe is found in Italy, and yet Italy imports some twenty-seven million gallons of wine annually.

“ T am personally dry,’ Mussolini said, ‘in a country overwhelmingly wet. Our people drink too much. Our national consumption of wine approximates a hundred liters (twenty-six gallons) a head, but as the women and children drink little, this means more than two liundred liters for the men. Heavy drinking in Italy is associated with the common saloon, where no food is served with drink. We are cursed with these lowclass saloons, and I intend to do away with them—but gradually. When a complaint is made about a particular saloon

1 close it, and from my edict there is no appeal. I have closed twenty-seven thousand saloons in five years; give me time, and I will close them all. I am fortunately not compelled to solicit the approval of either the saloon keeper or his clients. All that belongs to the dark ages of democracy from which we have happily emerged.’

“Characteristic comment on the Fascist régime runs about as follows:

“First, ‘Mussolini has done a whale of a lot for Italy, but he’s pulled some rough stuff which we wouldn’t stand for a minute.’

“Second, ‘Mussolini has done great things, but suppose some wild-eyed chap puts a bullet through him'—what then? Won’t his régime go down like a house of cards?’

“The Fascist government, according to Mussolini, is a great machine that, having been set up, is now capable of being run by leaders bred to the task. Many intelligent Italians with whom I talked believe that Mussolini could retire without vital shock to the structure.

“The view that we would not tolerate Mussolini’s strong-arm methods in this country, however, is correct. Americans accept democracy as the final word in government. And popular government in Italy is dead.”