Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – “Between 18 and 20 December 1922 Turin Fascism unleashed a 3 day terror campaign on a recalcitrant anti-Fascist labour movement.” So informs us Antonio Sonnessa.*
Turin (Torino) was a site of resistance to Fascism. It had a powerful labor union, dissident newspapers, a Communist Party (Antonio Gramsci was there and writing). Mussolini may have taken over, but Turin was not going quietly. Hence Something would have to be done about Turin. Uppity workers were not allowed.
Professor Sonnessa writes,
- “Even after the Fascist seizure of power in October 1922 the Turin working class continued to resist Fascism.Between October and December 1922 the ability of the Turin labour movement to offer resistance to Fascism was shown by: the clandestine production and distribution of the Turin-based Communist newspaper Ordine Nuovo [New Order]; political, factory and paramilitary organization; campaigns in support of political victims; popular uprisings against Fascist encroachment on workers’ neighbourhoods; an important factory election victory.”
The black shirt thugs came in to break heads and put an end to this organizing and resistance to the Mussolini coup. Wikipedia writes that after two Fascists in the city were assassinated,
- “Fascists raided and burned down the Camera del lavoro, the trade union headquarters, and attacked on two clubs of the Italian Socialist Party. This was followed by the destruction of the Turin-based Communist newspaper L’Ordine Nuovo. A number of the editors were taken to the central park in Turin and were threatened to be executed by Fascist squads. The fascists rounded up communists and trade unionists in the city and executed a number of them in gruesome manners with one victim, Pietro Ferrero, being tied and dragged behind a truck until he died and another victim being bludgeoned to death. Officially, eleven people were killed and ten were seriously wounded by the Fascists.”
Those killed (and likely it was more like 22) were murdered for questioning the Fascist definition of law and order and for even thinking about challenging property rights and the prerogatives of the factory owners.
Trump’s tweet on Friday quoting a racist official from Florida in the 1960s, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” is a further attack on the rule of law by the most self-consciously fascist president in American history.
Rioting and looting are crimes, and the perpetrators can and should be arrested and prosecuted. But the slogan Trump quoted isn’t about that sort of procedural justice. It is a call for an arbitrary death penalty to be imposed for a crime against property.
Moreover, many peaceful protest actions are routinely mischaracterized by right wing politicians and journalists as “rioting” or “clashes,” and they are routinely met with tear gas and the breaking of heads. In the conservative tradition of Gustave Le Bon, street crowds are frequently seen by the Right as inherently dangerous and illegitimate. Public protest, however, is an American right; it is in the Constitution and it is how the United States began as a country.
As for looting, crimes against property are the supreme crimes in fascist systems. (There was also some anti-Fascist violence in Turin). Simple dissidence against the militarized police and society of the Fascist state is a capital crime.
The unsavory origin of Trump’s slogan goes back to Miami police chief Walter Headley, who in 1967 had launched a program of repression against African-American neighborhoods. Headley complained that it took three days for Los Angeles police to get permission to reply with force to crowd actions in that city. In contrast, he said, he had given his police standing permission: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
The Fascist goons of Turin would have really liked that one, though I’m not sure you could make it rhyme in Italian.
Headley would not allow the few African-Americans on his force to be called “policemen,” only “patrolmen.”
The hierarchies of racism were even embedded in language.
He threatened African-American neighborhoods with attack dogs and shotguns, and one newspaper of the time observed, “his men have been told that any force, up to and including death, is proper when apprehending a felon.”
Criminal mischief or vandalism in Florida law, at least nowadays, is punishable by a fine of $5,000 and up to 5 years in prison.
Headley arbitrarily and unilaterally raised that penalty to death for African-Americans.
And so has Trump, who allegedly dislikes African-American workers so much that his local managers used to hide them from him when he went out to inspect his hotels and casinos.
America’s systematic racism and discrimination has consigned most African-Americans to the lower echelons of the working class, so they bear some resemblance to the beleaguered workers of Turin in 1922.
After the Fascist destruction of the workers’ movement in Turin, it was all over for dissent in Mussolini’s Italy. Nothing but conformism and idol worship of Il Duce was thereafter permitted.
So there was no way to complain when Mussolini rounded up Italian Jews and sent 8,000 of them to die in Nazi death camps, or when 5,000 political prisoners were killed in the the Risiera di San Sabba death camp in Trieste.
Trump has systematically fired inspectors general, has thumbed his nose at Congressional subpoenas, has suspended environmental laws, and generally has mounted a deep and wide assault on the rule of law.
If Americans let him get away with shooting down protesters like dogs (or even persons guilty of felony theft) with no pretense of due process, that will be a huge step toward our own Risiera di San Sabba Camp.
*Antonio Sonnessa, “The 1922 Turin Massacre (Strage di Torino): Working class resistance and conflicts within fascism,” Journal of Modern Italy Volume 10, 2 (2005).