The 17th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party took place in Beijing with 2,200 delegates in attendance, 100 more than the one before. The new slogan, ‘Development in Social Harmony’, has been imparted, setting aside, therefore, all reference to the Maoist ‘class struggle’ of that great country’s period of national-bourgeois revolution. From the ideological and the external apparatus of Chinese society, the very last trappings of the ‘communism’ that it never hosted in the first place are being removed.
The Congress intends, “to scientifically integrate market economy with state control”, which is actually the function of every bourgeois State once the image in the mirror is readjusted: capital controls; the State carries obeys.
According to the model of the mass party invented by Stalinism, fascism and nazism, the party-State apparatus is limitless, as opposed to the communist party of Marx, Lenin and the Left which it never remotely resembled. The party has 73 million members, with more joining all the time, and they are drawn mostly from the universities and the governing class. Pierre Haski writes: the party is “the point of departure for every young careerist (...) for everyone from the company managing director to the secretary of the local party section”.
“The party is the custodian of stability for all those with something to lose in a changeover of power, of which there are quite a few”. Clear admission of the class matrix of the CCP, which, as well as being the party of Chinese national capital, although originally a peasant party, is now the party of the bourgeoisie; who fear “a change of power”, that is, communism, real communism.
The condition of the working class, at the other social extreme, is amongst the worst in the World: only the privileged few have access to pensions and healthcare and the entire peasantry is entirely excluded. Only 12% of GNP goes on education, health and pensions as opposed to 50% in the West: the majority of workers have to pay for healthcare and education.
The trade unions are State controlled, and yet the number of public protests, according to the Minister of Security, has gone up from 10,000 in 1994 to 87,000 in 2005, and in 2006, although the number of protests diminished, they were more violent.
In the countryside, as happened centuries ago in the old world, violent and pitiless capitalist expropriation, of the common land and the land attached to the villages, is gathering apace.
Banks, the insurance and energy sectors, transport and telecommunications all remain State property but are managed, it goes without saying, in an entirely capitalist way.
Thus we have the highly absurd situation where a country that is clearly one of the biggest of the industrial nations founded on capitalist economic relations, in fact a ‘turbo-capitalism’ as they like to call it, a country ruled by a party-State which not only doesn’t set itself the future objective of attaining communism but totally excludes it, and therefore doesn’t recognize the existence of the elementary class struggle, is universally and indisputably categorized as communist.
The magic of words. The counter-revolutionary pressure which has born down on the international workers’ movement unopposed for 80 years, and so completely distorted its indispensable references and keys to reading history and the world, has, de facto, erased from the vocabulary, and from people’s thoughts, the very notion of communism as the negation of capitalism. In exact proportion to the historical maturation of genuine communism, which corresponds to the crises and extreme fragility of every aspect of the capitalist mode of production; the more that genuine communism objectively imposes itself as an absolute and inevitable necessity, the less it becomes possible to even mention it.
Just as Christianity at a certain point started to hide anxiety about death behind the illusion of eternal life, so the general need of the bourgeoisie, with counter-revolutionary intent obviously, was to portray as imperishable and unchanging, as laws of nature, the prevailing economic relations based on accumulation of profit and the sale of labour power, and to reduce communism to being simply a variant of the unavoidable and eternal capitalism.
Ever since Marxism suddenly appeared in the middle of the 19th century, it has always predicted that the economic sub-structure of capitalism would be channeled, always and everywhere, within the bounds of univocal and necessary economic laws. History has provided the fullest confirmation of this dialectical determinism of ours which transcends race and language, and even millenary histories and cultures. Within the skyscrapers which now surround the Forbidden City the same lifeblood now courses through them, and the same words are spoken – those of capital and finance – as in London’s ‘City’. On the workers’ estates, meanwhile, there is the same subjugation of the working class, and the conditions under which capitalist surplus value is extracted also become ever more identical.
If the Capital that today vertiginously eddies and swirls above the continents retains an essential underlying unity, the ways that the various bourgeois classes have attained power in their respective nations has nevertheless proved to be many and various. This has meant that the relationships, and the clashes, between the dominant classes, and their succession to, and division of, State power have followed different evolutionary paths, which explains the various different forms of government obtained when the bourgeoisie and big landowners have shared power. The western bourgeoisies boast about their long tradition of multi-party parliamentary democracy and, in an arrogantly euro-centric spirit and with a view to sowing confusion in the workers’ ranks, they trumpet it as the perfect ideal; as the one which most responds to the requirements of modern society, in other words of capitalism, based on individualism and the market.
However, while the economic sub-structure continues to evolve, although remaining entirely capitalist, in the sense of ever increasing concentration of production, capital and banking and loss of social power on the part of the petty bourgeoisie, at the same time the government centered on parliament becomes redundant and emptied of any real power. Its continued survival in a few Western countries today is merely for decorative purposes. It is kept alive within a kind of ‘virtual’ reality, in a self-referential media orientated world, its sole aim being to get the proletariat to vote, to spread the illusion that through elections the latter can obtain their quota of power when in fact, whoever gets in, it is the big bourgeoisie which continues to exert control.
The “communist” variant of capitalism, which may be characterized by the presence of a state apparatus openly governed by a one party State, and by a tighter regulation of the rights of oppositional elements than in the West, meets the requirements of modern capitalism just as well, if not better, that the liberal regimes. What is more, just because a single party heads the State doesn’t mean it will also necessarily be monolithic, or that, especially in Russia and China, there won’t be continual violence and bloody in-fighting between the party factions. The story of Maoism and its inglorious end demonstrate this well enough.
In Moscow and Beijing, over a modern capitalist economy and its corresponding class structure, and dominating over older class relationships in the countryside as well, we therefore find bourgeois regimes and forms of government which are adapted to their class function, and which are less hypocritical and insincere that those in Washington, in Europe and in New Delhi. If the “harmonious society” of the national communists in Beijing is perceived by western ideologists of the Haski stamp as a “hybrid model”, that is, as an incomplete or failed liberal democracy, a type of enlightened despotism, as a celestial mandate derived from Confucianism, we Marxists consider that it should be numbered instead amongst the forms of fascist organicism, indeed as its most classic, modern, and... western, exponent.
In conclusion, we will say that all of this clearly has nothing to do
with Communism; the communism that will eventually, in both East and West,
rout both liberals and ‘illiberals’.
The following two Reports on Fascism were presented by the Italian Communist Left’s representative, in Moscow on 16 November 1922 and 2 July 1924, to the 4th and 5th Congresses of the Communist International.
Today, eighty years later, the formidable dialectic is still as valid now as it was then, if not more so.
The international bourgeoisie had managed to isolate the Russian Revolution within the narrow confines of ex-tsarist and semi-feudal Russia; it had also recovered from a period of initial disorientation, in which it had almost become resigned to the fact that the proletariat would overthrow it and take power by force of arms; in those years it had moved on to the counter-attack, and on an international scale. In Italy, casting aside its uncomfortable democratic mask, it had installed a regime which was plainly a class dictatorship. Despite all this the proletariat hadn’t accepted defeat, but had soldiered on, in preparation for the counter-attack.
Within the communist parties and the International, however, the first signs of weakness, and first signs of opportunist penetration within the revolutionary body, were starting to appear. But even if the framework of the global revolutionary organ was being put seriously at risk, it was not yet inevitable that all was lost: a flaring up of the class struggle might still have carried the parties and the International back onto the right, and necessary, road to revolution.
But unfortunately it didn’t happen, and today communism, revolution and dictatorship of the proletariat appear to brainwashed public opinion as utopias of a past world, proved by history to be the unrealisable and foolish dreams of those incapable of facing up to the overwhelming power of the bourgeoisie,
We, on the other hand, assert that the main defeat suffered by the proletariat, then as well, wasn’t so much in the armed conflict with the bourgeoisie, with one class openly struggling to maintain power and the other determined to take it away: rather it was due to a betrayal of its general staff; because of the counter-revolutionary degeneration which had corrupted the parties and the International, first of all distorting its theoretical and programmatic foundations and then turning it on its head.
And still today, a return to the original doctrine and the uncorrupted communist program of Marx, Lenin and the Left is the indispensable basis for tomorrow’s reorganisation of the revolutionary proletariat on an international scale; a reorganisation which is the necessary condition for the next bold attack on the strongholds of capitalism in order to achieve the revolutionary conquest of power.
This necessary affirmation of the need for the party is what prompts us to republish these reports on fascism. Although written a long time ago, just after the First World War, they are nevertheless still imbued with the ardour of revolutionary class struggle: not just historical research but critical arm indispensable to our movement, to our comrades and to proletarians in search of their authentic party.
* * *
Since these initial two reports, our party, continuing on the left Marxist road, has dedicated numerous studies to the theme of fascism. When asked, what is Fascism, we do not answer with the platitude that describes it as “a dictatorship which denies liberty” and the antithesis of democracy, with the latter supposedly representing the safeguard of all liberties. Although useful insofar as it disguises the character of class power, Fascism is nevertheless just one of the many aspects that bourgeois domination has historically assumed. But it is the most modern, the most effective, the most perfected, the most responsive to the necessities of capitalism in its final phase: imperialism.
Our investigation into fascism, and in fact into all of the super-structural and political forms that society assumes, is based essentially on an analysis of the economic and productive forces and class relationships over successive historical periods.
About the bourgeoisie we can say, schematising to the maximum, that after its revolutionary conquest of power, it installs a liberalistic phase of capitalism, marked by an economy in which free competition between producers and traders predominates. Corresponding to the free trade which exists in the realm of economy, freedom in politics is preached: every citizen, they tell us, stands in the same relation to the State as everyone else; Parliament holds sway over the Executive and every law and decision derives from its preliminary approval.
Of course, if during this phase democracy represents a form of government that suits the bourgeoisie, insofar as it helps to achieve a compromise between all its components, it is still a permanent swindle and a mystification as far as the proletariat is concerned; if we evaluate social relations in real economic terms, all that being free under the law really means for the proletariat is being free to sell your own labour power, or else starve.
The best demonstration that the State, even in this liberal period, was nothing more than the guarantor of the interests of the bourgeois class is given by the extension and sharpening of the class struggle, which unmasked the real dictatorial nature of the State even when in a democratic and parliamentary guise.
With the extension of commodity production and the consequent concentration
of capital into a few hands, capitalism moved, bit by bit, into its final
phase: imperialism. Lenin would define the characteristics of imperialism
– Concentration of production and capital has reached a sufficiently high level of development to enable the creation of monopolies, which become the key players in economic life;
– Fusion of financial and industrial capital and the formation of a financial oligarchy on the basis of this capital;
– Greater importance attributed to the export of capital as against the export of commodities;
– The rise of international monopolistic associations of capitalists who divide up the world amongst themselves;
– The completion of the dividing up of the Earth amongst the great imperialist powers.
In the modern imperialist phase, the capitalist system subjects all the canons that inspired it in its liberal phase to a radical revision. In this new epoch the bourgeoisie plays down its original myths of unlimited freedom for the citizen and free economic competition between businesses: it resorts to structures that aim to curb political opposition, and turns to state intervention in the markets and in finance.
This different economic situation is necessarily also reflected in governmental forms; State policy evolves towards ever stricter forms of control and unitary direction within a highly centralised hierarchical framework. Big capital, the financial capital that dominates the economic scene, assumes direct control of the levers of State and proves to be intolerant of any indiscipline. In this phase, even the dominant class has to do without democracy, which is substituted by forms of government that are openly despotic not only towards the proletariat but also towards the petty-bourgeoisie, peasantry and small shop-keepers, etc. Still schematising, we can say that fascism is simply one – or if you prefer, the most – characteristic expression of the modern stage of development of bourgeois society, constrained as it is to adopt forms of political totalitarianism capable of tackling, in a united and disciplined way, the revolutionary pressure of a proletariat which acts out of urgent historical necessity.
Such a concept has always been a distinguishing feature of our revolutionary left current’s historical and political evaluations. Even on the occasion of the coming to power of Hitler in Germany, our fraction expressed the view (whilst engaged in polemics with Trotsky) that the new political/social form of organisation, Nazism, had been imposed on capitalism by economic conditions, and, above all, by the class struggle.
In the age of imperialism, starting at the beginning of the 20th century and then irreversibly so, all capitalist States, even when they haven’t adopted the structure of an openly fascist regime, have assumed its characteristic features as a matter of necessity, even if still maintaining a formal democracy with a simulacrum of a parliament and an apparent multiplicity of parties. The transformation of State institutions and of civil life within every country throughout the world has clearly proved this: the multi-party system is now reduced to a trivial soap opera, with State maintained psychophants as the main actors, and State financial support given to the parties, newspapers and even the workers’ trade unions.
* * *
From the strictly historical point of view, analysis of the fascist phenomenon must necessarily start from that extraordinary historical event, the First World War.
Fascism’s first historical theorisation, and apparition, was in Italy. When the war first broke out in Europe, in Italy people of every social stratum, with the exception of nationalists, were virtually united in their neutrality. But the interests of big capital were not neutral, and therefore Italian diplomacy was quick to engage in talks with the governments of the opposing sides, with the aim of drawing the major possible advantage from the war. Unhappy with the offers made by the Austro-Hungarian government, it would end up agreeing to enter the war on the side of the opposing coalition, and sign the famous Treaty of London.
These events were preceded by a major interventionist campaign in which the role assumed by Benito Mussolini was of no small importance. Whilst the Socialist party maintained the same oppositional stance to the war it had taken up during the military campaign in Libya, Mussolini, who for two years had been the editor of Avanti!, the party newspaper, started making tentative moves in favour of participation against Austro-Hungary. But the socialists didn’t retreat from their theses of neutrality, and any concealed interventionism within the party was denounced by its left wing. Mussolini would then openly line up in favour of the war and establish formal links with an interventionist movement within whose ranks men of the most diverse tendencies had come together; a movement which would be utilised by the centres of national capital in order to make entering the war appear to Italy as the logical and natural solution.
The First World War – condemned as imperialist by Lenin, by the Left of the Italian Socialist Party and by a few others, and seen as something which must be sabotaged by the proletariat of every county – was presented by Mussolini as a revolutionary event which would open the way to the emancipation of the proletarian masses. Even after the armistice had been signed, Mussolini would exploit the suffering and disappointment of the combatants. He would write: “The war has brought the proletarian masses to the fore. It has broken their chains. It has considerably enhanced their value. A war of the masses concludes with the triumph of the masses (...) If the revolution of 1789, which was both a revolution and a war, opened the gateways and the roads of the world to the bourgeoisie which had completed its century long apprenticeship, the present revolution, which is also a war, must open the doors of the future to the masses who have completed their hard apprenticeship of blood and death in the trenches (...) The revolution has continued under the name of war for 40 months. It isn’t finished (...) As to the means, we aren’t prejudiced, we accept what will be necessary: legal means and so-called illegal means”.
Faced with the powerful class movements of the proletarian masses, Mussolini would soon show what the ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ means he intended to put at the service of the ‘revolution’ actually were.
From 1919 onwards, with his organisation at the disposal – and on the payroll – of capitalist interests, there would be a daily almost pedestrian increase in the levels of violence and brutality deployed against workers and proletarian organisations. These criminal undertakings, blessed by the church, tolerated by the State, supported by the police and the army, and unpunished by the legal system, were carried out on a territory by territory basis, leading to the gradual strategic conquest of the entire Italian peninsular. With its highly militarised organisation, fascism moved to assume control of essential services in Italy’s economic centres. From Bologna, the fascist advance advanced in two directions, on the one hand towards the industrial triangle of Turin, Milan and Genoa, and on the other towards Tuscany and central Italy in order to encircle Rome.
The revolutionary attack by the Italian proletariat in 1922 had already been defeated by the underhand dealings of social democracy, so it wasn’t in fact fascism which saved the bourgeoisie from communism. The exponents of Italian big capital were nevertheless now convinced that the one remedy which would both prevent a return of the revolutionary peril, and discipline the middle classes, was the coming to power of Mussolini and fascism: all the elderly statesmen and the political parties on the democratic side were ready to accept him into the government. The only thing that needed to be settled, through gritted teeth, was how many portfolios the fascists would be awarded; once that had been agreed, Mussolini’s triumphal entrance to Rome, who would arrive there from Milan in a sleeping-car, was just the logical conclusion.
Neither the State not the democratic parties would intervene to stop the so-called fascist ‘revolution’. At the time of the ‘March on Rome’, the king would refuse to sign the declaration of martial law, thus allowing the fascists to converge on the capital undisturbed.
The only resistance the fascists encountered was in Rome itself where the workers, led by communists, fought hard against Mussolini’s squads. On that occasion too, as was by now the custom, the Police occupied the workers’ quarter, and by depriving them of any means of defence allowed the incoming hordes of fascists to shoot the workers in cold blood. When the party now called for a general strike as a class response to the fascist takeover, the socialist leaders of the General Confederation of Labour kept their members in check and instructed them not to obey the ‘dangerous’ exhortations of revolutionary groups, whereas the leaders of the other unions didn’t respond at all.
At the end of October 1922, Mussolini submitted his first government for parliamentary approval. The Mussolini government was given a vote of confidence of 306 votes to 116. The fascists had a mere 35 parliamentary deputies, that is, less than ten per cent.
Speaking for the Communist Party of Italy, Rabezzana read a party declaration that stated: “The consolidation of all the bourgeois parties around fascism confirms the exactness of our critique. More than any number of conferences, fascism in government shows that a revolutionary period has begun. The death of democracy coincides with the death throes of the dominant class (...) You fascists are the continuers and legitimate inheritors of the entire tradition of the Italian bourgeoisie”.
The Italian communist left has always rejected the idea of fascism as a ‘historical digression’, abruptly begun and abruptly finished. It has always maintained, on the contrary, that there is a continuous historical, social, political and economic thread uniting pre-fascist democracy, fascism and post-fascist democracy. In 1945, in our review Prometeo, we wrote: “The current war has been lost by the fascists, but won by fascism (...) The capitalist world, having preserved the integrity and historical continuity of its powerful State units, will continue to try to dominate the forces which menace it, to implement a system of ever tighter control over economic processes, and to undermine the autonomy of any social or political movement which threatens the established order (...) This fundamental truth becomes every day more evident in its organisational workings, which tend towards economic, social and political control of the world”.
Consistent with our unequivocal evaluation of fascism is derived our
evaluation of what would later be called ‘anti-fascist resistance’:
a movement which is so entirely lacking in class connotations that it even
expects the proletariat to subject itself to a section of the bourgeois
parties, in order to pursue the anti-historical and reactionary aim of
‘restoring democracy’. And that is why we have always considered anti-fascism
as the most pernicious of all the products of fascism. The guerrilla warfare
conducted by the armed partisan bands – and this is the case in Italy
as much as in Spain – even when it was composed of confused proletarian
groups, couldn’t free itself of its patriotic and democratic premises;
which were, and are, completely antithetical, both historically and politically,
to the class movement for socialism, in spite of the thousand and one lies
of democrats and Stalinists alike.
4th Congress - November 16th, 1922
Report on Fascism by the delegate of the Communist Party of Italy
[link to the text]
5th Congress - 23rd session, July 2nd, 1924
Report on Fascism by the delegate of the Communist Party of Italy
[link to the text]
Our view that “the most damaging thing produced by fascism was having provided the justification for antifascism” is well-known.
Marxism interprets the word ‘Fascism’ as denoting a form of government which capitalism adopts when it finds itself in particular difficulties. It is adopted when the proletariat becomes a real threat to the very existence of capital; when the bourgeoisie has to set aside and bury its differences, temporarily abandoning the mask of democracy; and indeed, the function of parliament has only ever been to represent the various factions of the dominant classes. When needs must, in order to protect their class as a whole, the cruel and ruthless executioners of the working class are unleashed to have their day.
The tendency of Capital is to become ever more concentrated, and a new form of government is adopted in conformity with the gigantic and destructive capitalist machine which results. The two things are connected: concentration is a response to the falling rate of profit, and is implemented through successive mergers although profits continue to decline. The inevitable result is an ever increasing pressure on the whole of society, and this is exerted both directly by organising an increased exploitation of the workers, and through the fact of the existence of the millions of unemployed expelled from the productive apparatus.
It is under these circumstances that the latest forms of nationalism and racism have developed. The emergency bourgeois government – the fascist government – demands unquestioning faith in the nation (with the latter having become a paltry substitute for the true global community) and at a terrible cost to those who don’t come up to the required standards of national and racial “purity”. As far back as the 18th century Dr Johnson would write that “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. Today that is still undeniable, although we’d prefer to say it is the last refuge of the defenders of capitalism... and of its wars. More and more the nation is becoming an institution whose one aim is to imprison and oppress the proletariat within its borders. Meanwhile, the business dealings of capitalism know no frontiers. It is known, for instance, that many influential English capitalists had shares in Krupps during the 2nd World War, a fact which some say caused even more damage to the country than the actual German bombs themselves. Where-ever there is money to be had, and surplus value to extract, there will we find capitalism.
Indeed, what better way to make proletarians forget they belong to an international class than to disguise bourgeois States as ‘nations’? The workers are lined up on the war fronts, and then they slaughter each other in their millions. War is capitalism’s drastic solution to the problem of over-population, capitalism’s way of regulating population.
The workers in the trenches have often recognised the soldiers in the enemy trenches as being exploited just like themselves, and to such an extent that episodes of fraternisation have occurred despite rigidly enforced war censorship. But bourgeois propaganda continues to terrify us with the German, Arab, Jewish, and fascist menace, or indeed the “communist” or “bourgeois” menace, describing the violent atrocities of which the enemy is capable.
In opposition to this annihilation of international class power the Bolsheviks responded by offering immediate peace terms and withdrawing workers from the front during the 1st World War, even at the expense of territorial loss.
The anti-fascist movements played their part in this anti-revolutionary operation by providing the banner under which the 2nd World War would be fought, in the name of which millions of proletarians were massacred. Even the so-called left parties and trade-unions, which claimed to be representing the working class, declared themselves to be democratic and anti-fascist. But despite what they said, these movements were entirely directed towards dispersing the potential inherent in the class and getting it to directly support capitalism by supporting the principle and practice of democracy, since the latter is inseparable from capitalism.
It is an ignorance of dialectics which prevents them from understanding that both fascism and democracy are forms of bourgeois government, proper to different periods and places, and responding to diverse contingent necessities of capitalism. This is shown by historical evolution which sees the spread of the fascist model, even if it is dissimulated under a democratic veneer. Meanwhile democracy itself actually becomes the dictatorship of one party, or several parties with the same identical anti-proletarian, conservative programme. All that remains of democracy is just financial investments in the electoral circus
If we are asking the workers to desert the anti-fascist movements it isn’t because we deny the necessity of responding to the cowardly violence of fascism, but because we believe that the latter’s real power resides not in its thuggish ‘squads’ but in the real and continuous protection which democracy and the alliance of all the bourgeois fractions are prepared to give it. The proletariat doesn’t have the option of “choosing” between democracy and fascism because they are the same thing: fascism is the unscrupulous and extra-legal armed wing of democracy, and democracy is the “velvet glove” of fascism.
In any case, the living conditions workers have to endure are no better
under the democratic regimes: they are no more secure on a day to day basis
and their tomorrow is just as uncertain, they are just as worried about
being evicted from their homes, just as liable to fall prey to spiralling
debts and having to work longer and longer hours to pay them off. The proletariat
in this society has one choice before it: either submission, or engaging
in the struggle for its own class objectives, separate from and opposed
to each and every bourgeois and petty-bourgeois faction.
(PART 10 - continued from Communist Left, no.19-20;
translated from Il Partito Comunista, no. 200, 202, 203)
IV - The Founding of the Communist Party of Italy: Livorno 1921
IV.3 - The political tendencies inside the PSI
b. The Maximalists (cont.)
In the months before the Livorno Congress, the Left would mount a vigorous and determined campaign to unmask the farcical revolutionism of the maximalists and reveal their role as pacifiers. In the October 24 edition of Il Soviet, an article entitled ‘Serrati’s Mistake’ (‘Il torto di Serrati’), would counter all the maximalist arguments that favoured applying Moscow’s 21 Conditions in such a way as to render them inoffensive and consequently to allow more fatal equivocating about the destiny of the proletarian movement. Actually the formal unity of the party would serve merely to reinforce the reformists, and consequently weaken the revolutionary energy of the proletariat. The Communist Fraction therefore had to take determined and intransigent action. The article in Il Soviet examined some of the arguments Serrati used and showed they were fundamentally at odds with a good part of the theses approved at the International’s 2nd Congress. Extensive quotations from this article follow: “When it comes to presenting his concluding argument, Serrati gets caught up in contradiction and sophism. We have in our hands, he says, thousands of communes [municipal councils], co-operatives and organisations; so many of them we don’t have enough people to fill all the posts. The 3rd international doesn’t condemn such conquests as heretical, in fact it encourages them, but meanwhile it expects all these posts to be filled with authentic communists, even incompetent ones. That would mean wrecking proletarian institutions. Serrati concludes not only that non-communists should remain in the party, but above all they shouldn’t be disturbed in the peaceful exercise of the official positions they occupy. The 3rd International’s overall perspective, which lies behind its prescription that the Communist parties should utilise all of these forms of action, is that the work carried out to achieve the communists’ principal aim, i.e., the overthrow of the bourgeois power (when its historic instrument exists, that is; the political class party responding to all the features and conditions contemplated by the Theses) this revolutionary work, can be usefully carried out in all these institutions. These same institutions are, however, also favourable terrain for opportunists, chiefly insofar as their function within the parameters of the present society can become an end in itself, and end up as a means, under multiple forms, of delaying the precipitation of the revolutionary crisis. Communists however must penetrate them precisely in order to combat the opportunists; in order to denounce their inability to put forward long-term solutions to questions of interest to the proletariat; in order to spread our propaganda within them; to agitate within them and thereby gaining recruits for the class war led by the Communist Party. And given that this party does exists, it has been said in Moscow, and since it responds to determined criteria, one of the most important of which is to be free of social democratic and opportunist elements, such a party is able, and indeed should, penetrate the trade unions, the co-operatives, the local authorities and parliament and put up a fight within them. To have the unions, the co-operatives, the local authorities, etc, but without that fundamental condition which is the Communist party’s existence, that would mean no revolutionary work was possible; in fact, one would run the risk of abetting bourgeois conservation. What Serrati wants, precisely in order to conserve those organisations that are presently playing this opportunistic game, is to renounce the condition, the premise, of forming the party. Even the blind can see that the contradiction lies within him, not in Moscow’s prescriptions. One could, from the dialectical Marxist point of view, find the criteria that underlie all the Moscow Congress’s tactical decisions too simple. One could, from the critico-historical point of view and through an analysis of the successive conflicts between the various tendencies and various socialist methods; by establishing a continuity in the development of the methods of revolutionary Marxism, like those defended by the left of the International against reformists and anarchists, arrive at the conclusion that the formation of truly revolutionary communist parties, and the progressive differentiation away from petty-bourgeois elements and dissentient schools, is accomplished by means of the exclusion, at given historical moments, of given methods and forms of action once emptied of any possibility of revolutionary utilisation. No criticism could be levelled against Serrat,i were he – claiming to be a representative of the left fraction of the socialist party – to instigate such a critical in-depth examination. But we cannot allow him, in order to support his idea that it is necessary to preserve the unity of the Italian party at all costs, to falsify the meaning of the revolutionary method adopted by the International.
Precisely because the International still wants all the old forms of action to be utilised, renewing them with a new and oppositional revolutionary content, from the communist movement, the latter needs to be purged of all heterogeneous elements, without which the overall balance sheet of its intervention in these institutions, hitherto the domain of reformists, would be bound to be disastrously negative. For example, a commune like the Milanese one, and organisations like the Confederation of Labour and the National League of Co-operatives, are, according to the method established in Moscow, organisations which communists must still conquer since the traditional pernicious work of the 2nd International is still being carried out within them; insofar as the various Caldaras and D’Aragonas, whilst happy to help the bourgeoisie resolve the various problems and difficulties threatening to engulf them, do absolutely nothing in terms of revolutionary propaganda, agitation and action. It is therefore necessary, according to Moscow’s criteria, that the posts within those organisations must be taken over by good communists who are disciplined to their party, who, even if technically less able to resolve contingent matters in the way the bourgeoisie would like, would, nevertheless, make use of the positions they have won to carry out work conducive to organising for the revolutionary struggle. To want to resolve this problem – set out very clearly on the basis of the incontrovertible documentation of the work carried out up until now within the aforesaid institutions – by announcing that D’Aragona and Caldara are card carrying members of the Italian Socialist Party, which in turn is part of the 3rd International, is simply ridiculous. The International can only but respond: expel Caldara and D’Aragona, even if it costs the party the Milan Commune and the Confederation. Especially since it will demonstrate that those champions of reformism only managed to obtain the votes of organised workers due to the prestige of being labelled revolutionary, which party membership bestows on them. So once again, slowly but surely, another of Serrati’s sophisms has been easily dismantled; once again he has shown how he poses as a master of intransigence, but provides only lessons in opportunism (...).
But Serrati is wheeling all this stuff out in support of his favourite thesis, i.e. that although Moscow’s 21 Conditions should be recognised, more time should be given to the member parties, each responsible unto themselves, to start cleansing themselves of opportunist elements. It is on this basis that in Florence Serrati intends to uphold the preservation of party unity, apart from a few personal expulsions to throw dust in people’s eyes. Rather than asking more time for it to become a revolutionary communist party, I maintain that the Italian Socialist Party it is already enormously behind schedule, and that the break should have happened some time ago. Furthermore, with every day that passes the problem becomes more complicated and difficult to resolve.
All this can be deduced from the our party’s recent past, and today I will only skim over it quickly, apart from returning to what I mentioned above since it is the nub of the question. Besides, I already wrote that in Moscow – in the minute or two I had to speak about Italian matters – I made a statement recording that such was the opinion of Lenin and Zinoviev and all those who have criticised the Italian Party. The particular circumstances in which the war question was posed in Italy allowed too many rightwing elements to save face by passing themselves off as opposers of the war, whilst in fact they differed in no respect from the foreign social-patriots of August 4, 1914. The presence of these people in the party was shown to be especially dangerous at the time of the Austrian invasion, when the question of national defence became a particularly burning issue. As comrade Gennari (a unitarian in Bologna in 1919) often reminds us, the right should have been expelled back in 1918 when they were championing the country’s defence. But many of the best comrades of the Left weren’t at that congress, and those who were, were naïve enough to be tricked by Modigliani and co. When first the party Directorate then the Bologna Congress voted for the party to join the International, another opportunity to separate from the Right was missed (the thousand and one reasons why it needed to happen we don’t wish to go into here). But since it didn’t happen, adherence to the International was patchy to say the least (...) The amount of time gone by since Bologna, the time being spent now leading up to Florence, and the time which, according to Serrati and his most pious desires – or profane vaticinations – should be spent after Florence, represents ever greater difficulties and dangers not only for the renewal of the party but for the historic development of the revolutionary struggle of the Italian proletariat. The bulk of the party is now more a prisoner of the Right than ever it was at the end of the war. The situation invoked by Serrati referring to leadership positions entrusted to non-communists – or rather, defeatists of the revolution – has worsened precisely because of the Unitarians, precisely because of Serrati.
After the war the big economic organisations reconstituted their membership and cadres, and the maximalists allowed their enthusiasm for the revolutionary methods established in Russia to be linked up with the horribly opportunist practice of the organisations directed by their own party. After Bologna, the party, bogged down in a unitary approach to the political elections despite everything, ended up with a parliamentary group which, although bigger than ever before, repeated all the mistakes which the previous one had been denounced for over the course of six years of polemics; and once again they were predominantly drawn from the right-wing minority of the party. And so we come today, skipping over everything else, to the local government elections; elections in which maximalism becomes even more of a prisoner to a thousand and one local situations. The party is identified with its councillors in the communes and provinces, made up of its worst petty bourgeois and opportunist elements, by all the people who stayed within, or entered, our ranks because tolerant or supportive of demagogic extremism; after they had been totally reassured that the old practice of winning electoral mandates hadn’t changed at all – given, that is, that you accept, against the heresy of the present writer, that it is susceptible to change – and that they aren’t serious, without which assurance this rabble would retreat ignominiously into the ranks of the timid, or become outright traitors.
I’ve recently seen a chart illustrating our party’s growth. The chart is one of galloping elephantiasis. We have more than two hundred thousand members: that means that in proportion to the population our membership has overtaken the Russian Communist Party, but with the simple difference that here the bourgeoisie can give us a thrashing whenever it feels like it, whilst over there the counter-revolutionary dogs hardly dare draw a breath, let alone bark. And the worst of it is all this is happening – why deny it? – while many of the best proletarian elements, ready to give themselves over to hard struggle rather than engaging in the idiotic and cowardly pursuit of comfortable positions, are going off with the anarchists, whose movement – and I hardly need to repeat my radical disagreement with them – is growing in numbers and combative energy. If it were left to Serrati and the Unitarians, the party would go on to evolve not in a communist direction, as they claim, but relapse into performing the worst of social democratic functions as the stupid servant of the bourgeoisie, holding the working masses in contempt. A good dose of courage is needed... to propose: let’s wait a bit longer! The bottom line is, you can wait if you want, but we’re not waiting any longer. At Florence, party unity will be buried, without honours; and all the worse for those, however many there are, who, persisting in their error, wish to stick by the corpse, and poison themselves with its noxious exhalations”.
(N.B. In the course of the article, Florence is often
referred to as the venue of the imminent socialist congress; in fact although
the PSI’s 17th congress should have been held in the Tuscan capital,
it was eventually moved to Livorno for reasons of security.
c. The Communist Fraction
The article entitled ‘The 3rd International and Parliamentarism’ published in Il Soviet on August 22, 1920, was the last to be inspired by the theme of abstentionism. From that moment onwards the Communist Abstentionist Fraction would devote its entire energy to diffusing and applying the decisions of the 2nd Moscow Congress and thus clear the way of any obstacles to the formation of the Communist Party of Italy. Activity would unfold on two fronts, firstly in polemics with the Centre and Right of reformism, secondly in the organisation of those forces which sided with the Communist International.
In a bulletin issued by the Fraction’s Central Committee, appearing in Il Soviet on the day after the meeting of the PSI Directorate, it was asserted, word for word: “Since the Committee has heard comrade Bordiga’s report on the Moscow Congress, and having considered the political situation in Italy, it considers that recent events, and the development of the metal workers’ conflict, dramatically confirm the Communist Fraction’s criticisms of the PSI, regarding both the presence within the PSI of social democratic elements and the ineptitude of the maximalist majority, which can neither bring the proletarian movement under its control nor issue robust directives to guide mass action. It considers that the remedy to these extremely grave deficiencies is to apply the decisions taken at the Moscow Congress regarding the situation in the PSI, and to apply them seriously and energetically with a view to breaking up its dubious unity and liquidating the inauspicious inheritance of social democratic and opportunist tactics within Parliament and the unions, even if concealed behind a maximalist label. It invites the Fraction’s comrades to support any action that the CC and Il Soviet will take in pursuance of this aim in preparation for the next congress, from which the new Communist Party will have to emerge. It also makes a general appeal to all communists who do not belong to the Abstentionist Fraction, with a view to finding common grounds for resolute action, and in order that the forces which will ensure the victory of communism at the next congress may be organised as soon as possible”.
In the same edition an important resolution on the Turin abstentionists was published. These comrades, mainly workers who had proved their combativeness and determination to fight on a thousand and one occasions, believed the moment for separating from the PSI had already arrived and that the Fraction’s CC should immediately convene a national congress.
To these comrades, influenced to a certain degree by councilist spontaneism, the Fraction’s CC responded that the decisions of the International Congress had to be executed to the letter, and therefore it was necessary to hold on and prepare for the extraordinary national Congress.
“The Turin comrades, from whom we expect much – wrote ‘Il Soviet’ – haven’t worked that long for the Fraction at whose head they now wish to place themselves. In fact they have adopted tactical directives we don’t agree which were advanced by other groups. These directives, despite the marvellous revolutionary work of the Turin comrades, have recently indirectly contributed to the unhappy outcome of two great proletarian battles” (the ones in April and September).
The same paper contained another bulletin,
which took up once again the issue of observing discipline towards the
International. This was on the eve of the local government elections. The
Fraction stipulated that comrades should abstain, ‘for discipline’s
sake, from abstentionist activity’. Il Soviet tackled the
underlying problems, the problem of the party and of the urgent need for
it to be formed, linking it to the balance sheet of the factory occupations
and the collapse of the myths of councilism and workers’ self-management.
On October 3rd Il Soviet wrote: “The famous question of ‘control’,
and all the agitation started in Turin by a group of comrades whose orientation
leaves much to be desired, has never really fired our enthusiasm. From
the very earliest stages we could easily predict it would open the way
to new reformistic expedients and that workers’ ‘control’ over production,
far from being enough to ignite a revolutionary blaze, would end up as
some legislative provision of the bourgeois state (...) We don’t
mean that such a question is without real content, or that the factory
councils and factory occupations are movements/organisations which are
artificial. Quite the contrary. We detect in them fundamental manifestations
of the bourgeois crisis unravelling; a crisis in which communists, the
communist party, is duty bound to intervene precisely in order to introduce
the revolutionary content into them that they are ‘intrinsically’ lacking,
as is the case in the traditional trade union struggle (...) Some minor
breach in purely bourgeois forms of economy and bourgeois law is never
revolutionary until the point is reached when the bourgeoisie forcibly
represses it, thus posing the question of power; we can only move on after
the establishment has been overthrown! Thus, once upon a time, postulating
the right to strike was ‘revolutionary’ whereas nowadays it is taken
for granted. Once these postulates – regarding workers’ control –
are accepted by the bourgeoisie their dialectical efficacy becomes counter-revolutionary,
in the sense that in the economic field they offer a means of ordering
the anarchy of production, whilst in the political field they put a break
on the impetus of the masses when heading towards a collision with the
bourgeoisie (...) Truly revolutionary struggle will happen when the problem
of political power, of social leadership, is posed irrevocably, and the
battle is led by the conscious vanguard, the Communist Party (...) In order
to get the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat on the agenda,
and the masses seem marvellously predisposed to take part in it, precisely
such a party will be required in Italy. The prevarications of the maximalists
have maybe made constituting it more difficult, since dissatisfaction and
revolutionary impatience are not sufficient material with which to build
it (...) There must be a radical change of direction and the dead weight
disposed of without further ado. With every passing day the party’s illness
becomes more and more gangrenous. Moscow’s diagnosis is in general correct.
The surgeon’s knife is required and the incision needs to be made without
The Milan Meeting of October 15th
Attending this meeting were representatives from the Abstentionist Fraction, from Ordine Nuovo, from the Milanese maximalist Left, from the majority within the Youth Federation and also a number of maximalist groups without any clear physiognomy but who opposed Serrati’s line. Of those present, the Abstentionist Fraction was the only one with a solid organisation of its own at a national level, the one grouped around Il Soviet.
It was from this meeting that the Manifesto-Program of the Communist Fraction of the PSI would emerge; on the basis of which programme the so-called Imola Fraction of ‘pure communists’ would arise. Addressed to all comrades and sections of the PSI, the Manifesto-Program was published in Il Soviet on October 17th: it denounced, in the first place, the incompetence of the PSI and declared that the Fraction, at the next congress, would resolve the acute party crisis. It stated that the trade-union organisations and political organisations, to which had been entrusted the task of developing a victorious opposition to the bourgeois policy of self-preservation during this period of open class struggle, had proved inadequate, that the party hadn’t modified the criteria of its policies and that the masses, having been disappointed, were turning to organisations outside the party, for example to syndicalists and anarchists. It stated that the 2nd Congress of the CI had established the foundations for party renewal on which the next congress would have to work, namely: 1) changing the party’s name to the Communist Party of Italy; 2) revision of the program, as approved in 1919 at Bologna; 3) expulsion of all members and organisations which have pronounced against the communist program; 4) revision of the party’s internal statutes with a view to introducing into it the criteria of homogeneity, centralisation and discipline; 5) as regards action, discipline towards all the decisions of the CI Congress and the national Congress, observance of which will be entrusted with full powers to the CC elected by the Congress; 6) The directives on party action: to prepare for insurrectional action with consequent legal and illegal work; to organise communist groups in all workers’ organisations; to work inside the ‘economic organisations’; participation in the political and local government elections to be distinguished by features totally opposed to the old social-democratic practice; control to be exerted over all propaganda activity.
On October 17 Il Soviet also published the Abstentionist Fraction’s bulletin of adherence to the Manifesto-Program: “The Fraction’s Central Committee, reassembled on October 9th 1920, having listened to the report (...) on the agreements reached with the other left fractions and tendencies in the party, regarding preparations for the Congress and proposed action to achieve the most efficacious application of the resolutions of the Moscow Congress; and having examined the Manifesto-Program that was issued with this end in view, has decided to fully adhere to this movement in the name of the Communist Abstentionist Fraction. This decision has been communicated to the provisional committee in Bologna [the committee soon moved from there to Imola - ed.] and it invites all groups that adhere to it to examine the above-mentioned program in a special assembly, and then proceed to their relevant sections to seek agreement, on the basis of the program, with similar groups. It wishes to record that (...) the Communist Abstentionist Fraction still retains its own organisation and constitution, and, as regards the local council elections, stands by the criteria taken into consideration byn recent CC decisions. It hopes, moreover, that the joint effort of all communists will be crowned with success in their work of putting new life into the organisations and revolutionary activity of the Italian proletariat”.
A brief comment recorded how the Communist Abstentionist Fraction’s adherence to the Manifesto-Program wasn’t really that surprising since the abstentionists had proposed an agreement with the electionist communists before, at the Bologna Congress in 1919, at which time it was actually the latter who dropped the proposal, in the name of party unity.
The Milan Manifesto-Program, however, made no reference to the Ordinovism that taken over all the positions adopted by the abstentionists, except abstentionism itself, abandoned (for reasons we have often mentioned) even by the abstentionists themselves. The emphasis was instead placed on the question of the party, its centralisation, and on the question of conquering the trade-union organisations and the national confederations. No special role, however, was attributed to the factory councils.
A provisional CC and a three man Executive Committee had been nominated with a provisional headquarters in Bologna; it was also decided to publish the weekly Il Comunista, and to convene the Fraction’s national congress at Imola for November 28th.
That the influence of the abstentionists, at
both the theoretical and organisational levels, would be a determining
factor in every aspect of the work of forming the Communist Fraction, and
making preparations for the national socialist Congress, is something no-one
can deny. At the same time nobody can accuse them of using their theoretical,
organisational and numerical superiority to impose their personnel on the
governing body. As a matter of fact, then as now, our fraction has always
rejected petty personalistic politics and, in 1924, in reply to a slanderous
campaign against the left incited by future Stalinists, one of our comrades
insisted that the abstentionists had never demanded a presence within the
leadership organs which was disproportionate to their forces. The comrades
of the Left never saw making bids for leadership roles as one of their
political functions. On the contrary, whilst getting ready for the Imola
Congress the abstentionists would maintain a certain detachment towards
the Fraction’s official organs, keeping their own organisation intact
right up to the Livorno Congress. In fact the Fraction’s entire network
was entrusted to comrade Fortichiari, who would work perfectly well with
the abstentionists even though he wasn’t an abstentionist himself.
An Historical Necessity
The great questions of principle had been cleared up once and for all with the theses and conditions of admission to the International and with the theses and writings of the Communist Abstentionist Fraction. Now it was a case of conducting an all-out battle against the opportunism of right and centre. In the second half of 1920 the Fraction fulfilled this task, through Il Soviet, with great energy and gusto. Il Soviet also published a whole series of articles aimed at unmasking opportunism and the duplicity of the CGL leadership, which whilst underwriting the documents of the Red Unions in Moscow continued to adhere to Amsterdam, thanks in part to Serrati’s support.
The internal party polemics took place while the Giolitti government was discussing “control of industry” with the unions, and offered police operations to the reformists to control subversives whilst the fascist groups started to launch their “punitive expeditions”. The October 24th edition of Il Soviet explained that it was a matter of a single counter-revolutionary policy, not opposed and contradictory government policies; and that the bourgeois tendency of the moment was in fact more predisposed to social-democratic government. To this end, the part of the bourgeoisie supporting the social democratic solution played its final card. On December 9th, Il Soviet published an article, entitled ‘Defeatist Manoeuvres’, denouncing Turati’s parliamentary speech, in which, following the events in Palazzo d’Accursio in Bologna, he had condemned not only the black-shirts, but also the “red flag fanatics”. Turati affirmed the urgent need to “disarmare gli spiriti - quell high spirits”, “deporre le armi e pacificare gli animi - lay down arms and pacify souls”, thus allowing free rein to the fascist groups, armed to the teeth and protected by the State. Even the party centre indulged in pacifism, and declared loudly against liberties trampled underfoot, invoking the protection of the public powers, and advising workers not to respond to “provocation”!
All of which would confirm the urgent necessity
of constituting the Communist party, a necessity dictated by considerations
of principle: as long as the proletariat remains under the influence of
a party which orders it to disarm precisely when the class enemy is mustering
its forces, it will never be able to defend itself if. The workers’ struggle
to defend itself against fascist and state repression was inseparable from
the liquidation of the socialist right and centre. The victory of reaction
was largely the product of the excessive delay in achieving the split and
the consequence of the reformist influence over the working masses.
b - The Imola Congress
In the Autumn of 1920 there was held a congress of communists who believed in acceptance without reserve of the resolutions of the International’s 2nd Congress, and consequently in the expulsion of the reformists from the party. Present at the conference were representatives of the Abstentionist Fraction, Ordine Nuovo and the left maximalists. The abstentionists’ representative gave an introductory speech in which he declared that it wasn’t just the social-patriots who had deserted the proletarian cause but also the social democrats, who rejected the violent destruction of the bourgeois power and the dictatorship of the proletariat in the same way they refused to accept the new communist program elaborated by the International. His speech was seconded by the delegates from the other groups. Naturally there was argument and differences of opinion on certain points, but not such as to erode the principles on which the Communist Fraction was built. It was an open secret that the communists had met at Imola to organise the Communist Party of Italy, not to win votes at the next congress of the PSI. The overriding question, which had been deliberated on in Moscow, was that of the purging of the party: nothing remained now but to put it into practice, severing links both with the reformists and the maximalists, whichever way the vote went at Leghorn (Livorno). At Imola it had already been accepted, even if not decided on formally, that if the congress vote put the communists in a minority, the latter, already organised in the Fraction, would abandon the congress and the socialist party in order to constitute the new Communist Party of Italy (section of the 3rd International). Indicative of the underlying consistency is the fact that the motion approved unanimously at Imola would be the same as that presented by the Communists to the Leghorn Congress.
The article which follows poses in the clearest possible way the question
of the split as a historical necessity independent from any considerations
of a numerical character, that war-horse of the usual traitors. The article,
entitled ’Towards the Communist Party’ was published by the Fraction’s
newspaper Il Comunista on the 19th and 23rd
of December, and also in Avanti!
c. Towards the Communist Party
«The Imola Convention believed it opportune not to pronounce on the attitude that our fraction should take if the vote at the national congress puts us in a minority. This was because it would have contradicted the convention’s character as one based on fractional work, which aimed to organise the conquest of the majority of the party at the congress.
«On the other hand, as Gramsci observed, there was a sense in which the convention was not just working towards a congressional victory, but towards the constitution of a new party. And the true objective of our entire work is precisely that. We need to bear in mind that a matter as important as the constitution in Italy of the Communist Party will not, in the final analysis, be settled by a majority at the national congress; rather it will be after the congressional vote that the matter can be tackled directly, and resolved. The elements of the solution are to be found in the entire experience and political preparation of the Left of the present party, the Left party, or rather, the two of them that have co-existed up to now, and even more are they contained within the Communist International’s program of action.
«Anti-democratic even as regards this, we cannot accept as ’ultima ratio’ the arithmetic expression of the consultation of a party which isn’t a party. We can start to recognise the correctness of the opinion of the majority at the point where homogeneity of program and purpose begin; in a society divided into classes we cannot accept it; not within a proletariat necessarily dominated by bourgeois influences; not within a party with far too many petty bourgeois members, and which historically has oscillated between the old and the new internationals; which, therefore, isn’t, either in its thinking or its practice, the class party of Marx.
«And so we need to immediately start thinking about all the possible situations which could arise immediately after the vote; which must not, and cannot, cause a break in the continuous development of our activity towards that fundamental objective. Let us set out from this initial consideration in which is summed up precisely the most important result of the Imola Convention: the communists will vote for the motion already deliberated on at the convention. There must be no changes introduced or any kind of softening or toning down of the motion. If certain elements end up oscillating between us and the Unitarians, we won’t be making any concessions to win their votes. Nothing therefore remains but to examine the two hypotheses: of our motion gaining a majority, or a minority, of the votes.
«In both cases, we must make sure we follow the same directives. The Italian proletarian movement is at a crossroads, but the choice before it is not between the politics of Reggio Emilia or the politics of Communism but between our program of action, and that of the Unitarian social-communists. Despite the latter constantly assuring us that we only diverge on minor points, and that we are all chips off the same programmatic block, the truth is that it is through them that the right conducts its politics: a pure reformism if it emerged would be immediately ruled out, whilst the effort of the reformists is applied according to the laws of least resistance, i.e., aiming to get their method to permeate the majority of our plethoric party under the label of intermediate tendencies.
«The Unitarians cannot be clearly distinguished from the reformists. The whole of their argumentation during these fervent and extremely animated debates has been virtually identical. Everywhere the Unitarians defend the policies of the right fraction and above all of the General Confederation of Labour. They emphasise that their purging of the party of the extreme right is on the same level as purging it of extreme left elements.
«Yet more proof: the Unitarians are in favour of hitting out at the present party leadership for the stance they have taken from Bologna up till now, blaming it for the failure of the revolutionary bids made by the Italian proletariat, and clearing the reformists of all blame. It is almost as though, politically and historically – leaving aside any personal positions taken by any of its members today – the present leadership wasn’t the executor of the maximalist and Unitarian majority led by Serrati at Bologna. The Unitarians fail to see that the leadership couldn’t pursue a purely maximalist policy precisely because it was impossible to do on the basis of the ambiguous Unitarian positions. They can’t see that in such a way they produce arguments against their own theses and against their political direction, and they can’t see it because in fact they have more or less taken over all of reformism’s polemical positions against maximalism; as is proved too by the fact that they address the entire problem of what the conditions and possibilities of revolution are in the same way as the right-wingers. One part of the maximalist majority therefore goes beyond Bologna, and the abyss is opening up between them.
«There is a clear split between Unitarians and communists, and discussion between them is sometimes immeasurably violent. This clear split isn’t attenuated at all by those subtle differences which may exist amongst the extremists, but which are usefully integrated into the elaboration of a better awareness for all of the best way to go forward, compact and united. In local discussions, therefore, we see communists and Unitarians lining up into two opposed camps, with the right manoeuvring in the background and not very easily distinguishable from the Unitarians. And it’s not that surprising. Just as the bourgeoisie delegates its defence, at critical moments, to reformism, so reformism, when it is losing ground among the masses, is forced to delegate its counter-revolutionary function to the centrism, labelled right-wing communism, which we can see at work in all countries. When attending the party assemblies and conferences the feeling you get today is that it is really the communists and Unitarians who are heading for a definitive split; they for whom existing alongside one another has become an impossibility.
«The conclusion is this: we must strive to form a communist party which is not influenced by today’s kind of politics based on the thesis of party unity, one not led in collaboration with the exponents of today’s Unitarian communisms. Lenin in his article explained this to us very well, and it must be our open objective.
«I hope that not all Unitarian communists break away from us in order to form an independent party, or a social-democratic party with the reformists. I think our situation is at least as mature as the situation in Germany. The mass of the Unitary communists, our home-grown independents, need to be set free, and their leaders put out to grass.
«If we end up in the majority, therefore, we will set them free by means of the steady application of our Imola motion, ostracising the right and the right-leaning, and making sure that all the leading party organs are exclusively under the sway of extremist communism.
«But what if we find ourselves in the minority? We could neither put up with a party led by the Unitarians, nor sharing the leadership with them. Our task as a fraction is over. With the present massing of the party’s extremist groups on the base of the deliberations in Moscow, of our program, of our motion, and, based on the latter, of the struggle inside the party against both reformism’s direct and indirect manifestations, our duty as a party is starting. We are not going to stay, resuming the hard work of proselytism, if it means the proletariat and ourselves are immobilised until the next congress is called. And neither will we make the criminal blunder of entrusting the leadership of Italian proletarian movement to a confused and imprecise mixture of communist and centrist directives: this would be the triumph of the Unitarian theses, already condemned both in Italy and within the Communist International.
«It is therefore strikingly obvious that immediate departure from the party and the Congress, as soon as the vote has put us in the minority, is the logical, courageous and tactically appropriate solution. From this there would follow, in line with the norms we have indicated, the setting free of the centre: in fact I think that this important objective of ours is more likely to be achieved under these circumstances.
«Let us therefore be prepared for such a resolution. More than any other it corresponds to the directives of the Communist International, it is therefore inappropriate to suppose that it wouldn’t meet with the latter’s approval; and to invoke this supposition to postpone an act which, once delayed, would undermine its beneficial and positive effects.
«I think that the groups in the Fraction should confront this issue and say something about it to their Congress delegates. However, on this basis our fraction – which is the kernel of a genuine and viable party – cannot and must not under any circumstances be divided. It must make its move, intentionally and deliberately, all together, as one body. I am certain that this stance will be met with your virtually unanimous approval.
«Let us therefore look at the situation squarely in the face and let’s
take full responsibility for it. What we are conducting is a battle without
quarter against all wavering and all misunderstanding».
Chapters expounded at the September 2003 party meeting.
1 - 2 - 3 -
A War of Long Duration
After the bombardment of Fort Sumter – which can be considered as having given the North an initial advantage, since the South appeared as aggressors, therefore silencing those in the North who were opposed to the war – the rush to arms was enthusiastic, with both sides convinced, for different reasons, that the war would not last long.
Recruitment was initially dependent on volunteers, who would flock to both camps in considerable numbers, but by the second year of the war conscription had already been introduced, particularly in the South. In the North the system didn’t take definite shape until 1863.
Since there could only be a quick resolution to the war in the East, with the fall of one of the two capitals, it was here that attention would therefore be focused in the summer of 1861. In the North public opinion was clamouring for a decisive victory, not least because most of the troops were only enrolled on three-month terms, giving an idea of how long Washington thought the war would last. “Forward to Richmond!” was the battle-cry of politicians and hack journalists alike; the battle-cry, that is, of those who thought they would be travelling there in carriages or trains, not marching, or languishing in trenches. But they would have to wait a few years: the battle which took place on July 12th 1861 at Bull Run in Virginia saw the North soundly defeated, even if it was little more than skirmish compared to the ones which followed.
The Northerners dug themselves in around fortified Washington to take stock of the situation. For Lincoln, at least, defeat be transformed into victory insofar as it confirmed Congress’s determination to press forward to victory. Lincoln was allowed to float a huge 400 million dollar loan, and enrol 500,000 volunteers for either a 3 year term or for the duration of the war. Apart from parties, frondes and interest groups, this was the way the bourgeoisie would express its unitary determination to achieve its economic and political objectives.
Even if there was contact between the rival armies in Missouri, in West Virginia and in the peninsular to the South-east of Richmond, as well in Virginia itself, the rest of the year would roll by without further major engagements. The North would also deploy its overwhelming naval superiority to impose a blockade and would conquer a certain number of coastal forts and islands.
What should be done? For the Southerners the decision was relatively simple: whilst defending themselves from attack, they needed to bide their time and allow defeats, attrition and pressure from the foreign powers to convince public opinion in the North that the war wasn’t worth continuing. But for the North, which had set itself the task of defeating an enemy occupying a limitless territory which could count on a massive population, there was nothing for it but to attack. But where?
Winfield Scott, the General-in-chief of the Northern forces, predicted it would take a war of three years at least, with heavy losses, to subdue the South. Along with the naval blockade, he considered driving down the Mississippi as a primary objective. In Northern hands it would effectively separate the South from the West, and the South would be slowly strangled due to its isolation, lack of supplies and the military pressure exerted on it from all sides. Due to these characteristics, Scott’s plan would become known as the ‘anaconda plan’, and although it had its weak points, it was better than many later ones. Lincoln, after Bull Run, didn’t want to modify it that much, but when McClellan was entrusted with the command later on this would force a change of direction. McClellan saw the East as the one spot where pressure needed to be applied to crush the rebellion, whereas the West he saw as a very secondary theatre of war. And on this basis he directed his next campaign. In fact Richmond had a psychological rather than a strategic value: if the city fell, the Southerners could retreat into their limitless hinterland and choose the time and the place from which to launch their counter-attack.
In any case, war was continuing. In the West the Southerners occupied Columbus, a city in Kentucky, leading the State to abandon its neutrality and definitely side with the North. The North would then counterattack in the same zone with a series of attacks on cities and fortified positions, with the consequence that the Southerners abandoned the State in February 1862. The commander in the west was actually Halleck, but later history would consider Grant as the military star of the age.
A good description of this campaign can be found in an article by Marx
from March 27, 1862, which also gives his opinion on the general strategy
of the war. A communist, sat in a library in London, would see more clearly
than the generals strutting around the battlefields equipped with all the
available information: “In densely populated and more or less centralised
states there is always a centre, with the occupation of which by the enemy
the national resistance would be broken. Paris is a brilliant example.
The slave states, however, possess no such centre. They are sparsely populated,
with few large towns and all these on the seacoast. The question therefore
arises: Does a military centre of gravity nevertheless exist, with the
capture of which the backbone of their resistance will be broken, or are
they, just as Russia still was in 1812, not to be conquered without occupying
every village and every plot of land, in short, the entire periphery?
“Cast a glance at the geographical shape of the secessionists’ territory, with its long stretch of coast on the Atlantic Ocean and its long stretch of coast on the Gulf of Mexico. So long as the Confederates held Kentucky and Tennessee, the whole formed a great compact mass. The loss of both these states drives an enormous wedge into their territory, separating the states on the North Atlantic Ocean from the States on the Gulf of Mexico. The direct route from Virginia and the two Carolinas to Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and even, in part, to Alabama leads through Tennessee, which is now occupied by the Unionists. The sole route that, after the complete conquest of Tennessee by the Union, connects the two sections of the slave states goes through Georgia. This proves that Georgia is the key to the secessionists’ territory. With the loss of Georgia the Confederacy would be cut into two sections, which would have lost all connection with one another. A reconquest of Georgia by the secessionists, however, would be almost unthinkable, for the Unionist fighting forces would be concentrated in a central position, while their adversaries, divided into two camps, would have scarcely sufficient forces to put in the field for a joint attack.
“Would the conquest of all Georgia, with the seacoast of Florida, be required for such an operation? By no means. In a land where communication, particularly between distant points, depends much more on railways than on highways, the seizure of the railways is sufficient. The southernmost railway line between the States on the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coast goes through Macon and Gordon near Milledgeville.
“The occupation of these two points would accordingly cut the secessionists’ territory in two and enable the Unionists to beat one part after another. At the same time, one gathers from the above that no Southern republic is viable without the possession of Tennessee. Without Tennessee, Georgia’s vital spot lies only eight or ten days’ march from the frontier; the North would constantly have its hand at the throat of the South, and, at the slightest pressure, the South would have to yield or fight for its life anew, under circumstances in which a single defeat would cut off every prospect of success.
“From the foregoing considerations it follows:
“The Potomac is not the most important position in the war theatre. The seizure of Richmond and the advance of the Potomac army further south – difficult on account of the many rivers that cut across the line of march – could produce a tremendous moral effect. From a purely military standpoint, they would decide nothing.
“The outcome of the campaign depends on the Kentucky army, now in Tennessee. On the one hand, this army is nearest to the decisive points; on the other hand, it occupies a territory without which secession cannot survive. This army would accordingly have to be strengthened at the expense of all the rest and the sacrifice of all minor operations (...) On the contrary, should the anaconda plan be followed, then, despite all the successes gained at particular points and even on the Potomac, the war may be prolonged indefinitely, while the financial difficulties together with diplomatic complications acquire fresh scope”.
We will see that the road to victory for the North was precisely that, even if it was a strategy applied only partially and two years late. But that is to run ahead of ourselves.
In the spring of 1862 the Confederates were in a tragic position. After winning a few battles they had spent the winter basking in past victories. The Northerners, on the other hand, had passed the winter of undeclared truce (the last of them) forming regiments, founding cannons, and organising the logistics required for armies of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of men.
The Offensive that had got underway in January in Kentucky had “liberated” the State. The northern march had continued southwards, and on February 25, Nashville, the capital of Tennessee, had fallen. Other victories were attained in trans-Mississippi, in Arkansas and in New Mexico: a minor theatre, inhospitable and sparsely populated, where armies of reduced dimensions operated, but important nonetheless as a supply centre for the South.
After other important coastal conquests by the North, their luck seemed to have run out when suddenly a new and deadly weapon appeared in the bay of Norfolk (in southern hands but blockaded by the North): a battleship. This was the Merrimac (re-christened the Virginia) a wholly new concept in ships, impenetrable to the cannon shot then available and therefore able to get alongside war ships and sink them at its leisure. It should have given them an advantage capable of breaking the Northern blockade, but the northerners were working on a similar, possibly better, ship, the Monitor; which just a day after the attack by the Virginia would reach the bay of Norfolk where a fierce, but indecisive, duel ensued.
But in the West success continued to elude the South. An attempted counter-attack in Tennessee would lead to a bloody battle at Pittsburgh Landing. Grant was attacked whilst awaiting the rest of his army, but partial defeat would be transformed into a clear victory, and the Southerners were forced to retreat to the south of the Mississippi State border.
Meanwhile, another offensive would aim to gain control over the great river, mostly by deploying the river fleet, supported on land by the infantry. Bit by bit the forts and cities on the river would succumb; and when to avoid being outflanked the Southerners were forced to abandon Memphis, the Northern navies would descend hundreds of miles South. Memphis fell on June 6th. But already on April 25th, thanks to an extremely audacious action by Admiral Farragut’s naval squad, an even more important city on the river delta had fallen: New Orleans. The Northerners had then headed upstream, taking up a position next to the apparently insuperable fortifications at Port Hudson. Meanwhile, the river fleet which in June would follow the course of the Mississippi downstream would be brought to a halt about two hundred miles due North at Vicksburg, where formidable defences had been set in place by the Southerners. They couldn’t do otherwise; the loss of the father of rivers would mean the detachment of the States on the other side of the river, with consequences we have already described. Thus, for the time being, a communicating door with the West remained open for the Southerners, a link they couldn’t afford to lose.
In the East, leadership of the northern troops, firstly of the Army of the Potomac then of the whole of the Northern army, had been entrusted to McClellan, a grizzled and conceited organiser who dedicated himself to constructing an army whose enormity, it was thought, would make it invincible. But the general seemed reluctant to use it, and only deployed it when given explicit orders to do so by Lincoln. Faithful to his vision of a concentrated attack on Richmond, McClellan conceived a plan of attack that foresaw disembarking troops to the southeast of Richmond, on a peninsular defined by the estuaries of the York and James Rivers. From there his intention was to move his huge army towards Richmond, which would be conquered by means of a textbook siege. Luckily for the Southerners, McClellan was in no hurry to fight and his army moved off very slowly. In fact, having once disembarked, the Northerners, instead of throwing themselves in forced stages on Richmond, chose instead to lay siege to Yorktown. Getting the batteries ready to invest the city took a month, and not surprisingly, the day before the bombardment started, the Southern garrison craftily slipped away, and abandoned the city.
The delay allows Lee, the new commander in chief of the Southern army, to gather an army that isn’t the equal of the Federal one but can nevertheless forcefully oppose it. Thus the fall of Yorktown and the port of Norfolk, in itself positive, is counterbalanced by the territory left to the Confederates, who led by Jackson attack in West Virginia and threaten Washington. Federal troops are sent north, weakening a still powerful army, which nevertheless still has 125,000 troops after the division. But they aren’t enough for McClellan, who has a curious propensity of always vastly overestimating the enemy’s strength. Therefore, when attacked by Lee in the Seven Days’ battles (25 May to 1 June) he retreats to the bridgehead; here McClellan decides to re-embark his army, which emerges relatively unscathed, in marked contrast to the Confederates whose victory costs them enormous losses. But if Lee saved Richmond, McClellan expended enormous resources and achieved nothing. In fact the Southerners are given the opportunity to counter-attack, which passes into the second battle of Bull Run and carries Lee’s army up into Maryland. Here on September 17 the Battle of Antietam takes place, without winners or losers, but Lee is forced to fall back to the south.
For Marx this Federal success is extremely important and decides the outcome of the war, not least because of its effects on the battle of Perryville (Kentucky) in the following month. If the Southerners had won at Antietam, their push into Kentucky would have had far greater impact. From there, just by crossing the River Ohio and pushing forward into the eponymous State, they could have split the North in two. In a nutshell, it is almost the reverse of the tactics that Marx hoped the North would follow in his article of March 27. He is well aware of the limitless technical and economic power of the North, but knows too there is no certainty, at that point, about the attitude of the border States, nor of the European powers: the military collapse of the Union could have forced it into making a peace settlement favourable to the South.
McClellan is now replaced by Burnside, who attempts to launch an attack on Richmond from Fredericksburg, a city on the river Rappahannock. There Lee draws up his army, and from an impregnable position, on December 13, the Southerners massacre the soldiers of the Union, wave upon wave of whom are sent to die without prospect of success (12,000 dead). The Northerners fall back, Burnside is sacked (although his style of butchery would be imitated, on both sides, by every general after him), and in Virginia there is a transition to trench warfare. The Southerners, meanwhile, have started too think maybe they can win.
In the West, unlike in the East, the advance of the federal troops is constant, despite the occasional setback. Halleck is recalled to Washington and appointed general-in-chief, and the army of the West is divided in three; a factor which would weaken it, temporarily, until its command was entrusted to Grant.
The Northern advance is held up in Tennessee by a Southern counter-attack
(Battle of Chattanooga) that is soon halted however and forced back to
Perryville on October 8, after Grant in his turn had won at Corinth. There
is a final bloody battle at Stone’s River, in Tennessee, and between
31 December and 3 January the Southerners once again have to abandon the
The Crucial Year
Vicksburg, the river fortress, necessarily becomes a primary target, but it requires repeated campaigns, three of which fail due to the stronghold’s particularly advantageous position, high above the water and in a predominantly marshy area. Finally, in a rapid outflanking manoeuvring, which daringly take the risk of getting trapped behind enemy lines, Grant manages to lay siege to the city, which capitulates on July 4 1863. Port Hudson suffers the same fate soon afterwards, and as well as bringing the entire course of the Mississippi under their control, the victory would yield the northerners an additional 36,000 prisoners.
In the East, command of the Northern army passes to Hooker, and he too ends up being defeated by Lee on the outskirts of Fredericksburg (Chancellorsville, 2-4 May). We need however to remember that the balance of dead and wounded in these battles wasn’t always in favour of the victor; on the contrary, sometimes the price of victory was an ample blood tribute. Therefore in every battle, barring few exceptions, the North was at a considerable advantage compared to the South due to its numerical superiority and populous hinterlands. Hence, when Lee decided to make another attempt to invade the North, he couldn’t have expected to face a weakened army. And at Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania between the 1st and 3rd of July, there was the umpteenth massacre of infantry by the artillery, after which Lee’s army, repelled with heavy losses, was forced to abandon the field and return to Virginia, from whence it would never emerge again.
After the resounding victory at Vicksburg, the year 1863 ended favourably for the North in the West as well. An impressive Northern offensive succeeded in occupying Chattanooga, an important city on the border with Georgia. But about twelve miles south of the city, on the banks of the Chickamauga Creek, the Southerners waited for Rosecrans and his Army of the Cumberland. There the latter was defeated, but, as so often was the case, not annihilated or dispersed. The battle was an extremely bloodthirsty one, one of the bloodiest of the war with the North’s casualty list running to 12,000 and the South’s to 19,000, amounting to 25% of the troops deployed. Rosecrans fell back to Chattanooga to hold out there.
Before achieving another Vicksburg, however, the federals were rescued by two armies under the direct leadership of General Grant, now commander in chief of the troops in the West, and after a battle before the gates of the city, on 23rd to 25th of November, the Southerners were forced to fall back to the South.
The war was now turning in the North’s favour, but that didn’t mean it would soon be over. In the expectation that war weariness would finally overcome the North, the Southerners can still expect to hold out in their unlimited fastness for some time to come. A strategy of conquest is therefore required and, above all, destruction of the enemy army – the one true condition of victory considering the vast dimensions of the confederate hinterland.
Lincoln now has Grant take command of all of the federal armies; the lieutenancy-general, a post that previously only Washington had ever assumed. Grant’s plan is simple, in fact the very one Marx had suggested a couple of years earlier: to attack with a strong army from Tennessee in the direction of Georgia, head for the sea and split the Confederation into two parts, head back north to rejoin the Army of the Potomac and force the Southerners to fight with the possibility of being destroyed in the process. But Grant hasn’t read Marx properly, and continues to favour the Virginian front, with the result that enormous forces, better employed elsewhere, are tied up there. The North however is so rich in all respects that it can allow waste. Especially of human life.
In the east, the attack is developed in three arenas: Shenandoah Valley; Central (River Rapidan); South (peninsular). Clearly the principal arena is the central one, and the first encounter is fought in a stretch of land known as the Wilderness on the 5-6 May 1864. It is an extremely bloody affair, as is by now the norm, and the Northerners are stopped. Grant prefers not to persevere and moves south. This forces Lee to move off quickly in order to head him off and to take up advantageous positions, which he does at Spotsylvania, where there is another huge massacre between the 9th and 19th of May. Another stalemate, another sideslip to the south by Grant; Lee once again forms up on unassailable positions and meets him in battle at North Anna on the 23rd; yet again Grant disengages himself to the south, this time moving menacingly close to Richmond. Lee lines up at Cold Harbour and Grant concentrates all his forces there. However Lee too has to deploy all of his forces and, unlike 1862, instead of sending detachments to menace the northern rear he has to recall all forces available to him, even from other theatres. It is at this point that Sherman in the west sets out on his march on Atlanta.
On June 3 Grant attacks, and his forces are beaten back (7,000 dead and wounded in one day) in a battle that would earn him the highly appropriate nickname of “butcher”. Meanwhile further north, in the Shenandoah Valley, the northerners led by Sheridan destroy the southern army facing them and threaten to encircle Richmond, forcing Lee to dispatch troops against them. Grant makes another skilful sidestep to the south and invests Petersburg, a city to the south of Richmond that forms part of its defensive system (13-8 June). Lee, taken by surprise, gets pinned down manning the city’s defences, and there he would stay for almost a year, defending the southern capital from the northern army that slowly but inexorably tightens its grip on the city. But worst of all, the possibility of carrying out those manoeuvres that had been his strength in the preceding years is precluded.
The only place with any room for manoeuvre is the Shenandoah Valley,
despoiled by the northerners. In the month of July, General Early heads
up the valley into Maryland and threatens Washington, but it is a threat
that no longer inspires fear. He doesn’t achieve what Jackson achieved
in ’62, which was forcing the North to send significant troop numbers
back to defend the capital and thereby weakening the main front facing
Richmond. Early thus re-enters Virginia having achieved virtually nothing;
he however continues his harrying actions until Grant gives Sheridan the
task of hunting him down.
The “March to the Sea”
On 4 May 1864 Sherman’s operations in Georgia begin, setting out from his base in Chattanooga. Facing him is the Army of Tennessee under the command of Joseph Johnston. The superiority of Sherman’s forces allow him to carry out continuous outflanking actions on the confederate positions, and in order to avoid being surrounded, the confederates have to continuously retreat, or accept battle under conditions which put them at a clear disadvantage. Once Sherman attacks one of these entrenched positions, he gets pushed back with losses; but then Johnston has to retreat, and then again and again, all the way to Atlanta. It is basically a repetition of Grant’s advance in the east: at last the federals have learned to exploit their superiority in men and equipment.
On 17 July, Hood replaces Johnston because of unhappiness in the South about the old general’s temporising tactics, but it is a serious mistake. Johnston, who had had no option but to retreat, had in fact significantly slowed up the progress of the Union’s army, which had only advanced 140km in two and half months: and he had achieved all that with little over half the number of combatants as the northerners, and with his forces incurring no major damage; a minor masterpiece. Hood on the other hand has no qualms about giving battle before Atlanta, and he suffers heavy losses. In the end Sherman tries another outflanking movement and Hood has to abandon Atlanta, which is occupied by the Federals on 2 September.
In 1864 victory smiles on the North at sea as well: in August, Farragut’s boats take Mobile, Alabama, last of the major ports left to the South. And as regards another thorn in the side of the Federals – the confederate commerce raiders – things also start to improve: on 19 June the famous Alabama is sunk in the English Channel; in October, in defiance of international conventions, the Florida is boarded when riding at anchor in the port of Bahia. Brazil wasn’t Great Britain, and conventions only get respected when there is someone around capable of punishing transgressors (and, those presently in charge in the “land of the free, home of the brave” are providing us with plenty of fresh examples of the validity of this axiom).
Meanwhile, in Virginia, the struggle between the armies of Grant and Lee continued. Holed up in Richmond and Petersburg, which he cannot afford to abandon, even if tactically it might have been the best option, Lee still has some room for manoeuvre, with Early’s troops, in the Shenandoah valley. But Sheridan gets put in charge of closing down this front as well, and in August he organises the Army of the Shenandoah. Grant’s orders are not just to destroy the enemy’s army, but also to devastate the valley and render it unserviceable to the Confederates. And not only to the regular army, but also to the bands of partisans, which although present in several States are particularly active in the valley, commanded by a southern officer by the name of Colonel Mosby. And partisan bands operating behind enemy lines, with the aim of keeping a substantial part of the enemy forces occupied, would prove to be another original feature of the Civil War seen in later wars. Thus Sheridan advances south, harrying the Confederates, who he regularly defeats along the course of the river thanks to his overwhelming numerical superiority.
Following his route isn’t difficult because everywhere it is marked with dense columns of smoke that fill the entire valley. That is how General Sherman puts into practice Grant’s order to ‘devastate the whole area so thoroughly that a crow flying across over the valley would have to carry its own rations’. With ruthless efficiency the unionists torch the farmhouses, the cattle sheds and mills; destroy the harvests, hay lofts and even stocks of wood laboriously accumulated for the winter; sequester and carry away livestock and slaves, and arrest and imprison all men below fifty years of age. Dwellings are supposed to be excluded from this fate but in fact, whether in reprisal against actions taken by the partisans or due to individual soldiers under the influence of drink or after war booty, they get burned down as well and the unfortunate occupants are left roofless, only to swell the lines of fugitive poor which the federal vanguards propel before them along the roads of the once fertile valley, now reduced to a desert.
With the approach of autumn, Sheridan retreats about half way up the valley. On 19 October the Southerners mount a surprise attack on the federal encampments at Cedar Creek, but eventually, thanks partly to the timely return of Sheridan from Washington, they are defeated and fall back. At this point, in the valley that in previous years the confederates had witnessed so many brilliant victories, it is all over for them as well.
Sheridan and Sherman’s successes allow Lincoln to be triumphantly re-elected in the second presidential ballot (8 November), defeating a recycled McClellan. But Lincoln’s main victory is over the radicals in his own party who, as we will see later on, are getting increasingly active.
If we now retrace out steps a bit, and return to the western front, we see Sherman ordering the evacuation of Atlanta on 7 September. Hood has decided to abandon a frontal assault on Sherman’s troops and decides to head north and invade Tennessee and Kentucky, hoping to be followed by Sherman. But times have changed; the numerical superiority of the northerners allows them to split their forces, and two armies of the West are formed: a smaller one, under Thomas’s orders, is sent to stop Hood in Tennessee, the other one, under the command of Sherman himself, is assigned to attack Georgia and the Atlantic States, with the aim of then heading back north towards Virginia.
Sherman’s main problem is his supply lines, which are far too long. The solution is to accumulate as much equipment and supplies as possible, and supplement that by living off the resources of the territories they cross. It is a bold decision having the army burn its bridges, forcing it to press on to victory or destruction; a repetition, on a grander scale, of Grant’s victorious manoeuvre at Vicksburg. And it is also a ruthless decision to have the full weight of the war descend on the civilian population, as Sheridan had already done in the North. The first of these measures is actually taken in Atlanta, which following the evacuation is razed to the ground to prevent it serving as a base for an improbable confederate counter-attack.
On 16 November the army sets out on the famous “March to the Sea”. But this isn’t so much an offensive, considering it wasn’t facing an actual army, but rather a triumphal descent towards the underbelly of the Confederation. For the advance the army was divided into four columns, which would devastate and destroy all before them over a broad 100-kilometre front. Once again, the troops’ good behaviour was not a high priority. On 21 December the port of Savannah is occupied. For the confederates, the loss of Georgia isn’t compensated by successes on other fronts: in Tennessee, at Franklin on 30 November and at Nashville on 15-16 December, the Southern army is defeated in battles which, after desertions had reached epidemic proportions, verge on the suicidal, and it is forced into retreat. But by now one can scarcely talk of an army: Hood resigns.
On 10 January in the New Year, Sherman marches out of Savannah and heads
north. Columbia in South Carolina is taken on 17 February, and Charleston
on the 18th. Meanwhile the one remaining important seaport, Wilmington
in North Carolina, is taken by sea on 15 February, and reached by land
on the 22 February. Whilst Sherman puts the hated South Carolina to fire
and sword (in the northern collective imagination the State was considered
the biggest warmonger of them all, and the one from which the secession
had originated) the scattered southern forces are reunited in North Carolina,
and their command restored to Johnston. Here Johnston makes a vain attempt
to stop the Federals, but his temporising abilities are of little avail
against such overwhelming forces. Meanwhile, in the valley of the Shenandoah,
Sheridan disperses the remnants of the southern forces under Early’s
command, and takes his cavalry before Petersburgh: Grant launches an enveloping
attack (Battle of Five Forks, 29-30 March) and on April 2nd, an attack
on the entire front. Lee, not wishing to be encircled, is forced on April
3rd to abandon the city, and Richmond along with it. Grant’s army pursues
him and bars his line of march: at Appomattox Court House Lee renounces
any last moment resistance, and on the 9th April, he signs the surrender.
It is the end, for even if it is just one army surrendering, the South
is nevertheless defeated. Soon the other generals surrender to the Federals
The Emancipation of the Slaves
The question of the emancipation of the enslaved African masses, present in large numbers in the southern States, is one that affects events throughout the civil war. It constitutes a causative factor, a phenomenon relevant to the war itself, and a burning issue in the period afterwards.
For Marx and Engels the question of slavery is the central question and root cause of the disagreement between the capitalist and financial North and the agrarian and latifundist South. To their contemporaries, however, who appeared to give little thought to the matter of emancipation, that was not how it appeared. Apart from pro-abolitionist groups operating in the north very few northerners seemed to care much about the lot of the Negroes. Indeed, at the popular level, it seems there was actually more sympathy for Negroes and their emancipation in the South than in the North, at least before the war.
The fact is that the various actors who took part in the events which were unfolding didn’t have a clear understanding of what was happening, and, as is always the case, they acted like puppets, suspended as they were by historical and economic threads woven by the society in which they lived out their lives. About Lincoln we could quote Cromwell’s far-sighted quip: “No-one goes so far as he who doesn’t know where he is going”. In fact the good Abraham spent the last five years of his life contradicting in practice his earlier positions.
Marx, on the other hand, from the first year of the war could see that the question of emancipation was crucial to the outcome of what may be considered the completion of the bourgeois revolution in North America; a revolution which had started in the 17th century, and crossed the Atlantic on the ships of the colonizers; a capitalist development which, dispersed as it was throughout the boundless New World, would take a while to assume its characteristic forms. The so-called American Revolution, i.e. the War of Independence, marked the national emancipation of the American bourgeoisie from the colonial subjection of Great Britain: it is to this that we reduce its social and economic import, both as regards its aims and the way the struggle was conducted, which in fact involved only a very small minority of the American colonists. The Civil War, on the other hand, created the opportunity of completely liberating those productive forces that, according to our doctrine, pave the way to the proletarian revolution. The economic system in the South, and therefore slavery, stood in the way of this liberation. And this explains why Marx and Engels always gave their passionate support to the North.
As early as the beginning of November 1861, Marx wrote: “The present struggle between the South and North is, therefore, nothing but a struggle between two social systems, the system of slavery and the system of free labour. The struggle has broken out because the two systems can no longer live peacefully side by side on the North American continent. It can only be ended by the victory of one system or the other.
“If the border states, the disputed areas in which the two systems
have hitherto contended for domination, are a thorn in the flesh of the
South, there can, on the other hand, be no mistake that, in the course
of the war up to now, they have constituted the chief weakness of the North
(...) Anxiety to keep the “loyal” slaveholders of the border states
in good humour, fear of throwing them into the arms of secession, in a
word, tender regard for the interests, prejudices and sensibilities of
these ambiguous allies, has smitten the Union government with incurable
weakness since the beginning of the war, driven it to half measures, forced
it to dissemble away the principle of the war and to spare the foe’s most
vulnerable spot, the root of the evil – slavery itself.
When, only recently, Lincoln pusillanimously revoked Frémont’s Missouri proclamation on the emancipation of Negroes belonging to the rebels, this was done solely out of regard for the loud protest of the “loyal” slaveholders of Kentucky. However, a turning point has already been reached (...) Events themselves drive to the promulgation of the decisive slogan – emancipation of the slaves”.
The liberation of the slaves had therefore appeared as a military necessity as well. When later General Hunter made himself promoter of a similar initiative to Frémont’s, the president’s reply was the same. In 1862, however, the inadequacy of the military forces on the one hand, and the threat of a part of the Republican Party to form a third, more radical, party, forced Lincoln to act more decisively. The most determined section of the bourgeoisie had made its voice heard.
“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union – announced Lincoln in 1862 – and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that” (Letter to Horace Greeley, August 22, 1862). But by the Autumn of 1862, the situation had ripened: the South was showing no signs of giving in, and only at Antietam had Lee’s counter-offensive been stopped by the Unionist army. On the wave of that victory (which some consider a turning point in the war, the beginning of the end for the South) Lincoln issued a first proclamation in which he announced his intention, from January 1st 1863, to liberate all slaves living in areas dominated by the rebels.
According to Lincoln it was a purely tactical measure: “Without the problem of slavery, the rebellion would never have happened – he said – and, deprived of slavery, it can’t continue”. We cannot but agree with this self-evident comment, but it should be remembered that the South wasn’t simply the North, plus slaves. In fact we have seen that slavery was an integral part of the economic social structure in the South, and it was illusory to think that if ‘the problem’ was removed, everything else could go back to the way it was; how true this was would soon become only too evident.
The Proclamation invited the Southern States to re-enter the Union, subject to the emancipation of all slaves, in exchange for an end to the conflict. In some cases there was even compensation offered to cover any economic losses arising from emancipation. And yet the definitive Proclamation, which was issued on 1st January 1863, only included the territories in the hands of the Confederation and not the border States, nor the ‘liberated areas’. It was nevertheless an extraordinary turn of affairs (Marx considered it ‘clause-ridden’, but still ‘historic’).
If we consider Lincoln’s thinking at the time of his inauguration, when, among other things, he had declared his preparedness to accept a 13th amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing the permanency of slavery in the southern States, we can see how individuals count for very little: for the very same person was now calling for a 13th amendment to provide for the abolition of slavery in the Confederate States. But Congress, which was a lot more radical than the president, would go much further than this, and push through a measure prohibiting slavery over the entire territory of the United States. This amendment, ratified eight months after Lincoln’s death in December 1865, represented a significant change to the Constitution.
The Emancipation Proclamation could not be postponed; chiefly because all it did was ratify something that was already happening on the farms and plantations throughout the South. The lack of control over the slaves due to the war emergency, with many whites in uniform, meant there was a general relaxation of discipline, with numerous cases of absenteeism, insubordination and successful escape attempts. And whenever the Federals arrived, the situation would become particularly explosive. Even back in 1862 a law had been passed prohibiting the army from returning runaway slaves to their owners (although the army would end up exploiting the former slaves as auxiliary workers; casually referring to them as ‘contrabands’). Later on slavery was abolished in the District of Columbia (The city of Washington) and in the Territories, although it was largely a symbolic measure.
The consequence of the Emancipation Proclamation was that Negroes could be enrolled in the Unionist army. But if, on the one hand, this allowed large numbers of highly motivated troops to be admitted, on the other hand it inspired fear. What would the armed Negro do after he had learned to kill whites with impunity? But right from the start all the calls to abstain from violence in areas where the slaves had been liberated would prove unnecessary; and the reality was that episodes of violence were comparatively rare as the process of introducing emancipation gathered pace. The idea of the Negro with a gun therefore slowly started to gain acceptance in the North. Besides, after much hesitation, and far too late, they had decided to arm the blacks in the South as well. Necessity had won out over fear: the Negroes, who in power represented a socially frightening prospect, had in fact rarely lived up to the fears of the whites; class of slaves though they were, they nevertheless found themselves in a myriad of different situations, lacking in mutual contact and leaderless; rarely did they rebel and in general their objective was to eke out a living on their own parcel of land. But it would take the whites many years to understand that fact.
In the South they understood it too late: in the end they realised that the enormous numerical inferiority of their armies was an insurmountable problem; whereas the enemy was using ‘their’ Negroes against the South itself. For some time President Davis, and some of the most eminent military leaders on the southern side, including Lee, had been considering whether to emancipate at least some slaves in order to save the independence of the Confederates. Finally, despite opposition from the confederate Congress, Davis managed to pass a law stating that slaves who enrolled voluntarily in the Confederate army would not only be freed at the end of the war, but also (truly remarkable for the time) receive citizenship and a patch of land. All that whilst the North – Lincoln included – was still thinking of resolving the problem of the freed slaves by deporting them back to Africa.
History would however follow a different path and yet this enrolment
of the blacks, apart from being a powerful confirmation of determinism
in human history, shows that a revolutionary juncture had been reached:
the supreme good for the South was independence, but to maintain it the
South would have to gradually dismantle its economic system; gradually
substitute it for a system which was remarkably similar to the one it was
fighting against. History would thus have taken its course anyway, transcending
lines on the map, different coloured uniforms, races, Generals; and also,
transcending any ideas and consciousness that the participants may have
had of the situation in which they were operating. In the end North America
had to be transformed in order to allow the capitalist system to develop
in line with the rhythms which world trade and the available resources
allowed. And thus it was.
By the end of the war, in 1865, almost a million ex-slaves – a quarter of the Southern Negroes – had left the plantations and sought protection from the unionist troops, working afterwards for the army under often extremely harsh conditions, and without pay. Around two hundred thousand Afro-Americans, 80% of them from the confederate states, fought in the ranks of the unionist navy and army, in ‘black regiments’ commanded by white officers. Evidently there were those who were sceptical of the fighting capacity of the ex-slaves, but not for long. Initially they would receive lower pay than the whites, but eventually salaries would be levelled out; the first real and significant equalisation in the history of American blacks. In the army Negroes became literate and subject to the same rules as the whites. They fought with great courage, even if regularly destined for the worst missions; thirty per cent of them never came back, a much higher percentage than the whites.
The White Proletariat
In reality Negroes inspired more fear in the North than in the South. The Democratic Party in particular, in opposition in the North, would exploit the difficulties arising as result of the war to counter-pose the Negroes’ interest in having slavery abolished to that of the white workers, impoverished due to the length of the conflict and by inflation and menaced by the prospect of the appearance of millions of Afro-Americans on the labour market. Although an unlikely prospect, this was nevertheless believed.
As a class, white proletarians had more than enough reason to be fed up with the Republican Party and the government. Class-consciousness, which was starting to develop in the East, was repressed both in the North and the South by constant appeals to patriotic unity, which was preached by the politicians and put into effect with arms. In the course of this ‘war for liberty’, proletarians who dared to strike, especially in the factories which provided important materials for the war effort, would be faced with well-equipped army divisions; and those who criticised Lincoln would end up in jail without even a hint of a trial. Eventually the number of political prisoners incarcerated would reach 30,000, an eloquent testimony to how democratic the ‘revolutionary’ bourgeoisie really are. Meanwhile the flower of the proletariat went off to die on the battlefields of Virginia and Tennessee.
In the North, the war caused the prices of essential goods to rise sharply, sometimes by as much as 100%. But there was no corresponding rise in wages, and for families in particular, who had found it difficult enough to buy enough food at the old prices, it was very hard indeed. It was one of the many ways in which the bourgeoisie took advantage of the war to enrich itself in a thoroughly shameless manner. Throughout the course of the war, strikes in all trades were relatively frequent everywhere, and this was a factor in the trade-union revival. In fact the shortage of labour gave proletarians a certain amount of leverage. Many women entered factories for the first time; a change frowned upon by their male workmates because they mainly perceived it, because women were paid less, as an attack on the average level of wages. By 1864, despite the war, the presence of the proletariat was making itself felt: there were 200,000 trade-union members, some in national rather than local trade unions which were equipped with their own press organs.
The extension of the strikes prompted the bosses to turn to Congress for help, and they were only too happy to oblige. The Contract Labour Law of 1864 made it possible to employ foreign workers who had undertaken to provide a year’s free labour in exchange for the cost of their emigration. This allowed the capitalists to access workers who were not only low cost but who couldn’t afford to strike. To break strikes the army was used, sometimes to drive workers back into their workplace at the point of bayonets.
Everything was conspiring to make proletarians see the war as one being fought on behalf of the Negro slave, or for the capitalist in his fancy spats; or at least being fought for everyone apart from themselves. In March 1863 a new law on conscription was passed. This allowed drafted men (the system functioned like a lottery, there was no general conscription) to obtain exemption by paying a commutation fee of 300 dollars to the government. For the overwhelming majority who couldn’t obtain exemption – 300 dollars was more than a year’s wages for many workers – it was case of a “war of the rich, fought by the poor”. Nothing new under the sun!
In July of the same year, immediately after the law had come into force, popular rage exploded into open revolt in the cities of the North. In New York an angry mob destroyed the recruitment office; then, for three days, groups of rowdy elements roamed the city destroying public buildings, factories, omnibuses and private houses. The so-called Draft Riots concentrated the blind and disorderly discontent of desperate elements, who unleashed their anger against the rich, and against Republicans, but above all, against Negroes. After sacking the houses of the rich, the mob moved on to torment the latter. An arson attack was launched on an orphanage for Negro children; many Negroes were hung, thrown into the flames, and generally hounded by the mob; many took refuge in Central Park. On the fourth day, troops who had just returned from Gettysburg suppressed the riots. It is thought that the number of deaths resulting from this event, which in the country’s interior history in terms of casualties comes next after the Civil War itself and the attack on the Twin Towers, is thought to be around four hundred. Other revolts, which were less bloodthirsty, took place in several other cities.
Writing about these events soon afterwards in Capital, Marx would declare
that emancipation was also therefore a progressive factor as far as the
advancement of the class struggle was concerned: “In the United States
of America, every independent workers’ movement was paralysed as long
as slavery disfigured a part of the republic. Labour in a white skin cannot
emancipate itself where it is branded in a black skin”.
A Productive Party Meeting at Viareggio -
June 3-4, 2006 [RG95]
For the first time ever, in the annals of our small party, we were in a position to hold our meeting in Viareggio, a town with a strong working class presence in agriculture, in the maritime and shipbuilding industries and with entrenched proletarian traditions; the latter only slightly dampened by the town having become a ‘seaside resort’ in the last century. The meeting would take place within the spacious and tranquil surroundings of a circoscrizione di quartiere, a local ward centre.
As usual the meetings on Saturday and Sunday were quite intense, and given over to the relation of numerous reports, some of them dealing with difficult subjects whose exposition was anything but obvious or straightforward. For now, we will only summarise the topics covered, whilst the full reports will be published in due course in Comunismo or Il Partito Comunista.
These different studies all draw on the collaboration of many comrades, and take place on a time-scale which can’t be reduced to the here and now. Without fear of contradiction we can say that they rely on the work of all current comrades, and of those who are no longer with us as well.
The party’s method does not involve indulging in gossipy ‘spot the mistake’ competitions, the typical “sport” of the bourgeoisie’s ghastly politicians and smarmy intellectuals; for whom, having no further truths or indeed anything worthwhile left to impart, there remains nothing but shouting louder than their fellow puffed up ignoramuses and con artists, or slagging them off with sour ripostes.
But having said that, we don’t mean to imply that the party is immune
from making mistakes, that it never gets anything wrong, or, for that matter,
won’t make mistakes in the future. Quite the opposite. What we do affirm,
nevertheless, is that in order to look after its long-term objectives,
the Communist Party must carry out its work in a way that transcends ‘personality
worship’ and organisational sectarianism. In a party that has the stamina
to attain the Communist historical consciousness of the path which lies
ahead, even potential ‘mistakes’ may be useful insofar as they exercise
our ‘collective dialectical musculature’ by prompting a deeper investigation
of the relevant subjects, and bringing ever new, less investigated implications
under the sway of doctrine.
THE CRISIS OF CAPITAL
As is customary at our meetings, there was a presentation to those assembled, about the Great Moribundity’s ‘hospital file’: the result of a lot of hard work, we will only attempt to give a brief overview here of the huge amount of data which was drawn together and elaborated in this report.
The lengthy period running from 1937 to 2005 was covered, concentrating on the big six imperialisms. We are also currently gathering information on China and India so that can be included as well. On the table, the first line for each country in clear type indicates the number of years of the relevant period, the second line, in bold type, indicates the average annual rate of growth of industrial production. (See table in the following Turin Meeting Report).
There is certainly plenty to reflect upon in this vast and evocative panorama of world capitalism, subsoil of all social determinations, great and small, when we look back over these counter-revolutionary centuries of ours, for although our historic enemy may be clearly triumphant on the political level, we see it economically going into inexorable decline.
The most recent periods, shown in italics, are incomplete and therefore only provisional insofar as they haven’t been concluded by peak of maximum growth. In fact some rhythms are even shown in the negative.
What stands out is the great cycle of capitalist aging, which has reduced
growth, even in the very powerful capitalisms, to virtually nothing. To
show that the glory days of capitalism are clearly over, we need only look
at the average rates of accumulation in Italy and Japan in the post-war
period (of truly ‘Chinese’ proportions) and compare them with the minimal
THE REARMING OF THE STATES
Every now and again the media gives us some meagre information on the amount the various States are spending on arms. Over the past year the raw figures (which still show ‘little Italy’ to be one of the world’s prodigal spenders on navy, air force, army and police, etc) are often accompanied by complaints from senior figures in the army about cuts to ‘defence’ spending, or by requests from the so-called “radical left” to limit this expenditure.
If the following statement from a Marxist of the calibre of Trotsky is true, as it most certainly is, there is much to be alarmed about: “States do not fight because they are armed. On the contrary, they forge arms when they have to fight”.
Since 1998, following several years of reduction in global military spending due to the collapse of the immense Russian empire, and to the drastic reduction in military spending mainly in that region, but also in the United States, spending has started to rise dramatically. Between 1998 and 2004 the rise has been about 27%, reaching the enormous figure of 1,035 billion dollars, and by 2005 it had gone up to 1,100 billion dollars.
How is this spending divided between the various States?
In general, the data provided by SIPRI, (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute), which are the ones circulated in the press, are calculated in dollars based on the official rates of exchange. On that basis, the division of military expenditure between the 15 States which spend the most, sees, for the year 2005, in first place the United States with an expenditure of 455.3 billion dollars (47% of total world spending), in second place, but lagging far behind, Great Britain spends 47.4 billion at 4.9%; France is third at 46.2 Billion (4.7%); Japan is fourth at 42.4 billion (4.3%); China is fifth at 35.4 Billion (3.6%); and sixth, reunified Germany at 33.9 billion (3.5%). In seventh place is ‘Little Italy’ which, at least from the point of view of military spending, finds a place amongst the ‘big boys’ with 27.8 billion dollars and a not insignificant 2.9% of the world total. Next comes “Putin’s” Russia, at 19.4 billion (2.0%), followed by Saudi Arabia 19.3 (2.0%); South Korea 15.5 (1.6%); India 15.1 (1.5%); Israel 10.7 (1.5%); Canada 10.6 (1.1%); Turkey and Australia with the same 10.1 (1.0%), adding up to a total of 975 billion dollars at 2003 prices.
But if military expenditure is analysed in terms of “purchasing power parity”, that is, taking account not of the official currency exchange rate but of the actual physical quantity of armaments, the situation changes completely and gives a picture which is far closer to the real relations of force between the imperialist powers (still based on SIPRI data).
The United States still remains, of course, in first place, but we see their percentage of world expenditure reduced slightly from 46.7% to 41.4%. In second place it is no longer Great Britain but China, with 14.6% of world expenditure, establishing itself as the upcoming super-imperialist. India is in third place, another Asiatic power in full ascent. Comes next in fourth place is Russia, a country recovering fast from the crisis which followed the break up of the old USSR.
And what is more, in just a very few years Russia has recovered its prior position amongst the world’s biggest sellers of arms. And it is no accident that its biggest customers are China and India.
On the basis of these more accurate criteria, France, the European country highest on the list, followed by Great Britain and Germany, all drop behind Russia.
Japan, whilst fourth in the previous table, now finds itself in eighth place. However, if you take into account that the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ wasn’t even supposed to have an army and to be reliant on the allied occupying force of the United States, it is certainly no mean result.
Italy comes after Japan in ninth place, which is more reasonable than the seventh place it occupied in the previous table.
So here is the second table, also shown at the meeting, which gives information about the fifteen States which spent most on the military sector in 2005, calculating the rate of exchange on a parity with purchasing power:
STATE EXPENDITURE %
2 China 161,1 14,6
3 India 81,8 7,4
4 Russia 66,1 6,0
5 France 51,2 4,7
6 United Kingdom 46,2 4,2
7 Germany 36,9 3,4
8 Japan 35,2 3,2
9 Italy 34,5 3,1
10 Saudi Arabia 29,1 2,6
11 Turkey 24,3 2,2
12 South Corea 23,1 2,1
13 Brazil 20,7 1,9
14 Iran 18,5 1,7
15 Pakistan 16,1 1,5
WORLD 1100,1 100,0
After taking into account the data set
out in the table we resumed with Trotsky’s slogan: “Calls for ‘disarmament’
have, and can only have, nothing in common with the prevention of war.
The program of ‘disarmament’ only signifies an attempt – up to now
only on paper – to reduce in peacetime the expense of this or that kind
of armaments. It is above all a question of military technique and the
imperialist coffers. The arsenals, the munitions factories, the laboratories,
and, most important of all, capitalist industry as such, retain their power
throughout every ‘disarmament program’. But States do not fight because
they are armed. On the contrary, they forge arms when they have to fight.
In case of war, all the peace limitations will fall aside like so much
chaff. Back in 1914-1918, States didn’t fight with the armaments they
had stocked up in time of peace, but with what they had forged during the
war. It isn’t the arsenals but the productive capacity of a country that
proves decisive (...)
The question of disarmament is one of the levers used by imperialism to prepare for wars. It is pure charlatanism to attempt to distinguish between defensive and offensive machine guns, tanks, aeroplanes (...)
War is not a game that is conducted according to conventional rules. War demands and creates all the weapons that can most successfully annihilate the enemy. Petty-bourgeois pacifism, which sees in a 10 percent, or 33 percent, or 50 percent disarmament proposal the "first step" towards prevention of war, is more dangerous than all the explosives and asphyxiating gases put together. Melinite and yperite can do their work only because the masses of people are poisoned in peacetime by the fumes of pacifism.”
The issue is therefore clear: we mustn’t deceive anyone that a disarmed, or less armed, capitalism is possible. To gain access to, and protect, their markets and sources of raw materials, the imperialist powers use money but also armed force. The present oil wars make this very evident.
Another factor not to be underestimated is that arms production constitutes in itself an extremely important sector of industry. Again on the basis of SIPRI figures (as reported in the June 14th issue of the Italian left-leaning newspaper Manifesto): “Since 2004, thanks to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the world’s major arms firms have seen their takings go up by 34% and total profits now stand at 10.12 billion dollars. Not surprisingly 63% of the profits have ended up amongst the takings of the 40 top American companies involved in arms production”. In the present climate of quasi-stagnation in the economies of the major Western countries, these figures are not insignificant.
The main arms firms are American, with their main customer the United States army: their profits therefore derive from squeezing the American tax-payer, who sees a quarter of federal spending invested in arms. And that is why the citizens of the ‘land of the free’ find themselves constantly menaced, today by “rogue States” yesterday by “soviet communism”, by international terrorism and other such nightmares, in order to convince them of the need for ‘social discipline’ and to get the proletariat to continue to slog its guts out!
We finally concluded with excerpts from Anti-Dühring: “Militarism carries in itself the seed of its own destruction. Competition of the individual States with each other forces them to spend more money each year on the army and navy, artillery, etc., and thus more and more hastening financial catastrophe (...) Always and everywhere it is the economic conditions and instruments of force which help “force” to victory, and without these, force ceases to be force. And anyone who tried to reform war from the opposite standpoint (...) would certainly reap nothing but a beating”.
THE AMERICAN WORKERS’ MOVEMENT
The party work on the American workers’ movement paused to consider the period of the War of Independence, which the American bourgeoisie like to call a “Revolution” but Marxist analysis considers instead as a war between States, insofar as political power didn’t pass from one class to another and there was no overthrowing of one mode of production by another.
Even if traces of pre-bourgeois production remained in the large estates of the great landowners, direct assignees of huge properties by the Crown, the system of production was by now analogous to the one predominant in England for over a century; from when the English Revolution (and such it genuinely was) had deposed the absolute monarchy and reduced it to what it still remains today, a pale imitation of a faded power.
The war was of one part of the population against another, both sides roughly equivalent in numerical terms, and it was fought against the mother country; it could also, therefore, be described it as a civil war.
After having described the increasing fiscal pressure which England brought to bear on the colonies, and the limits which were placed on the latter’s territorial and economic expansion, the report went on to show how it was actually the proletariat of the big cities, along with artisans and other layers of the petty bourgeoisie, who organized resistance to the colonial power whilst the magnates were originally hesitant about backing it.
When later on the stage of all out confrontation between the English and colonial armies was reached, the big mercantile and financial bourgeoisie, and above all the big landed proprietors, would continue to equivocate and play a waiting game, fearing, as they did, the armed subordinate classes far more than any oppression from across the Atlantic.
So victory was not just due to an army, which suffered all the vicissitudes of the shifting, and not always cordial, relations between the colonies; it was also due to a historic conjuncture which saw Spain, and above all the France of Louis XVI, supporting the colonial armies and militias economically, and militarily with their own armies and navies.
The war couldn’t suppress class conflict for long however. Soon there was the inevitable general price rise, and the response was petitions menacing mass gatherings and general unrest. In 1781 there was even a mutiny by a sizeable army detachment, and in the years following victory, further disturbances broke out.
And yet there were certain consequences of the revolution that improved life for proletarians, including economic recovery. The declaration of the principles of individual liberty and equality, even if with objective limitations, had clear implications for the future condition of bonded laborers and slaves. Enslavement of whites was already in decline due to the difficulty of maintaining a constant supply of them; a difficulty that was accentuated every time there was a war in Europe.
In New England, slavery was abolished in the years after the war and prohibited in the territories north of the river Ohio. In the central colonies it disappeared more gradually, but by the beginning of the 19th century very few slaves remained there. In the South, of course, the ‘peculiar institution’ would remain firmly entrenched, and it was precisely here that the bulk of the millions of slaves were to be found. And yet there was a sense of dealing with an anomaly that would soon be swept away.
One had the impression that the American people were well on the way to achieving equality. Amongst proletarians, the great revolutionary formula – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – even if hypocritical in itself and of more relevance to the rich than to the subordinate classes, aroused hopes of a better future of decent wages, shorter hours, and working conditions fit for human beings. And yet what was really new about the American War of Independence was the general rhetoric about ‘Liberty’. Each class, every social strata, ranging from tenant farmers in the Hudson valley to the coopers of Philadelphia, from Boston sailors to merchants in debt to England, from land-hungry bonded servants to the skilled laborers of New York, all of them saw their respective problems resolved in the achievement of liberty, the opening up of a new world of wealth and well-being.
In the next century, it would nevertheless
become abundantly clear that the American bourgeoisie had no intention
of sharing the enormous riches within its grasp with the proletariat.
BALANCE SHEET OF THE ISLAMIC ‘REVOLUTION’
Once the popular and proletarian uprising against the Pahlavi State had concluded with the victory of the priest’s party, the new politico-religious coalition, contrary to the wishes of the bourgeois strata that had supported it, would embark on a long and bloody battle against the other factions. A popular referendum declared Iran to be an ‘Islamic republic’ but from that time on there would be no more room for the democratic forces, even for those of populist inspiration which had contributed so much to the success of the insurrection.
The ‘revolution’ was dead before it had seen light of day. That wouldn’t stop this historical phase from eventually being dubbed the ‘Khomeinist Revolution’, however: false noun, usurped adjective.
Even within the Shiite community itself ‘spiritual’ differences would lead to vicious struggles amongst the priesthood, as often as not mediated by the Supreme Leader and sometimes leading to bloody attacks aimed at eliminating opponents. Ruthless repression would be the order of the day, whether against the groups and parties of the lay left, or those of the so-called ‘Islamic left’ (Bani Sadr).
Between 1980, and when the Iraqi armed forces invaded in 1983, the opposition was completely crushed. Almost six thousand people were condemned to death, exile for the more fortunate (including the second lay president, Bani Sadr) and ‘political death’ reserved for those factions amongst the clergy who wouldn’t adapt to the ‘Khomeinist’ dictatorship.
The country’s new constitutional order was organized in a special diarchical structure in which a ‘democratic’ form of the traditional type, represented by the president of the Republic and parliament, was accompanied by a parallel religious power presided over by a Supreme Leader and a Council which assisted him.
Effective control of the principal powers of the Islamic Republic was – and still is – referred to the latter, whilst a role involving little more than management and administration was attributed to the institutions of parliament and president.
The confessional nature of the state was sanctioned in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, which clearly identified that in Islam, and not in the state itself, the summit of power in Iran was located, thereby drawing a clear distinction between the roles of the President and the Supreme Leader; with effective power of government transferred to the latter and the organs specific to him.
During those three years of ferocious repression, the struggle to give a structure to the new state order, and the dynamic of the clash of imperialist interests in the Gulf area, would result in the Republic’s foreign policy becoming confused and contradictory. There would be traumatic stages like the seizure of the diplomats from the American embassy in Teheran and, later on, the military attack on Iran by Iraq. If the Islamic left, until its final elimination in the first year of the war with Iraq, insisted on the organic insertion of Iran in the non-aligned movement, another wing of the government sought a non-conflictual co-existence with the West and a measured policy towards the East. Finally, there was the political group around the Supreme Leader and the Council of the Revolution, which urged a break with the United States.
As the war with Iraq continued, and became ever more ruthless and bloody, these political contradictions would be swept aside.
The political weakness of the American president, Carter, and his failed attempt to free the captive American diplomats by military means, would cost him his re-election in 1981. Reagan, his successor, would instead purchase their freedom with clandestine deals involving arms and dollars, which could only be got into Iran with the complicity of the Israeli secret services and complicated international financial networks: this was the Iran-Contra scandal which was uncovered in 1987.
As the war continued, the United States allowed the two contenders to bleed each other dry, whilst it meanwhile provided support to the Iraqi dictator, who it would help to install and maintain in power as a counter-weight to the newly arisen Iranian republic.
After the assassinations of Behesti, leader of the Council of the revolution, and Rajai, who succeeded Bani Sadr as head of the republic, the Ayatollah Khomeini would himself step in to replace them. The circle was getting smaller, and the mullahs would now exert complete control over the ganglia of state and civil society. The weak Iranian bourgeoisie totally surrendered to the harsh discipline of the priests, who would lord it over the financial as well as the landowning and mining sectors and take over the oil business.
After eight years of war, and after a missile launched by an American ship had hit an Iranian civilian aircraft with 280 people on board – a ‘tragic error’ according to American diplomacy – the war would end, without the two contenders however signing a formal peace declaration.
The turbulent phase of the power of the priests draws to a close with the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, soon after the ending of hostilities in February 1989, and his replacement at the top of the regime by Rafsanjiani. A period of political stabilization is ushered in, and the new climate allows for a more pragmatic foreign policy, one which is more negotiated; one allowing the application of various approaches to the really knotty question: regional supremacy in the Gulf region.
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is elected
to the presidency of the republic, and he will remain in post until 1997,
practicing a policy of economic liberalization aimed at attracting foreign
investment to reconstruct an Iran devastated by the war.
ITALY: BIGOTTED AND MACHIAVELLIAN
If we have previously emphasized that the entire history of the Italic bourgeoisie is marked by its political intrigues and petty politicizing; if we have emphasized that Togliatti wasn’t the first to adopt its duplicitous standards, since these had already been adopted by the men of the Risorgimento, with Cavour chief amongst them, it isn’t out of moral bigotry.
If anything, bigotry is typical of the bourgeois ruling class (and not just the Italian one at that) inasmuch as it constantly finds itself objectively torn between wishful thinking and harsh material reality.
Thus the distorting mirror of national ideology means that promises are never kept, for the reason that it sees class divisions as ‘a Marxist invention’, rather than a blatantly obvious fact staring it in the face.
Thus do the Italics still claim to be followers of, or at least indebted to, Machiavelli, not knowing that the latter, accused in his day of being a ‘mannerino’, that is, a flunkey of the Medicis (and him a republican!), advocated the necessity of setting fancy speeches aside in order to learn from ‘actual reality’. He who at least had the merit of not shunning the lessons of history, of knowing how to conduct himself politically, and who loathed petty politicizing, which is the nauseating way of going about things these days
The really pathetic thing about Italic ideology is the rhetoric with which it tries to cover up its mistakes, which fails however to disguise the profound emptiness of a tradition that continually oscillates between velleity and reality. The events of the last fifteen years are no exception, even after the fall of the ‘ideologies’ which would force everyone to dissimulate...
Now that the reasons for this duplicity no longer exist, here it is being proclaimed to a country which although split in half has never been more united in squeezing the proletariat, excluded from the great blow-out and still in the grip of an irreversible crisis.
As the rate of profit continues
its inexorable fall, whose fault is that? Answer that dear sirs, and you
might not find it quite so easy to blame Marxism as an ideology, or to
declare the latter unscientific and false...
THE ORIGIN OF THE TRADE UNIONS IN ITALY
The report dealt with the history of the Confederazione Generale del Lavoro in the period immediately after the 2nd World War when it was based in Naples. The comrade assigned to researching the subject had managed to track down several copies of the Confederation’s official organ, Battaglie Sindacali, the contents of which clearly evidenced the major influence which class positions had on this union.
But alongside these positions there were also non-communist tendencies present within it, which derived from the fact that members belonged to a whole range of parties, from the Partito d’Azione (Action Party) through to the Italian Communist Party and the PSIUP (Partito Socialista Italiano di Unità Proletaria).
Looking back at this union from where we are today, we are bound to confirm that it was indeed a ‘class’ union, because such were its actions; such it was considered by its members and because even the non-communist leaders, despite themselves, got swept up in the tide. In fact these leaders were compelled to hide their true opinions for fear of losing contact with the proletariat.
Wage demands for agricultural labourers, workers and office workers were unequivocal, and made regardless of their compatibility with the national economy.
Several passages from the pages of ‘Battaglie’ were quoted to show how it defended various class positions, such as calling for a single, inter-regional trade-union organisation to defend the interests of workers in all trades and sectors.
The organisation had to fight against the PCI, which attempted to sabotage it by trying to get workers to not join or not pay their dues. In Unità there were even accusations of ‘anti-communism’, which can be swiftly dealt with by pointing out that the CGL maintained it was only by international solidarity and the abolition of the capitalist system that it could alleviate the proletarian condition.
With other comrades having managed
to track down additional issues as well, such that we have now acquired
an almost complete set of Battaglie Sindacali, we have decided to duplicate
it to make it available for further study.
ANTI-MILITARISM IN THE WORKERS’ MOVEMENT
This report was introduced with the observation that war is the inevitable consequence of capitalist society and its mode of production. At the same time, however, it represents capitalism’s greatest contradiction because in order to conserve its power, its class domination, the capitalist state is forced to arm the proletariat, its grave-diggers. As Marx wrote in the Manifesto: “Not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons – the modern working class – the proletarians”.
Several passages from our classic
texts (Marx, Lenin, the Italian Left) were then quoted to demonstrate that
the proletarian party’s revolutionary stance towards imperialist war
needs to be based on the following fundamental postulates; postulates which
cannot be compromised or diluted in any way:
1 - The party must never, under any circumstances, declare a suspension of the class struggle in time of war, much less call on the proletarian class to solidarize with its own bourgeois state. And this also holds true when a national territory is seriously threatened by the military aggression of enemy states;
2 - The party must unilaterally reject any defense of the ‘homeland’;
3 - At the same time it must encourage fraternization between proletarians in uniform in the opposing bourgeois armies
4 - The party’s entire propaganda and tactical activity will aim to transform any war between states into a civil war between the classes.
These plain, but clear-cut, statements allow us to conclude that the policy and action of the 2nd International parties, both at the start of, and during, the conflict, represented a total abandonment of the doctrines and traditions of socialism (even the reformist version) and, in abruptly passing over to the side defending bourgeois national interests, they committed a conscious and deliberate betrayal of the working class and its historical cause.
Whilst the 2nd International parties,
barring rare exceptions, forged a common front with their own national
states, and therefore, although appearing at first sight contradictory,
with international imperialism; whilst these parties were betraying the
class, the proletariat, meanwhile, was everywhere acting on the basis of
authentic class internationalism.
On all the war fronts without exception, there were, from Christmas 1914 onwards, innumerable episodes of military truces and fraternization. Faced with such a situation, and with the aim of preventing fraternization from being transformed into military strikes and thence into open civil war, the military commands would alternate toleration with brutal repression according to the circumstances.
Years of war would fail to dampen the proletariat’s spirit of rebellion, and in the fateful year of 1917 not one military front, not one army was unaffected by the phenomena of military strikes, mutinies, and revolts.
To give a full account of the full scale of these proletarian onslaughts, or even a bare summary, would be impossible. The report therefore restricted itself to covering three examples: the Christmas truce of 1914, which as everyone knows spread through the whole of the western Front; the rebellion in the French army of 1917 and the Italian Caporetto. It became very clear that these demonstrations, however significant might have been in themselves, also represented a generalized spirit of rebellion and a wish not only to have done with the war, but also to have done with the regime which had generated it and the class which wanted it in the first place. In 1917, in Russia, Italy, France, Austria and Germany, the armies all rebelled and declared their autonomous wish to declare war on war. All the conditions were in place for a successful revolutionary attack on the capitalist bourgeois power. What was lacking, except in Russia, was the party. The 2nd International, in spite of the declarations of the Basle congress and tens of others before that, passed over en bloc to the camp of defense of national capitalist interests and linked its destiny to the destiny of capitalism in general.
In 1914, social democracy consigned
to the capitalist state an entirely defenseless proletariat destined to
be slaughtered in the interests of the bourgeois fatherlands. In the years
that followed they did nothing to prevent the ‘useless slaughter’.
When in 1917 the proletariat in uniform expressed its firm will to impose
peace, social democracy remained impassive as governments and army Chiefs
of Staff used the most ferocious and bloody repression to force the proletariat
in uniform back onto the battle fronts; to massacre its brothers in the
opposing trenches and get massacred in its turn. When, furthermore, in
1919 the bourgeoisie risked collapsing under the violent impact of the
revolutionary wave, yet again it was social democracy that came to its
rescue and personally took charge of safeguarding the capitalist order,
and drowning any revolutionary attempt in blood.
THE JEWISH QUESTION
The foundation of the State of Israel has been seen as an expression of the return of the Jewish people to the Promised Land, and therefore a religious rather than a political event. Needless to say, we don’t agree.
When we speak of anti-semitism today, the question is imbued with a myriad of meanings and symbols, which although unavoidable in a way can be avoided if we don’t go the way of rhetorical exaggeration.
Is it fortuitous that the State of Israel was formed after the 2nd World War, which had seen the crushing of the proletariat reach its climactic point under Nazism and Stalinism? Is it fortuitous that such a distinctive State was formed as though in compensation for the extermination of the Jews by the nazis?
Historical documentation has now proved that it wasn’t just the USA which turned a blind eye to the extermination camps, but also perfidious Albion and the Vatican, and the Red Cross also, which isn’t a State and never was...
If this event is interpreted in the light of the class struggle, we are therefore forced to admit that the entire history of anti-semitism, from the fake protocols of Zion to the campaign by the Nazis, is just a perverse manifestation of bad conscience by the global bourgeoisie, serving to muddy the waters and allow them to maintain that the final victory of democracy meant a country could be given to the persecuted: a smoke screen to conceal the far more complex truth and the real reasons for the struggle.
As far as we are concerned, all that the forming of the myriad of States after the ‘ending of colonialism’ has achieved is to carve out new highly articulated systems of oppression on a planetary scale. Israel, as a new State, is no exception; and its deadly enemy, the new Palestinian semi-state, is no exception either.
Even if thus they present themselves, in this fragile strategic area which, at the moment at least, is mainly the focus of contradictions between the imperialist powers,
Therefore, in order to avoid falling
victim to bourgeois ideology, which utilizes all sorts of smoke screens
and symbols to confuse the proletariat, the Marxist interpretation of how
old and new States form needs to be adhered to.
Working Meeting in Turin,
23-24 September 2006 [RG96]
Comrades from the Italian sections and from France and Great Britain gathered in Turin on September 23rd and 24th 2006 to take part in the latest of our regular thrice-yearly meetings.
As usual, according to our tried and tested method, the sittings were divided into those dedicated to planning and organisational work, and those in which comrades presented the results of their research into subjects agreed at previous meetings.
At our meetings we are not in the habit of announcing opinions and ‘making interventions’. Our approach is rather to refer to progress made within our overall plan of impersonal research; what we might call scientific research in fact. Those listening to the reports attended not with the aim of sitting in judgement on the theme, or making immediate critiques, and certainly not in order to vote on them. The reports are considered instead as material for further reflection, as the basis for the party to attain a further deepening and greater understanding of the external social world, and about itself.
A taut but non-conflictual atmosphere distinguishes the way we work, where participation in the ongoing difficulties of the class struggle – today mainly on an emotional level and involving study – and an ongoing survey of all aspects of the capitalist crisis, isn’t disrupted by the knowledge that the principal task of our small but compact team today is the defence of the notion of one party in particular.
It was no accident that in 1974 our party organ in Italy called itself Il Partito Comunista, insofar as it rightly considered that an integral part of the programmatic baggage of Marxism, something that is indispensable to the social success of tomorrow’s revolutionary class, is the ensemble of dialectical milestones, the irreversible results of real historical experience, which have taught us what the communist party actually is, how it functions and works within history, and how history shapes it and makes it what it is.
The party is the most precious possession of the working class, it is
its mind and its heart. Without class party there remains only the poverty
that the dominant class sees, is able to see and wants to see. This party,
real and alive, which although attacked from all sides will eventually
become a great and visible force, we have found ourselves in the position
of having to defend, and we are determined to carry on doing so, with all
the forces at out disposal.
CHRONOLOGY OF LEBANESE HISTORY
The history of Lebanon, a country artificially formed by western imperialism, was briefly sketched out in this report. Practically non-existent as a State, Lebanon is just a testing ground for struggles and intrigues amongst its various internal components and various foreign infiltrations.
Once again the black clouds of war between bourgeois States are gathering over the region, and in particular, over Lebanon. And as usual, the proletariat will suffer the most, paying the usual heavy tribute of dead and wounded, above all amongst non-combatants. Once again it won’t be a case of a class war and proletarians will be set against each other on the opposing fronts.
The fragile truce in August 2006 which ended the Hezbollah rocket attacks on Galilee and the Israeli bombardments and invasion, has led to a multinational military corps being despatched, under the aegis of the UNO, whose nucleus is composed mainly of French and Italian troops. This hasn’t led to any agreement between the two opposed sides, merely the preservation of a fragile truce, during which both contenders are hoping to reinforce their positions whilst awaiting the next phase of the battle.
Meanwhile imperialism isn’t relaxing its grip on a region of fundamental strategic importance. For the time being it continues to act through its local ‘agents’, which consist of Israel and the pro-US forces on one side, and Hezbollah and its allies on the other. The working classes of Lebanon suffer oppression from both the country’s own propertied classes and from the capricious, sanguinary plans of actors on the international stage who are considerably more powerful.
Faced with this latest in a long succession of recent tragic events, with even worse ones no doubt in the offing, the party tackled this problem with a view to indicating to the proletariat of the entire region the right road to follow, which, as ever, is to fight for its own class interests. This means urging it to break that solidarity with the dominant classes which over the last seventy years has forced it, in Israel as in Lebanon, to live and die in a state of war, fighting for its own exploiters.
The report went on to provide an outline chronology of the Lebanese region, highlighting the historical reasons that have led to the development of the current ‘canker’. Future work on the subject will plot the inextricable links which exist between the events taking place in Lebanon and those in Iraq, with the latter, as we all know, having been hurled into a situation where daily bloody massacres are the norm. It has been labelled a ‘civil war’, but in fact this ruthless, savage war is an attack by the regime against the indigenous proletariat.
That the Middle East crisis is continually being stoked up and kept in a perpetual state of irresolution is all to the advantage of the war party, whose interests fully coincide with those of imperialism,.
Our prediction is that the middle-eastern proletariat will have no peace
as long as capitalism endures, a view confirmed by these latest terrible
COURSE OF THE ECONOMY
This report continued the ongoing exposition of the statistics describing the senile crisis of world capitalism, a work requiring a lot of dedication and patience. To this end, a number of updated graphs and tables were put on display to aid understanding.
For this meeting, along with the ongoing obligatory temporal updating of the serial data presented on previous occasions, a new table had been drawn up to provide figures on industrial production in India and China, who can now be ranked alongside and compared with the older capitalisms. We are working towards reinserting the figures for Russia, but for this we will need a device of some sort to make the delicate adjustments and calculations needed to bring the old ‘soviet’ series into line with the figures from after ‘the collapse’, which refer to a much changed territory, population and economic environment.
The tables under discussion represent only the indices of production. They do not therefore depict the full extent of production in the various countries but merely measure the growth in each of them. In the course of our ongoing study, we will aim to eventually update our quantitative comparison of the global industrial powers, but since capital’s vitality is based not so much on the dimension of capital but on the speed of its growth – which is profit, or rather the rate of profit, which instead is declining and sometimes very steeply at that – it is more useful to work on the basis of the variation than its overall size.
In the Chinese government statistics, from which we have drawn our data,
there appear two series: one called “Index of gross output of industry”
and the other “Index of gross domestic product of industry”. From reading
the relevant literature it would seem the Gross Output is more relevant
to our work, insofar as it corresponds, more or less, to the sum of variable
capital and surplus value.
Comparison of this series with the one we published in Comunismo, no.46 in 1999, in an earlier study on the growth of Chinese industry also derived from the Chinese State’s yearbook, gives us almost matching growth rates, apart from the first three years: in the 1999 study, the series running from 1949 to 1953 was 100-137-189-245-319, which is now reduced to a more modest 100-123-147-185-241, which still gives nevertheless an average annual growth rate of 25%. This brings them into line with the data in the most recent Yearbook, which we assume to be more accurate. Another dissimilarity is in the upward revision of the figures for 1994 to 1997, which were still only provisional in the 1999 study, on the basis of more accurate data.
These adjustments don’t alter the overall sense of our Table 2 from 1999: between the peaks 1949-1960-1966-1993 the average percentage growth is altered from 26.4-0.4-12.0 to 23.2-0.4-12.4 and, for the whole period running from 1949 to 1993, from 13.7% to 13%.
The 1999 study went on to compare the size of Chinese capital with other countries and looked at its steel production, which are other aspects of the economic panorama we intend to integrate.
As in the old series we had 1949 = 100, the year in which Chinese capital first really made its mark.
From 2000 onwards, however, we only have the figures from the Gross Domestic Product series available, which we include here on a provisional basis. This second series gives lower growth rates. Divergences can be observed here which also differ significantly from the more up-to-date figures regularly published in The Economist.
The annual series from 1949 to 2005 (the latter isn’t a peak year, but just the latest for which we have figures) shows maximums in 1960 and 1966, marking out three periods showing respectively average rates of 23.2%, 0.4% and 12.4%. The intermediate period, however, was shaped more by ‘political’ rather than economic causes, covering as it does the so-called ‘Great Leap forward’ and the ‘Cultural Revolution’. If we add together the first two periods we have a period of 17 years with an average growth of 14.6%. We therefore find the tendency for a slowdown in growth, typical of all capitalisms, confirmed.
Over the whole of the 56-year period from 1949 onward we have an average rate of growth of 13.0%. This needs to be compared with the equivalent initial phase of other young capitalisms. For Russia and Japan, referring to old party studies, we have statistics available from 1913: counting forward 56 years we arrive at 1969, not far off the pre-world crisis peak of 1973. From 1913 to 1973 we have an average annual growth of 7.6% and for Russia 8.2%, a lot lower than China. But it should be observed that in 1913 capitalism in Japan and Russia was already sufficiently developed, for example, to enable it to provide enough weaponry to rearm for a world war. In Russia in fact, after the war and the revolution, capitalism was effectively ‘born again’. To sum up, we can say that Chinese industrialism in 1949 was far below the level of Russian and Japanese industrialism in 1913. The figures on steel production (from the 1999 report) confirm this: in 1913 Russia was already producing 4.47 million tons; Japan, in the same year, 0.41 million; China in 1949, only 0.16 million. The latter is indeed partly due to war-time destruction, but the previous peak from 1944 is still only 1.42 million, and needs to be put in the context of the far higher population of China, much larger than Japan’s and Russia’s.
Thus the menacing contortions of the Dragon – which instead of tongues of fire vomits outs endless heaps of low-cost merchandise of every shape and size, hypnotising and striking fear into a Western bourgeoisie now thoroughly decrepit and incapable of any defensive action – are due to factors which, in part, will go on to lose their exceptional character.
By making a more thorough analysis of the annual series on Chinese industry we can see it follows a very irregular course, with an alternation of years of immense growth, which should be viewed with caution, like those of 1992 and 1994 with +24% per annum, with those of drastic slowdown in growth. In the 52 years between 1949 and 2001 we can therefore identify the presence of 7 cycles, of between 6 and 10 years duration. We expected nothing less, Karl Marx had already detected it in the China, the ‘workshop of the world’, of his day: Great Britain. The beginning and the end of capitalism, conceived of as two dragons, which History needed once upon a time but which we’re heartily sick of now, and which we can, and must, free ourselves of.
We dealt with the series on Indian industry in a slightly different way as we have no previous party studies to rely on.
Our starting point here is 1948; this is simply because the figures before then are not currently available to us. There remains however the possibility, in India’s case, of recovering data from the nineteenth century; when the development of English imperialism, which was already well under way at that time, is bound to be well documented in colonial statistics.
The key years we have identified are 1953, and the peak years of 1966 and 2000 (both of global relevance). In the four periods which result we have the following series of average growth rates: 2.8%; 6.9%; 5.7%; and 5.3%. We see here, therefore, a much more mature progression than the Chinese one.
But maturity in capitalist terms doesn’t denote regularity: the Indian series, too, is marked by a continual alternation of accelerations and slowdowns.
In order to make a comparison between countries, it is better to refer
to the Table on Long Cycles of Industrial Production. This is derived from
the table covering the short cycles, defined by all of the rising successive
peaks. Therefore the extreme years of the periods in the long cycles aren’t
exactly the same in all countries. For example, for Russia we have had
to take 1940-1973-1989, for France 1937-1974-2001, for Italy 1938-1974-2000,
|Long Cycles of Industrial Production|
|(notes in the text)||From pre-war
up to 2000
|Duration in Years||36||27||63||5|
Here the capitalisms have been placed in order of ‘youthfulness’, from China to England. As we know the table can be read vertically or horizontally: from top to bottom and from left to right average increments steadily decrease, indicating how a country’s capitalism slows down in proportion to the time during which it has been reproducing itself. By its inherent nature, capital is driven to progressively ‘exhaust’ the human and natural resources existing in any given territory and historico-social environment. Inexorably the rate of profit declines to almost zero; there is no more ‘heat’ and the machines grind to a halt. The working class energy which the ruling class harness to churn out profit for its own ends, and which it has less and less use for, will have to be used by the working class for its own ends, to destroy capitalism.
In the table on the long cycles, we can clearly see China’s demonstration of youthful vigour, followed quite far behind by India, and then by Russia, Japan and the others. Over the last thirty years the only exceptions have been Germany and, most markedly, Italy, which one might describe as old before its time.
The last column covers the current cycle, calculated therefore on the basis of provisional figures but which still clearly indicates the gap between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’, which seems irretrievable.
In the previous version of the table, Average annual rate of increase
in industrial production between successive peaks of maximum growth, the
table of short cycles, which we presented at Viareggio, since it only went
back to 1937, a year which in no country was an industrial peak, the older
cycles couldn’t be really considered as such, in other words they didn’t
commence with a peak. In the present version, which goes back to 1929,
this has been rectified (see previous report on the Viareggio meeting).
This table clearly shows that the imperialist war served as a kind of fountain of youth for capitalism. All the countries that suffered from severe war damage go on to show long uninterrupted cycles of accumulation. And cycles which follow wars are in general long.
Years of international capitalist crisis that particularly stand out, apart from 1929-33 which isn’t shown here, are those before the Second World War (indeed, they caused it), in 1966, and even greater, 1973-4; finally, in 2000-2001. But the real caesura is in 1974: the figures before and after show a general slowdown in accumulation. The penultimate cycle ends in 2000 (for France in 2001) and only now is there is an upturn from the recession that followed it.
India was affected by the 1966, 1974 and 2000 world recessions, although it wasn’t hit so severely.
As can be seen, if there is a succession of cycles lasting of roughly five years duration in France and Italy, the ten-year cycle is the norm in the United States, to the extent that the next recession can be forecast for around 2010-11.
China will also be due for a crisis around about that time, and, now
that it depends more and more on the world market, a really serious crisis
like that in 1929 cannot be totally ruled out.
THE JEWISH QUESTION
We listened finally to another part of the study dedicated to the controversial Jewish Question; a study which we are aiming to carry out by applying a materialist and dialectical approach to religious history.
In Jewish history, the formula/profession of faith “the Lord has freed us from slavery in Egypt” frequently recurs.
It is well-known how eventually the religions which were inspired by the Old Testament did everything they could to make the formula more palatable by reducing it to abstract spiritual and ideal values; but they who are more familiar with the heart and soul of Judaism know that the formula is a very concrete and material one. The Jews really were waiting for a Messiah, for God’s envoy to liberate them from the enemy. It is useless to pretend not to understand: the notion of a cyclical history, one that recurs, has always suited the dominant classes, which inoculate a vision of the social world and Nature itself as ruled by physical laws, and interpret movement and transformation as metaphor and appearance.
Therefore myth and ideology tend to falsify the model anchored in historical reality, as was, and still is, that of the Jewish world in general.
Of course we see every super-structure as ideological, and thus as an attempt to translate real historical movement into thoughts. What we want to do is to put ancient and modern Jewish history back on its feet, by identifying what interests determined the choices of the various relevant forces, classes and dominant groups; including tragic choices, like the one leading to the crucifixion of Christ.
Let us not forget that in the time of Christ it was rebel slaves who were crucified, and it is certainly not fortuitous that Christ arose in circumstances in which the liberation of slaves was a demand being made throughout the Roman world. Nothing that occurs in history is fortuitous, although nowadays that is what is believed, and they very much want us to believe.
So, we aren’t afraid to say that the message we can draw from those ancient events today can, and must, allude to the liberation of the proletariat subjected to the new Pharaohs, the Pharaohs of capital, with their pyramids, to the Babel of its Towers, which a certain type of Islamic fundamentalism has deluded itself it can topple without the need for class struggle; in fact, against, and as a surrogate for, class struggle. Here then is why our position is absolutely unique and doesn’t coincide with anyone else’s.
If, however, as has been sneakily suggested in an undermining kind of way, you wish to maintain that Marx thought the way he did simply because he was a ‘secularised Jew with a chip on his shoulder’, fed up with the new bosses, then we would say, yes, historical materialism does have its ideological component, but it can’t be reduced to that. We are its bearers, not just mawkish sentimentalists aiming to tug at the heartstrings.
Thus the history of Judaism interests us because it represents an influential
interpretation not just of ancient history, but also of the present, which
is dominated by the struggle between capital and labour, and which the
ruling classes are doing everything they can to disguise as a religious
Our beloved Giandomenico has died. Suffering from an incurable illness, he passed away at his house in Cortona at the age of 66 years old. He leaves behind not only us, but also his partner, and party comrade, and his daughter and grandson, all of whom loved him dearly.
He was a man of exceptional intelligence whose brilliant mind ranged over a vast array of topics, and everything he studied he did so with extreme sensitivity. His work was nourished by his wish to connect with others, particularly his party comrades, and the inspiration he provided them clearly shows in their work.
As a militant of the international working-class revolution, he dedicated his gifts and his vast knowledge to the cause of communism. For almost forty years he devoted his life to the party and dedicated his skill and passion to the methodical study of history, of doctrine, and to those teachings that are indispensable for ensuring the proletariat’s emancipation from wage slavery.
As a young man he saw to it that the party gained a hearing in the organisation of worker comrades in schools.
Later, in his small house in Val di Chiana, unbeknown to today’s working class, reserved and shy of all publicity (particularly as regards himself and his by no means small personality) he dedicated himself to a continuous and systematic work of research and elaboration, often delving into less explored realms, from which he would emerge with remarkable and surprising results. These, without fail, he would bring to the party at each reunion, where he would present them to us in an ‘off the cuff’ way, but in clear and rigorous terms accessible to all, smilingly explaining the hard-hitting dialectic, or with controlled disdain, unravelling it to make it accessible for the party press. Even when his illness had advanced to the stage where he could no longer travel, he wanted to remain linked to the collective rhythm of our little-known, but nevertheless highly important, battle; and although unable to present the reports himself, he would always make sure they were ready, in good time, to be read out at the party meetings.
The next generation of young communists, risen to their feet with an energy and self-sacrifice that today may seem misplaced, will find in his finely honed words – each of them chosen like a weapon, although fused within the body of the party’s collective production – both a denunciation of the countless dirty tricks and mean betrayals of our enemies, and a perfect, scientific resource, which they will find indispensable in the fight to destroy the monstrous enemy which presently dominates all of our lives.
Self-disciplined before all else, as only revolutionary Marxists know how to be, Giandomenico battled for five years with his terrible illness, supported by the love and incomparable strength of his partner. And in doing so, whilst displaying all the necessary determination, he nevertheless managed, right to the end, to maintain that serenity and capacity to enjoy life which comes from feeling part of a class and of a movement that is much bigger than ourselves; one which moreover carries within it the future of humanity.
To us, his comrades, he left word that a mass of notes, which he had set in order as best he could, be consigned to us with a view to us giving continuity, as we can, and as we must, to his robust and intransigent, and yet fraternal and friendly, life as a party militant.