Giacomo Matteotti

On this day in history: Giacomo Matteotti denounces fascist election win

History of Italy News

On 30th May 1924, a pivotal and courageous speech delivered in the Italian parliament marked the beginning of a crisis for Benito Mussolini’s Fascist government. The young socialist politician behind the speech, Giacomo Matteotti, denounced the recent general election as fraudulent and violent, a stance that led to his kidnap and murder.

Giacomo Matteotti, the 29-year-old founder and leader of the Unified Socialist Party, boldly accused Mussolini’s party of using thuggery to intimidate voters and criticised changes to electoral law that made a Mussolini victory almost certain.

Matteotti, already known for his controversial writings on the Fascists’ rise to power, understood the risks of his actions. Reportedly, he warned his colleagues to “get ready to hold a wake for me” as they congratulated him on his speech.

Less than two weeks later, on June 10, Matteotti was walking along the banks of the River Tiber near his home in Rome when he was attacked by five or six assailants. They beat him, forced him into a car, and, despite his attempts to escape, stabbed him repeatedly with a sharply pointed carpenter’s wood file.

His body was not discovered until 16th August, buried in a shallow grave near Riano, about 30 kilometres from Rome. Witnesses identified the car used in the kidnapping, which was found bloodstained and abandoned a few days after the abduction. Arrests quickly followed, revealing the kidnappers as members of Mussolini’s secret police, the Ceka.

The public was outraged, particularly over the suspicion that Mussolini himself had ordered the murder. This was not only due to Matteotti’s damning speech but also because he was believed to have uncovered evidence of an American oil company financing the Fascists in exchange for exclusive rights to Italy’s oil reserves.

Opposition politicians demanded Mussolini’s dismissal

Opposition politicians boycotted the Chamber of Deputies and demanded that King Victor Emmanuel III dismiss Mussolini. However, the monarch, fearing civil war and wary of the socialists’ republican tendencies, refused. Under pressure from extremists in his party to establish a dictatorship, Mussolini used the king’s support to tighten his grip on power.

Mussolini gave a speech accepting broad responsibility for Matteotti’s death as the head of the Fascist party, while daring his opponents to prosecute him if they believed he was directly involved. When they failed to do so, he enacted laws to eliminate all political opposition, marking the start of totalitarian rule in Italy.

Three of the kidnappers were imprisoned, but Victor Emmanuel later granted them amnesty. They were retried after World War II and sentenced again to 30 years in prison, although none of the trials conclusively proved they acted on Mussolini’s direct orders.

Matteotti’s body was returned to his hometown of Fratta Polesine, near Rovigo in the Veneto region. He is buried in the family crypt, remembered as a martyr who stood against tyranny.

Photo of the funeral of Giacomo Matteotti
Funeral of Giacomo Matteotti

Scurati’s monologue

Author Antonio Scurati was to deliver a monologue on 25th April, the day honouring Italy’s liberation from fascism. However, the State broadcaster Rai cancelled it at the 11th hour.

In his speech, Scurati talks about Matteotti’s murder and condemns the current government for not distancing themselves from fascism.

His full speech can be read here.

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