Giacomo Matteotti (Italian pronunciation: [ˈdʒaːkomo matteˈɔtti]; 22 May 1885 – 10 June 1924) was an Italian socialist politician. On 30 May 1924, he openly spoke in the Italian Parliament alleging the Fascists committed fraud in the recently held elections, and denounced the violence they used to gain votes. Eleven days later he was kidnapped and killed by Fascists.
Matteotti was born a son of a wealthy family, in Fratta Polesine, Province of Rovigo in Veneto. He graduated in law at the University of Bologna.
An atheist and from early on an activist in the socialist movement and the Italian Socialist Party, he opposed Italy's entry into World War I (and was interned in Sicily during the conflict for this reason).
He was elected deputy three times: in 1919, 1921 and 1924.
As a follower of Filippo Turati, Matteotti became the leader of the Unitary Socialist Party in the Italian Chamber of Deputies after the scission of the Socialist Party. He openly spoke out against Fascism and Benito Mussolini, and for a time was leader of the opposition to the National Fascist Party (NFP). From 1921 he denounced fascist violence in a pamphlet titled Inchiesta socialista sulle gesta dei fascisti in Italia (Socialist enquiry on the deeds of the fascists in Italy).
In 1924 his book The Fascisti Exposed: A Year of Fascist Domination was published and he made two impassioned and lengthy speeches in the Chamber of Deputies denouncing Fascism and declaring that the last election, marked by intimidation and militia violence, was "invalid."
On 10 June 1924 Matteotti was bundled into a car and stabbed several times with a carpenter's file as he was struggling to escape. His corpse was found after an extensive search near Riano, 23 kilometers north of Rome, on 16 August 1924.
Five men (Amerigo Dumini – a prominent member of the Fascist secret police, the Ceka - Giuseppe Viola, Albino Volpi, Augusto Malacria and Amleto Poveromo) were arrested a few days after the kidnapping. Another suspect, Filippo Panzeri, fled from arrest. Only three (Dumini, Volpi and Poveromo) were convicted and shortly after released under amnesty by King Victor Emmanuel III.
Before the trial against the murderers, the High Court of the Senate started a trial against general Emilio De Bono, commander of the Fascist paramilitary Blackshirts (MVSN), but he was discharged.
After the Second World War, in 1947, the trial against Francesco Giunta, Cesare Rossi, Dumini, Viola, Poveromo, Malacria, Filippelli and Panzeri was re-opened. Dumini, Viola and Poveromo were sentenced to life imprisonment.
In none of these three trials was evidence found of Mussolini's involvement.
Mussolini's alleged involvement
The involvement of Mussolini in the assassination is much debated.
Historians suggest some different theories. The main biographer of Mussolini, Renzo De Felice, was convinced that the Duce was not innocent. Even Aurelio Lepre and Emilio Gentile thought that Mussolini wanted the death of Matteotti.
The former socialist and anti-fascist journalist Carlo Silvestri in 1924 was a harsh accuser of Mussolini; later, when he joined Italian Social Republic, he affirmed that Mussolini showed him Matteotti Case's papers, and eventually he changed his mind. Silvestri became a strong defender of Mussolini's innocence in Matteotti's murder, and suggested that the socialist was killed by a plot, in order both to damage Mussolini's attempt to raise a leftist government (with the participation of Socialists and Popolari) and to cover some scandals in which the Crown (with the American oil company Sinclair Oil) was involved.
De Felice argued that maybe Mussolini himself was a political victim of a plot, and almost surely he was damaged by the crisis that followed the murder. Many fascists left the Party, and his government was about to collapse. Moreover, his secret attempt to bring Socialists and Populars into a new reformist government was ruined.
John Gunther wrote in 1940 that "Most critics nowadays do not think that the Duce directly ordered the assassination ... but his moral responsibility is indisputable", perhaps with underlings believing they were carrying out Mussolini's desire performing the kidnapping and murder on their own. Other historians, including Justin Pollard and Denis Mack Smith, thought Mussolini was probably aware of the assassination plot but that it was ordered and organized by someone else.
Mauro Canali suggests that Mussolini probably did order the murder, as Matteotti uncovered and wanted to make public incriminating documents proving that Mussolini and his associates sold to Sinclair Oil exclusive rights to all Italian oil reserves.
Consequences of the murder
The death of Matteotti sparked widespread criticism of Fascism. A general strike was threatened in retaliation.
Since Mussolini's government did not collapse and the King refused to dismiss him, all the anti-fascists (except for the Communist Party of Italy) started to abandon the Chamber of Deputies. They retired on the "Aventine Mount", like ancient Roman plebeians. They thought to force the Crown to act against Mussolini, but on the contrary this strengthened Mussolini. After a few weeks of confusion, Mussolini gained a favourable vote by the Senate of the Kingdom, and tried to defuse the tension with a speech.
Despite pressure from the opposition, Victor Emmanuel III refused to dismiss Mussolini, since the Government was supported by a large majority of the Chamber of Deputies and almost all the Senate of the Kingdom. Moreover, he feared that compelling Mussolini to resign could be considered a coup d'état, that eventually could lead to a civil war between the Army and the Blackshirts.
But during the summer, the trial against Matteotti's alleged murderers and the discovery of the corpse of Matteotti once again spread rage against Mussolini: newspapers launched fierce attacks against him and the fascist movement.
On 13 September, a right-wing fascist deputy, Armando Casalini, was killed on a tramway in retaliation for Matteotti's murder by the anti-fascist Giovanni Corvi.
During the autumn of 1924, the extremist wing of the Fascist Party threatened Mussolini with a coup, and dealt with him on the night of San Silvestro of 1924. Mussolini devised a counter-maneuver, and on 3 January 1925 he gave a famous speech both attacking anti-fascists and confirming that he, and only he, was the leader of Fascism. He challenged the anti-fascists to prosecute him, and claimed proudly that Fascism was the "superb passion of the best youth of Italy" and grimly that "all the violence" was his responsibility, because he had created the climate of violence. Admitting that the murderers were Fascists of "high station", like Hitler would later do after the Night of the Long Knives, Mussolini rhetorically claimed fault, stating "I assume, I alone, the political, moral, historical responsibility for everything that has happened. If sentences, more or less maimed, are enough to hang a man, out with the noose!" Mussolini concluded with a warning: Italy needs stability and Fascism would assure stability to Italy in any manner necessary.
This speech is considered the very beginning of the dictatorship in Italy.
Matteotti's son, Matteo Matteotti, became a Social Democratic parliamentary deputy after World War II, serving as Italy's minister of tourism in 1970–72 and minister of foreign trade from 1972–1974, and died in 2000.