One Evening in October... was written in October 1933 and is José Antonio's introduction to the Spanish edition of Mussolini's La Dottrina del fascismo, which was first published as the entry on Fascism in the Enciclopedia Italiana, Rome, 1932.
Viewing political events in Italy from nearby Spain, the success of Mussolini's March on Rome on the night between October 27th and 28th 1922 must have had a profound impact on the young José Antonio, who was a 19-year-old law student at the time.
The arrival of a strongman to the position of Italian Prime Minister also affected José Antonio's father, Miguel Primo de Rivera. It was an inspiration for his own coup d'état eleven months later on September 13th 1923. The early years of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship were a marked by the successful military campaign in Morocco and an ambitious modernisation programme that aimed to bring Spain into the 20th century, and to a great extent succeeded in doing so. It was difficult not to draw parallels between the Spanish and Italian regimes.
However, Mussolini's dictatorship, which was only installed in 1925, three years after he had come to power constitutionally, was based on the ideology of fascism whereas Primo de Rivera's regime, although well-intentioned, was based on an almost spur of the moment decision and lacked a long term plan.
In justifying his coup d'état, Primo de Rivera announced: "Our aim is to open a brief parenthesis in the constitutional life of Spain and to re-establish it as soon as the country offers us men uncontaminated with the vices of political organisation." In other words, he believed that the old class of politicians had ruined Spain, that they sought only their own interests rather than patriotism and nationalism.
Despite his love and admiration for his father, José Antonio would have been aware of the differences between the two men and the regimes they created. Now more than a decade later Miguel Primo de Rivera had fallen from power and died in exile in 1930 while Mussolini was going from strength to strength in Italy and fascism was gaining power throughout Europe.
As we saw in the last two articles, Towards a new State and Violence and Justice, in the years since his father's death, José Antonio had gone from being a conservative monarchist to fully embracing fascism. In early October 1933, he was on the point of founding his own fascist-inspired party Falange Española, so the chance to visit Mussolini and receive Il Duce's blessing coincided with a crucial moment in his political career.
As I mentioned earlier, One Evening in October... was the introduction to the Spanish edition of Mussolini's La Dottrina del fascismo. It was published later in October 1933, and is a gentle, sensitive piece of writing. José Antonio shows Mussolini in a different light, not as the brash orator or the narcissistic sportsman but as a conscientious leader tirelessly working alone in the dim light of early evening for the good of his country.
I'm certain José Antonio sees a hint of his father in Il Duce and is touched to receive a tender paternal blessing, when Mussolini says, "I wish the very best, for you and for Spain."
Man is the system, and this is one of the profound human truths that fascism has brought to light again. The entire nineteenth century was spent devising mechanisms of good government. One might just as well try to discover a machine for thinking or for loving. No machine has ever been able to produce anything as authentic, eternal and demanding as government; in the long run, it has always been necessary to turn to what has, from the beginning of time, been the only apparatus capable of governing men, namely man himself. That is to say: the leader; the hero.
The opponents of fascism misunderstand this truth and turn it into an aggressive debating point. "Yes," they admit. "Italy has benefitted from fascism; but what will happen when Mussolini dies?" They think that they are dealing the system a crushing blow as if any system were guaranteed to last forever. However, it is very likely that when Mussolini dies, Italy will suddenly be faced with a worrying moment; but it will only last a moment; in due course, with more or less difficulty, the system will produce a new leader. And this leader will, in turn, embody the system for many years. And he (Il Duce, the leader) will keep faith with his people in man-to-man communion, that essential, human and eternal way of communicating that has left its mark on all the paths of history.
I have seen Mussolini close to, one afternoon in October 1933, at the Palazzo Venezia in Rome. That meeting did more to make me understand Italian fascism than reading a great many books.
It was half-past six in the evening. There was not a hint of activity in the Palazzo Venezia. At the entrance, there were two militiamen and a placid doorman. It seemed easier to get into the palace where Mussolini works than to gain access to any provincial government building [in Spain]. As soon as I had shown the doorman the notification of my appointment, I was taken up wide and silent stairs to the ante-room to Mussolini's office. Three or four minutes later, the door opened. Mussolini works in a vast hall, all of marble, with hardly any furniture in it. There he was, behind his desk in the far corner opposite the door. There he was in the distance, alone in the vastness of the room. With a Roman salute and a candid smile, he asked me to approach. I walked towards him for I don't know how long. And once we were both seated, Il Duce began his conversation with me.
I had seen him before, years ago, at a formal audience, when I was received together with a group of students from the University of Madrid. Apart from that, like everyone in the world, I knew him from photographs, which almost invariably depict him in a military pose, saluting or haranguing. But Il Duce of the Palazzo Venezia was quite different, with strands of silver in his hair, with a subtle air of weariness, with his civilian clothes neat and yet casual. This was not the leader of the public meetings, but a man of unusual calmness. He spoke slowly, articulating every syllable. He had to give some instructions on the telephone, and he did so very calmly, his voice anything but authoritarian. At times, when something I said surprised him, he would throw back his head and open his eyes exceedingly wide, so that his dark pupils would for a second be surrounded by white. At other times he would smile calmly. His ability to listen was remarkable.
We talked for about half an hour. Then he accompanied me to the door, across the enormous room. He is not very tall; he no longer has, supposing he ever had it, the upright stance of a militia chief; in fact, his back is beginning to be slightly bent. When the two of us reached the door, he said to me with paternal calm, without the slightest emphasis:
"I wish the very best, for you and for Spain."
Then he returned to his desk, slowly, to resume his work in silence. It was seven o'clock in the evening. With the day's labour done, Rome was streaming through the streets in the warm evening air. The Corso was alive with movement and chatter, like our own Calle Alcalá at about the same time of day. People were going into cafes and cinemas. It seemed as if only Il Duce was still at work by the light of his lamp, in a corner of a vast empty room, watching over Italy, to whose breathing he listened from there as if she were his own small daughter.
What kind of a government apparatus, what system of weights and scales, councils and assemblies, can possibly replace that image of the hero become father, watching beside a perpetually glimmering lamp over the toil and slumber of his people?
JOSE ANTONIO PRIMO DE RIVERA