Italy and World Affairs
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 11 Jan 1934, p. 377-388
Colonna, Don Mario, Speaker
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Item Type
Italy in a Mediterranean world. Ways in which the Mediterranean is a British lake. The relationship between Italy and Great Britain. How the Great War was a terrible trial for Italy. Some words on Mussolini. Reconstruction in progress today. The spirit or cooperation and organization in Italy today. Details of economic problems. Syndicate difficulties. A brief word on world economics.
Date of Original
11 Jan 1934
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Full Text
January 11, 1934

The speaker was introduced by the President.

DON MARIO COLONNA: Mr. Chairman, Gentlemen, and Mr. Mike: I have to address him because he represents my invisible audience. I am much more terrified of him than I am of the visible one because he represents an audience, all ears, no eyes and thousands of mouths--loud speaking mouths--scattered all over the country. I can't look him in the face or know what he thinks about me or know what he is saying about me, so I have to treat him with all due respect.

You know, at least some of you do because you heard me speak last night at Convocation Hall, that I am not an experienced speaker. As a matter of fact, my effort last night was a maiden effort; I have never been on a public platform before in my life, either in this country or in mine. (Applause). I just owe it to the kindness and forbearance of my audience if I was allowed to carry on and bring my little effort to a fairly happy conclusion, notwithstanding the fact that, being inexperienced, I forgot to take into consideration the time factor and found myself rather short of time. Toward the end of my little talk, I realized with sorrow that I was keeping people from their beds. I invited them to go and leave it at that, but they wouldn't.

Well, Gentlemen, the text which I have been set today is "Italy and World Affairs", because, you understand, I have been set a text. The schedule was worked out for me before I appeared here. It was taken for granted that I could say something about it, but I rather feel like a child going up for examination, not knowing exactly what has happened. Besides, everbody has been so hospitable and given me such a royal good time that I haven't had a moment to look up my subject or to prepare notes or anything worthy of me. The few notes I managed to jot down last night I forgot all about five minutes after I got started and that is why I have been so daring as to appear here without a note. I thought I might as well forget it.

The same thing happened this morning. Major Ney's boy is a great friend of mime. He is a jolly little lad of twelve. I like children; I have five myself. I think children sometimes get the right angle of things, so I thought: "I wonder if this kid can give me an idea what I should say about 'Italy and World Affairs'". Mike's answer (not this fellow's answer because he doesn't talk) after duly considering the globe was this (I used this last night but it is good and I haven't so many gags up my sleeve that I can afford not to): "Italy is a sort of a boot sticking into the middle of the Mediterranean which, as everybody knows, is a British lake somewhere in the south of Europe".

That will give us our angle about the way we feel about "Italy and World Affairs". Our world is very largely a Mediterranean world and there is no gainsaying the Mediterranean is" very largely, a British lake. You have Gibraltar, the Suez Canal and all our lines of communication. Some fools would kick at that. We don't mind it because we and Great Britain have always gotten along together in fine style. We have always been on the same ditch at all times. I have been trying to cudgel my brains--I am not an historian and I may be wrong--to discover some period of history in which we were on the wrong side of the ditch or on opposite sides of the ditch and I failed to discover it.

Some people would like to go back to Roman times and say that we invaded Great Britain. Well, we didn't go very far with that. And I think we left a clean record. You have only to look at the roads in England and remember your Kipling to realize that it wasn't quite as rotten as all that. Well, we lost Britain and we lost Gaul and we lost Rome and last of all, he lost his ?-?-? Isn't that Kipling?

However, I take it that after all the ancient Roman civilization was not so much based on the world, though of course the sword was used, as by certain civilized influences, by a certain trend of constructive thought which, even in those days, tried to knit people together.

We had a long peace, the length of which is unparalleled in modern times throughout the known world. That is some achievement. Then we went under. Times changed. The institution of the Empire wasn't strong enough to bear the strain of altered conditions and a long, long story of servitude and oppression was ours, until the great rising of practically the whole of Europe about the middle of the nineteenth century.

We haven't got the long tradition of safety from invasion and possibility of developing a chain of civilized, almost, I should say, unitarian institutions which go back many hundreds of years ago the way you have. Italy attained unity more on paper and on the map than it was in the hearts of the people.

A great statesman said in those days after the whole of Italy had been united under the King's flag, "We have now built Italy: we will have to build the Italians".

The Great War has been a terrible trial for us. It was the crisis of civilization; it was unavoidable and we had to face the music. There was with us a great trend of opinion that was not favourable to our intervention but the man who leads us today was the man who forced the hand of destiny and threw us into the struggle. As you know, he was a Socialist in those days. He broke with the Socialists because they were against intervention. Whatever may have been the result of our intervention, whatever its weight on the allied side, Gentlemen, you owe that to Mussolini, absolutely anal completely to him. That is the man who is leading us today.

There is a big work of reconstruction in progress in my country today. That was set for me as my text last night. This corporate state that everybody is talking about--what it is? I have tried to explain that I was short of time and I couldn't do it. But I think I have given you the spirit of it. I have given the spirit of service which permeates the whole idea of the organization. There is another spirit, too; it is the spirit of co-operation--co-operation between classes, between the different factors of production. We soon realized, at least our leader did, that the problem before us was largely economic. Economic problems have a way of being exploited and of turning into political problems and to rule cooperation out. That, we felt, w-as wrong. We are facing a world in which the economic organization seemed to be well on the way toward the rocks, if not actually sitting on them. Cooperation, nowhere; class war, everywhere! The employees against the employer-both against the state! The investor, grabbing after profits, not caring two pins what happened his money, so long as he got profits; every man for himself and every man against every other

That was the sad state of things which had to be met. Hence, there arose a technical problem--the technical problem of getting these people to work together. I should like to go into that. You know we have a syndicalistic organization, through and through, which is in the nature of a new departure on the old time socialistic syndicalism.

Some people fight syndicalism all over the place. You know what a struggle it had to assert itself. You know what happened in Great Britain in the twenties. First it was rooted out, then it was accepted, then it was rooted out again and that in the course of about three years. Still syndicates were on the map. You can't very well rub them out, There are certain things in the economic world that just happen. Nobody has inverted them; they have just developed. You see in the time of old Rome, Julius Caesar wiped out all syndicates which had existed previously and which were called the "collegia artificium". As a matter of fact, he was the counterpart of our leader today. He was also a man of the people who came from the people with a great racial tradition behind, but no ability but an ability or purpose and ability of mind. He might have done still bigger work if he had not been murdered by his own adopted son. Attempts of that kind have been made against our leader. Happily, God has preserved him.

Well, as I was saying, you have to accept certain things. They are there because they are there and nobody invented them. There is Capitalism. There is nothing much the matter with it, except that it lends itself to corners. Again, I am using a gag I used last night. The world seems to be round. None of you would dare to say that it is a pancake. Our contention is that it isn't round because it is full of corners, there can not be any true liberty. There may be a travesty of liberty. There is so much of it that it gets in its own way and that is a travesty of real liberty. After all, the whole story of civilization is the story of the limitation of personal liberty. Some limitations were opposed; some, accepted by the individual. Syndicates were an example of this spontaneous relinquishing of certain liberties of the individual to further a common purpose. People who band together for any common purpose always relinquish a certain amount of their personal liberty in order to be able to organize their efforts and direct them, not according to the whims of the individual, but according to the interests of the class of the category to which the individual belongs. Augustus reinstated the unions in imperial Rome, and admitted frankly that syndicates were there, arid since they were a natural growth of economic life they had to be accepted. That was very largely the argument which we used a couple of thousand years later. They were there; you couldn't stamp them out; you had to use them. However, there was something the matter with our syndicates. They represented only one class of the community and that was the labour classes and the labour classes, following the industrial revolution or the beginning of last century, had only one axe to grind, really. High wages--that was what they wanted, or at least what they thought they wanted. We said, "No, they don't want high wages; they want a high standard of living". You say that it means the same thing. Perhaps it does; perhaps it doesn't. That depends on the purchasing power of your mind. Hence, it was a technical problem which is the problem the labour man has to face. He has to make both ends meet. He has to feed the family and his children. He has to find work to feel that he is not an undesirable member of the community. If he has the right to live, we contend he should be given the right to earn his living. (Applause). You can not bring children into the world and then be content if, when they grow up, fully qualified to work for the community and for the good of the people, nobody wants their labour. That is unjust. There is something wrong about that and it has got to be changed. (Hear, Hear).

On the other hand, we have the employer. The employer is up against financial difficulties, the same as everybody else. The labour charges come on his balance sheet. He is interested in producing goods at the cheapest possible price, not in order to undercut competition, but in order to enlarge his market. That, I believe, is the more human way of putting it. The more we go on, the more we realize that our consumers, the mass of our consumers, especially in a country as poor as mine, is represented by the labour classes. You can't find an outlet for your production unless the labour classes consume, unless they are given a means of consuming. It is to our interests as well as those of the labour classes that their standard of living should be raised; that is to say that their purchasing will be increased.

But, then we have to consider the employer's point of view. One, but only one, is the labour charge, the pay of the hands. Is that all? Oh, by no means is it all. We have taxation to consider. The wholesale price of his produce is influenced by two things, so called. One is the charge on his balance sheet for the labour he employs. Number two is taxation. Hence, pursuing its policy, the government is doing all it can to decrease taxation which was on the producer, so ultimately he may produce at a cheaper price.

There is another dead weight and that is the interest (charges on the capital which he has borrowed. High interest means high sales prices. You see there is another field of effort which comes in there. We have got, then, to attempt to reduce the interest charges which weigh on the producer today. We have to try and relieve him from the excessive weight of taxation. Is there anything else? Oh, yes, in order to make the produce go around and improve the standard of living of the labour classes, you have got to control and reduce cut throat competition in commerce. This is revolutionary, Gentlemen, because we must realize that commerce, generally speaking, with its whole outlay of capital and all the labour it employs, is a charge that weighs on the difference between wholesale and retail prices. Now, retail prices are the things that labour is especially interested in. So, in order to make the wheels go around, there is another field of effort for us. We have to bring down the capital charges, bring down the general rate of interest, reduce them as much as we possibly cart. We have got to reduce taxation on the producer. We have got to make the things go around without loss, due to 'cut throat competition in distribution.

Our syndicalistic system has started to work in the first field, the field of labour employment. Here we have open syndicates which are recognized by the state when they comply with certain conditions; namely, the number of their membership, the general standing of the officers selected and the acceptability of their statutes.

First of all, we have got labour syndicates, employees' syndicates and employers' syndicates, too. You can't have one without the other. If these people have to go into a huddle about labour prices, they must have a parent organization. We combine the companies under the person of their manager, as we call the private owners, and we call these people into syndicates. They are open syndicates; they are not compulsory.

One particular characteristic about both kinds of syndicates is that they are not only the legal representatives, according to our law, of the actual membership, but the contracts which from time to time they make with the opposing syndicates let them call them opposing, one as labour and one employer. They regulate and control not only the actual membership of the syndicate but all those people who belong to the same branch to which the syndicate belongs. There is only one recognized syndicate in a given place" covering one branch of production and which represents the whole class, whether in the syndicate or out of it, and which is the legal representative of their class.

When r am talking about syndicates, I talk from both points of view. I am making no distinction between labour syndicates and employers' syndicates. They are two parent organizations, essentially similar to each other. We have from the lowest rung of the ladder in a certain place, one syndicate representing one field of labour. All the syndicates are grouped together in a provincial body which we call a federation, a committee, the members of which are the legal representatives of the syndicates.

Out of the federation, we go to the National Confederation which represents the nation in its whole in that branch. Of these confederations, we have six labour and six employers. The total is thirteen. You say that six and six make twelve. Yes, but you have to consider that there is another confederation, another arrangement which must be applicable to those people which is neither employer nor employees. That is the liberal professions--the artists and those of a similar profession. We have to bring them into the picture; they clay their part. They can't be ranged either with one or the other because, after all, they are people who carry out their own work with their own capital or with the capital they have expended in their own professional instruction.

Looking at it from any economic point of view: We (have six national federations of labour facing six national confederations of employers. These six (I think I will be able to read them off) are: Agriculture; Industry; Transportation-there are two for Transportation, one is air and sea and one is land transportation; then there is Banking and Credit; and Commerce.

Notwithstanding the fact that we are getting commerce under control, it has its federation and legal class representation on both sides--labour and capital. How do they get together? So long as a man explains that he just produces, that it is one legitimate interest, he just belongs to the syndicalistic system. But when the legal representatives of opposing interests go into a huddle in order to express a new contract of labour which is going to influence and to regulate the whole contractual relationship between labour and employers' interests in a given class, whenever these people come together and form an elect committee, as you call it, they cease to be free individuals, merely seeking the interests of their federation. They are invested with state power. That is to say, they become in effect, government officials--so many little parliaments working out all the little problems as they crop up. Their agreement, after the two parties concerned sign cm the dotted line and after it receives the sanction of the Minister of the Confederation which is the Minister who co-ordinates all this gigantic effort, has power of law, meaning that the man in the street makes his own laws. He hasn't got to go to the parliament and vote every five years and then forget all about it, or just make a noise in the newspapers. He is on the job the whole of the time.

That is an interesting point. Because of this fact an incident was told me by a Canadian friend the other day. He said that he had met a Doctor in a train in Italy who was telling him about these things. My Canadian friend hadn't quite got the hang of it yet. He said, "Don't you get up against the government in these things? Don't you have to fight it out with the government?" Quite incomprehensibly, the Doctor said to my Canadian friend, "Why should I have a bone to pick with the government? I am the government" You see what I mean by that? (Applause). I can only give an outline in this short time. I don't want to go into this thing here. I have only another five minutes-is that right?


DON MARIO COLONNA: Good! (Laughter).

I want you to get the idea of co-operation that permeates the whole system and I shall just leave it at that.

I shall just have to say one more thing: another specific thing about the organization is that all these syndicates are legally responsible. If they go back on a legal contract, if they go back on their word, they can be brought before the courts. There is a supreme court of labour on top of the whole organization. Three chosen representatives of labour and capital sit over a case when it goes to them. Very few cases go to supreme courts. They are all threshed out before they get there.

You can not confer power on any organization without also conferring responsibility. Power goes with responsibility and responsibility is indissoluble from power.

Well, you see that co-operation is the keynote. The result is this: We have outruled strikes and lockouts and made them a crime against the community. This, I hold, is perfectly legitimate since we have provided an other legal channel for the threshing out of these matters without having to disrupt the whole machinery of production which recoils on the general standard of living and may upset your whole plan.

I tell you that we have not a big tradition. We have been working the matter out and it is working along. We have a long way to go but the keynote is co-operation and service.

As I was telling my friends last night, I am not here to sell anything or to try to sell you anything at all. I am not a salesman. But the idea of co-operation is there; it is for everybody to apply in the way they think best. There is a point to which the struggle for life may appear to be legitimate and may be also useful. There is a point, obviously, where co-operation has to take the place of competition. There is a sort of a curve to the top of the curve -I am talking to mathematicians, if there are any here--at the top of the curve you get to the point to which the struggle for life embodying competition is useful and beyond that point it fails. Then it goes to zero. Well, we can work that out. As a matter of fact, I haven't got my maths in English, but I think you get it.

(A slip of paper is placed before the speaker by the President of the Club). He reminds me that I am talking about world affairs. These are world affairs! 'Me main idea is co-operation. We are doing that within our (country. Perhaps the spirit that moves us will permeate the world some day and we may be able to work out some system by which countries will get together on a similar basis. The point is this: the world was never richer than it is today. It is producing at a rate that is incredible. People say that there is over-production. There is no such thing. There is under-consumption. (Applause).

If our money systems are rotten, if our system for making the goods circulate--because it is the goods that matter-has become ineffective, we must remember that we cannot stay the triumphal march of civilization because of rotten book-keeping.

Money is just an instrument to make the stuff go around. We hold that it is illegal and criminal to destroy produce to keep the prices up. We are producing stuff arid we want it to go around. Profit, we respect, when it is legitimate. We do not respect it when it comes from the artificial corner and that corner we smash wherever it happens to be. The smashing is not done by the mailed fist of Mussolini, but by the almighty workings of him and his collaborators of which I am proud to number myself as one during twelve years of the continued session of a constitutent assembly which is known abroad as Italy. (Prolonged applause).

Ire expressing the thanks and appreciation of The Empire Club to Don Mario Colonna for his address, Major Baxter also expressed the appreciation of The Empire Club to the National Council of Education for having brought the distinguished body of Italian men and women, of which Don Mario Colanna was a member, to our country.

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Italy and World Affairs

Italy in a Mediterranean world. Ways in which the Mediterranean is a British lake. The relationship between Italy and Great Britain. How the Great War was a terrible trial for Italy. Some words on Mussolini. Reconstruction in progress today. The spirit or cooperation and organization in Italy today. Details of economic problems. Syndicate difficulties. A brief word on world economics.