In laying out the foundation for fascism, Giovanni Gentile and Benito Mussolini wrote two essays in the 1920s and 30s known as, "La Dottrina del Fascismo".

Gentile authored the first essay titled "Idee Fondamentali".

Mussolini is credited with the second, "Dottrina politica e sociale" (some sources suggest that Gentile also authored this essay, ghostwriting for Mussolini).

The essays were published in the Enciclopedia Italiana in 1932.

sources: (1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treccani, (2) https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_dottrina_del_fascismo, (3) https://www.amazon.com/Doctrine-Fascism-Benito-Mussolini-ebook/dp/B00II9F7N0/ref=sr_1_2

Here's an excerpt from Mussolini's "Dottrina politica e sociale" that is the subject of my question:

Ammesso che il sec. XIX sia stato il secolo del socialismo, del liberalismo, della democrazia, non è detto che anche il sec. XX debba essere il secolo del socialismo, del liberalismo, della democrazia. Le dottrine politiche passano, i popoli restano. Si può pensare che questo sia il secolo dell’autorità, un secolo di «destra», un secolo fascista; se il XIX fu il secolo dell’individuo (liberalismo significa individualismo), si può pensare che questo sia il secolo «collettivo» e quindi il secolo dello Stato.

(1) https://it.wikisource.org/wiki/La_dottrina_del_fascismo (2) http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/fascismo_(Enciclopedia-Italiana)/ (3) https://web.archive.org/web/20141213102821/http://litgloss.buffalo.edu/mussolini/text2.shtml

The first and only authorized translation of Mussolini's essay was written by British author and historian Jane Soames. Her work was published in 1933. Here's her interpretation:

Granted that the nineteenth century was the century of Socialism, of Liberalism, and of Democracy, it does not necessarily follow that the twentieth century must also be a century of Socialism, Liberalism, and Democracy. Political doctrines pass, but humanity remains, and it may rather be expected that this will be a century of authority, a century of the left, a century of Fascism; for if the nineteenth century was a century of individualism (Liberalism always signifying individualism) it may be expected that this will be a the century of collectivism, and hence the century of the state.


It appears that Mussolini wrote: "...this will be the century of authority, a century of the right, a century of Fascism..."

But the translation reads: "...this will be the century of authority, a century of the left, a century of Fascism..."

Why did Soames see "Right" to mean "Left"?

enter image description here

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A "mistranslation"

In researching an answer to this question I discovered various related discussions online, including one post on Skeptics.SE.

All of these discussions have two things in common:

  1. they arrive at the same conclusion, that Soames made a mistake; and,
  2. they are built entirely on speculation and opinion (none provide corroborating evidence).

For example, in the Skeptics.SE post, the author of the primary answer asserts "This is a mistranslation", but later admits,"I have been unable to discover how or why Soames managed to mistranslate "destra" as "left". Not authoritative. Not referenced. Not complete.

It's easy to make the claim that Soames was sloppy and incompetent. If you consider the full context, however, buying into that theory is not so easy.

  1. How could an accomplished author and historian, tasked with translating a foundational document of fascism, fail to properly translate the simplest of terms in the Italian language?

  2. If she could not properly translate "left" and "right", how can we expect the rest of the work, containing more complex language, to be accurate?

  3. Why did Soames never issue a correction?

  4. Why didn't anybody (including the Italian government) demand a correction?

So if we look at the bigger picture, and make the reasonable assumption that somebody of her caliber is unlikely to make such an elementary mistake, why would she choose "left" over "right"? Thank you.

Source Authentication

It's important to note that we are reviewing Soames' original work. I have posted images above of the pages from Political Quarterly (1933), the hard-copy publication containing her translation.

Not so for Mussolini. All discussion about this matter – in this post and other online discussions – is based on digital copies of his essay (I've listed three sources above in the Italian language section). I'm not saying these digital copies are incorrect or corrupt. But for the sake of verification, I will attempt to post images of Mussolini's original essay in the Encyclopedia Italiana (1932).

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    Has her translation been reedited since 1933 ? If yes, has the mistake been reproduced in later editions ? – Evargalo Aug 12 '19 at 15:50
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    @evargalo, I have been unable to find revised versions of her translation or anything else that suggests a correction occurred. – Michael Benjamin Aug 12 '19 at 15:58
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    The Skeptics post is referenced in going ad fontes and comparing the Italian original with this Soames translation. If you compare other translations, also into other languages it becomes very clear that Soames made a mistake here. Such things happen and can be found in the bible as well. Demanding corrections for that usually takes a few centuries… – LаngLаngС Aug 12 '19 at 17:06
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    Voting to close as off-topic. Might be a suitable question on history SE. How Jane Soames made such an error is not a political question as far as I can tell. She is a pretty obscure writer. I don't see how you can call her an "accomplished author and historian". Especially historian. Frankly it's not even clear if she spoke Italian. – Fizz Aug 13 '19 at 0:00
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    @isakbob The question is not really on topic on Italian.SE. It is beyond any doubt that writing "destra" Mussolini meant "right-wing", and that the meaning of "right" or "left" has not changed in the intervening century. There is no language question here (my personal opinion is that Ms Soames misunderstood the whole paragraph and the translation did not have a wide enough diffusion for the mistake to be caught by people who knew better). – Denis Nardin Aug 13 '19 at 7:07

Note that the 1933 booklet that Jane Soames supposedly translated was published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf. Leonard Woolf was known for his left wing (not fascist) leaning. In fact he deplored fascism as early as 1935. Here's a quote to that effect from a 2018 PhD thesis

The Woolfs’ Hogarth Press published numerous tracts on pacifism, the League, socialism, communism, and colonialism. In particular, two key pamphlets were published in juxtaposition in 1933: the Hispanist H. R. G. Greaves’s explication and defense of the new Spanish Constitution and Jane Soames’s translation of Benito Mussolini’s anti-socialist, anti-pacifist polemic The Political and Social Doctrine of Fascism. Hogarth’s Day-to-Day Pamphlet series featured regular commentaries on topics including fascism and Spain, while studies and commentaries from Leonard Woolf, H. G. Wells, Edgar H. Brooks, R. M. Fox, Florence Wilson (of the Association for International Understanding), John S. Stephens, Freud (Civilization and Its Discontents), Viscount Cecil, Louis Golding, C. L. R. James, and the Friends Anti-War Group extended the Press’s cultural and political work.

Additionally, Leonard edited a set of essays for Victor Gollancz (founder of the Left Book Club in 1936), The Intelligent Man’s Way to Prevent War (1933), which outlines the aims of a number of leftist movements in Europe and advocates the League of Nations as a “road to peace,” reprinting the League’s founding covenant at the end. Its title frames the central question of Virginia’s Three Guineas—how to prevent war—and Leonard’s introduction emphasizes that “War is not a ‘natural’ catastrophe … It is not inevitable; it is preventable in Europe [by way of] … civilization.” In 1935, Leonard traced in Quack, Quack! the “primitive” elements of Europe’s re-descent toward barbarism, represented politically by Mussolini and Hitler and philosophically by Spengler and Bergson. His studies continued once civil war broke out in Spain, and with the flood of pro-Republican propaganda from the Left Book Club, the Labour Party, and numerous small publishers, the British left coalesced as what Neal Wood calls Britain’s “nearest equivalent of a popular front.”30 With its multi-faceted advocacy of an internationalization of the Spanish Republic’s freedoms, Bloomsbury’s work exemplifies the conviction that the battle for Spain was part of the battle for civilization in Europe. Their vision of what Christine Froula describes as “modernity’s permanent revolution,” which sought to “reclaim the purpose and vitality of the Enlightenment project” against twentieth-century barbarism and war, now extended to Spain and to the project of refashioning the country within a new Europe.

(Emphasis mine.) Virginia would also publicly deplore fascism a bit later in 1938.

Her 1938 book Three Guineas was an indictment of fascism and what Woolf described as a recurring propensity among patriarchal societies to enforce repressive societal mores by violence.

How the first "authorized" translation of a fascist tract was published by ideological enemies of fascism is a bit beyond me... but not completely.

There's a much more in-depth article on the early days of Hogarth Press, and it does mention that fostering political discussions on timely topics was the Press' self-given mandate, but alas the 20-page article doesn't say much about Mussolini's work translation. There's a list of political publications in the Day to Day series considered noteworthy on pp.73-74 of the paper, but Mussolini's work is only briefly mentioned as

Benito Mussolini's The Political and Social Doctrine of Fascism (1933; the most aberrant of the Hogarth pamphlets) Arthur Ponsonby's tract of Disarmament (1932), and Leonard Woolf's the League and Abyssinia (1936), among others, posed the globe rather than the nation as the site of both auspicious and threatening political battles.

Make of that "most aberrant" what you will; it's not explained any further in the paper. The paper does mention (p.72) that the Day to Day series of political pamphlets had low sales, despite Leonard's expectation that they would be successful. I guess that also means that few people back then even read the "authorized" translation of Mussolini's tract.

Also, since Wikipedia has such a sketchy bio of Jane Soames, the official translator... I checked her WorldCat page. I could find no other translation from Italian among her published works listed there. In fact it's hard to find any other translations by her from any language, besides this Mussolini work. (I did find one other work of her's that is a translation "The Causes of the World War. An historical summary", which is a translation from French; the original author of that book being Camille Bloch.)

  • The WorldCat approach towards translating from Italian is an interesting angle. But have you adjusted for 'au:Jane (Soames) Nickerson'? – LаngLаngС Aug 13 '19 at 1:36
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    @LangLangC: that doesn't give any more translations. She gave up on translations circa 1935 it seems. The first search (without Nickerson) actually includes the latter. – Fizz Aug 13 '19 at 1:38
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    @LangLangC: searching just for Jane Nickerson did find one book in Italian amusingly worldcat.org/title/camera-di-sangue/oclc/… but it's a (recent) translation from English from another author. goodreads.com/book/show/13721341-strands-of-bronze-and-gold (Jane Soames died in 1988; this is a 2013 book) – Fizz Aug 13 '19 at 1:45
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    You may be onto something here. I had a phone conversation yesterday with Jane Soames Nickerson's son, William Nickerson. He has no knowledge of this translation by his mother, which was published before he was born. But he knows one thing for sure: She didn't speak Italian. She spoke English and French. +1 – Michael Benjamin Aug 29 '19 at 21:26

Not only Wikipedia says that

Fascism (/ˈfæʃɪzəm/) is a form of radical right-wing, authoritarian ultranationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and strong regimentation of society and of the economy which came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe.

Mussolini himself wrote that in his native tongue Italian.

The Skeptics post is referenced in going ad fontes and comparing the Italian original with this Soames translation. If you compare other translations, also into other languages, it becomes very clear that Soames made a mistake here. Such things happen and can be found in the bible as well. Demanding corrections for that usually takes a few centuries…

It might be a deliberate decision by Soames to change the words and thus meanings. But that seems unlikely.

A simple scribal error is much more probable and the simpler explanation. The translation is in error.

The original reads:

Si può pensare che questo sia il secolo dell’autorità, un secolo di «destra», un secolo fascista...

Google translates that as

One may think that this is the century of authority, a century of "right", a fascist century ...

A good English translation reads:

That is to say, it rejects the idea of a doctrine suited to all times and to all people. Granted that the XIXth century was the century of socialism, liberalism, democracy, this does not mean that the XXth century must also be the century of socialism, liberalism, democracy. Political doctrines pass; nations remain. We are free to believe that this is the century of authority, a century tending to the "right", a Fascist century. If the XIXth century was the century of the individual (liberalism implies individualism) we are free to believe that this is the "collective" century, and therefore the century of the State.

The German version also translates correctly destra as "right": enter image description here

A French version (B. Mussolini: "Le Fascisme", Paris, 1933, p. 19) has it as also "century of the right".

And interestingly in Noel O’Sullivan: "Fascism", London: Dent, 1983, p138, we read that Mussolini ordered in 1940 all remaining copies of the document, which had different editions and different translations anyway be retracted, 'because he changed his mind about certain points'.

How can such an error occur, even if the author is otherwise trustworthy, well respected?

The most common types of alteration made by scribes to the texts that they copy are these:

Of Omission:
homeoteleuton: the scribe paused, then resumed writing but skipped ahead because of the similarity of the endings of two lines, thus leaving out a passage.
homeoarchy: eye-skip because of the similarity of the beginnings of two lines. haplography: copying once what appeared in the exemplar twice ("pewterer" reduced to "pewter," or "that that" reduced to "that").

Of Addition: dittography: mechanical repetition, by trick of memory ("that that" when original had only "that").
contamination: extraneous element from elsewhere appears on the page.

Of Transposition: metathesis: reversing letters, words, phrases.

Of Alteration:
Unwitting mistranscription: the First Folio Anthony and Cleopatra, in V.ii.87, gives "an Antonie twas" where Shakespeare had written "an autumn twas"; the typesetter "saw" "Antonie" there, partly because the name had appeared so often already, and partly because it made "sense" in the passage, so the initial error was not immediately caught.
deliberate: the scribe acts as editor to correct and improve the original.

This means that a number of psychological errors is greater than deliberate politically motivated alterations. Given that the original spoke of socialism multiple times before the error, I guess it's easily explained.

What is an authorised translation?

Variously, most explanations go like this:

What is an authorized translation?

It is a document which has been translated or verified by a translator authorized by the Ministry of Justice from Romania and it bears his/her stamp and signature.

Attention! The authorized translation cannot be subsequently certified! It has to be requested even from the beginning at the translation office.

Wikiquote is only needed to clear up the English version of Soames text alone, no other language features this debate, as the original says "right" and all follow-up errors in English seem to depend on Soames:


It may be expected that this will be a century of authority, a century of the Left, a century of Fascism.

From Jane Soames’s authorized translation of Mussolini’s “The Political and Social Doctrine of Fascism,” Hogarth Press, London, (1933), p. 20. Julius Evola reproduced the original Italian as "un secolo della 'Destra'" ("a century of the right"); see Evola, Fascismo e Terzo Reich. Several English translations agree with Evola's wording, including one published by the Fascist government in 1935 and transcribed online.

"depending" meaning here for example The Challenge To Liberty by Herbert Hoover, p 66.

But this was evidently not the only English version in circulation, as other English speaking fascists preferred the correct ("right") translation at the time.

It seems unfounded to suspect that "authorisation" means 'proofread by Mussolini himself for correctness before or after it went into print.'

So it seems that instead of requesting errata to be published in what Soames had permission to do, the Fascists decided "if you want it 'right' do it yourself"?

That this small error of Soames now feeds confused English speaking pundits that want to distract from their own right-wing extremism and thus closeness to fascism is tragic. But the fascist Mussolini simply wrote about his movement's promising future as "a century of the right", since he knew and told honestly what he was when he wrote that down: a fascist and thus a right-winger.

  • I had looked at other translations (including the one you posted by the World Future Fund). Soames' is important because it's the only authorized translation. I presume that means she was approved for the task by the Enciclopedia Italiana, Gentile, Mussolini and/or the Italian government. – Michael Benjamin Aug 12 '19 at 20:22
  • Also, while a correction to the Bible, a 2000-year-old document tied to billions of people across the world, may take centuries to amend, a miswording in a 20th century political essay shouldn't take that long to fix. More importantly, it appears that Soames' never issued a correction, and no Italian authority (or Italian, for that matter) ever requested one. – Michael Benjamin Aug 12 '19 at 20:37
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    @Michael_B: The translation being authorised doesn't mean a terrible lot: I'd bet it was more a political/diplomatic thing, than a guarantee on its correctness. As a not completely off-topic aside, you'll probably know about Emil Ludwig's Talks with Mussolini. I am going by memory (so some details may well be wrong), but the Italian version was first authorised, then the authorisation revoked when the book was already printed (but the few copies already ready were allowed to be sold), then came a translation allegedly made by Mussolini himself, and so on. – DaG Aug 12 '19 at 21:03

Right and left had different meanings. For example,

"Left-Wing" Communism: An Infantile Disorder is a work by Vladimir Lenin attacking assorted critics of the Bolsheviks who claimed positions to their left. Most of these critics were proponents of ideologies later described as left communism.

The original meaning of "left" was the left side of the French parliament, which was antimonarchy. The "right" before about 1930-40 was antidemocracy- which is why, for, example, there was a split between Churchill's pro-pension Tories and the Liberal left in the 1925 budget, or the anti-tariff Democrats in the 20s who cut public services. In the majority of Democratic countries at the time, the "left" was what would be described as free market liberals today, so "right" and "left" had opposite meanings. Remember that the common man in this time was a farmer, and economic theory was not relevant in the same way.

So the only possibility, besides a typo, is that the author was writing at a time when the terms were in such flux they weren't important.


In English, collectivism is left wing. So the simplest explanation is that Soames correctly translated the meaning of the statement rather than trying to translate literally. Other translations translated this literally.

This is consistent with how Italian fascism developed as a nationalist form of syndicalism, just as nazism was a nationalist form of socialism. It's confusing in that nationalism is often viewed as right-wing while syndicalism and socialism are left wing ideals.

This could either mean that right was incorrect in the Italian or that the Italians of the time defined right differently. Or even that Mussolini was emphasizing something different from what Soames was emphasizing.

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    Are you sure collectivism was seen as a left-wing ideology in the UK in the 30s? Also, the context is Mussolini denouncing socialism, classical liberalism, and democracy as individualistic left-wing ideologies of the 19th century. Mussolini rejected egalitarianism, and hence he classified mainstream socialists as individualists. – Jouni Sirén Aug 12 '19 at 18:33
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    This seems a weird argument. Mussolini in the text is essentially saying "the old right was individualist, but the new right must be collectivist", and you are saying that a 'cultural translation' of this passage should replace "right" with "left"? – Denis Nardin Aug 12 '19 at 19:44
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    You're not alone in this interpretation, but it is certainly a minority position, exclusive to the English speaking world. strike-the-root.com/fixing-historical-sabotage & WP-talk – LаngLаngС Aug 12 '19 at 21:00
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    Even – and it doesn't seem likely – if the choice was deliberate on part of Soames, it would be a wrong, misleading choice. “Left” and “right” are primarily spatial, geometrical concepts, and have moved to political language simply as the physical sides of a parliament where those political sides sit (as seen by the chairperson) since the French Revolution. And these do not differ anywhere as far as I know, at least not between Italy and United Kingdom. – DaG Aug 12 '19 at 21:05
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    @Michael_B You're right to emphasize 'a consideration'. However, it seems to me that this is the more complicated explanation, speculative, and an anachronistic/ahistorical reading of the problem. Mussolini began as a socialist, but fascism never was left-wing as long as it existed. Anywhere. The "nazis and fascist are really leftists" is a (false) meme of younger age? – LаngLаngС Aug 12 '19 at 21:39

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