Rome: Giacomo Matteotti is walking along the Tiber when he is attacked by a group of men and kidnapped. His body reappears a couple of months later, in August, outside Rome. Who was he, and what happened to him?
Matteotti was a Socialist MP, at a time when the Socialist Party in Italy was still a working class party…before it became a nest of corrupted buffoons and millionaire thieves. In 1921 he had published a research on the rise of Fascism in which he denounced – possibly for the first time in a written text – the violence and political use of the Fascist groups known as Camicie nere, Black shirts. In 1924 a book was published in London “The fascisti exposed; a year of fascist domination” (no idea how easy this is to find), in which he completed the work started in his previous piece, and meticulously described the Fascists’ violence and repression against political opponents.
On 30 May 1924 Matteotti stood up in Parliament to challenge the results of the recent elections and, once again, denounce the violence and abuses which had brought the Fascist Party to power. At the end of his speech and amongst the cheers of his comrades, he predicted “I’ve said my piece. Now you prepare my funeral speech”.
5 men were charged with his murder: they all belonged to the Ceka, the Fascist secret police. The trial in 1926, though, didn’t find an answer to the simple question: who ordered the murder? Mussolini first denied but then, in January 1925, he made a speech in Parliament that many consider the “official” start of the regime: he declared himself leader of the Fascists (this is the year he starts calling himself Il Duce) and, as such, he assumed all responsibility for the violence committed by the Black Shirts. He never mentioned Matteotti’s name, but did he have to? In September 1924 Giovanni Corvi, a comrade of Matteotti’s, killed the Fascist Armando Casalini shouting “Revenge for Matteotti!”. Although he was declared mentally sane, he was sent to an asylum where he rotted until 1943/44, to be then released and captured by the Nazis.
I often get asked the same question in relation to Mussolini (and, of course, Berlusconi…but that’s a different story): why didn’t people do anything? This is the portrait painted by the media, by some Italian media too: that Italians were a bunch of cowards who never did or said anything while Mussolini was alive, and then gathered all together in Piazzale Loreto in April 1945 to cheer at his dead body. Bullshit! Italy never lacked of people with the courage to stand up and fight. Matteotti wasn’t the only one; actually, he is only one of a disturbingly long list. For example, in 1923, a year before his murder, the squadristi had killed Don Giovanni Minzoni, devout Catholic priest and antifascist. A couple of years later, in 1926, Piero Gobetti – radical Socialist, antifascist, writer, journalist – died in France at the age of 25 for health complications caused by the numerous attacks and beatings suffered at the hands of squadristi. In the same year writer, philosopher, and founder of the Italian Communist Party Antonio Gramsci was arrested. He was only released in 1934, when he was too ill to pose a threat to the regime. He lived the next 2 years of his life in hospital, where he eventually died.
By 1938 Mussolini had ordered the death of dozens of political opponents, and the imprisonment and torture of thousands of others (yes, thousands). So, I think I can be forgiven if next time someone asks me ironically why people never did anything against the Fascist regime, I tell them to shut their fucking mouth and go learn some history.