Militarism: The New Slavery - John T. Flynn


The story of militarism in Germany ought to suffice. But its use in Italy will enable us to see the whole tragic experiment on a different stage. In the Italy of the late 19th Century the general methods of parliamentary government were in practice. It was a constitutional monarchy and instruments of production and distribution were owned by private enterprise. The central government was endowed with more authority than in Germany, which encouraged politicians to use it. It fell into the habit of erecting bureaus like our numerous WPA's and AAA's and NRA's. Depretis, a conservative, was premier. Like Bismarck, he went in heavily for social welfare measures, but was never able to collect enough taxes to pay the bills. Like Germany, Italy was bedeviled by socialist agitators who promised jobs and handouts for all if they would only junk capitalism.

This made a powerful appeal to the masses who had been used to short rations for years. Here again, as in Germany, the politicians of the Right supposed they could silence the demand for socialist institutions by actually giving the people a heavy dose of socialism. It was, of course, never possible to provide sufficient jobs in government—operated industries and bureaus to supplement the heavily taxed and regulated private ones. Depretis tried building roads, financing cooperatives, providing unemployment insurance, health insurance and handouts of all kinds to various minority groups.

More radical leaders were demanding more radical measures such as dividing the land among the peasants. And, of course, and inevitably, Italy turned to militarism. Youth were conscripted into the armies, and the armaments industry was set off into violent energy providing weapons and munitions for the army and navy—which meant, as in Germany, as many jobs as in the armed forces themselves. In short, the conscript armies and the immense industry necessary to house, feed, clothe and arm these forces became the greatest job—making enterprise in Italy. The government was spending on the armed services five times as much as on all other forms of government job—making such as public works. The cost of the armed services consumed 63 per cent of the whole cost of government. Health insurance, unemployment insurance, funds for cooperatives, old—age pensions, subsidies for farmers and other government plans to spend money were adopted.

After World War I the experiment was continued, with the inevitable rise of deficits, as follows:

1919—20 11,494,000,000
1920—21 20,955,000,000
1921—22 17,169,000,000

In the single year 1920—21 the deficit was five billion lira greater than the accumulated deficits of pre—war Italy for fifty years. By 1922 the national debt was 92,643,000,000 lira.

The government built 162,000 dwellings, 346 town halls, 255 hospitals, 1156 schools, 1000 churches, along with roads, railways, drainage projects, irrigation works. This enabled the politicians to provide a great number of jobs. One may ask—what was wrong about this? Were not these desirable contributions to Italy's well—being, to say nothing of the impact on unemployment? The answer, of course, is obvious. These adventures in job—making by the government were made possible only by heavy taxation and endless borrowing. The debt soared. Italy's resources were exhausted. The workers, their appetites stimulated by these measures, continued to demand more and more. This spending of borrowed money, largely borrowed from the banks, produces an inflation. The inflation forces prices up. The rising prices lead to demands for wage increases. The increased costs force ever heavier borrowing until the economic system approaches a crisis. One industry after another falls into idleness. Workers are laid off and the experiment—in reverse—proceeds to devour itself. Six hundred thousand workers in Italy were on strike in six hundred plants. Italy was bankrupt. The Communists ran amuck, took over many of the plants and hoisted the Red flag.

The climax of this gaudy and tragic folly was Mussolini and his Fasci di Combattimento. Of course Mussolini proceeded to give the deluded Italian people more of the same. He demanded a new constitution, nationalization of arms and munition plants, national control of factories, railroads, public services to be controlled by workers' councils, confiscation of war profits, social insurance, heavy inheritance taxes and (with a gleam of satire) "no form of dictatorship." He proceeded to do precisely what the old parties did—to which he added militarism on an even greater scale. It is interesting to recall that many Americans visited Italy and commented on the skill with which Mussolini solved Italy's economic problems with his vast military adventures. Militarism on a grander scale became the base of Italy's economic system. No thoughtful man can escape the historic fact that in Germany and Italy—and other European countries —both conservatives and radicals turned to immense military establishments to solve a problem of unemployment—and to get the funds for this purpose from oppressive taxation and fantastic borrowing.

There are, of course, great numbers who love military institutions for their own sake—the external expression of national might; the display of power and glory in the marching legions, the flying flags, the martial music. But there would have been no militarism but for the desperate search by frustrated politicians promising jobs for all and abundance for all. The promise is redeemed by vast armies, an equally vast military industry, handouts for numerous groups, heavy taxation and endless borrowing. It is never possible to pay these exhausting bills out of mere taxes. Always and everywhere these promise—making dictators and demagogues and military heroes turn to the ultimate destructive weapon — government borrowing—endless debt, until the whole tragi-comedy sinks into the arms of bankruptcy and war—war, which affords a brief refuge and ends the whole ghastly tragedy.