War is first and foremost the war of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat. In Ukraine, the line‑up against the working class is vast: from openly bourgeois parties to the myriad opportunist and Stalinist formations to anarchist and Trotskyist factions. The result, and it matters little if it is conscious or unconscious, is to lead the proletariat to side with one of the opposing sides, to shed blood for the interests of their masters.
Various pretexts are used to drive the proletariat to war under one of the bourgeois fronts; these are lies that communists must expose and combat.
The first lie is that there is an “aggressor” and an “aggressed” in the current war.
The question makes no sense. Whichever army first crossed the other’s borders, every capitalist state is both aggressor and aggressed. The fact is that all bourgeoisies prepare for war because the capitalist system that feeds them needs war to survive, to get out of the economic crisis that strangles it. No one has been able to say whether Germany and Japan in 1939 were aggressors or aggressed. The victimhood of the aggressed serves only to justify imperialist war, on either side of the front.
From a general and historical point of view, the only real “aggressor” is the international proletariat, the bearer of the communist mode of production, mature and ready to replace capitalism by violently demolishing all its rotten structures, economic, social, ideal, political, military. The bourgeoisie, every bourgeoisie, rightly feels that it is being attacked, and is indeed being attacked, by communism, by the working class, as well as by the competing bourgeoisies, like rats in a cage, all of them in the same agonizing situation.
In Ukraine all classes are now being mobilized against Russia in a “total defense”, which for Ukrainian proletarians means death and destruction.
In the West, too, the powerful media available to the ruling class popularize the aggressor thesis. This is functional in identifying the “Russians” and their “dictator” as the cause of the worsening living conditions of the European and American population, thus attempting to direct the inevitable eruption of social discontent toward the Russian “enemy” instead of against the bourgeois order.
Russia, on the other hand, justifies its military intervention based on the crimes of the Nazis in Ukraine, who have been guilty since 2014 of genocide of the Russian-speaking peoples of the Donbass, which tends to foster popular solidarity with its imperialism and to make people bear the economic consequences of the war and the bloodletting it requires.
In reality, the alleged Ukrainian “aggressed” and the Russian “aggressor,” as well as all the bourgeois states in any war, are united and in solidarity in the struggle against their common enemy: the proletariat.
The other lie is that we are facing a war that would pit the “democracy” of the Ukrainian state against the “dictatorship” of the Russian Federation, the “free world” against “autocracies”. But even in the war underway, as in all imperialist wars, the true content of any bourgeois state formation is revealed, which abandons all democratic trappings and reveals dictatorial methods of government.
Ukraine is a case in point. The champions of human rights and liberal democracy in Europe say they would like it to be included in the European Union immediately. The democratic and “resilient” Ukraine, while nurturing and protecting neo‑Nazi criminal groups such as the notorious Azov battalion, outlaws opposition parties and arrests opponents accused of serving the enemy; it imprisons deserters and those attempting to leave the country, and is set to enact a law against emigrants who do not return to be drafted; it conducts a ruthless hunt against “saboteurs” by punishing them without trial, an example of which is the summary execution of one of the members of the commission in charge of negotiations with Moscow; it prohibits the use of the Russian language, spoken by one‑third of the population; censorship is imposed on the media and even social media, under penalty of imprisonment, silencing any dissent toward government policy.
The repression is accompanied by an increasingly dire economic situation, with very low wages for those who still have a job, in the face of soaring prices and without the government having intervened to secure basic necessities: the Ukrainian government’s only request to allied countries is “weapons, weapons and more weapons”.
The current Ukrainian regime, moreover, is no different to that of Moscow, two bourgeois states whose primary function is to maintain the subjugation of the proletariat.
Of course we do not weep over broken bourgeois liberties and violated democracy. Whether the bourgeois state keeps the democratic mask or uncovers the fascist face, its content remains unchanged, the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie over the working class.
Another deception comes from the “left”: on the one hand sanctifying the “resistance” of “a people” to the invader; on the other the struggle “for independence” of the Donbass.
In reality, for the proletariat of both Ukraine and the Donbass, it is entirely indifferent whether their masters speak Russian or Ukrainian or are affiliated with one national band of capitalists or the other. The commodity labor power, like all commodities, has no homeland. Nor does capital, for that matter. Which, on both sides, would like to enslave the working class in military uniform to fight “to the last man”, to bleed in a long war, the partner but competitor in world trade.
Anarchist formations have also taken part in the war in Ukraine, arrayed against Russian aggression, further confirming the counter-revolutionary role played by anarchism, which, utterly unable to decipher historical forces, as in the Spain of the Civil War, always ends up supporting one bourgeois front against another. On anarchists, Trotsky’s judgment is definitive: extreme left of the bourgeoisie.
The same function is played by the organizations of the Fourth International that support the Ukrainian resistance. These failed Marxists invoke the duty of communists to submit to the patriotic front in the name of Ukraine’s national self‑determination against big‑Russian imperialism. Similar arguments are advanced by the advocates of the “national rights” of the Russian-speakers of the Donbass, with Trotskyists and Stalinists united in claiming the right to their self‑determination. Such a position has the sole result of sowing the poison of national ideology among the working class, diverting it from the revolutionary path.
If for Marxism national revolutions were a decisive historical factor for the more rapid development of capitalism, and consequently for the full opposition between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, thus maturing the conditions for proletarian revolution, by now the spread of capitalism throughout the world has created a single sphere of bourgeois dominion, and the proletariat no longer has to support any revolution for the formation of nation-states at any latitude; instead, it struggles directly for the overthrow of the bourgeois regime and for its own dictatorship. All calls for the completion of national revolutions, or defense of the independence of states, as is being claimed for the Donbass today, are reactionary.
The lies about the war in Ukraine conceal the two crucial facts: that the current war is an episode in the conflict between the most powerful imperialisms to partition the world market, in a war of all bourgeoisies united against the proletariat. The actual proportions and the historical framework in which the ongoing war in Ukraine fits transcend the borders of this tormented country. The current clash does not concern the shape of Ukraine but that of the entire bourgeois world. Even if a truce were to be reached, on the Korean model, as is assumed, this would soon be called into question by the worsening clash between imperialisms.
“Korea is the world”, we wrote then, in 1950. That war was not to be considered “a contingent or local episode, an accident, a regrettable incident”, but it was “one among many, and certainly among the most virulent manifestations of an imperialist conflict that has no parallels or meridians but takes place on the theater of the whole world, within the international time limits of imperialism” (Prometeo No. 1).
The same assessment applies today to the war in Ukraine. Although it is being fought there for now, it already involves all imperialisms, deployed in the war with the massive supply of weapons, the presence of military advisers on the ground, the green light for the use of mercenary troops, economic warfare measures, and it represents only the beginning of a far‑reaching clash. Just as then the protagonists were neither the North Koreans nor the South Koreans, today it is not the Ukrainians, the Russians, or the Donbass separatists, but the top centers of capital, which have initiated on Ukrainian territory a struggle to redefine European and global imperialist structures. The real stakes are the power relations between the United States, its European allies, and Russia, against the capitalists of Europe, and in the background between the United States and China in Asia. We are facing a war that is the direct result of the contradictions of imperialism, of the conflicts between the major powers over a division of markets and spheres of influence and which reflects the changing power relations between states.
The war fought in Ukraine is associated with a general preparation for war throughout the world, with all the imperialist powers, East and West, engaged in a race for rearmament. The old formula of “guns before butter” is immediately resolved in favor of a massive investment in armaments. Germany is set to spend 100 billion on armaments and Italy is committed to 2 percent of GDP. Meanwhile, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN quantifies food price growth at 12.6 percent from February to March alone. Millions of proletarians will go hungry while billions will be spent on arms to slaughter more proletarians!
«Military deployments and defense of the international regime are exploiting the proletariat everywhere».
War propaganda now pervades all of bourgeois society and sees a vast united front in favor of war consisting of government and opposition parties, all newspapers and television stations, all of them enlisted in mobilizing the proletariat for the coming slaughter.
World War III is now no longer a taboo for armchair “generals” on TV. While there is already fighting in Ukraine, in the rest of the world proletarians are preparing for the inevitable war to come.
Meanwhile, governments are strengthening the apparatus of economic intervention and repression. A kind of war economy is already emerging to cope with the consequences of the ongoing economic war, so much so that in Europe there is talk of rationing in energy consumption and cuts in social spending.
Faced with the worsening living conditions of the working class, the bourgeois state will come prepared with all its repressive apparatus, as already seen in the protests in Sri Lanka and Peru, where governments responded with a state of emergency, while in Iran they shot and arrested people in response to protests caused by soaring food prices.
Like the Ukrainians, the proletarians of all countries are predestined to be victims of the third great slaughter. Mariupol, Kharkiv, Bucha, Kramatorsk, Severodonetsk and all the other names of localities that have become infamous for massacres and destruction, for which it matters little to go out and find out who is responsible because the massacre of the civilian population is inevitable in imperialist warfare; they sound a warning to proletarians the world over. Proletarians who want to see what capitalism would like to reserve for them need only turn their eyes to the fate of their class brothers and sisters in Ukraine.
Condensed on the Ukrainian battlefield, as it was on the Korean one, is «the red‑hot explosive potential of a world conflict, and more than in any previous episode of localized wars», the forms that this conflict is necessarily destined to assume throughout the world are projected «as on a tragic screen». Even today, war brings «the economic and political exploitation of the working masses to the point of exasperation, the work of ruthless destruction of goods and labor-power that is the inevitable historical prerogative of capitalism».
But if capitalism forces proletarians to slaughter each other, at the same time, by the very logic of its development, it unites them involuntarily in a common destiny. Thus, if imperialism means crises and wars, which manifest themselves in all their violence and brutality as we see in Ukraine, it also opens up possibilities of world proletarian revolution.
“The atomic bomb may or may not be used by imperialism as a technical instrument of war. What imperialism will not be able to avoid throwing at itself, no matter how great its overwhelming power may appear and be today, is the atomic bomb of the international and internationalist revolution of the working class».
On May 4, 1893, the National Cordage Company that just five months earlier announced 100% dividends on its shares, declared bankruptcy. A general collapse in the stock market came after, and soon the country found itself in the most serious economic crisis of its history up to that point: bank assaults, company bankruptcies, widespread unemployment were inevitable and predictable consequences. During the year, 642 banks and more than 16,000 companies went bankrupt, 22,500 miles of railways were placed under receivership. Thousands of stores, factories and workshops closed down and thousands more reduced their activities drastically.
Hundreds of thousands of workers were thrown out of work. At the end of the year it was estimated that for every 5 million employed workers there were about 3 million unemployed with no means of support. For each unemployed there were 2 to 5 people depending on him. Between 1893 and 1897, that very number always sat between 3 and 4 million. In a country that had about 65 million inhabitants, only 22 million lived in urban areas. These numbers alone are a representation of the dramatic condition of the proletariat in the “land of the free”, where the ruling class unscrupulously condemns to starvation those that in the previous years made the US enrich itself at a rate that was unparalleled in the capitalist world.
In addition to the inevitable and widespread misery that can be imagined and that is routine in capitalist society nonetheless, in the United States, more than anywhere else, the phenomenon that saw masses of workers moving long distances in search of work developed. Those who the bourgeois contemptuously called “vagabonds” or “hoboes” were actually migrants – very young on the average – reacting in this way to a crisis that would have periodically recurred in the following decades. However, the new destinations did not always guarantee a job for the masses. The latter were often flooding the places in which there was rumoured to be work, in the hope of finding one. In those years, the only relief came from charitable organizations, municipal governments, and especially from the strongest and most forward-looking unions. No help came from State administrations during the 1893‑97 depression period.
But that aid was not enough as it reached only a minority of those in need. An International Labour Conference, a conference of union representatives including foreign union leaders, was therefore convened in Chicago. Gompers, as chairman, delivered the opening speech. Although he still proclaimed himself a socialist, he was careful not to attack the capitalist system, blaming instead some unidentified «rich landowners in our country». Since the latter did not see a problem in workers starving, it was up to the government to «provide the means for the men and women of our country to survive». He then listed a series of measures that he believed would solve the problem. He called for public works in the cities, improvement of the major communication routes (roads, canals, etc.) in the various States, construction of a canal in Nicaragua and improvement of the navigability of the Mississippi at the federal government level. In other times Gompers could have aimed at the White House as his program was 40 years ahead of the Roosevelt New Deal!
The Conference produced three committees that took on different tasks of agitation and propaganda, but it was soon clear that nothing good could have come out of simple requests based on common sense. To move the waters a showdown was needed, and since no one proposed to mobilize the workers that were still employed (certainly blackmailed and frightened but also full of rage as hourly wages collapsed nonetheless and returned to what they were in the beginning of 1893 only in 1900), it was decided to mobilize the unemployed in mass demonstrations. The unemployed were even organized in specific unions, immediately recognized by the AFL.
The demonstrations, generally of large numbers although often attacked and disbanded by the police and its batons, had some local effect in pushing the municipalities to provide jobs – obviously very underpaid – to local unemployed. For the bourgeoisie that was a bargain. Generally, bachelors got only vouchers to eat and sleep, and fathers of families little more. For example, in S. Francisco the luckiest unemployed were allowed to sweep the streets for two and a half days a week for $1.40, when the average hourly wage before the crisis was 15 cents.
In spite of these cautious and stingy handouts, the wealthier strata of society had a problem with it. In Cincinnati, the bourgeoisie came to form a committee that objected to the aptness of the public jobs the unemployed were employed for. The jobs were deemed to be superfluous, a waste of taxpayers’ money, communistic in principle, and demoralizing to those receiving aid. Of course, these are to be considered as pathological outbreaks of the bourgeoisie, but they only ended up exasperating the spirits involved. In January 1894, at a large mass gathering at the Madison Square Garden in New York, even the good Gompers let very revolutionary words slip out of his mouth: «Let the conflagration light up the outraged skies! Let the red Nemesis burn the infernal clan, and chaos end the slavery of man!» Although he regretted those words soon after, that language reflected the sentiment of the masses, and he, as we have previously mentioned, tended to adapt to situations without any modesty.
Despite Gompers’ brazen and subversive expressions, the federal government did not feel the need to come to the aid of the unemployed and the destitutes, and not a penny was disbursed to them. On the other hand, the federal government did not hesitate to invest millions of dollars in armaments and military training. This is nothing new as the bourgeoisie has its priorities and it is precisely the times of crisis that push the former to equip itself with powerful armaments, while the proletariat is considered a “disposable” component of production.
In the meantime, a singular phenomenon was taking place. Masses of unemployed were moving towards Washington, some by train, some by waterways, some on foot, to demonstrate their discontent for the state of the country and to seek answers to the grievances arising everywhere. What was baptized by its originators as the “Army of the Commonwealth in Christ”, better known as “Coxey’s Army”, saw more than 10,000 men go on a journey that for many – meaning those who came from the other side of the country (California, Texas, Arizona) – was a long and very hard one. With no organization nor provisions, they begged for hundreds or thousands of miles. The movement was born in the fall of 1893 in Massillon, Ohio, on initiative of one Jacob Sechler Coxey, a theosophist in religion with populist political ideas. He was also a wealthy owner of a stone quarry and a horse farm. As a populist he thought it was the duty of Congress, and of the entire government, to alleviate social distress. He therefore published a proclamation in which he announced his intention to force, if necessary, those in power to do something for the poor. According to his plan, the unemployed would be employed in public, government jobs that would be financed by issuing paper money (he had a past as a greenbacker) that the States would repay, without interest, in 25 years. In addition, the federal government would issue an additional500 million for a federal road construction project. In short, another precursor to F. D. Roosevelt.
In order not to make the proletarians that were still working struggle, the A.F.L embraced Coxey’s cause, and in fact many leaders of the movement were also trade unionists. The movement’s participants reached Washington on May 1, 1894, after receiving support from the communities they passed through, happy to help them continuing their journey. In the East however, the reception was colder and the “Coxeyites” began to encounter problems with the police and population. So the armies began to thin out, as more and more participants decided to return to their homes.
Less than a thousand reached Washington. As planned, “General” Coxey led his followers through the streets to the foot of the Capitol. Here, in contravention of the law, he headed to the lawn to harangue the crowd, but was immediately arrested and put in a cell for twenty days. In addition, he paid a $5 fine for trampling on the grass. It is in this inglorious and somewhat comical way that Coxey’s march on the capital ended.
But American workers were not intimidated by the cowardly attack of the owners and fought back whenever they had the chance. In those years, a shining example of that came from the miners, with mixed fortunes. In February 1984, in Cripple Creek, Colorado, miners working in the gold mines went on strike when the owners tried to reestablish the ten hours work day. As usual, the struggle was tough as the workers went against thousands of mercenaries, policemen, militia and scabs, but after five months they returned at work preserving their eight hour work day.
Less fortunate was the struggle of 180,000 bitumen mine workers in four States, a number ten times greater than the members of the United Mine Workers. The struggle lasted “only” eight weeks but it was trounced by a lack of resources that made it not possible for it to last any longer. The blow the union suffered on that occasion was felt for many years. Right here, it is impossible to list all the miners’ struggles in Illinois, Pennsylvania, West Virginia. They were all very hard fought and often counted deaths and injuries among workers in particular. Desperate proletarians struggled against police, militia, scabs, Pinkerton mercenaries, judges, press even in the certainty of defeat.
It was clear the only possibility to fight back was to achieve a higher level of unity. The latter would make up for the difficulties of the situation by concentrating the few still valid forces in the interminable battle that is the one against capital. Therefore, a conference was called in Philadelphia for April 28, 1894. All the important trade unions and union federations participated, starting with the AFL and the Knights of Labour. A fine document came out of it, but no operational decisions that would turn the declamations of struggle and unity into action. Yet, while the importance of labour unity was being discussed, the benefits of achieving it were passing before the very eyes of the entire class. A new railroaders’ union, the American Railway Union, was born on the principle of unity among all workers in a set industry, realizing the industrial union. In a short time, the American Railway Union managed to rack up victories that, up until that moment, the railroaders had not dared to hope for. It was now evident that the model for a unified American labour movement was the one of the industry union, unifying skilled, semi‑skilled and unskilled workers.
By the early 1890s, railroaders were unionised into five Brotherhoods. Only the train drivers’ one had a record of fighting for further demands, while the others, each in a different trade, had originally mutual aid purposes. In fact, the railroader profession was a very dangerous one as every year more than two thousand workers died on the job and thirty thousand were injured in various ways. Wages varied from 957 dollars a year for the train drivers – true aristocrats in the industry – to 575 for the guards, 212 for the brakemen, 124 for the labourers. The wages of the majority of the workers were below subsistence level. Deaths at work were defined by companies as “Acts of God”, or the result of “carelessness”. In reality, the responsibility was to be attributed to the greed of the companies. They were constantly reducing their staff by imposing double shifts on the remaining workers who, therefore, lacked sleep and suffered fatigue.
There was no coordination among the Brotherhoods. Each Brotherhood acted on its own, allowing the railroad companies to sometimes pit them against each other, therefore neutralizing them. Moreover, they represented only a small minority of the railroaders, ignoring the semi‑skilled and unskilled, and even trying to get black workers thrown out of work. Many amongst the skilled workers were not members also, and by 1893 there were about one hundred thousand members in total, one‑tenth of the North American railroad labour force.
Since 1885 there has been a voice preaching the necessity of unifying the forces of all railroaders in order to fight the greed of the railroad companies. That was the voice of the publisher of the Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine, Eugene V. Debs. Recalling Knights of Labour’s motto, “An injury to one is the concern of all”, Debs endlessly repeated that a single Union was powerless in the face of a giant railroad company, and that the only way for railroaders to succeed was a “federation of train drivers and stokers, switches and brakemen”. «The forces of labour must unite. The salvation of labour demands it. The lines of division must grow dimmer by the day until they become imperceptible, and then the labour’s hosts, marshalled under one conquering banner, shall march together, vote together, and fight together, until workingmen shall receive and enjoy all the fruits of their toil».
Debs’ preaching started to catch on not so much with the Brotherhood leaders, who feared a drastic reduction in union officials, but with the base, which pushed for cooperation. Thus, in 1886, the orchestrated action of train drivers and stokers resulted in a few victories over the companies. A good start but insufficient in the toughest circumstances without the collaboration of the other categories.
Stokers, to whom Debs belonged, proposed a federation of the brotherhoods which was in fact founded in 1889, with the high‑sounding name of Supreme Council of the United Orders of Railway Employees. Unfortunately, despite good intentions, the organization did not get rid of some of the defects typical of the brotherhoods such as petty squabbles and the exclusion of blacks. These defects led to the complete failure of the initiative in 1892.
Shortly after the dissolution of the Supreme Council, a strike of switchmen in Buffalo, upstate New York, was a clear demonstration of how weak the struggling proletarians were if the brotherhoods would persist on the path of separatist policies.
As Buffalo deputies, sympathetic to the strikers, refused to intervene, the governor sent the militia in. The latter was put under the command of a general that was also an official of the railroad in question. Switchmen from the rest of the State went on strike in solidarity, but the opposition made of militia, police and scabs was such that the swingmen alone could not make it. Even as a special conference was called, the brotherhoods refused to strike, implicitly decreeing defeat.
However, the defeat left a tangible legacy. The base understood the importance of joining forces, and this awareness quickly resulted in the formation of a new organization open to all railroaders. The process came to an end on June 20, 1893 as the American Railway Union was founded. Admitted to the A.R.U. were all the white employees of the railroads, with the sole exclusion of high‑ranking officials. All workers in some way connected with the railroads were also included, such as miners, longshoremen, etc., as long as they were employees of the railroad companies. The absence of black members was a serious deficiency of the union, determined by a general underdevelopment of the union movement, not yet matured in that sense. A proposal for their admission was put to a vote, but it was rejected 113 votes to 102. Quite different was A.R.U’s attitude towards women. In addition to being admitted, it was declared that «when a woman does a man’s job, she must receive a man’s pay», a statement very ahead of its time and not to take for granted.
Stated purpose of the A.R.U. was to act in a unified manner whenever the rights of its members were threatened. Under Debs’ presidency – he started the publication of Railway Times, the bimonthly A.R.U.’s official organ that became popular among railroaders – there was a consistent migration of workers to the new union, even the specialized one such as the train drivers that came from the old brotherhoods. However, specialized workers were a minority among the new members as the majority was constituted by those workers who had not been organized until then, either because they were not admitted in the brotherhoods, or because they were kept away by the high dues required. To be a member of the A.R.U., one dollar a year was enough.
But the real takeoff in membership occurred after the resounding victory of the Great Northern Railroad strike, during the spring of 1894. After a series of wage cuts (we must remember that the company was in the midst of an economic crisis) the 9000 workers of the company decided to strike together, with no exception, despite the brotherhoods recommending to take the cuts. Faced with the compactness of the workers, the company opted not to make use of scabs (to whose recruitment the brotherhoods had collaborated). Faced with the sympathy of the population and farmers, although damaged by the strike, after 18 days the company capitulated, giving in to all the strikers’ demands. There could have been no better demonstration of the importance and effectiveness of the industrial union over the obsolete trade unions. In the weeks that followed, A.R.U.’s membership increased at the rate of 2,000 new members per day. One year from its founding, the A.R.U became the single largest union in the United States, with 150,000 total members (the entire AFL counted 175,000 members and the K.L. 70,000), while the old brotherhoods combined had less than 90,000 with their numbers steadily declining.
On the owners’ side, things were quite different, of course. The A.R.U. was the greatest threat railroad companies had ever encountered. They created the G.M.A. (General Managers’ Association) to implement a program of gradual wages reduction on all routes, as wages were “equalized” towards the bottom. In August 1893, as many as 58 companies met in Chicago to orchestrate their attack on the workers, just as the A.R.U. was starting to operate. The G.M.A. represented the owners of 410,000 miles of railroads, with 221,000 employees and a total capital of $2 billion. It was an adversary endowed with virtually infinite and inexhaustible resources, plus of course influences on local and national politics that the proletarians did not have. Its components soon realized that the new union represented a mighty obstacle to their plans, and started planning an attack in order to destroy it. In the spring of 1894, the opportunity came. The latter originated in the small town of Pullman, 12 miles south of Chicago and now absorbed into the metropolis.
Perhaps more than any other labour struggle occurred since the end of the Civil War, the Pullman strike, or the “Debs Rebellion” as the newspapers called it, shook the nation to its core. The strike exposed the harshness of the working-class conditions; it clearly demonstrated the role of the federal government in supporting the capitalists as they attempted to crush the labour movement with no mercy or compromise.
The Pullman Company was in the business of building luxurious railroad cars, and the establishments were based in the “Model Town of Pullman, Illinois”. Everything inside the town was owned by Pullman: houses, stores, streets, everything. The employees lived in Pullman’s houses, paying rents that were more expensive than the ones in neighbouring towns. They shopped in his stores and paid him for all their supplies with deductions made directly from their paychecks.
Following the crisis of 1893, wages (of those who had not been laid off) were cut several times, with reductions of 25, 33, 50 and in some cases 70%. During the year, the company still paid dividends of 9.5% to its shareholders, as it did in previous years. But rents and other life expenses of the proletarians were not reduced and soon their disposable wage was reduced to insignificant amounts. A worker who received a monthly wage of a mere 2 cents framed and hung his check on a wall instead of spending it. In many more aspects the workers were kept in servitude, although Pullman used to call them “my children”.
In March and April the workers began to organize sections of the A.R.U. Although they were not actual railroaders, the fact that the company owned and worked on a few miles of railroad authorized them to join Debs’s union. In a few weeks 4,000 company employees – almost all of them – joined the union.
In early May, an internal committee was created to present to the owners a series of grievances that needed to be addressed, such as rent reductions, wages at pre‑crisis levels and the elimination of various workplace abuses. Pullman granted nothing and a few days later three members of the internal commission were fired, despite the fact that there had been a no‑firing commitment. The event inflamed the workers, already worn out by their limited means. In a heated meeting the commission voted unanimously for the strike, despite the presence of A.R.U. officials preaching calm and asking for more time to clarify the situation.
On May 11, 1894, 4000 workers ceased work, and the few hundred who did not were sent away by the ownership, which shut down the establishment with no deadline in mind.
A strike committee was formed, and 300 workers were assigned to guard the establishments to defend them from vandalism. Strikers were hopeful as they expected to get the support of the now powerful A.R.U but in reality, the union had neither called nor authorized the strike. But being the strikers members of the A.R.U., Debs made a personal visit to verify the situation, and after several days of meetings with the workers he realized that the struggle was fully justified.
For a month the workers pulled through with the support of the Chicago working class. On June 12, the first national convention of the A.R.U took place right in Chicago and after the Pullman’s workers spoke a boycott of the company’s cars was proposed. Debs’s behaviour is described by one of his biographers: «On that occasion Debs used all the forms of control he had in his powers as president of the assembly. He resorted to all his skill, eloquence, and influence to prevent a resolute and obstinate confrontation but all was in vain… workers decided it was time to teach Pullman the leech a lesson... not a single sleeping car was to be touched until Pullman had come to an agreement with his workers... Debs refused to approve the motion. The union leadership even tried in every way to ward off any solidarity strike, but when Pullman arrogantly refused arbitration saying that “there was nothing to submit to arbitration”... the boycott proposal was resubmitted; when the delegates telegraphed to their places of origin for instructions, they realized that the overwhelming majority was in favour of the boycott and therefore voted unanimously for its implementation».
The boycott began on June 26th 1894, when those in charge of switching several lines leading out of Chicago refused to move the Pullman coaches, and for that got immediately dismissed. As a result, others that were working on the same lines stopped working in protest. Soon several Chicago lines were immobilized. What Debs was not expecting was committees and groups of railwaymen coming from everywhere to announce that their local sections decided to strike in support of the Pullman workers. Soon, each of the twenty‑six railways leading out of Chicago were paralysed. All continental lines stopped, except the Great Northern, which had no Pullman sleeping car.
The struggle spread to twenty-seven States and territories. It is estimated that 260,000 railway workers joined the strikes, almost half of whom were not members of the A.R.U. According to some estimates, 500,000 workers – others report over 660,000 – stopped working because of the strike.
At the moment the boycott was announced the G.M.A intervened. It did so not to resolve the dispute, nor to help Pullman but with the sole declared purpose of completely destroying the American Railway Union. At no time the General Managers’ Association showed interest in negotiating for a peaceful resolution of the dispute, nor in making any concession to achieve social peace.
G.M.A’s first move was to let it be known that anyone guilty of refusing to conduct his duties, or of leaving his jobs at the instigation of the A.R.U. would have never found work in any railroad company represented by the G.M.A again. However, those who would work in place of the strikers could count on a lifelong protection and job. These measures led to the spread of the strike as well, for when a switcher was fired for joining the boycott, his entire team would go on strike. Thus, the boycott soon turned into an actual strike.
The Association hired scabs from all parts of the country and from Canada, but couldn’t prevent the blockage of most rail traffic. In fact, it was impossible to replace the more than 250,000 strikers who were struggling all over the country, from north to south, from the east to California. The Pullman strike was the first, true national strike in US history. A strike that, since the railway companies were much hated for their stinginess, gathered support and solidarity from broad strata of the population. The Brotherhoods sided with the owners and even organized the strike-breaking, but they were generally disavowed by the base and many sections went over to the A.R.U.
On July 2, the G.M.A. had to admit that railroads were completely blocked and the companies alone could not beat the struggling workers: «It is now up to the government to handle the problem». Two days later a cheerful statement declared: «As for the approach of the railroad companies to this struggle, they are out of it. The fight is now between the U.S. Government and the American Railway Union, and let them handle it».
Shortly after the strike began, the Post Office in Washington was informed that the mail was blocked in the West because of the boycott of Pullman cars. Of course, it could have been decreed that mail should travel on trains with no Pullman cars until the strike was over, but from the beginning the government was determined to render a decisive service to the railroad companies in their attempt to annihilate the new railroad union. This “miracle” in favour of the companies was due to the fact that Richard Olney, General Attorney of the United States, was the one entrusted to handle the crisis. Before joining the Cleveland cabinet, for 35 years he was connected with the companies and was still managing one. Moreover, he was a member of the G.M.A., and had substantial personal investments in the railroad industry as well. So much for conflict of interest!
Olney got to work determined. He appointed other trusted figures from the establishment to handle the police and judicial aspects of the dispute, all of whom were also on the companies’ payroll.
On the basis of judicial quibbles that would not stand up to the most benign of criticism, an injunction was issued. The latter prohibited any activity that could disrupt the free movement of trains and commodities between States, anti strike-breaking propaganda included. Those violating the injunction would be guilty of criminal conspiracy, which would result in considerable prison sentences. In essence, the right to strike was suspended as appeared evident to all. The Chicago Times had to admit that it was «a menace to liberty... a weapon at the disposal of capitalists… the purpose of the injunction was not so much to prevent any obstruction to the movement of trains as a pretext for Federal Army’s intervention».
Immediately following the injunction, the A.R.U. executive met to decide what was to be done. On the one hand, it was clear that any attempt to disregard the injunction would result in a citation for contempt of court and an immediate conviction by the judge. Nor would the benefit of a trial by jury be granted. On the other hand, obeying would have represented the defeat of the strike and the destruction of the union, as well as unemployment for thousands of workers as the owners had vowed. The final decision was to go on with the struggle.
On July 2, Olney received from his emissaries requests for the troops to enforce the injunction. The next day, thanks to a direct order from President Cleveland, troops from Fort Sheridan were sent off to Chicago. They arrived on July 4, in time for Independence Day.
Cleveland and Olney weren’t concerned at all with the legal aspects of the decision to send the federal troops. Under the Constitution, the president has the power to send troops into a State to protect it from violence, but only at the request of the State legislature or the governor. However, Cleveland enforced Civil War rules that never were applied in peacetime. The Governor of Illinois, Altgeld, was not even informed of the decision, surely because they knew that, in his opinion, the situation did not require such drastic measures.
Mind you, Altgeld was ready to use the militia, which in fact he had already used days before to maintain order, but in many cases the militia was recalled because there was no need for it. As Altgeld protested against the White House’s decision, the responses were evasive while the newspapers unleashed a smear campaign against him, calling him an “anarchist”, “enemy of society”, “threat to the American Republic”.
Thus, on July 4, 12,000 federal soldiers entered Chicago, greeted by the boos of the population. Up to the troops’ arrival, the strike in Chicago had continued without the slightest incident. But despite the union calling for calm, in the next four days there were clashes and destruction. Railroad equipment, cars were destroyed and a large fire broke out. Although the anger of the strikers and the unemployed was well justified, it seems that the first acts of violence were triggered by layabouts – present in large numbers among the demonstrators – hired by the companies and police officials. That the workers had a small part in the clashes, according to numerous testimonies, does not serve as justification, but to remind us once again that the bourgeoisie is ready to do anything to defend its profits. Despite reports non being very alarming, the newspapers filled their front pages with hysterical headlines about an impending revolution, anarchists from Europe invading the U.S., relentless and indiscriminate destruction in order to terrify public opinion and justify any repressive measure. A minister of God went so far as saying, «Soldiers must use their rifles. They must shoot to kill». And that is what the soldiers did. 25 workers were killed, and 60 were seriously wounded. Dozens more were killed in six other States.
The intervention of federal troops nor the sabotage operated by the Brotherhood’s officials stopped the strike. As clashes came near to an end, on July 10, Debs and other A.R.U. officials were jailed for conspiracy to prevent interstate trade. They were released the following day and arrested again a week later, this time for contempt of court. The injunctions effectively turned any union activity that was related to the strike into an act of insurrection, justifying arrests, imprisonment, use of force and even the use of firearms on unarmed crowds. In the meantime, the union headquarters were ravaged by the police and the workers found themselves alone, with no information besides the false one spread by the regime’s press.
Facing the injunctions, a weapon wielded with ease by the State, Debs understood that the match was lost unless the entire working class intervened in support.
In fact, at the last moment it seemed that the Chicago workers were giving the strike a last push, one last aid. They enthusiastically supported the strike. On June 30, the Trades and Labour Assembly, a civic trade union association – a sort of Chamber of Labour – offered the strike the strength of its 150,000 members but at the time Debs considered the proposal too drastic. As the conflict escalated, the pressure for a general strike throughout the country continued to stack. However, time was lost and troops and judges were given the time to consolidate their positions. Nevertheless, 25,000 non‑railroad workers from Chicago went on strike.
At the request of the Chicago unions, the head of the American Federation of Labour, Samuel Gompers, arrived in the city for a conference with other national union leaders. A committee of Chicago cigar workers asserted the necessity of a nationwide general strike, since the A.R.U. struggle regarded the welfare of all workers.
Between one arrest and another, Debs participated in the conference, but his attitude was not clear. What seems to have been his position was to finally ask for a solidarity general strike, but only if the companies refused to rehire the strikers in exchange for the end of the boycott. His was a renunciatory choice, that came late in any case. It was a choice made from a position of extreme weakness. At this point, it was easy for Gompers and the other union leaders to reject this action in a situation of a virtually defeated strike. Instead, they issued a statement intimating immediate and unconditional return to work. This attitude was more a confirmation of AFL’s nature than a betrayal, as the AFL had more interest in its business side than in the true defence of the class. An attitude that endeared the companies and the owners in general, and that was favoured by the entry of the Brotherhoods into the AFL (objective that Gompers pursued for years). At the same time, it got rid of a union that, because of its industrial nature and the success it had achieved, never sat well with the A.F.L, as Gompers himself admitted years later.
The strike ended on July 18, the day after the A.R.U. leadership was ultimately jailed. The union never recovered from its disastrous defeat. With its leaders in jail and its members completely demoralized, unemployed and blacklisted, it quickly disintegrated. From its remains the Social Democratic Party was later formed, precursor of the Socialist Party of the United States.
The least that can be said of the Pullman strike, one that had a reach never seen before, is that it made the mass of American workers see with their own eyes, in all of its evidence, the role of the government as one of the protectors of the interests of the capitalist class. Moreover, it became clear that monopolies could be defeated only by the utmost unity and organization on the union level. A single union, no matter how strong, could not defeat the joined forces of owners, State, and union opportunism.
Thus, the essence of trade unionism and of AFL itself can be summed in a few precepts: a) trade union action must never seriously challenge big companies and government, and thus avoid direct confrontations with both b) one must ally oneself with capitalists and politicians that believe in the politics of “live and let live” towards trade unions; c) one must reach agreements with the owners on terms that will keep trade unions alive, even if that means further crushing the living conditions of the semi‑skilled and unskilled workers.
But what happened in Pullman and in the States in which the strike had spread had a significance that transcended mere union tactics. Events showed a substantial difference between the American situation and what was happening in Europe. French, German and English workers, to name those in the most industrialized countries with a tradition of proletarian organization, lived in countries with strong governments accustomed to administer central power. Apart from revolutionary moments, not a few in fact, those workers very rarely felt State repression in the way American workers were subjected to. Open repression was almost never employed. Even in Bismarkian Germany, the killing of workers or unionists was a rare phenomenon. In England, the Peterloo massacre of 1819 was still looked at as a national calamity.
On the other hand, the US that enjoyed limited governmental intrusion on all levels, found itself to be singularly intolerant of organized labour movement. The US ownership was one that believed in social Darwinism, with the jealousy of power that distinguishes the parvenu. An ownership that amassed immense fortunes with a rapidity unprecedented in history, constituting a class insecure like it was never seen before. A class that was as ready as ever to turn to State force in its crises with the organized labour movement which it despised. And the government force, whether local, State or federal, never failed to make its decisive contribution. Any struggle, whether a mass struggle or an industrial struggle, was subjected to cause injunctions and violence against the workers, whose struggle was not one to change society but only for better wages, working hours, living conditions and union rights. This, in turn, determined methods of struggle that required a willingness to use as much violence in return. So much so that both before and after Pullman, the union struggle required adequate supplies of food and savings, but also weapons and ammunition so that a minimum chance of success was ensured. We had such examples in disputes we have reviewed and we shall see more of it in the course of the bloody history of the labour movement in the United States.
With the Pullman strike, the first, real revolutionary situation was created, with the working class ready to struggle to the extreme because it was not willing to suffer any longer. A working class that was ready to unify the struggle across the immense country that is the United States of America. However, never before was so tangible the importance of the presence of a conscious class leadership. One ready to take the battle to a higher level, the political one. In the best case scenario, the unions, like the A.R.U., were good at their job but were afraid to go all the way and support the healthy spontaneity of the proletariat’s struggle. In the worst case scenario, they were part of the opposing front. They were ready to boycott the struggle as soon as it showed some weakness, or even organize strikebreaking and act as informers for the owners.
In the years at the turn of the century, miners distinguished themselves as one of the most combative sectors of the working class in the United States of America. We have spoken of the violent clashes that inevitably accompanied any trade union struggle in the sector, for the brutality and ruthlessness of the mine owners. It was therefore triumphant, to say the least, the news coverage of the victory of the United Mine Workers in the strike of 1897 that appeared in the working class press; it was the first that the union obtained as a national organization. Over 200,000 mine workers in Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois had gone on strike on July 4, 1897, crippling 70 percent of the country’s coal production. For 12 weeks the miners resisted without deflecting, and on September 4 the struggle ended with a resounding victory for the miners; on January 18, 1898 in Chicago, a contract was signed with the bosses. A contract that was the first national agreement that an important sector settled with its employees. A fact that surpassed in importance the immediate result of the struggle, which was also not of little importance: there would have been an increase of 33% in wages compared to those of 1893, and the eight‑hour working day was definitely recognized.
The American Federationist of October 1897 wrote, «The victory of the miners is an encouragement for all workers». In fact, the U.M.W. went from 8,000 members before the struggle to 117,000 in 1900.
But the managers of AFL did not show great enthusiasm. And one can understand why. The leaders of the Federation were concerned that the victorious struggle of the miners would show that the miners’ union represented industrial trade unionism, a trade unionism that united specialized and non‑specialized workers of all faiths, colours and nationalities. It was not the trade unionism that characterized AFL. On the contrary, just at that time AFL was moving more and more in the direction of an opposite trade unionism, which aimed at organizing mainly specialized workers. This built its organization on the trade rather than on the productive sector, and which was indifferent, if not hostile, towards unskilled or semi‑skilled workers, black workers, women, and immigrants.
For the leaders of the AFL, the history of the workers’ movement during and immediately after the crisis of 1893 had shown conclusively that an efficient trade union federation should be founded on a basis of trade unions. This would unite in the first place the most specialized workers, the most decisive of the unionised, who would remain in the organization both during times of full employment and during the depressions. The idea that trade unionism could be obsolete for them was unacceptable. On the contrary, the experience of recent years, according to them, showed that it was unionism supported by the Knights of Labour and the American Railway Union that was not good enough; a type of unionism based on the concept of uniting all workers in a productive sector in a single union, without discrimination on specialization, race, creed, colour, gender or nationality, had proved inadequate to overcome the economic crisis. Trade unionism, on the other hand, according to this interpretation, had proved to be able to survive crises and to recover when they ended.
In fact, the AFL grew in those years, reaching almost 800,000 members in 1901, but there were several million excluded workers, in particular: black people, immigrants, women, those who with a slang term were called underdogs, the weak, the defeated.
In those years, the management of the AFL constantly received protests about the discrimination against black people. To which Gompers invariably replied that it was not true, and that the trade unions that excluded black workers did not even have the right to belong to the Federation, all topped off by blusters made at rallies. But the declarations of principle meant nothing if in practice, as it happened, there was discrimination, and the AFL did nothing to prevent it, but if anything, it favoured it.
In its early years, the Federation demanded from unions who wanted to join that they remove any reference to skin colour from their regulations. But in the following years, while the rule persisted formally, the same AFL advised the new members to remove from the statute the reference to the exclusion of Black workers, but then to introduce it in the admission procedures, so that in fact black people could not be admitted. Later on, unions that mentioned the restrictive rule in the statute began to be accepted. This reached a point where some unions that had removed it, even if formally only, felt authorized to reintroduce it (apertis verbis).
On the other hand, the absence of an explicit exclusion certainly did not mean acceptance of black people. There were a thousand ways to keep them away: registration fees were too high, special licenses were required, black workers were forbidden to do their apprenticeship, etc. Moreover, since most black workers were not specialized, they were de jure excluded from trade unions. As a result, at the beginning of the century only about 40,000 black people were members of unions affiliated with AFL, half of whom belonged to United Mine Workers. In addition, most of the black workers were organized separately, in colour sections, or, as they used to say with another slang term, in Jim Crow sections; which in turn were discriminated against within the union because they were denied representation in the central levels.
For Gompers there was nothing wrong in all this, as it was only a matter of recognition of an existing social situation: while «the AFL does not intend to deny the Negroes the right to organize themselves, nor does it claim that the existing social barriers can be forgotten». The fault of the scarce presence of black people in the unions affiliated to the AFL «is mainly the fault of the Negroes themselves, because too often they have let the bosses manoeuvrer them against their own interests and against those of the white workers». While this hypocritical statement highlighted the real attitude of the AFL towards black people, it was also a false statement: the alleged scabbing of black workers, flaunted at every push, was based on the fact that the bosses always tried to use, importing it from afar, black labour whenever a struggle put them in crisis; but every time, when black workers were informed that there was a strike, the vast majority either went home or joined the workers in struggle.
The exclusion of black workers from trade unions had as a logical adjunct also a discriminatory attitude on the part of the employers, favoured by the trade unions themselves. In fact, in the ’90s the black workers who possessed some specialization gradually decreased due to the combined action of masters and unions (to the point that white workers were interested in expelling them from the specialized trades to take their place), and more and more they found themselves in non‑specialized activities in the railways, construction, and ships.
As a consequence, in the years at the turn of the century black workers were in the lowest positions in the various sectors of production. No matter in which sector, they received lower wages than whites for the same work; but usually it was not the same job, they were given the toughest, unhealthiest and dirtiest jobs. Even when they were in the unions they received little protection, to the point that many unions tolerated that black workers could work longer and for lower wages.
However, the racist attitude was more widespread among the management of trade unions and the AFL than among workers. In fact, even in the racist South, they soon realized that the policy of separation was mainly in the interests of the bosses. They benefit to have the class separated so as to keep wages low, thanks to the competition that would inevitably develop between the different opposing components. A significant example was in Galveston, Texas, in 1898, when 2300 black dockworkers went on strike for a wage increase; their place was offered to white workers, who refused «at any price... We support the Negroes in their demands, and wish them success». A success there was not. After four weeks of struggle the strike was stopped by the intervention of the militia, killings and arrests: routine matters.
Not very different was the attitude of the management of AFL and most trade unions towards workers born abroad during the 90s. It was an attitude of racism, contempt and declared hostility, as well as a reactionary policy aimed at hindering the entry of immigrants into the country and trade unions. But even if the AFL had wanted to be more willing to organize these workers, this would have been made very difficult if not impossible by the fact that the vast majority of them were unskilled or semi‑skilled. On the other hand, the problem did not arise, because the AFL managers were certainly not interested in organizing the large numbers of workers who arrived continuously in those years from all over the world. For Gompers (himself born abroad) it was a problem of “racial purity”. In addition to the basic fact of the difficulty of organizing foreigners, in the decade 1890‑1900 the country of origin of the immigrants had changed: from the «willing and intelligent of northern and western Europe» they had moved to the hordes of «servile and degraded southern and eastern Europe, marked by crime, disease, poverty, filth, and slave‑like attitude to work for almost nothing and live on even less». These derelicts included Italians, Czechs, Hungarians, Poles, Lithuanians, Russians, Romanians, etc. And they often carried with them an even more terrible characteristic: many of them, instead of being good citizens who loved democracy, were anarchists or socialists. The AFL could do without them.
This explains the campaign conducted by the Federation to reduce or eliminate immigration from those cursed countries. For example, subjecting them to a literacy test, even if in their own language. An initiative of the leaders who, to tell the truth, met a strong opposition within the Federation itself, so that Gompers had to withdraw it.
But, despite the fact that the leadership of the Federation cooperated in its crusade against immigrants with reactionary organizations, the ruffians of the South, the racist nativists, and other such initiatives, its effect on the influx of immigrants was very little. Not least because the big business, whose economy was growing at a higher rate than that of all industrialized countries, was not at all sorry for the arrival of cheap labour. However, this attitude was able to make life difficult for them. It kept them away from the unions with a thousand subterfuges, not least the raising of registration fees, up to $100, a very high figure for a newly arrived and poorly paid labourer.
The situation of women in the union was not very different from that of black people and immigrants. The trade unions kept them at a distance, even though very few prohibited their membership in their statutes. However, with expedients similar to those adopted with black people and immigrants, they actually made their membership impossible or almost impossible. If they accepted them, they did so only for jobs at the lowest levels, effectively preventing them from any kind of professional ascent. And the AFL, in the name of an unsympathetic non‑interference in the affairs of individual trade unions, did little or nothing to change their attitude. The women, they said, remained little in the world of work, as soon as possible they got married, had children and left work; then they stayed in the factory to support themselves until marriage. Why should the union spend money and energy to organize them? This was an old excuse, which may have had some foundation half a century before, but which was no longer valid. Large numbers of women had entered the world of work in the last decade of the century, and most of them lived off their work, often keeping others dependent on them. But thanks to the obstructionism of trade unions they were paid very badly, both because they did badly paid jobs and because they received lower wages than their male comrades for the same work.
If the situation was hard for white women, it was even harder for black women, who associated the two types of handicaps: if white women received 25 to 50% less for the same job as a man, black female workers could be paid between a third and a half less than white women; often they did not even know how much the pay was, they were simply used to accept any condition.
As Gompers said on one occasion « AFL maintains as one of its cardinal principles of the trade union movement that workers must organize, unite and federate, regardless of faith, colour, gender, nationality or political opinion». These beautiful proposals were reiterated in all the conventions of the Federation. Only that they had nothing to do with reality. Occupied almost exclusively in non‑specialized or semi‑specialized activities, black people, foreigners and women were not interesting for the organizations that formed the backbone of the AFL. In fact, their membership was usually hindered, as we have seen, in a thousand ways.
In the years following 1895, the fundamental characteristics of the American Federation of Labour were traced, and remained virtually unchanged until the 1930s. During these years the main objective of the AFL was the consolidation of an “aristocracy of labour”. In spite of the periodical proclamation of the most sacred principles of solidarity, AFL aimed to organize above all the specialized workers, giving up pertinaciously to organize the non‑specialized. In fact, it worked to prevent the organization of the overwhelming majority of the working class.
Why was this attitude taken, when after the early formative years the trend had been quite different? Surely an important push came from the decline of the Knights of Labour. Until that moment Gompers had to reckon with an organization that, with all its faults, had the merit of actually welcoming all the proletarians, without making any distinction. Therefore, he had to show that his AFL was no less in terms of solidarity. But after the fall of the K.L. there was no choice but unions affiliated to the Federation, so it was enough to keep the commitment in words, while nothing prevented him from transgressing it in deeds.
On a somewhat broader level, and seen from a distance, the AFL policy was a fundamental component of a program of class collaboration with monopoly capital, in which safety and well‑being for specialized workers was obtained at the expense of the unskilled and unorganized. We will see how its leaders will go hand in hand with the trusts. Indeed they will become the most strenuous defenders of them, so that their trade unions will obtain welfare zones in the backrooms of the mega monopolies. In exchange, they agreed to do absolutely nothing to organize the overwhelming majority of workers that the monopolies themselves exploited, and above all immigrants, black people and women.
We will see how this aristocracy will operate in North America against class combativeness, receiving the contempt of all Marxists, starting with Marx and Engels who had already described it as a consequence of the exploitation of other peoples by the metropolitan capital, which Lenin would later call imperialism. And it is Lenin himself, in an introduction to Imperialism in 1920, who condemned the phenomenon with words that cannot be misunderstood: «This stratum of workers-turned-bourgeois, or the labour aristocracy, who are quite philistine in their mode of life, in the size of their earnings and in their entire outlook, is the principal prop of the Second International, and in our days, the principal social (not military) prop of the bourgeoisie. For they are the real agents of the bourgeoisie in the working-class movement, the labour lieutenants of the capitalist class, real vehicles of reformism and chauvinism. In the civil war between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie they inevitably, and in no small numbers. take the side of the bourgeoisie, the “Versailles” against the “Communards”». Elsewhere (Left Wing Communism), the working class aristocracy is branded as «corporatist, petty, selfish, sordid, interested, petit-bourgeois, of imperialist mentality, enslaved and corrupted by imperialism».
American capitalism enters the new century in the grip of euphoria. The crisis of the ’90s is a memory and now the word to use to describe the present is “prosperity”.
Frederick W. Taylor has already written the first in a series of books and articles that illustrate his doctrine of “scientific management” of production: simple and repetitive operations, requiring less training, and therefore less specialization, measuring operations with the chronometer, linking the worker’s salary to the performance in relation to the “scientifically” established time; in this way the profit can increase to the maximum possible levels.
Despite the depression, the United States had emerged as the first industrial power in the 1890s. Already in 1890, they were the first producers of iron and steel; in 1899 they became so for coal. At the same time, the export of capital also grew. Small companies were being wiped out by ever larger and fewer corporations.
The United States was also a world power militarily, and in the last years of the century an empire had been built, thanks to the war with Spain, in Central America and the Pacific, as well as controlling politically and economically many Latin American countries.
For the working class, however, there was not much reason to be happy. The crisis of the ’90s had had a very hard impact on the living conditions of the proletariat, and there were not many fruits of the “unprecedented prosperity” they could enjoy. In 1900 wages were still 10% lower than before the crisis of ’93; nevertheless, this was an average, so while some more specialized trades had recovered their losses, wages were very low for the large working mass; of course for those who worked: six and a half million workers did not work a whole year, and two million of them for less than six months. This is a fact that makes the drama of the working-class condition in the golden age of American capitalism. The official statistics of almost a century later that give 1.4 million unemployed for 1900, or 5% of the labour force of 27 and a half million, as usual, do not make the reality of the working class situation, which is better described by the previous data from the 1901 work of a government commission. So, as we often demonstrate in our work on the history of the working-class movement, the bourgeoisie in retrospect tries in every way to describe the story that its mode of production has shaped as a story with few jolts and a lot, a lot of happiness for everyone.
The figure is then made even more dramatic, if such a thing is possible, by the trend in the cost of living, which in the same period had increased by at least 10% for food, and even more for rent and coal (the figure, from a 1904 study, reports 16% for food between 1896 and 1903, and for the same period 40% for coal and kerosene, and 20% for rent). In 1902, while the World Almanac listed 4000 millionaires in the USA, in the same country, out of 80 million inhabitants, 10% lived in poverty, inadequately fed and clothed, and in miserable homes. And, as far as the working class is concerned, the lowest in the ranking were the miners: it is not surprising that in the following years this will be the most combative category.
The picture is completed by terrible work shifts: the bourgeoisie had recovered in the decade the concessions on the 8‑hour day: the typical working day was 10 hours, but it was often much longer, for up to 7 days a week, as in the steel industry, where free Sundays were alternated with weekends with a tremendous 24‑hour shift “to recover”. The same situation of regression in the working-class condition was evident with respect to child labour and women.
Another aspect that is not secondary concerns working conditions: no protection from risks, and therefore very high mortality in industrial activities, railways, mines, in addition to that, less documented, due to unhealthy working environments. In 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York, where 500 Italian and Jewish girls who had recently immigrated worked, killed 145 of them because of the lack of escape routes, and of any fire precautions.
It comes as no surprise, then, if in the same years the workers’ movement, measured on the participation in the unions, showed a vigorous recovery: from less than half a million members in 1897, the unions in 1904 counted more than two million; and of course the lion’s share belonged to the AFL, which gathered in its unions 80% of the members. The number of strikes also increased more than twice as much during the period, strikes that in the majority of cases were successful.
During the ’90s, and especially towards the end of the decade, the willingness to reach collective agreements with trade unions on key issues such as wages and hours spread in certain sectors of industry. The most important of these agreements was between the owners of the mines and the UMW. Part of this willingness on the part of the employers was due to the desire to avoid conflicts during the Spanish-American War (1898‑1900), a period in which the lucrative State orders were not to be jeopardized. But even after the war the capitalists hesitated to create conditions that could endanger the river of profits that entered their pockets, and collective agreements became very frequent.
But there was another reason for this attitude of the bosses. It was the period of great development of monopolistic capital; in 1898 alone the capitalization of industrial concentrations doubled compared to the previous year. Monopolies in formation needed to control production and prices, and in this they suffered from competition from entrepreneurs not reached by the monopoly; it was therefore vital that these companies joined the monopoly, and, if this was not possible, they had to be crushed and taken out of the way. Here came into play the union, which could be the instrument to achieve the result. With this idea in mind, towards the end of the century the owners began to recognize the closed shop: on the basis of a contract between an employers’ association (a very representative case was that of construction) and the union, the former undertook to hire only union members (or to submit their choice to the union); in exchange the union guaranteed that none of its members would work for companies outside the employers’ association. Associating this control of the workforce with an increasing control of raw materials, the employers’ associations managed to put companies that did not want to submit to the monopoly into bankruptcy. The unions went so far in some cases as to inducing to strike the workers of those companies. The trade unions, generally the ones belonging to the AFL, thus became an instrument in the hands of the capitalists, who, by controlling the market, managed to put together enormous profits. In exchange for these services, the capitalists gave, temporarily, to the trade unions, crumbs of the rich profits.
The trade unions considered the concentration in monopolies to be positive: in this way it would have been easier to make collective agreements, while many small entrepreneurs would have been forced to compete to the bone primarily through the reduction of wages. But, apart from the fact that the advantages for the workers were reserved almost exclusively to those who were already well‑positioned in production, i.e., skilled workers, nobody mentioned the continuous increase in the cost of living, which almost cancelled wage increases. Nor was it remembered that, in many already-monopolistic mass-production industries, this idyll did not exist; not to mention the fact that, in parallel to the closed shop, there was still a great deal of real hostility towards the union, with the consequences that we have seen of brutality, lockouts, mass layoffs, blacklists, etc.
Blissful in their rosy vision of the business world, the AFL leaders did not see, or did not want to see, the dark side of the working-class condition, which concerned not only the lower strata of the class. They spoke of the “Age of Good Feeling” between capital and work, and they envisaged only idyllic relationships between two components that materialistically can only be violently opposed.
They would soon change their minds. The concessions to the unions were only temporary. A monopoly, once consolidated, no longer needs the union to bring down competition. On the contrary, it soon becomes ruthless in crushing unions, just as it had been for capitalists out of line. The so‑called peaceful relations between employers’ associations and trade unions could only end sooner or later; they would be replaced by the clash over the open shop.
Even if some sectors of the bourgeoisie showed interested openings towards the trade union movement, the majority of the employers did not forget that their most important goal in that historical phase was destroying the trade union movement, either physically or by making it harmless. The resumption of the offensive was favoured by the crisis of 1893, and eventually the growth of the union was only a further incentive to mobilize for the crusade against unionism. When in 1902 U.S. Steel destroyed what was left of Amalgamated Iron Workers, a union whose previous defeat in the Homestead strike we have already described, employers’ associations began to flourish everywhere. The watchword was the open shop, which was in theory the denial of the closed shop: employees should not be forced to join trade unions, which therefore should not have any power in the company; this was in accordance with the much flaunted American myth of individual freedom, for which both workers and bosses count for one; a rule that, besides being in itself unfair, was never respected in the first place by the bosses, who, as in this case, did not hesitate to agree to fight the workers. But the real and not very hidden purpose of these associations was to ban the unions from the factories altogether, and to achieve this goal they only hired workers who were not union members and who committed themselves not to join unions, expelling those who didn’t; not to mention the other persecutory measures of which we have had plenty of examples in the course of this narrative.
The image of the worker victim of oppression was contrasted with that of the aggressor and oppressor: it was the employer who suffered from tyranny and oppression; he was the victim of the despotic power of the unions which, taking advantage of the blind obedience of their members, wanted to abolish the “natural” right to freedom of enterprise. By leveraging American individualism, this hammering propaganda succeeded in shifting public opinion support from the worker to the boss. But despite the successes at the local level, the open shop movement had no organization and leadership at the national level.
Soon the employers’ associations were joined by the Citizens’ Alliances, open to anyone who was not part of a trade union, a kind of duplication in reality, open to all citizens.
Finally, the need to centrally coordinate the activities of these bodies led the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), which had been created with technical tasks, to take on this responsibility; this took a much more political stance, warning that «if Gomperism [sic!], the laws for the 8 hours, the boycotts, etc.…are not halted, the United States will have to face a reign of terror, which will make the French Revolution look like a tea room».
Other associations were created, under various names, but all with the same objectives. During the first decade of the century they were very active in boycotting trade unions and their activities, giving economic support to companies lined up for the open shop, finding scabs, boycotting newspapers that did not sympathize with them, bribing trade unionists, managing blacklists, paying infiltrated spies, Forcing workers to sign “yellow dog” contracts, making propaganda by painting trade unionists as vermin and corrupt, and trade unionism as “un‑American”, using police, militia and private agencies to break strikes, using the courts to weaken unions, and organizing powerful lobbies against labour law. In short, the usual soup, but this time generalized and used with a wealth of means. A single agency of private agents had 35,000 agents available to take action in a very short time, spies with professional skills suitable to be infiltrated; later it became known that many trade unionists, even senior executives of AFL, were on the NAM payroll.
Not all capitalists were in agreement: some believed that it was worthwhile to conquer social peace, and thus make the workers forget the union, by granting pleasant working environments, incentives, or even company shares; others had developed “company unionism”, founding company unions that did everything but organize workers’ struggles. But the pressure to join the anti‑worker associations was strong, to the extent of intimidation.
Initially the unions gave little credit to these initiatives, but towards the end of 1903 it became clear that the campaign for the open shop was producing very harmful effects for the workers’ movement. The trade unions tried to defend themselves, especially through their press, but it only reached a minority of the population, which, by the way, was the one that needed least convincing. In fact, the campaign for the open shop was successful, not by destroying the unions, which was impossible, but by stopping their growth, which had been impetuous until 1904. It increased the number of strikes defeated; in the trust-abiding companies, the union, already weak, disappeared almost completely, with the exception of the railroads; collective bargaining on a large scale decreased substantially.
The blame for all this, however, was not only for the open shop campaign. Other forces had been at work, inside and outside the workers’ movement, to deprive the trade unions of the economic and militant force necessary to defend the class from the offensive.
One of these, and perhaps the most important at the time, was the National Civic Federation, whose birth and purpose we have written about before. We should, however, return to the subject because the NCF was an important presence in the first decade of the century, and also because it indirectly provides us with a measure of the degree of corruption and domestication to which union leaders had already arrived.
«Our experience has convinced us – said a Federation spokesman in 1903 – that the best way to control workers’ organizations is to guide them, not to oppose them. We are also convinced that conservative elements of all unions can exercise this control if they are guided and assisted in the most appropriate way». Unions that could not only keep workers within reasonable limits about demands and actions of struggle, but that would also constitute a barrier against the various forms of radicalism. In short, an open attempt to control the movement by bringing the leaders to participate in a program of class collaboration, thus taking away from the class vigour, militant spirit, combativeness, political perspectives.
There were certainly conflicts between workers and bosses; but they were avoidable conflicts, because in America there were no classes (for them), and therefore it was not obvious that there was class struggle like in Europe. In the United States there were only “misunderstandings” between bosses and workers. The purpose of the NCF was precisely to avoid the occurrence of these “misunderstandings”, with meetings, conferences, banquets.
Even without seeing the Federation at work, it would have been enough to examine its composition to understand how it would work, and for whom. Of the three main components, trade unions, entrepreneurs and the public (today we would say “civil society”), we saw that they had mainly enlisted the most right wing union leaders who had already shown a good attitude to boycott strikes that they did not like. The entrepreneurs were represented by lawyers and big business officials, all with well‑known anti‑union background, and in any case the vast majority of them representing the biggest trusts (steel, oil, railways, etc.), and certainly not small companies. However, the defenders of the Federation attributed its alleged impartiality to the third component. But on closer examination here too were executives or former executives of companies, bankers, trust lawyers, even a former US president, Grover Cleveland, who had sent troops to break the Pullman strike, and bishops and university professors who were also the favourites of the open shop movement for the positions they had taken previously. In fact, even if the trade union component had been less corrupt and willing to make the capitalists happy, the NCF could only be completely controlled by the bourgeoisie, a bourgeoisie enlightened only by its desire to nullify combativeness by the working class, and to nip any revolutionary ambitions in the bud. Nothing substantial separated the NCF from the defenders of the open shop, if not empty declarations and more devious methods to control the working class. The role of the NCF became clear from the very beginning, on the occasion of the US Steel strike.
The main union was the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel & Tin Workers, a trade union that included only a minority of the 148,000 employees of U.S. Steel, a huge newly formed trust. The policy of the trust was to exclude the union from new plants where it was not yet present, and to tolerate it in older plants, under certain conditions. It was clear to the union that its absence from a number of plants could lead to its general decline.
Negotiations for the new contract in some U.S. Steel plants began in the spring of 1901. The union, through President Shaffer, asked that the agreed wage scale be applied to all the factories of the trust together with the official recognition of the Unions. The other party accepted the proposal only for those factories where the union was already present.
The strike began in two factories and then extended to 62,000 workers by August. Shaffer relied on the support of other trade unions, particularly miners and railroad workers, for whom it was obvious that the trust of J.P. Morgan, owner of U.S. Steel, would deal with them after the steelmakers. Less obvious was the support of Gompers.
Shaffer was a member of an NCF Committee, but he had been chosen reluctantly; NCF Director Easley could not stand him, in agreement with Gompers, who was irritated by the criticism that the Amalgamated leader had addressed to the AFL leadership, especially in defence of industrial unionism, which, as we have seen, Gompers disliked. The leaders of the NCF did not like the fact that Shaffer counted on the support of other unions, including the solidarity strike, obviously held in dislike for the unpredictable consequences it could unleash. So in July, President Hanna wrote to John Mitchell, then president of the United Mine Workers Association, as well as Vice President of the AFL and member of the NCF, asking him to “work” to block the movement, adding that “the task of the responsible union leaders” was to resolve the conflict before Shaffer took “desperate measure”.
There were meetings attended by Morgan himself, who promised, shamelessly lying as was later proved, that even if it was not possible immediately, within two years agreements could be signed for all plants. Shaffer was persuaded by the NCF shysters to trust Morgan, but this was not the case for the Amalgamated executive committee, because the proposal effectively excluded the union from most of the steel factories and guaranteed better conditions only to a minority of skilled workers.
At that point, U.S. Steel resorted to scabs. The union appealed to Gompers to convene a meeting of the representatives of all unions to call solidarity strikes in other categories related to the activities of the steel industry, in particular railroad workers and miners. But Gompers refused, saying that it would be “a sign of weakness”. In reality, the subtle corruption resulting from the involvement of high‑ranking trade unionists in the NCF was beginning to bear fruit.
The steelworkers immediately understood that nothing good would come from that side. On the contrary, the members of the NCF Conciliation Committee went to great lengths to convince the union leaders that the solidarity strike requested by Shaffer was madness; and they succeeded, with the exception of the miners, despite Mitchell’s opposing pressure. The miners were for solidarity, but Mitchell managed to prevent any action.
So alone, without a penny paid into the resistance fund by the AFL, and weakened by the ancient resentment of the unskilled workers towards the trade union, the steelworkers had to resign themselves to the defeat, definitive this time after that of ten years before. The NCF had clearly shown what was the task it could perform in an anti‑worker’s key, and what was the use of the money that the capitalists had invested in it.
The result for steelworkers? A study by a State commission showed that, in 1910, a third of the 153,000 blast-furnace and rolling‑mill workers worked seven days a week, and a fifth of them had a working time of 84 hours and more per week, 12 hours a day including Sunday. Working conditions were below the average American industrial standard, and wages were barely enough to support an average family.
The effects of the crawling corruption exerted by the NCF was also evident during the strike of the anthracite miners in Telluride, in eastern Pennsylvania, who lived and worked in terrible conditions. We will not go into detail here about a strike that involved nearly 150,000 workers, and lasted from May 15 to October 23, 1902. In short, the miners put in place exemplary combativeness and solidarity, resisting all the instruments we know of put in place by the bosses. Mitchell, the president of the UMW trade union and an important member of the NCF, did everything he could to prevent the extension of the strike, and to make them accept a final agreement that, if it granted important improvements to the miners, was enormously below the goals that the strength they had shown and the sacrifices they had endured could conquer. In reality, it was an only provisional agreement, which, among other things, did not include the recognition of the union and provided for the open shop regime.
If some workers were dazzled and flattered by the fact that their representatives sat at the same table as the bosses, that they dined together, well dressed and revered, for the majority, this closeness was not at all welcome. The opposition within the Unions, among many executives, and also in the working-class press was always strong, and manifested at all conferences and assemblies.
1 – If, as the defenders of the NCF claimed, there was an identity of interests between capital and labour, why did they continue to fight each other, and by such notorious means?
2 – Within the Federation there was a lot of emphasis and talk about the responsibility of big business to recognize trade unionism. In short, the bosses, thanks to the intercession of the NCF, had to repent. This shifted the commitment of the trade union leaders, and therefore of the struggles, at least to the point in which the leaders could influence, from direct struggle to endless negotiation.
3 – Collaborating in the same organization with the most ferocious bourgeoisie and company managers, who had fought the workers with all means, the union piecards allowed them to marshal themselves as philanthropists, unjustly misjudged. Instead of fighting them, they found good reasons to excuse or even defend their anti‑union activities, often attributing responsibility for clashes to workers who would listen to radical elements that would deceive them. In short, the base, who knew those characters and their minions well, was difficult to be convinced to accept this version, and accused the managers in the NCF of not representing them.
4 – The Federation said it wanted to show the public opinion a more enlightened and realistic image of the demands of the unions, but it was careful not to tell the almost constant refusals of the bosses to sit at the negotiating table with the representatives of the organized workers.
5 – The NCF worked to settle disputes quickly, but this did not mean that the closures were favourable to the workers, on the contrary, usually the workers obtained almost nothing, and everything was resolved in heavy pressure on the piecards who were part of the Federation to use all their influence to stop the strikers. And then invite them to dinner.
It is therefore clear that the aim of the Civic Federation, not even so much hidden, was to act as a long arm of the large corporations to keep the discontent of the working class at bay, attracting on its side with various forms of corruption, material, cultural, psychological, the most right‑wing leaders of the class, a process that would become increasingly institutionalized in the following years. All this while the initiative was cloaked in an image of generosity, philanthropy, good and sincere intentions, and instead tried to instil in the class the poison of inter-class collaboration and disorganization.
The spreading discontent in the movement in those years, initially controlled by the AFL piecards, exploded in 1904, when a New York subway strike was fought with all the most evil means by the transport company, whose manager was a certain Belmont, who at the same time held the position of President of the NCF. The good thing is that the bonzes of the NCF lovingly supported his leadership for the next three years of his mandate, despite the violent protests of the rank and file.
The fight against the NCF within the AFL continued in the following years, but by now the Federation’s task had been accomplished, in the lasting yoke of the union leaders to the interests of the big corporations.
In February 1901 an interesting article appeared in an Atlantic City trade union magazine on “Business in the Management of the Union”. It read: «Unions are more and more being based on business principles, and are more and more being managed by business-minded leaders who operate according to business methods. The more complete the mastery of these principles, the greater the success attained». A few years later, something similar appeared on the organ of the bricklayers’ union: «In practically every trade today we have one strong organization of labour, with large funds, and more than that, able businessmen and more and more conservative field general at the helm, with the unions conducted in a business‑like and conservative manner».
The original reason for the presence of managers with management skills was to enable unions to function effectively and efficiently as compact, well‑financed and organized instruments in the daily struggles of the working class against the enemy of all time. And indeed, an efficient trade union organization became increasingly vital for the survival of trade unions in the United States, especially in the years after 1873. The main innovations of “managerial” trade unionism were: centralized control of the organization, especially during strikes; subsidies for illness, unemployment and death; high membership and annual fees. From the very beginning, there were often managers who were so obsessed with the accumulation of reserves as an end in itself that they became the sole objective of the union; they were managers who consequently became reluctant to allow struggles, which would affect the reserves, accumulated with great care. But as long as the main purpose of this trade unionism remained the creation and maintenance of organizations capable of successfully fighting for the improvement of members’ wages, hours and working conditions, prudent management of funds was inevitable and even necessary.
Unfortunately, this business unionism, or managerial unionism, which at the turn of the century increasingly permeated and guided many unions, began to mean the application of the ethics of the businessman to the workers’ movement – an ethics that justified the use of position and influence for the enrichment of union leadership, as well as increasing profits for the bosses. The overwhelming majority of union organizers were willingly faced loss of job, and incurred discrimination and other risks, even serious ones, in order to organize their fellow workers for the struggles. The only reward they could aspire to was success in terms of follow‑up and class dedication as a result of their activity. A generous spirit that never left the class, on both sides of the Atlantic.
But another spirit was emerging within the class, represented by the kind of union leader who saw the development of the workers’ movement as a lush business through which to get rich, and in any case as an end in itself.
We have seen how during the ’80s and ’90s of the 19th century the unions had to sustain a very hard and systematic attack by the bourgeoisie. Spies infiltrated and wrecked entire sections; trade unionists ended up on blacklists and could no longer find work. Those who presented themselves to the boss to represent the category for trade union demands were very often thrown out of work and put on the blacklist. In the face of this employers’ offensive, the AFL trade unions considered it necessary to delegate the authority to organize and represent workers to professional organizers, who did not have to depend on the company to survive. They were called “walking delegates”, who were organizers and inspectors, salaried by the union, who were sent where and when there was an urgent need to organize the workers. By carrying out this activity full‑time they usually had an authority that overshadowed that of the local delegates elected from the base among their fellow workers.
Soon, the capitalists realized that this new type of union organizer was no longer subject to intimidation and persecution; they resolved to adopt the other more logical alternative tactic: buy him out, or at least try to do so. They didn’t always succeed: many union organizers were dedicated and honest, often had spent years working in the sector, which they knew well, and perhaps they had carried out that activity for free as workers elected by department committees.
But there were also those who, like the managers described above, saw that activity as a simple job, with which one simply tries to earn as much money as possible. And since they were not distracted by any form of idealism, they were also the ones who most easily moved up the union’s hierarchical ladder to positions of greater responsibility. Managers, according to the criterion that responsibilities and experience should be paid proportionately, received between $5,000 and $8,000 per year, plus expenses; in practice, 10‑15 times the average worker’s salary in the industry. But it was the extra income, which could be worth ten times more, that made them richer. Foner describes a series of incomes that were currently being established and rarely pursued.
- Income derived from robbing union treasuries. Managers often collected large amounts of cash for dues, subscriptions or otherwise, and almost never deposited them in bank accounts or kept books.
- The payment of large sums of money by employers for preventing or calling off strikes, negotiating “reasonable” contracts and neglecting contract clauses, favourable for the workers. It is evident that even a small saving of a few cents per hour allowed the capitalist enormous savings if multiplied by many thousands of hours, especially in big companies, and therefore a rich bribe to the piecard was a very profitable investment.
- Income derived from cooperating with employers to form monopolies in their particular trade. As we have seen above, the union could be of great service to capital also in calling strikes, in companies resistant to the call of the monopoly. This kind of support extended (sometimes with written contracts!) to the management of workers, who could be induced to abandon the unwelcome companies and employed into those of the monopoly, and other such favours. It was not uncommon for the trade unionist to obtain a stake in the company, with a quota of shares representing the bribe, in his or his wife’s name.
- Revenues from the sale of labels (today we would say logo) of the union. The logo meant that the product came from a company approved by the union, with the consequence of a favourable reception from the working class, and also the guarantee of not being subjected to boycott, which as we have seen was in those years a weapon of struggle of no little value.
- Sale or rental of “work permits”. Managers did not always want to increase the number of union members, for fear of losing control. The “work permits” were a temporary grant of membership status to work in a closed shop industry; sometimes the buyers were just workers, other times the same industrialists. At the end of the granted period the permit expired. Of course, the costs, which was money that entered without control into the pockets of the managers, were always borne by the proletarians in need of work.
We could continue with a thousand examples of small and large corruption, but what matters is that this state of affairs generated a trade union leadership that was less and less performing the task it was supposed to do. Gradually, their greater commitment was concentrated on maintaining power in the organization, on fraction struggles, on the hoarding of the money so shamefully earned.
Even what we could call “Law and Order Service”, and which the American unions had baptized, with a touch of humour, “Entertainment Committees”, in the late ’90s began to be made up of gangsters, and increasingly served to protect the bosses and their interests, rather than helping the strikers against Pinkerton agents and scabs.
The trade union was therefore turning into a company, with company logic, with company prospects, with managers who behaved with the same logic and prospects as those they were called to fight. Although worker combativeness was determined by much greater conditioning, this transformation, and above all its rapidity, in this in advance of European trade unionism, made it easy for the bourgeoisie overseas to control the class and overcome the serious social crises that would follow in the next half century.
In the West, the scene in those years was filled above all by the struggles of the miners who, united in the Western Federation of Miners, opposed the mine owners in a decisive way, and adapted to the violence put in place by the class enemy.
The bourgeoisie had fielded all the instruments at its disposal, which we have already described on several occasions, against the miners, who carried out the most dangerous activity ever, even at a time when safety measures were practically absent in all workplaces.
In 1903 a strike began in Colorado, with several demands, the most important of which was the 8‑hour day, vital for mine workers. As a matter of fact, a law had been passed in 1899, but the bosses didn’t care, and even managed to have it declared unconstitutional. In 1902 a referendum had confirmed the law with an overwhelming majority of votes, and a governor, J. H. Peabody, had been elected and committed to support the result of the referendum. But the law did not pass the legislative assembly, thanks to pressure from the mining lobby.
While the workers were preparing to respond with the only truly effective weapon, the governor sent militia troops to prevent picketing; the strike then began uphill for the workers, who soon became the object of a real persecution: the military arrested and deported outside the State all those they considered dangerous for social peace, according to them, that is the leaders of the strike, although they had not committed any crime. And when the matter was brought before the court, the military did not hesitate to intimidate the judges themselves, who obviously did not feel like endorsing blatantly illegal behaviour. Those who were not deported were locked up in makeshift stockades or “bull pens”, to suffer the most terrible conditions of detention; and this treatment was also dispensed to sympathizers of the strikers, including journalists. The strike officially ended in 1907, but in fact by the end of 1904 it had ended with the complete crushing of the union; this despite the fact that it had extended to Idaho and to the workers who were members of United Mine Workers, a union that belonged to the AFL.
The defeat was mainly due to the unscrupulous use of all the tools, legal and illegal, that the bourgeoisie could field; but an important component of the defeat was the absence of any help from the strong unions of the East, gathered under the aegis of the AFL. Gompers refused even to mention the ongoing struggle of this union that, unlike his own, was open to all workers in the sector, and had completely democratic decision-making mechanisms, in which the rank and file had no difficulty in making its voice heard.
At the end of the 19th century, the dominant form of organization in the American workers’ movement was that of various independent trade unions. Each of which brought together and organized autonomously on a local, State or, increasingly, national basis all the workers who carried out a given work process, i.e., trade unionism or craft unionism.
In the last decade of the century and in the early 1900’s there was a strong quantitative development of trade-unionism in the United States: the total number of union members increased from 447,000 in 1897 to 2,072,000 in 1904. At the same time, the American Federation of Labour grew steadily in importance: the number of its members went from 278,000 in 1898 to 1,676,000 in 1904, and in that year 80% of all those who were members of a trade union belonged to the AFL
But despite this growth, which seen separately appears imperious, the AFL at the beginning of the century only included less than 20% of American manual workers; the rest, with a few commendable exceptions, remained completely unorganized.
But what is more important is the fact that the AFL is mainly composed of unions of specialized, skilled workers, employed in the construction industry and in small businesses, such as print stores, tailors, shoemakers and barber shops. Also, in the mass production industries – steel, mechanics, chemicals, textiles, clothing, glass and shoes – the members are almost exclusively the specialized workers of these industries. Thus, in those very years of growth, the inability of the AFL to establish any effective control over the large mass‑production industries; and the impossibility of facing, on the basis of the organizational principles of trade unionism, the consequences for workers of the concentration of ownership and the mechanization and standardization of production that increasingly characterize American capitalism, provided that it had the will. In the parts preceding this one we have given ample documentation of the early passage of this Federation of Trade Unions in the field of monopolistic employers, at least as far as the highest-ranking officials are concerned.
The high mechanization and automation of the factories makes the skill and ability of skilled workers (and their tools, until now a symbol of their trade and pride) less and less important since, thanks to the introduction of new machines, unskilled or semi‑skilled workers (not specialized or semi‑specialized) can now perform work tasks following a very simple and quick training, very different from the long years of apprenticeship that specialized workers had to go through to gain their tradesman certificate. It is significant the change in the composition of the workforce that takes place in those years. From 1870 to 1900 the number of employees grew from 12 to 29 million; but at the same time the fraction of women employed (who are usually destined to unskilled jobs) rose from 1/8 to 1/5 of the total. Also, the number of boys from 10 to 15 years old grows to 1,750,000. In immigration the supremacy passes from England and Germany, countries that generally supplied workers with professional skills, to Austria-Hungary, Russia and Italy, and the extraction of newcomers is mainly peasant.
It is the workers who come from these countries, whose sphere of needs is reduced and are therefore satisfied with lower wages, which make up the lowest state of the working class, the unskilled worker that the new production processes can use.
The impossibility for organizations based on the principles of craft unionism to cope with these massive transformations that took place in the most advanced industrial sectors is demonstrated by the case of the steel industry, and we have seen how the employers managed to crush the workers’ resistance and the unions themselves in a few years at the turn of the 20th century.
In the end, in the hope of survival, the unions begin to give in systematically to every request from employers; and from this point on, their existence ultimately depends on whatever interest the bosses may have in keeping them alive. We have seen how for a trust, for example, keeping a trade union alive and, consequently, the cost of the workforce high, can be a way to force independent producers to join; or, keeping the wages of a small minority of the skilled workforce artificially high through appropriate agreements with trade unions, becomes the way to keep the wages of the majority of workers at a starvation level.
Once accepted this condition of subordination to the company, the trade unions not only necessarily become more conservative and bureaucratic, they completely change their function and devote themselves to insurance and welfare activities, acting against the employers only to defend the corporate interests of the working-class aristocracy.
Not all unions had undergone this transformation: some unions had modified their structure in order to organize not only workers who performed a certain task, but an entire industrial sector. These new industry-based organizations, industrial unions, maintained many of the characteristics of the previous labour organizations from which they emerged. In fact, they were formed not so much under the push of the mechanization of the production process, with the consequent replacement of skilled workers with unskilled ones, but rather under the push of the process of concentration and trustification of property.
Therefore, these first industry-based organizational structures are obtained by combining the bargaining skills of skilled workers belonging to different trades; they arise through a process of aggregation (amalgamation) of different craft unions in order to oppose the unity of all workers in a given industrial sector to the unity of the employers.
Industrial unions that are born from scratch and that organize within them both skilled and unskilled workers – in order to prevent the bosses from using the latter as scabs – maintain the organizational principle of division by trade and are therefore realized with hybrid and contradictory elements. This was the case with the American Railway Union, formed in 1894 under the impetus of Eugene V. Debs, and ended prematurely after the defeat of the Pullman strike; although it included all those who worked on the railway lines, skilled and unskilled, men and women, with the sole but notable exception of Black workers, the ARU did not differ substantially in its structure from other industrial unions. In fact, its local sections were organized on a trade basis, and were united in a federation on each major railroad network. These federations, in turn, were unified in the national organization. The distinctive character of the new organization was its policy of unified action whenever the rights of any member were threatened. But the most significant example of industrial unionism was given, for those years, by the Western Federation of Miners, an organization that played a large part in the formation process of the Industrial Workers of the World and that for years coordinated and directed the very hard class struggle supported by the miners of the West.
As a consequence of these transformations the importance of skilled labour and its contractual strength declined considerably; this made easier and more frequent the attempts of the Mine Owners Association to replace it with green hands (workers without any handicraft skills) in order to break the strikes and eliminate the presence of WFM from the mines.
From the need to oppose a more compact front to the attack of the bosses, including the unskilled workers, the idea was born to create a larger organization that would include all workers of the West, the Western Labour Union, which we have already had occasion to talk about.
All these first experiences in the field of industrial unionism had led to a considerable departure from the fundamental organizational principle of the AFL, the complete autonomy of each craft union; but this did not yet mean a complete abandonment of the organizational principles of trade unionism and a complete opposition to the AFL On the contrary, more or less all these industrial unions had remained for some time affiliated to the AFL The Western Labour Union itself, to emphasize that it did not intend in any way to create an organization opposed to the AFL, allowed the unions that came to be part of it to maintain their ties with the larger federation. Even when the WLU, under the impetus of Debs, was transformed as we have seen into the American Labour Union, it was immediately made clear that the new organization did not intend «to oppose the American Federation of Labour, or invade its jurisdiction or create rival unions». Debs himself, while making it clear that «the Western movement could not be allowed to retreat and return to the American Federation» continued to hope that «one day the two progressive forces will be able to unite in the work of redemption that must be accomplished».
During the strikes of 1903 and 1904 the Western Federation of Miners had to suffer the toughest attack on its existence it had ever received. And all the normal means of resistance of a union – strike funds, union shops, etc. – had not served much purpose in the face of the violence used by the mines’ managers with the help of the State political authorities.
The repression had been enormous. Several areas of Colorado, in particular Cripple Creek, had been placed under the military control of the «State militia directly in the pay of the corporations…freedom of speech was strangled, the press gagged and the right to habeas corpus suspended by military imperialism». Haywood describes these events as follows; a total of 42 miners were killed, 112 injured and many illegally arrested and deported to other States under threat of death if they returned.
But in the face of this military attack against the class, the AFL, after having maintained a real conspiracy of silence about what was happening, did nothing other than to call for a fundraising by rejecting any more incisive forms of solidarity. By now it was clear that the closed form of trade union was no longer suitable to defend the working class from the attack of the employers; on the contrary, it had favoured the establishment of class collaboration between working class aristocracies and employers. The AFL had even officially reconfirmed, in 1903, the old organizational scheme, forcing important organizations to move away from it. The reactionary role now played by the AFL was crowned by the abandonment of the anti‑imperialist attitude held years ago: in 1904 the Cigar Makers Union (Gompers’ union) – affiliated with the AFL – refused to organize Filipino workers for fear that this would help the independence movement in the Philippines.
Also on this level the prestige of the AFL suffered a serious blow. And by now even Debs was convinced that «only when the moon had turned into green cheese would the Socialists be able to change the AFL, full to the brim of capitalist influences, into a revolutionary workers’ organization». By now it was clear to everyone that a workers’ trade union organization with some chance of success had to make a qualitative leap in two main directions, one of an organizational type – large industrial unions, open to all workers without any distinction and united in a large federation – and one of a political type – the rejection of any theorization of common interests between the exploited class and the exploiter class.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the appeal launched in November 1904 by a group of six supporters of industrial trade unionism for a meeting to be held in January 1905 to «discuss ways and means to unite the working people of America on correct revolutionary principles, regardless of any general labour organization, past or present, and only restricted by such basic principles as will ensure its integrity as a real protector of the interests of the workers» was accepted.
The appeal was extremely innovative, since it was not limited to the hope for an organizational renewal of the workers’ movement, it placed for the first time on the level of class struggle claims that did not consider the existing social and political conditions as a limit. In fact, it expressed the conviction that «division by professions and political ignorance were condemned to a rapid end» and that the working class was able «if properly organized, both in the industrial and political fields, to take possession and run the country’s industries for its own interests».
The Convention of January 2, 1905 was attended by 23 people, representatives of eight organizations: American Labour Union (ALU), Western Federation of Miners (WFM), United Brotherhood of Railway Employees (UBRE), Brewery Workers Union (BWU), Switchmen’s Union, United Metal Workers (UMW), Bakers’ Union, Switchmen’s Union and American Federation of Musicians (AFM), plus a few individuals. Two leaders of the Socialist Party did not show up, accusing the initiative of creating a rift in the class, and of making it more difficult to bring the AFL to the correct class positions, expelling its most conservative leaders. Of course, that this was impossible was now so obvious that no one was so worried about absences.
The conference elected William D. Haywood as permanent president, and over the next three days discussed and deliberated on how to build a new organization based on industrial unionism, class unity, class struggle; as a result, there was the adoption of a document called the Industrial Union Manifesto.
The Manifesto reviewed all the crucial points of the workers’ condition in the capitalist society of the time, in the light of the experiences arising from the struggles of the last three decades.
First of all, it was highlighted the effect of the increased mechanization and the concentration of ownership of the means of production both on the relations between workers and their organizations, and within the bourgeois class itself. Many trades disappear, the operations that workers have to perform are more and more simple, the worker is less and less differentiated and is increasingly treated as an amorphous material to be inserted in the production process until it becomes unusable; in this case it is thrown away as obsolete or unusable machinery. The mass worker is thus at the mercy of the master, who moves and uses it as he sees fit, without finding any resistance because workers’ organizations are unable to determine any. Where resistance manifests itself, the capitalists, increasingly united in employers’ organizations, with the complicity of collaborationist unions, use all the repressive equipment that the society they dominate can offer in a scientific way.
It is obvious that in this situation there is no prospect for the working class, if not of hopeless slavery. Craft unions are no longer suitable to defend working class conditions, on the contrary they have been used by the capitalists in their internal struggles and against the combative workers, to the point of making them organize the strikebreakers to break up the most determined struggles. «Universal economic evils affecting the working class can be eradicated only by a universal working class movement». on the basis of this statement it is necessary for the class to unite in a single industrial union that unites all sectors, based on the class struggle, without any affiliation to political parties, an organization that functions in a new and militant way.
The Manifesto concludes with the invitation, to those who recognize themselves in the principles we have briefly outlined, to participate in an assembly that would meet in Chicago on June 27, 1905, with the aim of founding the class economic organization capable of embodying the principles expressed in the Manifesto.
The document was printed to be disseminated among workers, and an addendum made further statements about the aims of the organization: to «combine the wage workers in such a way that it can most successfully fight the battles and protect the interests of the working people of to‑day in their struggle» and to «offer a final solution of the labour problem – an emancipation from strikes, injunctions and bull‑pens» (bull‑pens were hovels in which workers on strike were locked up and kept in inhumane conditions, even though they hadn’t broken any laws).
The document continues: «…this organization will build within itself…a Workers’ Co‑Operative Republic – which must finally have to destroy the shell of the capitalist government, and be the agency by which the working people will manage the industries, and appropriate the products to themselves».
A very combative document, which invited the class to find a guide that would defend their interests to the most extreme consequences, in the belief that the trade union struggle could not be considered a definitive solution to the social question. Similar statements can also be found in the statutes of the European trade union confederations of the time, and in fact the main members of the promoting committee acknowledged that they were inspired by the European example. But in Europe the big trade unions were closely connected to the socialist parties, and they proceeded in parallel on the trade union and political level, while within the working class the distinction between the political level and the labour claims level was very clear; the Manifesto instead excluded links with political parties, and also any involvement in the electoral struggle, which in Europe was considered central to political tactics. These points were clarified a few days later by Trautmann, one of the main promoters, who did not hesitate to define the desired organization as one of “revolutionary trade unionism”. We are not going to make here a critique of revolutionary syndicalism, which spread in Europe as a reaction to the grip that reformism was having on socialist parties, and was an ideology of direct anarchist derivation and which can also be labelled as anarcho-syndicalism; these are positions outside Marxism, even if they take their starting point from it and accept some postulates. We will go deeper into the political aspects of the American movement in the parallel party work dedicated to them. However, these were positions that had already seen the light of day in the country many years before, along with the defence of industrial unionism, as we have documented previously. What revisionism had been able to cause in Europe, to push proletarian strata towards anarchism, already beaten in theory and practice in previous years, was instead determined in the USA in the first instance by the brazenly collaborative politics of the AFL Faced with the extreme weakness of the workers’ parties, the mirage of a new socialist society, generated by one big shoulder of the class gathered in the “One Big Union”, did not take long to fascinate large layers of proletarians: a great general strike, and then a country governed by the organization of trade unions alone.
The Industrial Union Manifesto was widely disseminated in trade union circles in the United States, and also in Europe, to the great annoyance of Gompers, who never stopped attacking the promoters accusing them of only wanting to destroy the union. One of the signatories, Moyer, did not defend himself against the accusation, but stated that nothing could have damaged the union movement more than the AFL In fact, in the hope of many of the promoters was the possibility of a painless passage of sections and entire unions into the IWW Undoubtedly, the immense power of the Federation, through its press organs and its capacity for blackmail, certainly held back many trade unions from joining the IWW, even if it is not possible to estimate the number.
On June 5, 1905 the Convention that Haywood will call the “First Continental Congress of World Workers” opened in Chicago. Haywood himself gives the inaugural speech:
«In calling this convention to order I do so with a sense of the responsibility that rests upon me and rests upon every delegate that is here assembled. This is the Continental Congress of the working class. We are here to confederate the workers of this country into a working class movement that shall have for its purpose the emancipation of the working class from the slave bondage of capitalism. There is no organization, or there seems to be no labour organization, that has for its purpose the same object as that for which you are called together to‑day. The aims and objects of this organization should be to put the working class in possession of the economic power, the means for life, in control of the machinery of production and distribution, without regard to capitalist masters.
«The American Federation of Labour, which presumes to be the labour movement of this country, is not a working class movement. It does not represent the working class. There are organizations that are affiliated, but loosely affiliated with the A. F. of L., which in their constitution and by‑laws prohibit the initiation of or conferring the obligation on a coloured man; that prohibit the conferring of the obligation on foreigners. What we want to establish at this time is a labour organization that will open wide its doors to every man that earns his livelihood either by his brain or his muscle. There is a great work to be accomplished at this convention, and every one of you must recognize the responsibility that rests upon you...
«There is no man who has an ounce of honesty in his make‑up but recognizes the fact that there is a continuous struggle between the two classes, and this organization will be formed, based and founded on the class struggle (applause), having in view no compromise and no surrender, and but one object and one purpose and that is to bring the workers of this country into the possession of the full value of the product of their toil».
Forty-three workers’ organizations participate in the Convention, but only half of them instructed their delegates to join without fail. The others wanted to know more, or are hesitating in the face of threats from the AFL, or had not yet decided internally. So a good number of participants voted only in their personal capacity. Total representation is around 50‑60,000 workers. The participants, while combative, represented a fairly diverse range of opinions and positions. There were the parliamentary socialists, especially those of the Socialist Labour Party, the organization headed by De Leon, who put the parliamentary political struggle first, and according to them the economic organizations must bow to it. There are the “labour” socialists of the Socialist Party of Eugene Debs, who instead see the political struggle subordinate to the economic one, and therefore the party as a political representation of the unions. Finally, there are various shades of anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism, all fiercely opposed to any form of political organization, according to the best anarchist traditions. We will not elaborate on these aspects, which will be dealt with in the parallel party work.
Debs’ speech tries to define the new organism as something completely different from the AFL: «In taking a survey of the industrial field of to‑day, we are at once impressed with the total inadequacy of working class organization, with the lack of solidarity, with the widespread demoralization we see, and we are bound to conclude that the old form of pure and simple unionism has long since outgrown its usefulness; that it is now not only in the way of progress, but that it has become positively reactionary, a thing that is but an auxiliary of the capitalist class.
«They charge us with being assembled here for the purpose of disrupting the union movement. It is already disrupted…. The trades union movement is to‑day under the control of the capitalist class. It is preaching capitalist economics. It is serving capitalist purposes…. There is certainly something wrong with that form of unionism which has its chief support in the press that represents capitalism; something wrong in that form of unionism whose leaders are the lieutenants of capitalism; something wrong with that form of unionism that forms an alliance with such a capitalist combination as the Civic Federation, whose sole purpose it is to chloroform the working class while the capitalist class go through their pockets. There are those who believe that this form of unionism can be changed from within. They are very greatly mistaken…. I am satisfied that the great body of the working class in this country are prepared for just such an organization. I know, their leaders know, that if this convention is successful their doom is sealed…. [T]o accomplish its purpose this organization must not only be based upon the class struggle, but must express the economic condition of this time. We must have one organization that embraces the workers in every department of industrial activity. It must express the class struggle. It must recognize the class lines. It must of course be class-conscious. It must be totally uncompromising. It must be an organization of the rank and file. It must be so organized and so guided as to appeal to the intelligence of the workers of the country everywhere».
On the sixth day of the Convention starts the discussion on the preamble, which is written by the secretary, rev Thomas Hagerty, who is credited to have said: «The vote is simply a concession of capitalists. Dropping pieces of paper into a hole in a box never did achieve emancipation for the working class, and in my opinion it never will».
Thus begins the Preamble:
«The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.
«Between these two classes a struggle must go on until all the toilers come together on the political, as well as on the industrial field, and take and hold that which they produce by their labour through an economic organization of the working class, without affiliation with any political party.
«The second paragraph represents a compromise between different positions: that of syndicalists like Hagerty and Haywood, who saw the conquest of power as the work of economic organizations; that of the socialists of De Leon, who defended the dominant role of the party in the conquest of power; and that of the pure anarchists, so to speak.
«Joseph Gilbert asked to eliminate any reference to political action, in this supported by a large number of delegates, who saw the new organization as simply “an economic organization based on class conflict”. All “the electoral campaign like, confused language on political action”. had to be eliminated, and replaced by “a clear affirmation of the tasks of the working class in the economic field”».
An attempt to affirm a traditional but independent political action, on the type of the British Labour Party, was rejected: according to the Constitution Committee, led by Hagerty, the members of the new organization could have political activity, but outside the political parties; in this they were supported by the anarchists.
It was De Leon, up to that moment a strong supporter of the pre‑eminent role of the party, to push through the compromise formula, which would condemn the IWW to an indefiniteness in theory and action that would undermine its whole existence. He argued, contrary to what was claimed until a short time before, that the process of taking possession of industry must be accomplished «through an economic organization of the working class… [because] it is out of the question to imagine that a political party can ‘take and hold».
So the position, which was then a real radical change, almost a turnaround, of this socialist leader (who unfortunately showed wide gaps and misunderstandings of the Marxist doctrine, of which he claimed to be a defender) had the choice oriented in the sense set out in the preamble, which continues as follows:
«We find that the centring of the management of industries into fewer and fewer hands makes the trades unions unable to cope with the ever‑growing power of the employing class. The trades unions foster a state of affairs which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping defeat one another in wage wars. Moreover, the trades unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers.
«These conditions can be changed and the interest of the working class upheld only by an organization formed in such a way that all its members in any one industry, or in all industries if necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any department thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to all.
«Therefore we, the working class, join in the following constitution».
The Constitution Committee proposed the name of Industrial Workers of the World, so that Canadians would not feel excluded. Thus, with the motto «an injury to one is an injury to all», the new organization was born. Only wage workers were able participate, without any distinction of nationality, faith, colour, sex; the dues were kept low so as to not represent an impediment to participation.
The activities were divided into thirteen departments subdivisions (then reduced to six): mining, transportation, metal and machinery, glass and pottery, alcoholic beverages, farming, construction, textile, leather, wood working, public service, and miscellaneous. In these there were the local industrial unions; at the base there is the workshop or mine or factory, as the basic unit. All professions of the basic unit belong to the same union local. Of course, in many places where there were few members, the locals included all trades (mixed locals); moreover. in the West. many workers were migrants, and changed jobs several times a year (the famous “hobos”).
Thus began the adventure of an organization that would lead hard battles against the capital and its lackeys, the trade unionists of the AFL, even with all the limits that the Wobblies have carried with them since birth.
From the beginning, the problems were not lacking, starting from the leaders, who used the very few funds in an irresponsible way, and who were accused of wanting to oppose the revolutionary soul of the organization, to the extent of trying to make it a copy of the hated AFL. In 1906, Sherman was removed, although it had painful legal consequences. Unfortunately, the worst consequence was that of triggering a process that within a couple of years would also definitively cause the departure of the Western Federation of Miners, which was the strongest and most combative component of the organization.
The group that had expelled Sherman was not homogeneous, composed as it was by the faction that was headed by Trautmann and St. John, who aimed at the only union activity in view of the assault on power, and by that of De Leon, who instead did not want to give up the political option, in the sense of participation in elections. The organization avoided a further split, at least until 1908, at the price of compromises and endless discussions between socialists and anarcho-syndicalists, which had a negative effect on its operations.
In those years, however, the Wobblies had considerable success, both in the struggles that they directed, and in the membership of workers in the lower ranks, especially immigrants. In these activities the main opponent, alongside the organized forces of the bourgeoisie, was the American Federation of Labour, which saw in the IWW the main enemy. An opposition that manifested itself in propaganda and collaboration with the bosses to crush strikes by refusing to let their adherents strike and even providing the necessary strikebreaking support.
In the meantime, the crisis of 1907‑1908 hit the working class hard, and the IWW was nearly wiped out, due to their extreme organizational weakness, and the fact that their members were the hardest hit.
The exit of the WFM from the organization led to a trickle of abandonments by the socialists who were part of it, thus strengthening the anarchist component, in a vicious circle that soon led to the purge of De Leon himself. We cannot go into detail here, but the discussion developed both on the political and on the craft union levels, and both sides exposed in equal measure right and wrong concepts, each taking to the extreme limit the positions they defended. When in the end it came to the confrontation between proponents of direct action (anarcho-syndicalists) and proponents of political action (De Leon) the latter found themselves in the minority. The exit of the socialists further shifted the balance towards the anarchists, who obtained the inclusion in the Preamble of two additional paragraphs:
«Instead of the conservative motto “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work”, we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, “Abolition of the wage system“.
«It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not only for the everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old».
Naturally, the AFL piecards rejoiced to see how these internal travails agitated the Wobblies, predicting their imminent demise. Instead, the next few years saw them very active in a large number of labour struggles, often involving both militant IWW and AFL members.
After the fourth convention, that of 1908, which saw the exit of De Leon and his followers, it was possible to resume seriously the organizational work. But this does not mean that within the organization, although more homogeneous after the exit of the socialists, the theoretical debate was over; on the contrary, the debate continued about the role of the IWW: should it be an efficient union, which combines the struggle for higher wages and better working conditions with a program of revolutionary socialism, or a revolutionary structure focused exclusively on the task of leading the working class to seize power? The national leadership was for the former hypothesis, while many of the membership, anarchists, were for the latter, arguing that there was a contradiction between revolutionary aims and trade unionism, and that focusing on the latter would divert the workers from the ultimate goal. Therefore, according to them, any pretence of union activity should have been abandoned, and all forces should have been devoted to propaganda and agitation alone.
Despite this situation, in 1909 there was enough homogeneity to launch the activities of the organization, so much so that that year is considered the year of the real take‑off of the IWW
Being part of the organization was easy and cost little. All you had to do was agree to the bylaws, and pay a small amount, too small for many critics. The monthly fee was no more than 50 cents, and often much lower; although this was a problem, it served to organize those migrant workers from the West whose income was very uncertain, and always scarce. The epic of the hobos has been recounted by many writers, singers, poets, film directors, and spans America, especially the West, from the beginning of the century until after World War II, although it has never fully ended.
The only doctrinal rule of which acceptance by the membership was required was that all workers should be considered equal, and united in a common cause. To be accepted there was only one condition: «Are you a wage labourer., exploited by a capitalist master? In that case you are welcome, whatever your colour, creed, nationality, sex or political opinion». In contrast to almost all labour organizations up to that time, the IWW actively sought to organize Chinese, Japanese, and Mexicans.
From a doctrinal point of view, the IWW accepted the Marxian critique of capitalist society, and the theoretical foundations of class struggle, while the «tactics and methods of struggle were generated from the everyday experiences of the exploites». They were fiercely anti‑clerical and unpatriotic.
The primary method of struggle was for them “direct action”, even if the meaning of this expression was not the same for everyone. In the end, however, a definition was given in the press of the movement: «“Direct action” is any effort made directly for the purpose of getting more of the goods from the boss…. “Direct action” means dealing directly with the boss, through your labour union. The strike, in its various forms, is the best example of “direct action”».
And indeed, the strike was always considered the best tool for the workers, although boycotts were also occasionally used. The tactics used for strikes by the IWW is difficult to describe because they had a talent for improvising new tactics in the course of strikes, a talent that made them famous. They did not like strikes to become “passive sieges”, in which workers stayed home or loitered on street corners until, after weeks or months, the strike was proclaimed won or lost. They then spread the habit of organizing mass picketing, marches or demonstrations. The idea was that, if the striker was not given something to do, he would be demoralized. Through collective activity, on the other hand, «strikers draw courage from one another, feel their common interest, and realize the necessity of solidarity... The Industrial Workers of the World always has one fundamental aim in view when going on strike. Other aims and purposes may be at times – in fact generally are – the most widely advertised and better known. Decent camp conditions, shorter work days, larger wages, the release of class‑war prisoners and other things may be put to the front as the main cause of the strike. But back of them all and vastly overshadowing them all in importance is the fundamental thing for which we strike: raising the standard of consciousness and aggressiveness of the working class».
There was no truly losing strike. “Strike when you like and wherever you like!” was a central slogan of the IWW; but not for as long as you want. Even though the strike was considered the main tool, it was clear to all that the concentrated power in the hands of the capitalist class made strikes of long duration impractical. Little confidence was placed in the accumulated reserves, which they called “war chests”; in 1912 they wrote: «Being a fighting organization we place but little faith in well‑filled treasuries. They invariably lead the workers to rely upon the money rather than their own efforts, and demoralization results. The most conservative unions are always those with the largest treasuries». Thus, there was no custom of making contributions for strikes, unemployment, sickness or death, a practice called “coffin unions”. Only locally and temporarily were fundraisers organized for strikers. This was also why protracted struggles were discouraged: «We want no long, drawn‑out starvation strike…If we should fail to win our demands in a few days, let us go back to the job and get wages while we strike on the job».
The “strike on the job” was nothing more than the work-to-rule, which of course often resulted in layoffs. In that case the wobbly would find a new job, and start over. Although it was considered a brilliant tactic, while on the one hand it was permitted by a situation of full employment, on the other hand it tended to become an individual attitude, with the opposite consequences to those that the IWWs were aiming for.
Once it was recognized that there was no commonality of interest between masters and workers, the IWW was for a continuous struggle against the former: «When you join the IWW, you are enlisting for a war. A bitter war». A war which for the IWW could result in neither victory nor defeat until the final victory of the workers had occurred; nor could there be any real agreement. If the demands of the struggling proletarians were accepted, work resumed, but this was neither a triumph nor a lasting agreement. It was merely the conclusion of another phase of the class struggle. The members of the IWW did not consider themselves committed to the agreement to which the master had adhered; new demands were usually prepared even before the end of the strike. At that time, one of the main objectives of the unions was recognition by the company, as it was believed that, without official recognition the workers would not be sufficiently protected, because the bosses would easily renege on any concession not backed by a written agreement. The IWW, on the other hand, rejected out-of-hand any concession to agreements between masters and workers. «No contracts, no agreements, no compacts», Haywood stated in 1910, «These are unholy alliances, and must be damned as treason». The position of St. John in 1912 was similar: «All peace so long as the wage system lasts is but an armed truce. At any favourable opportunity the struggle for more control of industry is renewed». Needless to say, equally inexorable was the condemnation of the proxy system.
«A labour organization, to correctly represent the workers – declared the IWW pamphlet One Big Union of All the Workers: the Greatest Thing on Earth – must have two things in view». First, it must organize them «in such a way that it can most successfully fight the battles and protect the interests of the workers of today in their struggle for fewer hours of toil, more wages and better condition». Secondarily, it must propose «a final solution of the labour problem – an emancipation from strikes, injunctions, bullpens, and scabbing against one another». Such an organization, it was clearly stated, was the IWW.
In refuting members of more anarchist tendencies, Karl Marx was quoted as saying that the struggle for immediate demands is a necessary step in the direction of the new society. Every strike for wages and hours trains the workers for the class struggle, and prepares them for the final abolition of the wage system. Those members who invoked arguments already beaten by history and theory were opposed to Marx’s pamphlet Value, Price and Profit. To those who complained of the futility of struggles for higher wages it was replied, «… if the wage increase is, as you say, irrelevant to the workers and the bosses, how is it that the bosses are so reluctant to grant it?».
The organization of the Industrial Workers of the World, although in principle structurally better suited to involve the workers and to lead their struggles, never managed to grow sufficiently to the point of gathering large masses of proletarians, as had been its vocation from the beginning. The causes of this failure are numerous, both related to the objective situation and, as we have seen, follow from defects visible from the beginning.
Objective difficulties lay in the characteristics of the proletarians to whom the Wobblies were directed: immigrants, unskilled, various minorities, who changed jobs and residences frequently, leading to an excessive fluidity of militancy. But other difficulties stemmed from serious errors of approach:
- propaganda often imbued with political messages that could exclude some of the potential adherents, such as rejection of patriotism, religion, etc.;
- too many enemies: the bosses and the State, which shifted on them the repression they often contained against the Trade Unions; the AFL, which rightly saw in the IWW a deadly enemy; from a certain moment on the socialists themselves, often considered as accomplices of the bosses;
- an organization that was not very solid and centralized, which raised little money and often allowed access to unreliable characters, thus making itself unreliable in the eyes of the proletariat;
- waiver of strike funds and for assistance to the unemployed, etc.
- giving up operating within the unions affiliated with the AFL, which although aristocratic were nevertheless penetrable, especially at certain times, both to help them be more combative and to empty them of members;
- even the renunciation of signing contracts, although appreciable in theory, was difficult to understand for the working masses, and deprived the grassroots unionists of an instrument of agitation against the employers; who found a way to use this attitude to their advantage.
But at the base of everything was a poorly defined fluctuation between the political vocation and the union: the rejection of the party form and of a State power after the conquest of power, worthy of the most classic, and by now dying in Europe, anarchist tradition, took away any revolutionary value from the otherwise determined formation born in opposition to collaborationist syndicalism; while the pollution with vague political perspectives of an organization that had to remain exclusively trade union to be able to extend to the majority of the class, severely reduced the potential for struggle and enfranchisement of the North American proletarian mass in the following decades, which will see the proletariat of the country under a tremendous attack of the bourgeoisie, an attack that will result in an overseas war and a very serious economic crisis.
The IWW represented a remarkable leap forward in theory and in combativeness for the North American proletariat, many of their insights surpassed the sleepy and little evolved socialists, not to mention the unions; but their theoretical flaws, due to an excessive detachment from the experiences of the European proletariat and which had immediate consequences on daily tactics, made them a blunt instrument, even if moved by the most sincere revolutionary passion. Even if the Wobblies continued to operate among the working class, paying high tributes of suffering and blood to their determined militancy, it was a lost opportunity, a high price paid to a tradition of virtual absence of the party, of collaborationist syndicalism, and other unfavourable characteristics innate to the American working-class movement, which have accompanied it throughout its course and history.
(continued in next issue)
(back to table of contents)
We have seen the party gathered for its periodic general working meeting during the last Friday, Saturday and Sunday of September. As agreed, in the close correspondence that binds all our groups, the centre’s convocation was answered by most of the comrades residing in Italy, the United States, Venezuela, Germany, France, Britain, the Balkans as well as many Asian countries.
To allow simultaneous participation in the sessions, we moved their time from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Italian time. Each speaker spoke in the language in which he thought he was most understandable, but the fellows were provided with written translations of the reports in Italian, English and Spanish as well by scrolling through them, to help themselves in listening. While during the organizational sessions we gave immediate translations of what the fellows were saying.
Our assembled Genoa section connected directly from the local party headquarters, having set up the necessary equipment.
Despite this new intangible technique of seeing and speaking to each other, and despite the language barrier, the work was carried out in the best possible way, fully complying with the full‑bodied pre‑established plan, without unforeseen contingencies and in the utmost, natural and spontaneous discipline. As it must be for a party that has so much to study, work, propagandize, etc., and so little to “decide”.
To refresh the tension and the challenging understanding and assimilation of the many topics, we interrupted each session for two short breaks.Order of business
|Friday:||Report of the work of the groups and sections, coordination, planning and organization of initiatives for the coming months.|
|Saturday:||The Concept and Practice of Dictatorship: The Single Front|
|History of Afghanistan Until the Expulsion of the British-Pakistan:|
|Relations with the Taliban|
|The Workers’ Condition|
|Course of the World Economic Crisis|
|Revolution in Hungary: Return of Bourgeois Terror|
|The Civil War in Italy 1919‑22: The Battle of Novara|
|The Military Question: The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk|
|The Effects of the Pandemic on the Working Class in the U.S.A.|
|Sunday:||Origins of the Communist Party of China|
|Intervention in the Trade Unions|
|Party Trade Union Activity|
|Red Armies in the Revolution in Germany: The Soviet republic of Bavaria|
|The Rearmament of States: The trade in weapon systems|
|Homosexual Movement and Communism|
|Brief Chronological Notes|
|Summary of Work Commitments and Conclusions of the Center|
Conscious of the necessity of a commitment to lay the foundations of a world communist party and in our certainty that we are already moving correctly in that direction, we seek to maintain a rhythm of frequent meetings of our entire membership for the transmission of the sound method of work and to keep well woven the unfolding of all the tasks that competes the revolutionary militia, above the succession of generations and the geographical distance of sections and individuals.
At present, the work of our small party has spontaneously and naturally taken on the appearance of a succession of meetings divided by language region, fortnightly or even less, of meetings of the specific working groups, and of international meetings, one every two months, six a year, of which, alternately, one for organizational purposes only lasting one day, and one general, three‑day one, of which the first is for preparation of the meeting itself and the next two for exposition of the reports of the study and activity groups.
In the general meetings we immediately provide translation of every companion speech and all reports into Italian, English and Spanish. This form of exposition is helped by providing all bystanders with the printed text, previously translated into the three languages.
We observe with satisfaction that this complex, and indeed very hard and not easy work, involving a growing number of comrades, some of them very young militia, is working with results in the judgment of all more than satisfactory. Indeed, it responds as fully to the ancient propositions of left communism as it does to the fundamental, primitive, instinctive and voluntary need and demand for discipline and centralism, so strongly felt and practices in our ranks that no one need even be reminded of them.
Obviously we have abandoned the now useless relic of the majority-minority game and voting, much more effectively replaced by ever tighter and impersonal communist work, in the party drawing on its unchanging doctrine and the lessons of its history, and alongside the working class and its daily struggles.
As usual here we anticipate a brief summary of the exhibits.
This was the order of business, which was attended by comrades residing in 14 countries:
|Friday:||Well‑developed reports of the activity of each section and working group.|
|Saturday:||On the party’s use of the symbols of communism|
|The military question: After the peace of Brest Litovsk|
|The Marxist theory of crises: Theories of surplus value, The Physiocrats|
|The revolution in Germany: The action of March 1921|
|Origin and history of the Profintern|
|Report of the Venezuelan comrades|
|The Kurdish question, part one|
|The Hungarian revolution.|
|Sunday:||Motions of sedition in Belucistan|
|The trade union activity of the party in Italy|
|The relations between the CPofI and the Communist International|
|The course of the crisis of world capital|
|The revolt in Kazakhstan|
|Origins of the Communist Party of China|
|Last agreements and conclusions of the centre.|
|Marxist Crisis Theory Theories on Surplus Value – The Physiocrats|
|Concept and Practice of Dictatorship The United Front|
|The Relations Between the Communist Party of Italy and the International - Towards The War|
|The Civil War in Italy 1919‑22 – The Battle of Novara|
|The Military Question|
|The Hungarian Revolution|
|Red Armies in the Revolution in Germany|
|Origins of the Communist Party of China|
|On The History of Afghanistan|
|History of Kazakhstan|
|The Profintern Between the First and Second Congress|
|The Kurdish Question|
|History of Balochistan|
|Homosexuality-transgenderism and communism: Brief historical notes|
|Course of the economic crisis|
|The Afghan policy of the Pakistani State|
|The Trade in Weapon Systems in the Escalating Inter-imperialist Confrontation|
|The Crisis in Venezuela|
|The Pandemic on the Working Class in the USA|
|D:||Activity of the Party|
|Hammer and Sickle: Notes on the question of party “log”|
|The Union Activity of the Party in Italy|
The series of reports that bring the party’s attention to Marx’s Manuscripts named Theories of Surplus Value begins with a study of the physiocratic school.
The speaker first summarized the historical framework of the period while he omitted for matters of time – but that part will go in the extended account – the brief biography of the main authors. He quickly recalled how, according to this doctrine, the social structure is divided into three classes: the productive class consisting of entrepreneurs and agricultural workers; the idle class of all those who live off land incomes; and the barren class into which workers engaged in non‑agricultural activities fall. From this subdivision, the importance of agriculture follows logically, which is historically justified due to the fact that the main exponents of physiocracy lived in France, a country of not yet mature industrialism.
For the physiocrats, the origin of value is to be found in production, thus overcoming the mercantilists’ assumption that it is exchange that increases wealth. At this point the question arose as to which among human activities was most likely to create this surplus. To answer this, the physiocrats proposed the distinction between productive and unproductive labour, the former of which provides a product that exceeds costs. However, the absence of a general theory of value would lead them to identify land as the only factor capable of creating surplus value.
The physiocrats did not ignore the circumstance of the increasing accumulation of capital in industry, and came to the conclusion that if there is transfer of an income to individuals, their contribution to the national product is still zero.
Quesnay will only note the increasing returns in that agricultural activity in which abundant capital is invested, and if he does not come to affirm the productivity of the capital factor, he will admit that agriculture itself would be doomed to dry up without those investments.
For Marx, the attempt made by the Tableau économique to represent the entire production of capital as a process of reproduction, circulation simply as the form of this process, and the circulation of money only as a moment in the circulation of capital, was the most brilliant idea in political economy.
Physiocratic doctrine is the first system to analyse capitalist production as a whole, representing the conditions within which capital is produced and reproduces.
On the other hand, it still looks like a bourgeois reproduction of the feudal system. The industrial spheres in which the development of capital occurs earlier than elsewhere appear “unproductive” appendages of agriculture. The landowner therefore appears as the real capitalist, the one who appropriates the surplus labour. Feudalism is thus reproduced and explained within bourgeois production, while agriculture is represented as the productive branch in which exclusively capitalist production, that is, the production of surplus value, is manifested. Feudalism is gentrified, bourgeois society takes on a feudal appearance.
Bourgeois forms appear in the forms of natural production. The merit of the physiocrats is to have conceived of these forms as physiological of society, springing from the natural necessity of production, independent of will, politics, etc. By contrast, the error of the physiocrats is to have extended the material law of a particular historical stage to all subsequent social forms.
This system first explains surplus value by the appropriation of others’ labour, and explains this appropriation on the basis of commodity exchange, but it does not conceive of value in general as social labour, and surplus value as surplus labour. It defines value as simple use value, and surplus value as a simple surplus-product, a gift of nature, which returns to labour, for a given amount of organic matter a greater amount.
Apart from the theoretical errors of the various exponents of the physiocratic school, this contradiction stems from capitalist production itself, which is still paving its own way to extricate itself from feudal society. It merely interprets feudal society in a bourgeois way. But it has not yet found its specific form.
Therefore, even in the consequences drawn by the physiocrats, the apparent glorification of land ownership is reversed into its economic negation and affirmation of capitalist production.
From the “Revolutionary Democratic Dictatorship of the Workers and Peasants” characteristic of a stage of double revolution, we then moved on to single political fronts, committing, at first in unquestionable good faith, the mistake of setting, on the Russian model, the action of communist parties operating in countries of mature capitalism. This error then came to lose the end for its opposite, finally resulting in open betrayal.
Capitalism has its own laws, common to all latitudes. Just as the laws of revolution are the same. They change as situations change, to the different degrees of historical development, but the party knows in advance how to move in the different scenarios that arise, and which are already foreseen.
The Italian Communist Left has always accepted the watchword of the trade union united front, never that of the political united front, and this since even before that watchword was launched. If we were, and are, opposed to practices of entryism and merger with parties considered “kindred” and of alliance with so‑called “worker” parties, it is not out of a mania for purity, but because we thought (and unfortunately the facts proved us right) that such practices would cause serious damage and disbandment, at a time when it was essential to separate from reformists and centrists in the clearest way. Advocating the need for such separation and then encouraging conflicting behaviour could only lead to disorientation in the proletariat and the party.
At that time one could hardly speak of traitors: such a term would later be legitimate for the various Stalin, Togliatti, etc. At a time when the prospect of revolution seemed real and imminent we understand, but do not agree with, that several comrades wanted to enlarge the various communist parties at all costs, with a view to the decisive clash, even with very questionable systems. Lenin first knew that in the ascendant phase of the revolution mistakes would be corrected by events – a kind of disproportion inherent in all growth.
It is, conversely, in the downward phase that every mistake magnifies and becomes irremediable. The bourgeoisie was too strong and we were not strong enough: these are the causes of the counter-revolution. If our strict adherence to the historical communist program was the best course to follow in the ascending moment of the revolution, in the retreat and descent the theory of communism alone imposed itself in order to avoid lurching and to keep the rudder straight in the storm, avoiding shipwreck, even if the landing place turned out to be unreachable and defeat inevitable.
The shipwreck has indeed occurred. At the Third Congress of the Communist International, in the summer of 1921, the watchword of conquering the masses was launched. The theses on the “Proletarian Single Front” of December, starting with an analysis that seems to collide perfectly with the action carried out by the CPofI, then go on to propose a whole set of initiatives, from the famous “open letter” to support for social democratic governments defined as “workers”.
It is reiterated, it is true, that the absolute independence of communist parties is maintained, but independence, rightly claimed, is not a metaphysical entity, acquired once and for all, and in the absence of consistent behaviour it may slowly fade away until it remains an empty shell.
The ends do not justify the means, and not because of a moral issue, but because the achievement of the end is conditioned by the means employed. Our response was: comrades, we disagree. These methods inevitably remind us of the collaborationist methods of the Second International, which even then they claimed to justify on the basis of a Marxist interpretation.
The Fourth Congress of the International, in November 1922, reconfirmed the tactics of the single front and revived the watchword of “workers’ government” which was joined by “workers’ and peasants’ government” The Fifth Congress, in July 1924, reaffirmed the watchwords of the single front and “workers’ and peasants’ government”.
A new study began at this meeting to illustrate, first, the convergence between the positions of the left wing of the SP in Italy with those of the Marxist left in the Second International, which persisted until the theses of the latter’s second congress in 1920, and then gradually diverged on matters both of tactical direction and finally of principle. It began by addressing attitudes toward imperialist warfare.
Anti‑militarist propaganda within the Italian Socialist Party had already begun in the early 1900s: the “intransigents” of the time gave voice to the hatred of the proletarian masses against the royal army, but contradictory arguments were still woven into their propaganda.
It is the Youth Federation that begins, however, to wage a more centred anti‑militarist battle with propaganda through its organ L’Avanguardia and with various attempts at agitation.
At the first two congresses of the Youth Federation, respectively in Bologna, September 1907, and Reggio Emilia, August 1908, the theme of anti‑militarism was given great prominence. It stood in total adherence to the deliberations of the Stuttgart International Congress of 1907, which called the proletariat to the struggle against war by tying it inextricably to the overthrow of capitalist power.
In 1910, in Florence, the Young Socialists reiterated and strengthened their anti‑militarist positions. At the Bologna congress in September 1912 the youth sided with the revolutionary tendency that had emerged victorious at the “adult” party congress in Reggio Emilia. At this the expulsion of Bonomi, Bissolati, Cabrini and Podrecca had sanctioned the triumph of the extreme leftist current, which was later strengthened at the 1914 congress in Ancona.
On that occasion the young revolutionary Benito Mussolini had gained a considerable following in the PSI, so much so that he joined the national leadership and shortly thereafter took over as editor of the Avanti!. The event that polarized forces within the PSI and galvanized the anti‑militarist and unpatriotic struggle was the Libyan War of 1911‑12.
Although the “adult” Party had a maximalist leadership, no help came from it to the young Socialists, staunch defenders of the right anti‑war stance: the PSI could not fight against the Libyan war as this would have meant breaking all understanding with the radical-bourgeois parties.
The Italo-Turkish war was part of that development of world capitalism which, within a few years, would result in the first interim-imperialist war. The 1914 deadline would be a tough test for the PSI: urged on by the youth, at its best it would not arrive unprepared. The young socialists, with newspaper articles, conferences and rallies kept high and vigorous the feeling of war aversion, mobilization and agitation for the withdrawal of soldiers from Africa.
Lenin, too, wrote about the war in Libya on Sept. 28, 1912, and published in Pravda an article entitled “The End of Italy’s War with Turkey” where he admirably outlines how the characteristics of this war were entirely comparable to those waged by all the national bourgeoisies: «What caused the war? The greed of the Italian financial tycoons and capitalists (...) What was this war? A slaughter of men, a massacre of Arabs with “most modern” weapons (...) Of course, Italy is neither better nor worse than the other capitalist countries, all equally ruled by the bourgeoisie, which, for a new source of profits, does not recoil from any carnage».
The positions of the socialist youth and the left fraction of the PSI toward the war turned out, over time, to be always totally concordant with those of Lenin.
The Italian proletariat stood united against the Tripoli enterprise, and if the general strike of Sept. 27, close to the declaration of war, did not achieve the expected effects, it is to be blamed only on those who had called it for the sole purpose of sabotaging it, namely, jointly, the party leadership, the parliamentary group and the CGL.
In April 1914, the 14th Congress of the Socialist Party, whose membership had doubled in the meantime, was held in Ancona: it sealed the victory of the maximalist wing and the defeat of the reformists (Turatians), still, however, dominant in the parliamentary group and the General Confederation of Labour.
And it was from an anti‑militarist demonstration that sparked the riots of Red Week (June 7‑14, 1914), an event that came at the height of that wave of strikes that had shaken all of Italy between ’12 and ’14 and close to (August 4) the outbreak of World War I. The betrayal of all the socialists in the countries that entered the war and the final drift of the Second International was consummated on that occasion.
Even within the Italian party few, even among the maximalists, considered revolutionary defeatism as Lenin theorized it to be obligatory for every bourgeois imperialist State. The Italian Socialist Party declared itself for neutrality, but the Left Fraction immediately denounced the inadequacy of this formula and argued for the necessity of revolutionary defeatism, the adoption of means of class intervention such as the general strike in a first phase and then of effective revolutionary offensive, in the awareness of an indispensable transformation of imperialist war into civil war.
Instead, for the Party leadership everything was reduced to an opportunistic invocation of neutrality. Even on September 1 the Avanti! had gone so far as to write, «The Socialists admit only one hypothesis of war, the one necessary to repel a possible invasion». So the Socialist Party did not rule out “a type of war” for which the proletariat would have to give its blood to the national bourgeoisie.
Lenin in September 1914 in “The European War and International Socialism” wrote enthusiastically about the apparent righteous stance of the Italian Socialist Party, appreciations that would be repeated on January 9, 1915 in “And Now”. In reality Lenin did not place much trust in the Italian party but used the example only to staff the socialist parties that had openly joined the war.
Meanwhile, in Italy, in Mussolini’s albeit threatening articles, one could already discern yielding to the bloc of “democratic” nations. It was the young socialists who realized this and glimpsed the tragic turning point. Exemplary was their article “L’Avanti! e la guerra” published in Il Socialista on September 17, 1914. On October 18, Mussolini made his betrayal explicit by publishing on the third page of the Avanti! a long article, “From Absolute Neutrality to Active and Active Neutrality” in which he argued that neutrality would mean that the party would be condemned to “political isolation” The Young Socialists immediately responded, in Il Socialista of the 22nd, with the article, “For active and operant anti‑militarism”.
Even the young Gramsci adhered to Mussolini’s interventionist thesis, which he demonstrated in the article “Neutralità attiva e operante” written in Il Grido del Popolo on Oct. 31.
For its part, the party leadership could only formulate the Lazarus‑like pilatesque formula of “neither adhere nor sabotage” The position of the Left fraction was, on the other hand, immediately of an entirely different tenor: «To the mobilization order respond with strike». Because, «We were neither neutralists nor pacifists (...) We deplored the disarmament of class struggle, of class warfare, to make way for national war (...) We were the true class interventionists, interventionists of the revolution» (from Storia della Sinistra, Vol I). Through such guilty ambiguities the PSI had somehow managed to “save its soul”.
An early attempt to rekindle international relations among socialist parties for pro‑peace action was the Lugano meeting of Sept. 27, 1914 between Italian and Swiss socialists which, despite the outcome, represented an initial stand condemning the war and the anti militarist movement that became increasingly outlined in the subsequent international meetings of Zimmerwald (September 1915) and Kienthal (April 1916).
The Left Fraction and the Young Socialists always maintained the right position. This was confirmed when, on the eve of Italy’s entry into the conflict, the defeatist principle of a general strike was firmly advocated by them at the May 16, 1915 convention in Bologna.
The young socialists also expressed themselves resolutely about the necessity, at the end of the war, of the split of the Socialist International, that the old leaders, manifest traitors in August 1914, should be rejected «across the true chasm that separates the revolutionary Marxists from all the transfuges in the social patriotic camp».
The youth’s criticism of the party’s governing bodies, which had taken an essentially pacifist and gradualist stance, became increasingly bitter.
The Youth Federation also made clear demands to «impose on the General Confederation of Labour a distinctly classist direction» In September 1917, at the congress it managed to hold in Florence, it gave its full support to the Revolutionary Intransigent Fraction and its agenda on the International.
The organ of the Youth Federation, to which its complete collimation with the work of the Bolsheviks and the fundamental dictates of Marxism immediately appeared unequivocal, would show great attention to the news of the Russian Revolution and the October victory and would increasingly demonstrate its position in the future battle between the left wing of the Socialist Party and the reactionary forces lurking in its ranks, of which it was urgent to get rid.
The plan to have fascist gangs occupy the national territory was studied and implemented as a sophisticated military plan.
In 1920, the seizure of Bologna, representing the key to Emilia and the entire Po River plain, was chosen as the starting action for the occupation of northern Italy. From there Fascism radiated by conquering Ferrara and Modena, penetrated the Polesine, bypassed the Reggio Emilia making it capitulate, and so on. The conquered Po River plain served as a base of operations to establish bridgeheads to link the different regional sectors and loom over entire regions under the threat of a destructive invasion.
Of course, the aim was to reach the political centre of Italy, Rome, but no one planned to send the fascists into government by force of arms (manu militari) the conquest would have to be as consensual as possible among the bourgeoisie. But this could be imposed only after having subjugated – this time yes, by force of arms – all the centres in which the proletariat had not yet been vanquished and its resistance weakened.
In fact (we are now in July 1922) in just under four months the liberal-democratic State will hand over power to fascism.
Fascism now felt so strong that it was taking its attack to the heartland in the major proletarian strongholds. Its goal was to penetrate the industrial triangle of the Northwest, Milan-Turin-Genoa, with a formidable concentration of workers. With the occupation of red Novara, Fascism would break through there.
In the Novara area, already from the beginning of 1921, fascist coups and terrorist actions were taking place with an increasing rhythm: destruction and burning of proletarian circles, party headquarters, attacks and killings of political figures, although the proletariat was always able to defend itself.
In response, the local organs of the trade unions and the Socialist Party could do nothing but appeal to State authority to save the province from Fascist violence: the others might as well be submerged in iron and fire! But the real fear of the union and social-democratic bonzume was that proletarians would respond to violence with violence and realize the class role of State authority. As always, in recalling the heroic resistance of the proletariat, in addition to recalling the episodes of struggle, we would like to highlight the infamous betrayal against the proletariat perpetrated by the Trade Union Confederation and the Socialist Party.
In addition to this, in the case of Novara, we will also have to say a few words about certain initiatives independently taken by some Turin comrades contrary to party directives and without his knowledge, proof that ordinovism was not well integrated into the party, which it had also freely joined.
Alfonso Leonetti will recall how the Turinese had then made contact with both Serrati, for the Socialist Party, and Capt. Giulietti, for the workers’ organizations in Genoa, in order to agree on unified action for the three regions: Piedmont, Liguria and Lombardy. He would have to admit, however, that in spite of the assurances he had received, when the facts were proven, abandoned by these and those, the workers of Piedmont once again found themselves alone in sustaining the difficult “Battle of Novara”.
Perhaps the Turin ordinovists were unaware of their party’s relentless work for working class unity of action? Were they not clear enough about the counter-revolutionary and traitorous work, of true support for fascist reaction, of the union and socialist bonzes? What could they have hoped for from their clandestine contacts with such traitors?
But the ordinovists, having touched that their approaches with the leaders of the CGL and the PS led only to defeat, went to seek alliances in the open bourgeois camp. They made contact with both the Catholic People’s Party and the Giolittians in an attempt to implement, with these bourgeois groupings, an anti‑fascist “united front” with that Giolitti who had armed the fascists by opening to them the barracks depots and granted trucks so that they could quickly concentrate and strike. These comrades were the same ones who a couple of years later, having taken over the leadership of the party, would bring it to ruin.
In Novara, given the continuous trickle of attacks and destruction of headquarters of proletarian organizations, the local organ of the PCd’I had already appealed to Novara’s proletarians to be ready, both to face the enemy’s actions and to carry out reprisals against fascists and bourgeois, burning their belongings and striking at their persons.
The killing of a fascist on July 9 in a town in the Novara area was taken as a motive for the occupation of the town: fascist squads stormed the Peasants-Workers League Circle, and in the following days proletarian circles in the province were ravaged and set on fire. Immediately and spontaneously the agricultural proletarians in the area went on strike, and the strike extended to all peasants in the Novara District and workers in industries.
The Labour Alliance was forced to endorse the strike already in place, but immediately distanced itself from the “violent ones” weeping over the fascist victim and claiming to the Alliance’s credit that it had never avenged the hundreds of murdered proletarians. For these there were no tears but only a call to endure violence, destruction, and death in silence.
Meanwhile, trucks of carabinieri and royal guards, with machine guns set up, patrolled the city, and troop divisions were placed in position. As Novara was being invaded by squadrists from neighbouring towns, the secretary of the Chamber of Labour felt compelled to write the Landowners’ Association a letter of apology for the strike he was forced to endorse.
July 14 – Industrialists, seeing the compactness of the strike, try to blandish the workers by launching a manifesto calling for peace, disarmament of tempers and resumption of work. But the general strike in and around the city continues compactly, and workers react vigorously to provocations.
July 16 – The situation worsens by the hour. Each train brings new fascist reinforcements who, protected by the police, parade menacingly through the streets of the city. It was clear that continuing the fascist concentration would lead to an untenable situation for the proletariat.
July 17 – The general strike is extended throughout the province. A real battle takes place in Lumellogno, about four kilometres away. Fascists assault the hamlet with revolvers. The workers and peasants defend themselves with tridents and their work tools; the battle lasts a long time, taking several casualties and many wounded on both sides. The fascists are forced to retreat.
July 18 – Prefect convenes Chamber of Labour, industrialists, agrarians and fascists. Once the talks are over, the secretary of the Chamber of Labour announces the end of the strike. The workers rise up against this open betrayal perpetrated while the fascists continue to occupy the city and the arrival of new squads of black shirts continues uninterrupted.
July 19 – Workers disregard order to resume work and strike continues compactly. “Il Comunista” headlines full‑page: “PROLETARIAN UNITED FRONT AND NATIONAL STRIKE MUST BE OPPOSED TO FASCIST ASSAULT”. The three PCd’I newspapers carry the “Appeal to the Workers of Italy”.
Fascist attacks continue, repulsed by workers. Seven fascists taste proletarian lead: one remains dead and the others seriously wounded. The Fascist counterattack is not long in coming: the two hundred royal guards put in place to protect the Chamber of Labour let the squadrists through so that it can be ravaged and set on fire. Serrati goes to photograph the ruins. This is what the antifascism of Italian socialist maximalism is limited to, documenting the damage!
After the Chamber of Labour, it was the turn of the City Hall, protected by cordons of infantry, which, as usual, gave free access to the squadrists, who occupied the premises and declared the Red administration forfeited.
July 20 – Il Comunista headlines read: «Antifascist action: immediate general violent. Let this be the watchword of the revolutionary workers and peasants, above the shady social-democratic manoeuvrers». Then, finally, the news that a general strike has been called throughout Piedmont. And it was expected to be extended to Milan as well, which, from there, would inevitably spread to all of Lombardy. Only a general strike could prevent the concentration of fascist forces on Novara: dispersed throughout the country, it would be easier for the proletariat to get the black hordes right.
July 21 – The Ordine Nuovo correspondent estimates there are about four thousand fascists camped in the city.
July 22 – Party newspapers launch a call for general strike in the three regions: Piedmont, Lombardy and Liguria. The Labour Alliance, meeting urgently on the night of July 21, issued the following communiqué: «Rome, July 21, 1922 - The Central Committee of the Labour Alliance orders the immediate resumption of work to the striking proletariat of the two regions of Lombardy and Piedmont».
July 23 – Il Comunista headlines, «Not fascist terror but the cowardice of the leaders crushed the action of the proletariat. Honour to the communists of Novara who are fighting, alone, with arms in their fists». The proletariat, betrayed, thus finds itself at the mercy of the increasingly deployed fascist terror. The fascists, escorted by carabinieri and royal guards, attack and bring death and destruction everywhere. But the resistance of workers who do not allow themselves to be crushed without fighting back also continues. Commented the L’Ordine Nuovo of July 23: «The Novara proletariat, despite the white terror, remains on its feet, ready for redemption. It might even have won, if the betrayal of the leaders had not come. The proletariat of Novara has defended itself, and is not conquered».
But the betrayal is accomplished. The fascists launch their final definitive attacks against a proletariat now abandoned by all: republicans, social democrats, maximalists, anarchists, none of whom take sides in the last desperate defence of the proletariat that continues to fight and die.
Only the Communist Party stands by him. He issues the following statement, «All comrades are mobilized. The trustees know how to be equal to their task. Everything must be attempted for our defence. On your feet for our salvation».
However heroic its tenacity, the Novara proletariat, left alone, was doomed to defeat. The only party inciting the proletarians to violent response, to the extension of the struggle at least to Piedmont, Lombardy and Liguria, was the Communist Party. In the battle of Novara, the PCd’I was the only party that also made its own blood contribution.
The communist squads certainly could not have confronted the fascists in an open confrontation, but their guerrilla actions had the effect, if nothing else, of hitting supporters and flankers of fascism in the assets. In a report to the Comintern on July 23, the CPofI proudly noted how the party’s military organization was proving increasingly capable of dealing with difficult situations, and, making careful use of its forces, had carried out actions satisfactorily against the fascists, with reprisals and surprise strikes.
At the opening of talks for a peace treaty between Soviet Russia and the Central Empires, the Bolshevik Party arrived with two opposing positions: sign peace immediately at any cost, as they believed the revolution in Germany was imminent, with which to weld and extend the revolution in Europe, supported by Lenin, or continue the war to save the revolution in Russia. This position, which had a fair following, was supported mainly by Bucharin. Trotski’s position on the immediate was “neither peace nor war” that is, cease the war without signing a peace.
It was clear to the entire party that the revolution in Russia, the end of the war with an acceptable peace, and the revolution in Europe were inseparable parts of the same historical process.
In September Lenin in Marxism and Insurrection thus expressed himself in the event that no belligerent State accepts the armistice proposal: «If our peace offer is rejected and if we do not even get an armistice then we will become “defensiveists”, place ourselves at the head of the war parties, become the main “war” party, wage war in a truly revolutionary way».
After the October Revolution, on November 8, the party had ordered General Duchonin, commander-in-chief on the German front, to make a proposal to the enemy command for an armistice on all fronts. Upon his refusal he was immediately replaced by the Bolshevik Krylenko. Duchonin was then lynched by an angry mob of soldiers.
The proposal was accepted a few weeks later, and on Nov. 19 the Soviet armistice delegation, headed by Joffe, with Kamenev, Sokolnikov, some military experts, a worker and a peasant met in Brest-Litovsk in front of a massive German delegation under the orders of General Hoffmann, the mastermind of the recent 11‑day war operation. The armistice, valid for 28 days, was signed on December 2: it left the German armies with the occupation of all the territory they occupied including the strategic islands in the Moon Strait (now Muhu, Estonia).
Two clauses were introduced: first, the German command agreed not to take advantage of the cessation of hostilities on the Russian front to transfer troops to the Western front; second, the organized fraternization of groups of 25 soldiers at a time from the opposing fronts, the exchange of newspapers and comfort goods were allowed.
Formal peace treaty negotiations began in Brest-Litovsk on December 9. The London government vigorously protested the signing of a separate peace with the Central Empires, which contravened previous agreements between the countries of the Triple Entente, accepted by Nicholas II. In the first round of consultations, the Germans formally accepted peace without annexation or reparations, but demanded that Lithuania, Courland, and parts of Latvia, amounting to 18 Russian provinces, be detached from Russia. In addition, Hoffmann protested against the clause providing for propaganda of a revolutionary nature and fraternization among the armies.
Trotski began from here his tactic of extending the time for negotiations while waiting for the revolution to break out in Austria and Germany as well and before the Soviet government made decisions that might hinder it. On Jan. 5, 1918, the impatient General Hoffmann presented a map on which was marked a line beyond which the German armies did not intend to retreat: in German hands was all of Poland, Lithuania and Belarus; Latvia cut in two with the islands in the Muhu Strait, allowing control of northern access to the Gulf and the port of Riga. Trotski managed to obtain another 10‑day postponement for necessary consultations with the Soviet government, where a heated debate ensued.
At the January 8 meeting in the party’s central committee, three positions were outlined: that of Lenin, who was well aware that at that moment, with a disintegrated army, the Russian revolution would be crushed by German forces, so peace had to be signed, a momentary necessity to defend a still fragile revolution.
Thus warns Lenin in his writing On Practical Ground «Enthusiasm alone is not enough to wage war against such an adversary as German imperialism. It would be a great naivety, even a crime, to take lightly this which is a real, hard and bloody war. War must be waged in earnest, or not at all. There can be no middle ways».
Then we have Trotski’s position: «finish the war, without signing the peace» stating that although the war should not be resumed, it was neither right nor necessary to conclude a peace on the basis of German terms. Finally, we have the “left communists” led by Bucharin, who proposed to reject the German diktat and start a revolutionary war.
Lenin in Strange and Monstrous wrote a few days before the signing of the treaty: «Perhaps the authors who hold that the interests of international revolution demand that it be stimulated, and that such a stimulus could only be a war and in no way peace, which could produce in the masses the impression of a kind of “legitimization” of imperialism? Such a “theory” would be in absolute contrast to Marxism, which has always denied the possibility of “stimulating” revolutions, which develop as the class contradictions they generate are exacerbated».
The decision of the Central Committee, made three days later, on January 11, were given to Trotski: Lenin reaffirmed his attitude in favour of immediate peace. While Trotski was en route from Petrograd, anti‑war demonstrations broke out in Berlin on January 15 and spread to other centres; it seemed for a moment that the Bolsheviks’ optimism and Trotski’s policy of procrastination were about to be confirmed by events. Regrettably, the uprisings in Germany, which constituted the unnamed but real substance of the negotiations, fizzled out, and on January 28, as the impatient Germans prepared an ultimatum, Trotski intervened, announcing that: «Russia, while refusing to sign an annexationist peace, for its part declares the state of war with Germany, Austria Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria ended».
On the German side this was regarded as a break in negotiations and the end of the armistice, and on February 17 Hoffmann informed the Russians that military operations would resume the following day. The situation predicted by Lenin occurred.
On Feb. 23 Hoffmann upped the ante by demanding that the Soviet government withdraw its troops from Ukraine and conclude peace with the Ukrainian Rada, also to evacuate Latvia and Estonia to allow their German occupation. On the same day the confrontation was renewed at the Central Committee. Lenin for the first and last time, posed an ultimatum. If the policy of the revolutionary phrase continued, he would resign from the government.
Lenin, in A Painful but Necessary Lesson published in Pravda on Feb. 24, very clearly explicates the concept of “defence of the socialist homeland”: «A peasant country, led to a staggering debacle by three years of war, which has begun the socialist revolution, must avoid armed conflict‑it must avoid it as long as possible, even at the cost of the hardest sacrifices- precisely in order to have a chance to do something serious at the moment when the last, decisive battle will break out. This battle will only flare up when the socialist revolution spreads to the advanced imperialist countries. This revolution, no doubt, matures and grows stronger with each passing month, with each passing week. This maturing force must be helped. One must know how to help it. One does not help it, but damages it by sending the neighbouring Soviet socialist republic to rout at the moment when it manifestly has no army. One must not turn the great watchword “We are aiming at the victory of socialism in Europe” into an empty phrase. This is the truth, if one has in mind the long and difficult path that socialism must take to win all the way. It is an indisputable, historical philosophical truth if one takes the whole “era of socialist revolution” as a whole. But any abstract truth becomes an empty phrase if one applies it to any concrete situation. It is indisputable that “in every strike lurks the hydra of social revolution”. However, it is absurd to think that from every strike we can immediately move on to revolution. If we ‘bet on the victory of socialism in Europe,’ in the sense that we take it upon ourselves to tell the people that the European revolution will invariably flare up and win in the next few weeks, invariably before the Germans succeed in reaching Petrograd, Moscow, Kiev, succeed in destroying our rail transports, then we act not as serious revolutionary internationalists but as adventurers. If Liebknecht wins over the bourgeoisie in two or three weeks (this is not impossible), he will free us from all difficulties. This is undoubtedly the case. But if we determine our tactics in today’s struggle with imperialism on the basis of the hope that Liebknecht in all probability must win in the very next few weeks, then we will only deserve derision. We will turn the greatest revolutionary watchwords of our time into an empty revolutionary phrase».
Trotski again stated his objections but, unconvinced though he was, when the decisive vote took place Trotski, Joffe, Krestinsky and Dzerzhinsky abstained, thus allowing Lenin’s motion for acceptance of the German conditions to be passed by 7 votes (Lenin, Zinoviev, Sverdlov, Stalin, Sokolnikov, Smilga, Stasova) to 4 (Bucharin, Lomov, Bubnov and Urickij). That same night at 4:30 a.m. on February 24, after an effective speech by Lenin, the proposal was approved.
The delegation, headed this time by Sokolnikov and Čičerin, left for Brest-Litovsk. The peace treaty was signed on March 3. The terms would be very heavy and unexpectedly humiliating for Russia, which would lose eastern Poland, Lithuania, Courland, Livonia, Estonia, Finland, Ukraine and Transcaucasia, almost a quarter of its area, about 56 million inhabitants, 32 percent of its population. Turkey also imposed last‑minute territorial demands in the Caucasus, ceding the strategic districts of Kars, Batumi and Ardaghan.
With the exception of Ukraine, the largest territory and the cradle of the Russian empire, the other territories were inhabited by non‑Russian populations, conquered by tsarism at various earlier times. In production terms it meant one‑third of the harvest, 80 percent of sugar factories, 73 percent of iron production, 75 percent of coal and 9,000 industrial enterprises out of a total of 16,000, and one‑third of the railroads.After Brest-Litovsk
In the pamphlet The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky written in October-November 1918, Lenin states, «In order to define the character of a war (is it reactionary or revolutionary?) one must not ascertain who attacked or in what country the “enemy” is, but one must establish what class is conducting the war, what policy is the continuation of this war (...) I must not reason from the visual angle of “my” country (for this is the reasoning of a miserable cretin, of a nationalist petty bourgeois, who does not know that he is a puppet in the hands of the imperialist bourgeoisie), but from the visual angle of my contribution to the preparation, propaganda, and acceleration of the world proletarian revolution».
For Lenin, acceptance, at any cost, of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty with Germanic imperialism was necessary to save proletarian power in Russia, pending international revolution and as an example and exhortation to defeatism in all countries.
Heavy were the conditions imposed by Germany and its allies by the treaty: the Russian State would have to cede Eastern Poland, Lithuania, Courland, Livonia, Estonia, Finland,
Ukraine and Transcaucasia, almost a quarter of its area and a third of its population. In production terms it meant one‑third of the harvest, 80 percent of sugar factories, 73 percent of iron production, 75 percent of coal and 9,000 industrial enterprises out of 16,000, one third of railroads. In addition, Germany imposed an additional clause on Russia, 6 billion marks as compensation for German losses. A map with the new borders imposed by the treaty was displayed at the meeting.
The Entente governments offered aid, American, British and French, on condition of a resumption of the war against Germany.
Lenin reiterated the necessity of accepting the harsh conditions of the treaty because, «If the European revolution is delayed, very hard defeats await us, because we have no army, because we have no organization, and because we cannot solve these two problems at once (...) Excellent thing is whether the German proletariat will be able to rise up (...) If the revolution arises, everything is saved. Certainly! But if it does not arise as we wish, if it does not win tomorrow, what will we do then».
Opposition to Lenin’s line centred on the need to continue the war, the resulting betrayal and abandonment of Soviet Finland, and the futility of a short truce to reorganize Soviet forces.
The congress approved Lenin’s policy. Čičerin, head of the delegation to Brest-Litovsk, was appointed foreign minister and Trotski commander-in-chief of the Red Army with the arduous task of organizing it efficiently. Instead of a period of relative calm to consolidate the revolution, more serious orders of crises opened up: the terrible famine and starvation that ravaged all of Russia; the reorganization of the Red Army; the resumption of industrial and agricultural production; and the anti‑Bolshevik coalition of the White Armies, supported by the Entente countries.
Within a few months and almost simultaneously, the following opened up: the Caucasian front around Kuban, the southern front with the battles of Caricyn, the eastern front with clashes with the retreating Czechoslovak army, the northern front against the former allies, and the civil war in Siberia.
Germany incorporated Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and all of eastern Poland. The Socialist Workers’ Republic of Finland. In neighbouring Finland, the Communists’ attempt to establish their own republic was tragically coming to an end.
At the elections to the Finnish Diet in the summer of 1917 there was a substantial tie between the Reds, to whom 90 seats went, and the Whites, with 95. A non‑socialist government was formed. On December 6, 1917, in the wake of the October Revolution, the Finns proclaimed independence from the former Russian Empire, forming a republic, of which they sought official recognition from Bolshevik Russia. They obtained it from the Soviet government, which had supported the Finnish revolutionaries by sending arms and men.
Violent political and social strife had broken out between Red and White Finns in the early months of 1918. The two political sides also had their own paramilitary organizations. The Finnish Red Guard had 30,000 well motivated and armed elements under the command of a senior officer, Aaltonen, formerly a member of the Social Democratic Party.
A fair contingent of Russian forces was also present, including 40,000 from the army, concentrated mainly in Vyborg in southern Karelia and Tampere in the interior, and 20,000 from the Baltic Fleet in the southern ports of Finland. Their commanders had been instructed to support the Finns’ fight, but trying not to give pretext for disputes with Germany. But the Russian soldiers were pressing to return home and end all warfare. A single command between Finns and Russians was not established, creating serious strategic management problems.
The bourgeois Finnish senate commissioned General Mannerheim, who had served for 30 years in the czarist army and had recently returned to Finland, to raise an army. All local anti‑Soviet volunteers plus former prisoners of war liberated from Germany were called up, plus about 26,000 unfilled fighters. The most reliable White troops consisted of 1,800 young men who had fled to Germany during the war to train and organize for an uprising against the oppressive Czarist empire: these returned to Finland in well‑trained and armed military formations. The result was an uneven amalgam of about 40,000, roughly equal to the opposing formation.
The overall strategic approach was conditioned by two important factors. The first geographical: Finland is a vast plain filled with lakes, swamps, and forests that impede long‑distance views. Communication routes are poor, muddy at thaw and often unusable for the rapid transfer of heavy artillery. Movement is easier during winter with frozen rivers and lakes. Impossible are wide and deep cavalry manoeuvrers, the fundamental offensive weapon of Russian troops. The second concerns the social composition of the population: in the north, predominantly agricultural, composed of small independent peasants, who converged en masse into the White Guards; in the south, with industries and shipyards, the population, predominantly proletarian, adhered to communist ideals by joining the Red Guards.
On January 26, 1918, the government was overthrown by a general strike and the intervention of 4,500 armed Finnish Red Guard who occupied the nerve centres of Helsinki. They met no particular resistance. The government fled to the north.
In a short time the revolutionaries took control of the south of the country. But despite continuous arrivals of arms and ammunition from Russia, they failed to consolidate this advantage by extending their territory and silencing the White Guard, although Mannerheim was still unable to deploy the White Army, which was still being organized. The latter established his base in the port city of Vaasa, halfway along the Gulf of Bothnia between Sweden and Finland, excellently served by railways connecting the country from east to west.
Thanks to the surprise factor, his knowledge of the terrain, his best troops, and because of the low commitment of the Russian troops, who largely preferred to surrender without a fight, Mannerheim’s daring offensive manoeuvrers in just 10 days managed to control all of northern Finland, capturing thousands of Russian prisoners and much material.
Finland thus turned out to be divided in two, with a communist government in the south and south‑west of the country, while in the north an authority was formed that supported white government and the formation of a bourgeois democratic republic.
Comrades were shown a map with the division of the country.
On February 2, 1918, the Red Finns’ offensive began, which aimed to regain control of the vital east‑west railroad and cut the White Army in two. The offensives were neutralized by well‑organized defences. These failures were due to their delay when the whites had managed to consolidate on the rail lines, which guaranteed them supplies. In contrast, the Red Guards complained of a shortage of transportation, with inefficient provisions and ammunition. In addition, Red troops and commanders had little training, experience and ability to operate coordinated manoeuvrers.
On March 3, the signing of the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty required Russia to withdraw troops and ships that had supported the Red Finns; however, the sending of weapons and instructors continued secretly. On the same day the Finnish senate requested military assistance from Germany to end the civil war.
A full‑bodied Red offensive with 15,000 fighters started on March 10, aimed at regaining control of the railroad, which failed as did the waves of the following days. On April 3, a first German expeditionary force of 9,000 experienced infantrymen landed behind the Red lines at Hangö, west of Helsinki, for a rapid offensive against the cities. On April 6, after bloody fighting, Tampere fell to the Whites. Of the Western Red Army, 25,000 strong, 2,000 died defending the city and 11,000 were taken prisoner. A second landing of 3,000 Germans was aimed at cutting off the Red fighters’ escape route along the coast. Tampere fell, then Helsinki, the fighters isolated with no escape route. The Red General Staff withdrew by ship to Vyborg.
On May 2, the last Red force on the Finnish Western Front fell: 25,000 fighters, with 50 guns and 200 machine guns, and thousands of civilians surrendered to Mannerheim’s troops.
When the Civil War ended, a bloody white terror full of hatred and revenge opened. In the following months some 80,000 former Red fighters were rounded up and severely mistreated.
According to a 2004 Finnish government study, 3,414 White Finns plus 5,199 Red Finns died in the battle. Missing were 46 whites and 1,767 reds. Summary shootings carried out resulted in: 1,424 whites plus 7,370 Reds. Deaths in the prison camps, mainly from malnutrition, sanitary conditions and inherent diseases were 4 whites plus 11,652 Reds. The total death toll turned out to be 36,640. Most casualties occurred not on the battlefields but in the prison and terror camps.
At this meeting we read part of a conspicuous and detailed report prepared by the British Labour Delegation in May 1920, consisting of members of the Trade Unions and Labour Party had travelled to Vienna and Budapest. It describes the Delegation, after collecting several testimonies from Hungarian refugees, how the white terror was unleashed: 1) persecution of all those who did not support the Horty regime; 2) suppression of trade unions and the right to strike; 3) anti‑Semitism; 4) massacres, executions, imprisonment, even without legal process; 5) torture and mistreatment of prisoners; 6) arbitrary detentions for long periods.
The report describes a long series of torture, merciless killings and atrocities of the worst kind perpetrated by Horty’s thugs, an established practice proper to every counter-revolution.
The report went on to testify how the bourgeoisie once again in power, in addition to preventing strikes, forbade miners from switching to other industries and how their trade unionists were beaten and forced to flee on the condition of being shot. 400 communist miners were locked up in jail. However, on Feb. 20, 1920, the miners returned to strike for two days for better wages and working conditions; about 100 of them were thrown in jail. The government, which officially issued provisions for freedom of union organization, actually granted it only to “Christian” organizations; the others were subject to constraints of all sorts.
Police on the occasion of May 1 imposed house arrest on union leaders from April 29 to May 2. In the conclusions of its report the super-reformist British Delegation stated, «We have been assured (...) that the total number of those arrested and detained was over 25,000. It is acknowledged that thirty‑nine Communists were executed under the empire of the civilian jurisdiction last December; that on April 28 nineteen men were taken out by soldiers from the prison in Szolnok and killed in Abonyi (...) On the basis of the evidence gathered, we affirm that there is “Terror” in Hungary, that the government is unable to bring it to an end, and that, indeed, many of its own acts are so rigorous as to deserve the name “Terror”. And we cannot understand why the British High Commissioner was able to declare on Feb. 21 that «while undoubtedly, reprehensible acts have been committed, there is nothing resembling terror».
The exposition continued with an account of the vicissitudes that happened to the people’s commissars and their families in exile in Austria and Italy.
The Soviet State’s diplomatic work to repair communists from Hungary to Russia was also mentioned. An agreement was offered with the Hungarian government to exchange Hungarian officers who were prisoners of war in Russia with those responsible for the Republic of Councils, now in prison and partly sentenced to death. The negotiations, which were being conducted in Riga, went on for two years: in the fall of 1921 the first exchange took place in Riga, to continue through 1925.
He concluded by reading excerpts from some articles that appeared in Liberator an American magazine, and from the pamphlet From Revolution to Revolution where Kun describes the betrayal of the Social Democrats and the “red terror” as the bourgeoisie rightly calls the dictatorship of the proletariat, and of the white terror, the massacres of communists and proletarians by the counter-revolution.
The revolutionary wave in Bavaria had brought petty-bourgeois pacifist Kurt Eisner to the leadership of the new “Free State”. The latter on February 21, 1919 was assassinated in the street by the young officer Count Arco Valley. On March 17 an embarrassing government composed of Social Democrats and independents was installed, headed by Johannes Hoffmann.
Internationally, the situation seemed very favourable: a communist government had been established in Hungary, workers’ councils were in a strong position in Austria, and the workers had not yet been defeated in Stuttgart and the Ruhr. So there were hopes of achieving a continuity of workers’ republics in Central Europe, from the Rhine to Vienna and Budapest.
As the call for revolution resounded louder and louder, socialists and anarchists declared a “Soviet Republic” under the leadership of pacifist Ernst Toller. The KPD, led by Eugen Leviné and Max Levien, rejected participation in this “pseudo-Soviet Republic” and focused on building a small but compact party based on factory cells.
The Hoffmann government, which had retreated to Bamberg, attempted to suppress this government on April 13 with the so‑called Palm Sunday Coup, which was, however, crushed by a general strike and the armed resistance of the masses, who, under the leadership of the Communist Party, defeated their opponents in street fighting at the Central Station.
The KPD took over the leadership and defence of the dictatorship of the proletariat on the night of April 14. But the KPD was weak in Bavaria and received no support from the Party Center in Berlin. The counter-revolution. in Germany found, therefore, a “legitimate” reason to crush the workers in Bavaria, as it had done in Berlin.
However, after the failure of the Palm Sunday coup, there was great hope for victory. The communist government dismantled the police and replaced them with a Red Guard made up of armed workers under the command of Rudolf Egelhofer, a 26‑year veteran of the sailor mutinies that had ended World War I.
The Red Army was recruited in the trade unions and among members of the SPD, USPD and KPD. Each recruit was equipped with a rifle and paid ten marks a day plus house rent. At its peak the total strength was about 10,000 men. This had an immediate effect that sharply differentiated the Second from the First Soviet Republic, which had established a Republican Security Guard under petty-bourgeois leadership, supplied with only 800 rifles; Egelhofer saw to it that thousands were distributed.
Ernst Toller, hostile to these developments, challenged the Communist Party leadership at every step. Max Levien ordered Toller’s arrest, but he was released a few hours later. This was a big mistake since Toller would ultimately lead the defeat of the revolution from within.The Dachau Front
Because of its strategic location, the main military action took place around Dachau, the wealthy agricultural town 18 kilometres north of Munich.
On April 15, news reached Munich that the White Guards were approaching. The defence of the city was improvised. Egelhofer gave the order to launch all available troops to the north‑west edge of the city. The KPD mobilized its supporters in the local section and in the factories. The workers stormed the villages of Karlsfeld and Allach and arrived south of Dachau. They achieved a brilliant victory, at the cost of eight dead and several wounded.
However, the influence of the USPD was strong, so much so that the command of the Red Army unit in Dachau fell to Toller, almost as a matter of course. His first act was to negotiate with the defeated enemy. The White Guards thus took advantage of a truce after the demoralizing defeats of the previous day, while they awaited reinforcements from the north.
The KPD called Toller to account for his unauthorized negotiations with the enemy and demanded that he be immediately relieved of his command. Unfortunately, he failed to enforce these demands of his. The Red Guards took artillery as far as Karlsfeld taking advantage of the truce. Shortly before its expiration a unit opened fire and the Red Infantry entered the town of Dachau along the Munich-Ingolstadt railway line. At a crucial moment, workers from the Dachau munitions factory intervened.
Toller now pompously proclaimed himself the victor of the Battle of Dachau. But Egelhofer, Leviné and Wollenberg, infantry commander of the Dachau Army Group, noticed his pacifist streaks, which made him completely incapable of conducting a civil war. One Red Guard commented that Toller wanted to turn the Red Army into the Salvation Army! Toller replied that this was «not a bloody Russian or Berlin revolution, but a Bavarian revolution, made with love».Noske Speaks
In Berlin Noske was ready to intervene: «Reich law prevails over State law». Freikorps were being recruited, ready to attack.
The KPD planned to break through the blockade in Augsburg to come to the aid of the insurgents, but Toller would not budge from Dachau, accusing the Communists of not understanding Bavaria. Levien could not help but retort that «there is no Bavarian revolutionary model, the proletarian struggle is the same everywhere».
The failure of the intervention on Augusta proved fatal. By April 24, the White Army’s deployment was complete. The ring around Munich was beginning to close, while workers in the city were lulled into the illusion that the danger had passed.
Toller and his second-in-command Klingelhöfer had turned the military leadership into an inept literary salon. There was an internal General Staff and an extended General Staff. The latter included all commanders and members of soldiers’ councils, so that it had more than 100 members. Staff meetings went on forever but military matters were hardly ever discussed.
It was Erich Wollenbergnow who reorganized the Red Army Group at Dachau. He created five battalions plus support units to defend a 7.5‑kilometre front: 800 storm troopers and 265 support troops, plus 140 attached to the local headquarters. But his efforts were constantly hampered by battalion nationalism, USPD sabotage and inertia.
For the time being, the front held out, but on the early morning of April 26, having failed to prevail in a dispute over military strategy, Toller attacked the KPD government. First he resigned. Then he issued a statement condemning the works councils, demanding that «the [KPD] government be held accountable». Toller and Klingelhöfer rushed to Munich and got the works councils to approve a vote of no confidence in the Executive Committee of the Soviet Republic. A new anti‑Bolshevik government was installed under the leadership of the Independents, although the KPD military leaders retained their command in the Red Army.
Toller intended to open negotiations with the Bamberg government. But at this point Noske and the Reich government, led by the SPD in Berlin, were fully in the lead and demanded unconditional surrender. The armed groups in Dachau still achieved small successes, however, to which Toller responded by recalling them to Munich to deploy them against the Communist Red Guards, who still had control of key points in the city. When news of the treachery leaked out at the front in all battalions the anger of the Red Guards grew. A delegation was sent to Munich to issue new orders, to defend the Dachau front at all costs. Egelhofer ordered an attack on Schleissheim, where the Freikorps occupied the airfield. This involved an attack by the Fourth Battalion. This was a disaster because an attempt was made to advance through a swamp with 25 heavy machine guns, which would have been better used in defensive positions. Poor discipline led to further setbacks on the Dachau front.
April 30 began with some encouraging news about the advance at several points, including Starnberg, southeast of Munich. The Red Army was informed that an attack on Dachau would take place at 12:30. By 10 a.m. measures had been taken to reinforce the front with machine guns and two cannons. The news of the impending offensive aroused great enthusiasm, and the Red Guards declared that they would attack and beat the enemy and that this time they would pursue the White Guards until the enemy was destroyed.More betrayal
Alarmed by this prospect, the USPD resorted to a new betrayal. Klingelhöfer declared that he had received orders from Egelhofer to abandon Dachau and return to Munich. The Communists at the front in Dachau could not believe it. In fact it was a trap set by the Independents. Neither Egelhofer nor any other Communist in Munich knew anything about the alleged order, Egelhofer being on his way to the front to personally lead the battle according to the predetermined directives. The Independents had used his name to carry out a counter-revolutionary coup.
Meanwhile, the White Guards had executed 20 unarmed Red Army medical orderlies in Starnberg and then eight Red Guards who had been stranded in Dachau. When the news reached Munich, a resolution was passed to execute five bourgeois hostages for each Red Guard killed. The resolution was never implemented, with the exception of the hostages held at Leopold High School, an act the Independents exploited to take away consensus from the KPD.
Toller convinced the works council delegates to issue a communiqué exonerating him and the other Independents of any responsibility for the “beastly action” of killing the hostages. Later, the Nazi party would widely exploit the “Geiselmord” the killing of hostages. But even then, students and bourgeois beaters felt encouraged to take to the streets of Red Munich. Sensing the panic and hysteria mounting in the city, the whites carried out their plan for a final offensive on all fronts.
In the street fighting that followed, the last Red Guards put up strenuous resistance in the face of machine gun and flamethrower fire, retreating toward the Palace of Justice, then attempting a final stand at Central Station. They showed incredible courage, but they had not yet learned how to fight an urban war against a superior force. The white terror that followed was merciless.
Was it right then to fight? Paul Frölich wrote that after the Palm Sunday Putsch: «there was no turning back; there is the most important precondition: the victorious action of the masses: the Soviet Republic had become the only alternative; we placed ourselves unreservedly at the disposal of the working class».The Action of March 1921
By December 1920, the left wing of the USPD had merged with the KPD to create a party with a larger membership but whose program was somewhat moderate. In elections two months later this VKPD, United Communist Party of Germany, won 200,000 votes in the Halle-Merseburg region, three times more than the SPD. Meanwhile as a reaction to this electoral trend, left‑wing communists had already broken away to form the KAPD.
At the time, Bolshevik power in Russia was in trouble, civil war was raging in southern Russia and Ukraine; a naval mutiny took place in Kronstadt on March 1. Lenin, therefore, had high hopes that an uprising in Germany would give respite to the revolution in Russia. The Comintern sent some delegates to Germany, among them Bela Kun, in order to support and advise the KPD.
Kun encouraged the KPD to follow the “Offensive Theory” which Zinoviev and many German communists embraced, according to which the working class could be set in motion by a series of “offensive” acts, in sharp contrast to the VKPD’s legalism. Kun declared in the KPD newspaper, Die Rote Fahne. «Guns will be fundamental. Workers don’t give a damn about the law and will take guns wherever they can find them».
Otto Hörsing, Social Democratic president of Prussian Saxony (almost totally overlapping with present‑day Saxony-Anhalt), feared a Communist seizure of power. Anticipating the Communists’ moves, he fomented tension, announced “vigorous police actions” against a region that was “a constant source of unrest”.
Falling under provocation, the communists called a general strike on March 21, 1921: about 300,000 workers joined, particularly in central Germany.
Reich President Friedrich Ebert, of the SPD, then imposed a state of siege on all of Saxony. On the same day the VKPD called for an extension of the strike throughout the Reich, but the only regions that participated were those where there was the potential for armed conflict. What became known as March Action thus began as defensive. Communists in the region saw it as a reaction similar to that against the Putsch Kapp of March 13, 1920, but in the rest of the Reich this motivation was lacking.
What the proponents of the “Offensive Theory” hoped would act as a spur to a general military insurrection turned out to be a defensive struggle limited to the region and with no outlet. The most substantial solidarity action was in Hamburg with the participation of only a few thousand workers. The working class was not ready for revolution.
The insurgency in central Germany was basically reduced to initiatives of individual Red Army commanders, decisive and charismatic but lacking a firm political approach. One was Max Hoelz, a laborer’s son and cavalry soldier. In his native Vogtland, near the Czech border, he had founded the Falkenstein Council of Workers and Soldiers on November 9, 1918, and later the local branch of the KPD. He had also organized the mobilization of the town’s unemployed, forcing factory owners and landlords to support those most in need. Following Kapp’s coup, he had regrouped a Red Army: its motorized units moved between towns and villages in Vogtland, commandeered supplies, robbed banks and levied taxes on capitalists.
Although he had fought on the eastern and western fronts, he lacked military instructors and time to form a truly effective militia. He was a good propagandist, however, and his reputation was growing. Hoelz’s successes were based on guerrilla warfare, disorienting the opponent and constant movement, tactics that did not hold up for more than a few days, however.
By the time Hörsing disposed of the police attacks in March 1921, Hoelz was already a folk hero. What he lacked most of all, however, was clear political and strategic direction from the party centre. He wrote, «The determination and solidarity of the workers is shown, regardless of their political affiliation. Workers of the USPD, KPD, KAPD and AAU are all determined to continue the strike until the “socialist” Hörsing desists from his brazen provocations and withdraws his men».
At the Hettstedt, Mansfeld and Eisleben meetings, decisions were made regarding military countermeasures. The Red Army initially, driven by revolutionary enthusiasm, won some battles by capturing towns such as Eisleben, Hettstedt and Sangerhausen, seizing supplies and taking hostages. Cars and vans were requisitioned to motorize the uprising, and cyclists disguised as civilians were used as couriers between units. The situation soon turned around. The Reich government called in reinforcements and artillery: its target was the workers’ stronghold of the Leuna chemical plant in Halle.
In the Halle-Merseberg region, now in the State of Saxony-Anhalt, the Communist Party was particularly strong in 1921. Alongside the Mansfeld copper and Bitterfeld lignite mines was a thriving chemical industry centred on the state-of-the-art Leuna plant. More than 100,000 workers were concentrated in this small district, 25,000 at the Leuna plant alone, many of them from different parts of the Reich. Here they had not been completely defeated in the aftermath of the Putsch Kapp and still had abundant supplies of small arms.
There since January 1921 workers had been demanding that the 56‑hour week be reduced to 48. A struggle committee organized strikes there, but most of the militants were young workers with little political experience. By the end of March, the factory was occupied by 1,000 to 1,500 workers. They had 200 rifles and several machine guns and had even built themselves an armoured train. However they remained waiting inside the factory. The city of Bitterfeld, which also had chemical plants, was in the hands of armed insurgents. About 100 KAPD militants led by Karl Plättner carried out armed robberies of banks and post offices in the district, acts that had no real military purpose. Plättner had been active in politics and the trade union since before the war and had taken part in the short-lived Bremen Soviet Republic of 1919, but, frustrated by the failures of that year, had completely abandoned all party discipline.
Petty rivalries also emerged between Hoelz and Plättner, which ended up further weakening the Red forces. The Reichswehr moved to Bitterfeld in the last days of March. 2,000 police, with artillery support, besieged the Leuna plant. Members of the action committee offered to surrender the plant without a fight but the company’s management demanded a police assault.
With most of the occupants having fled, the factory came under artillery fire on the morning of March 29. The remaining workers surrendered, the police rounded them up and massacred them. Hoelz’s troops, who had tried in vain to advance toward Halle, were wiped out by government troops in battle on April 1 near the village of Beesenstedt.
In the fighting, 35 policemen and 150 workers were killed, of whom 72 were killed in cold blood. The state of siege remained in effect until September 1921; during the period 6,000 insurgents were arrested, of whom 4,000 received prison sentences. Hoelz and Plättner themselves served long sentences. Four Red Army soldiers were executed.
After the amnesty of 1928 Hoelz was readmitted to the KPD (he had been expelled for “adventurist” and “primitive communism” disregarding class power relations) and in 1929 emigrated to the Soviet Union, where he was hailed as a hero before becoming one of the victims of Stalin’s campaign against German communists; his death was made to look like an accidental drowning. Plättner renounced his terrorist past and rejoined the KPD. He would later be interned in concentration camps and died while trying to find his way home in 1945.
The whole affair was a disaster for German communism. The KPD lost about half of its membership. But this was not the worst of its ills. All fractions of both the KPD and KAPD tried to draw lessons from this debacle, but the conclusions were mostly the wrong ones. They can be summed up under two headings: absolute condemnation and unconditional defence.
Former KPD chairman Paul Levi published a pamphlet entitled “Our Path Against Putschism” in which he described the March Uprising as “the biggest Bakuninist putsch in history to date”. The KPD expelled him and he returned to the SPD. Lenin approved his expulsion, but at the same time blamed himself for trusting Bela Kun and the application of the Offensive Theory.
The KAPD responded to Levi’s denunciation of the March Action with a pamphlet entitled “Dr. Levi’s Way: the Way of the VKPD” where it strenuously defended the actions of the revolutionary workers, claiming that they had acted in self‑defence, while condemning the “quietism” and opportunism of the two years under Levi’s leadership. However, the KAPD disavowed Plättner’s methods.
Otto Rühle, head of a fraction of the KAPD and the AAUD union, drew another lesson that was also extremely erroneous. Echoing anarchism, he blamed “authoritarian tendencies” and the influence of Moscow. He argued that workers should have resorted to occupying factories to force the bourgeoisie to surrender, despite the glaring evidence of what had happened in the Leuna factory!
Lenin wrote to Clara Zetkin that Levi’s criticism was largely justified, but it “lacked a sense of solidarity with the party (...) which exasperated the comrades” and for this it should be condemned. Lenin was careful not to disavow those who, disciplined, had followed the directives of the leadership, however foolish.
The March Action was fought for the vast majority by young and inexperienced workers, eager for quick successes and inflamed by “Kunism”.
Lenin’s response was that the party’s strength must be young people but also more solid and experienced militants who could act with more judgment and caution. But these in the whole affair had been virtually absent. A strong and mature leadership recognizes when a situation and a state of mind are revolutionary; in their absence in the class, military uprisings should not be ventured. «A revolution cannot be achieved by a vanguard alone» Lenin wrote, and «tens of millions of men do not make a revolution just because the party orders it». Successful military action depends on long and patient preparation, and the party must be able to recognize the topical moment when armed insurrection can be decisive.
In May 1922, the first national congress of Chinese trade unions was held in Canton. Convocation and organization were the task and merit of the Communist Party of China, which saw the moment as propitious given the solidarity toward the Hong Kong seamen’s strike between January and March 1922, which had brought workers’ organizations across the country together. By putting itself at the head of organizing the congress, the CPDC, despite its meagre forces, empowered itself to play a leading role in the working class, a factor that would prove to be of enormous significance for its development.
This important achievement was the result of the Party’s direction, which, from its origins, had unequivocally turned its activities toward the working class, identifying the labour movement as the main expression of the interests and spontaneous movement of the class, with which the Party had the task of entering into a relationship, giving the primary direction of the organization of labour unions, which were already springing up in China differentiating themselves from the old forms of association.
To fulfil this role, a nonpartisan “Labour Secretariat” was formed in July 1921. At its head was Zhang Guotao. Headquarters were established in Shanghai with local sections in the North, Wuhan, Hunan and Canton. It published the magazine The Labour Weekly.
This body followed the decisions of the Party’s first congress, which had set its main goal as the establishment of trade unions of industry, strongly reiterated in the Secretariat’s first Manifesto, which announced its foundation. While the old organizations, such as guilds and organizations by province of origin, ended up dividing the workers, only by coalescing into unions of industry and without distinction of territorial origin, sex and age could the working class fight against Capital.
Immediately the Secretariat’s activities were directed toward supporting strikes and the development of workers’ organizations. From its founding in July 1921 to the Congress of Trade Unions in May 1922, the Secretariat’s influence, while it remained extremely weak in the South, was established in Shanghai, in the railways of central and northern China, and in some large factories and mines in central China. The Secretariat was able to support a series of strikes and help form unions, making the watchwords of the Red Trade Union International resound in China.
Before the Communists, other trends had woven relations with workers’ sectors, such as the Kuomintang in southern China and the anarchists. But in the early 1920s, at a time when the Chinese labour movement was descending into struggle in a vast strike movement and giving itself its first modern organizations, the Kuomintang, although it had long had ties with workers’ sectors, did not take the lead in the movement that was proceeding in the direction of unification throughout the country. On the other hand, the anarchists, given the limitations of their doctrine, ignored the need to extend and strengthen workers’ organizations and merely led isolated economic strikes.
In this context, through the Secretariat the Communists were able to make contact with the Chinese working class and influence the ongoing process on the organization of workers into modern class unions, eventually playing a key role in the convening of the first trade union congress in China in May 1922.
Because the congress was held in Canton, where the Kuomintang controlled important trade unions, there was a large participation of delegates who were Kuomintang members or sympathizers. Despite this, the direction and direction of the congress was practically in the hands of the CPDC. All the main resolutions adopted were put forward by the communists. Those of a political nature concerned the participation of the labour movement in the national and democratic revolution, which were summarized by the slogans “down with imperialist” and “down with the warlords”.
Those of an economic nature referred to the struggle for the eight‑hour day, the necessity of strikes, and above all to principles on the organization of trade unions, with condemnation of the influence of the old guilds and secret societies, and the need to form trade unions of industry and not trade.
Finally, it affirmed the need to forge close ties between labour organizations, from the city and provincial levels with the formation of unitary structures, leading to a national federation of workers’ organizations. But the congress, although it accepted the need, considered it premature to form a national federation. However, the Secretariat was entrusted with the task of functioning as a centre for correspondence among the country’s unions. It was also entrusted with the responsibility of convening the second congress.
In the months following the congress and up to the repression of the railwaymen in February 1923, the Secretariat’s influence grew enormously. Among its strengths were certainly the railroads, of which by late 1922 it controlled the most important routes and the numerous workers’ clubs in the stations, work that would be crowned by the formation of a national federation of railwaymen. In Shanghai in July of that year he had supported the seamen’s strike, which achieved the same gains as their comrades in Hong Kong in March. This victory strengthened the formation of industrial-based unions and enabled the Secretariat to establish new ones, such as the postal and textile unions. Important successes were achieved in Hubei and Hunan where numerous strikes broke out beginning in July, which, unlike earlier strikes characterized by spontaneous and isolated actions, were organized and coordinated, directed by the unions, and generally ended successfully. In addition, in Hubei and Hunan, provincial federations of dozens of unions representing tens of thousands of workers were formed.
The force unleashed by the Chinese proletariat in 1922 represented the culmination of that movement. Raised in May 1919 in subordination to the interests of bourgeois China, it finally rose up in its class autonomy, with its demands and its aspiration to have its own organizations.
The Communist Party of China intervened in the movement through the Labour Secretariat, a “transmission belt” importing to it the principles of class organization and action, industrial unionism and general struggle. Against a backdrop of the great strikes of 1922, the PCoC’s trade union tactics allowed the small party to cling to the movement, while other tendencies that claimed to represent the proletariat slowly were marginalized because they did not correspond to the pressing needs of the moment.
In this way, the Communist Party of China, since the formation of a revolutionary front against the warlords and imperialists was then made historically inevitable, as the only force leading the working class and its vanguard, had become the only party in China actually in a position to direct the working class and lead it at the head of the national revolutionary movement, following the program and tactics established internationally by the Comintern.The Maring Line
A crucial role in forcing cooperation between the Communist Party of China and the Kuomintang was played by Henk Sneevliet, known by the pseudonym Maring, who from June 1921 was the International’s envoy to China. About a year later, Maring returned to
Russia where in July 1922 he submitted a report to the E.C. of the International referring to his activities in China for a period from December 10, 1921 to the end of April 1922. A very important part of Maring’s report concerned the nature of the Kuomintang. In the imaginative and certainly non‑Marxist description of this party Maring dwelt on the composition of its members.
This would have resulted in a kind of “diverse class bloc” consisting of the following elements: 1) the intellectuals, mostly men who had taken part in the 1911 revolution, some of whom called themselves socialists; 2) the bourgeois elements, identified in the overseas Chinese capitalists; 3) the soldiers of the southern army; and 4) the workers.
Maring distinguished overseas Chinese capitalists from the local bourgeoisie. The local capitalists would have been closely linked to and influenced by foreign capital. In contrast, the overseas capitalists, in a different situation, would have supported the radical intellectuals in the South, whom they helped economically. Thus, while the local bourgeoisie was to be placed in the same category as the foreign capitalists, the overseas capitalists could be considered friends of the national revolution.
With this sociological and unscientific construction, which must be class-based, Maring was coming to exclude the “local” bourgeoisie from the ranks of the Kuomintang, painting a picture that did not correspond to reality but was functional in making his political proposal appear well‑founded.
Another very serious error in Maring’s scheme was the absence of the peasant element. It was not that the agrarian question escaped his attention, but the peasants did not fit into his scheme of a “bloc of different classes” for the simple reason that, rightly, the peasants were not supporters of the Kuomintang. In themselves, the peasants, by their petty-bourgeois nature, had failed to accrue hostility to Sun Yat‑Sen’s party and simply remained indifferent to it.
But the large peasant masses were precisely the social force that needed to be leveraged for the development of a revolutionary movement in backward countries like China. The peasant question should have been very much on the minds of the International, which had repeatedly argued that the main ally in countries where double revolution was on the agenda were precisely the endless and miserable peasant masses. The Theses on the national and colonial question hoped to «establish as close a link as possible between the communist proletariat of Western Europe and the revolutionary peasant movement of the East, the colonies and the backward countries».
A disproportion, moreover, was the Kuomintang’s connection with the working class. The same victorious strike by Hong Kong seamen, supported by Canton workers, had led Maring to overestimate the Kuomintang’s relationship with the proletariat. Maring reported that the Kuomintang leaders had supported union organizing in Canton and had sided with the workers during strikes, as, for example, in the important seamen’s strike. In fact it was true that the Kuomintang had established links with workers’ sectors, but its success in the Canton area concerned organizations strong in the old corporate traditions. By the time the proletariat began to equip itself with modern class unions, by the time of the First Congress of Chinese Trade Unions in May 1922 the Communists’ watchwords had overtaken the corporatism of the Kuomintang supporters.
In any case, although Maring denied that the Kuomintang was the party of the Chinese bourgeoisie but a “bloc of different classes” its program, as described by Maring himself, left no doubt about its liberal-bourgeois nature: «Its character is nationalist. It has three principles: it opposes foreign domination; it is for democracy; and it is for a dignified life for all citizens».
Finally in his report Maring belittled the young Communist Party of China, with the Communists far from being able to connect with the working masses. He believed there was a more favourable situation in the South, and particularly in Canton, not because of the strength of the Communist Party but because of the presence of the Kuomintang.
If Shanghai, China’s most industrially advanced centre, where there was a large and concentrated proletariat, had been the centre for the spread of communism among China’s young proletariat, from the moment the International decided to focus on the Kuomintang.
For the direction of the Chinese revolution, the Soviet leadership began to see Canton as the “political laboratory” where the union between communists and nationalists could be brought to life.
Maring wrote in his report to the International, «I have suggested to our comrades that they give up their elitist attitude toward the KMT and that they begin to develop activities within the KMT, through which the workers and soldiers of the South can be accessed much more easily. The small group should not give up its independence; instead, comrades should decide together what tactics they should follow within the KMT. KMT leaders have told me that they will allow communists propaganda within their party».
But from the beginning against the tactic of joining the Kuomintang there were protests within the Communist Party of China. It is unclear when and under what circumstances Maring presented the Chinese Communists with this proposal. It was probably between March and April 1922, upon his return to Shanghai after his trip to southern China. In any case, the question of Communist membership in the Kuomintang was the subject of the letter Chen Duxiu sent to Voitinsky on April 6, 1922, from which the Chinese Communists’ resistance to Maring’s proposal, which was considered totally unacceptable, clearly emerges.
Maring’s pressure on the Communist Party of China to cooperate with the Kuomintang came in the international arena. The Communists’ adherence to the Kuomintang was justified by Maring on the grounds that it was not a bourgeois party. In practice, the usual distinction between a right‑wing and a left‑wing bourgeoisie was being pushed through, which was useful to support the tactics of single front and noyautage. The tactic of joining the Kuomintang instilled in the young parties the hope that the liberal bourgeoisie could move further to the left.
Communists were being asked to join the Kuomintang to encourage the formation of a left wing there, but what happened, and it could not have been otherwise, was that all the left wings of the Kuomintang identified from time to time ended up drowning the proletarian revolution in China in blood.
Yet it was possible to foresee this. It was enough to look back to past experiences of the struggles between classes in the transition to bourgeois society, when the proletariat struggles together with the bourgeoisie for the overthrow of the ancien regime, but already knows, as had happened for example in France in ’48, that the allies of the moment will be the enemies from the first hour after victory and ready to carry out massacres among the proletariat. Trotski will say lapidary, «The Kuomintang is the party of the liberal bourgeoisie during the revolution, of the liberal bourgeoisie that drags along the workers and peasants, and then betrays them».
What had to be said then was that forcing the Communists to submit to the Kuomintang would strengthen the bourgeoisie and the landowners, and it would restrain the masses, and the radical bourgeois revolution itself, so as not to spoil good relations with the liberal bourgeoisie; that bringing the Communist Party into the Kuomintang would inevitably subject it to bourgeois discipline and direction, and place the young revolutionary force of the proletariat under the orders of the bourgeoisie; that the entry of Communists into the Kuomintang would throw confusion into the ranks of the party and among the proletarians, confuse class organization, and destroy the political independence of the party, an indispensable condition for revolutionary victory.
Recent events in Afghanistan impose on our party a study of its history that allows us to reconstruct the conditions that made the transition to capitalism there tormented and delayed. The complexity of the subject and the historiographical sources that are not readily available and not always reliable have forced this report to be a compilation of material rather than the half‑finished reports we use to give to our general meetings.
Identifying the themes of the study and formulating the questions to be answered will take time and the involvement of multiple fellows. It involves delving into pre‑capitalist social organization and following its evolution, which retains backward features until recent times, especially in the countryside.
The political and military victory of the Taliban, which took over the capital Kabul in a lightning offensive on August 15, poses a first question for us: who are the so‑called “Quranic students”? Our method must keep in mind the overall context, in a complex and peculiar area.
In Afghanistan there was no national bourgeoisie that struggled to unify markets by creating its own centralized State. In the middle of the 19th century it was the collision between the Western powers that determined the genesis of a State superstructure over a predominantly pre‑capitalist society. Russia was advancing in Central Asia to move in the direction of the warm seas; in the opposite direction pushed England, starting with the Indian dominions, to contain tsarist ambitions. The contention gave birth to Afghan national unification. The State was decided by British colonial policy, which drew it on paper.
Afghanistan, which did not become fully independent until 1919, was the consequence of the three Anglo Afghan wars that in a span of 80 years had failed to subjugate the country.The Democratic Republic emerges from an April 1978 coup d’État
In the mid‑1970s, the “Great Game” of empires over Central Asia was coming back into focus as a result of the first serious economic crisis following World War II. Over the past 42 years Afghanistan has gone from one war to another in a social upheaval that has also produced the urbanization of large portions of the rural population.
The first Anglo-Afghan war had ended with a partial British victory and protectorate over the fledgling State. The reign of Emir Abdul Rahman (1880‑1901) saw a centralization of State power, which crushed desperate rebellions in blood. The aim was to reduce the autonomy of the tribes, which, once paid tithes, managed the territory under conditions of almost total self‑rule.
The emir’s success was also due to the financial support and arms provided by England, which intended to create a buffer State. The relocation of some rival Pashtun clans to the north of the Hindu Kush, turned into settlers on vast tracts of land, contributed to the Pashtunization of northern Afghanistan, a policy effective in stemming the secessionist thrusts of the minority populations close to the present borders with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, sensitive to tsarist propaganda. This despotic-oriented demographic policy retained an eminently pre‑capitalist character but contributed to State cohesion.
Abdul Rahman introduced some timid economic and social modernizations. In 1883 the levirate was abolished, which considered women the property of their husband’s family, so that upon his death they were forced to marry his brother. Even today this practice persists; it is not excluded that today its survival is a consequence of the very high number of widows after a 40‑year period of wars. We speak of between 600,000 and two million, of whom at least 70,000 provide income for the family. In 1895 slavery was abolished; in 1891 an initial attempt to unify the various local currencies. Energetic State efforts to ensure safe transportation against banditry and an ambitious plan to build roads, bridges and caravanserais. State control expanded over domestic and foreign trade. British and Indian specialists were recruited to set up the first workshops, mainly for arms production. British doctors opened the first clinic in Kabul in 1895. The first embryos of the middle class were born in Afghanistan.
We read in The Encyclopædia Iranica: «A series of bilateral commissions had successfully demarcated Afghanistan’s borders with Russia in the north‑west (1884‑86) and north‑east (1895), with India in the east (1994‑1996), where the famous Durand Line confirms Afghanistan’s loss of control of the main access routes to the Indus Valley, creating the problem of Pashtun irredentism».
In 1905 the personal agreement binding the emir to the British government was renewed. Modernization of the country intensified. The first wool weaving factory was established in Kabul, the first hydroelectric power plant was built, and the telegraph was introduced. But the country still remained extremely backward. The area in which the greatest successes were achieved was education: it was easier to spread innovative ideas to a small, privileged elite than to make material changes, albeit modest in scope but on a larger scale, in the economy, administration and army. In 1909 the Military School was opened, staffed by Turkish teachers. Around 1910 a forty‑bed hospital was inaugurated whose director, a Turk, introduced quarantine for infectious diseases and the production of smallpox vaccine. The first two iron bridges were built across the Kabul River, and a third across the Nilab. But by 1912 there were no more than 30 cars in Afghanistan, and transportation of machinery for the few industrial workshops was still accomplished by elephants.
In terms of criminal law, the “cesspool” into which those sentenced to death were thrown, was abolished, and mutilation of thieves was replaced with prison sentences. Having returned from emigration many liberals, having lived for two decades in Damascus, having appreciated the modernizing reforms of the Ottoman Empire known as Tanzimat, having assimilated many traits of Levantine cosmopolitanism, introduced into Afghanistan ideological elements of Muslim modernism and pan Islamic nationalism. A group of constitutionalists who called themselves Young Afghans, in imitation of the Young Ottomans, professed to be pro‑Ottoman and anti‑British. They had Ottoman doctors and military experts hired, thus breaking the British monopoly regarding technological assistance.
In contrast, one branch of the royal family was affected by British influence; its elements had returned to Afghanistan from British India. They quickly gained prominence at the top of the army. The opportunity to shake off British tutelage by taking advantage of World War II, welcoming the urgings of Germany and Turkey, was not taken by the ruler, who adopted a neutralist policy. To free himself from that tutelage, the new King Amanullah proclaimed Jihad by initiating the third Anglo Afghan war. Afghan forces mobilized no more than 50,000 men, poorly trained and poorly equipped. Poor infrastructure delayed supplies. However, the Afghans could count on the support of Pashtun tribesmen from India who provided 80,000 men, which determined the fate of the war. Several battles followed in which the British superiority of means and the bombing of Kabul were of little use. Determining the Afghan victory was British reluctance to engage in a new war at a time when discontent was emerging among the frontier Pashtun tribes, who would support the Afghans. The armistice of Rawalpindi established the end of the British protectorate, which had lasted just under 40 years.
Afghanistan faced landlockedness, that “continental claustrophobic” that dictated relatively friendly relations with neighbouring countries. Soviet Russia recognized Afghanistan’s independence, which in turn established diplomatic relations with several countries. Foreign, German and French schools were opened. In 1922 the lunar calendar was abandoned and the solar‑hijri calendar was adopted, which places year zero with Muhammad’s flight from Mecca in 622. In 1923 new regulations enshrined individual rights and women greater freedoms, family law taken away from the religious, and polygamy and marriage of maidens prohibited. In 1924 the 1,000 members of the Loya Jirga, the assembly of notables, voted on the first constitution that brought about significant changes in the administrative, judicial, military and fiscal fields.
For the first time in the history of modern Afghanistan, private initiative was encouraged. Plots of land were sold at low prices to create a social stratum of paracellular peasants, while private import-export companies ended the crown’s de facto monopoly of foreign trade.
These measures increased the gap between cities and the countryside, which remained in a kind of tribal autonomy.
The next period, crucial in the country’s history will be a topic we cover in the second part of the report
The modern State of Kazakhstan has developed in an area characterized for several centuries by great population mobility. This is one of the reasons why the transition into capitalist modernity has been marked by phases of crisis that have sometimes taken a catastrophic turn. Demographic development there has suffered dramatic caesuras that have repeatedly disrupted its social makeup with conspicuous alterations in the country’s ethnic composition. These included mass exoduses of Kazakh peoples to neighbouring countries (for example, even today 1.5 million Kazakhs live in China), and deportations to Kazakhstan of entire ethnic groups (such as Germans and Volga Tatars and Ukrainians).
Added to this were the famines that caused a significant proportion of the population to starve to death: at least three times in just twenty years between the second half of the second decade and the middle of the fourth decade of the 20th century. Such cataclysms prepared the ground for the country’s plunge into the swirling waters of capitalism.
Two milestones marked these major epochal changes: first, the entry of the vast territory we now call Kazakhstan into the sphere of influence of Tsarist Russia; second, which came after a brief and convulsive revolutionary phase, the Stalinist counter-revolution. that for the entire Central Asian geo‑historical area, corresponding to the establishment of capitalism, although it will come under the “socialist” guise of the Soviet Union.
The absence of an indigenous bourgeoisie, capable of asserting itself through a national revolution, meant that the implantation of a modern State was the product of two forms of external domination: the colonial domination of Czarist semi‑feudal Russia and that of “Soviet” bourgeois imperialism.
The Russian occupation of Kazakhstan, while dating back to the early seventeenth century, did not come to fruition until the second half of the nineteenth century when, in 1864, tsarist troops arrived at Sir Daria, the great tributary river of the Aral Sea. Kyrgyz and Kazakhs, with a remarkable ethnic and linguistic affinity, who had not yet emerged from nomadism, had both remained largely estranged from the great neighbouring civilizations in the vastness of the Central Asian steppe. The word kazak, derives from the Turkish-Tatar word “qazak” meaning “free man” and therefore also “nomad”. The Russian word “Cossack” also goes back to that root. The Kazakhs’ adherence to Islam, a fact dating as far back as the 10th century, because of their nomadic life had not changed their ancient customs too much, Koranic law was little known, and there were no mosques or religious schools on the steppe. Only the dominant strata of society had any familiarity with Islam. An early attempt at “civilizing” the northern regions of present‑day Kazakhstan that had fallen into the Russian sphere of influence occurred in the time of Catherine II, who, once she defeated Pugacev’s revolt in 1775, undertook peacemaking efforts with the Turkic speaking peoples who had also joined the Cossack usurper. Convinced of the civilizing work of Islam for the nomadic peoples the empress, an enlightened and friend of Voltaire, had mosques and Koranic schools erected, inviting to work in them mollahs and teachers chosen from among the learned Volga Tatars, who from then on became the political and cultural mediators between the Russians on the one hand and the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz on the other. Later Tatar became the language of the elites of the Turkic populations of the tsarist empire, and Kazan became the radiating centre of Tatar culture. The Russian policy of integrating Central Asian Turkic populations underwent a turnaround after the demonstrations of discontent, not without anti‑Russian sentiments, that followed the Crimean War in the late 1850s. The government then initiated a policy of spreading Russian culture, and Russian-Kazakh schools sprang up in the heart of the steppes. In the narrow Kazakh elite, Russian culture was seen by some as an opportunity for modernization.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the various tribes of Kazakhs combined totalled about 2.5 million individuals, while their Kyrgyz relatives numbered about 300,000 in all.
In view of the very sparse population over such a vast area (density barely reached one inhabitant per square kilometre), the extreme economic backwardness, and the great fertility of the soil, Kazakhstan became the destination of a considerable migratory movement of Russian settlers who settled there permanently. A large wave of migration occurred in 1892‑1893, sparking bitter frictions with the natives. Clashes between the two communities were frequent, with mutual murders and kidnappings.
In the early twentieth century, land reform linked to the name of tsarist minister Piotr Arkadevich Stolypin, with the liquidation of agricultural communes and the expulsion of the labour force had the effect of migrating several million Russian peasants to Siberia and Kazakhstan. In Kazakh land the new settlers took land away from the nomads’ pastures, further fuelling their discontent.
Tensions between Kazakhs and Russians escalated with World War I. In June 1916, as a result of the deteriorating military situation at the front and at a time of severe famine, an imperial decree ordered the recruitment into the tsarist army of the male population of Central Asia, Siberia and some regions of the Caucasus. The Kazakhs to go and die for the tsar did not feel like it at all. Russian patrols proceeded to enlist the natives with the support of armed settlers, who often seized the livestock of the fleeing nomads. The collision became inevitable: Kazakhs and Kyrgyz killed more than 3,000 Russian peasants, while some 200,000 natives were eliminated in appalling massacres and a similar number fled to Chinese Central Asia. The tsar entrusted General Kuropatkin with the task of pacifying the entire Central Asian region.
The February Revolution of 1917 did not arouse particular enthusiasm among the Kazakhs. The still tribal structure of their social organization did not offer sufficient motivation to enter the revolutionary process. The sparse Kazakh elite was not even in a position to aspire to genuine autonomy within the Russian State. Thus a moderate party, the Allash Horde, was born. The Kazakhs demanded the return of Russian-occupied lands to the Kerensky government, which had neither the intention nor the power to impose it. The demand for autonomy then grew stronger along with the desire to oust the Russians from the Kazakh steppes.
The widespread presence of Cossack troops traditionally linked to the autocracy prevented the effects of the October Revolution from spreading to the Turkestan territories for some time. A congress of various Kazakh groups under the Allash Horde held in Orenburg from September 5 to 12, 1917 was substantially hostile to the Bolsheviks. It proclaimed autonomy, which at this point also found favour with pro‑Russian groups who saw in it the only extreme resource for opposing the communists.
In January 1918 Bolshevik forces began their occupation of the steppe, meeting resistance from Cossacks and Kazakh groups. The civil war spread with greater bitterness when in the following summer the Whites took over the leadership of the counter-revolutionary forces. But fractures soon emerged within a disparate front held together only by anti‑communism. The Allash Horde saw the failure of its alliance with the Bashkiri, which was aimed at the emergence of a Turkish-Coslav union. The attempted collaboration with the White Government of Siberia also failed due to the unwillingness of Russian counter-revolutionary forces to foster the national aspirations of the Turkic speaking peoples.
This reluctance of the White Russians to join the forces of reaction was one of the elements that pushed the local populations to accept the revolution and prepare for the defeat of the counter-revolutionary forces, which was total when the Kazakh government of the Allash Horde was dissolved on August 26, 1920, and the Kyrgyz Socialist Autonomous Republic (Kyrgyz means Kazakh) was proclaimed within the framework of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. The administrative centre of the new republic was the city of Orenburg, which was inhabited mostly by Russians and later found itself outside the territory of Kazakhstan.
The civil war phase did not remain without consequences for the people of Kazakhstan either. A new famine that affected large regions of the territory under the control of the workers’ State also hit the country of the Kazakhs with considerable bitterness, where according to some estimates between 1919 and 1922 about 400,000 died, 18 percent of the population.
The report began by exposing how the Amsterdam-based Trade Union International, in order to keep the proletarian movement in class collaboration, doggedly continued the fierce anti‑communist campaign, both by expelling individuals and groups from unions and by splitting unions whenever proletarians demonstrated the precise and determined will to fight on the class ground.
The exposition then turned to international events in the early months of 1922, between the First and Second Congresses of the Moscow Trade Union International, of no small importance on the continuation of the international proletarian movement, both at the political and trade union levels.
Between February and April 1922, the following were held: in Moscow, the expanded Central Council of the Profintern; in Berlin, the Conference of the Three Political Internationals; in Genoa, the Conference of Capitalist States; and in Rome, the Congress of the Amsterdam International.
Enlarged Central Council of the Profintern – February/March 1922. It was attended by delegations from over twenty nations, as well as delegates from the Far East who were present as guests.
The Norwegian Workers’ Party, having declared its acceptance of Moscow’s 21 conditions, without congress or split, had joined the Third International en bloc. In contrast, the Norwegian Trade Union Confederation had remained in the yellow International, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of proletarians felt solidarity with the red Moscow
International. A strange position that was reminiscent of the Italian position of 1919/20. Meanwhile, union leaders in Norway had proposed to the two Internationals (the Red and Yellow) a common action against the capitalist offensive.
The first resolution adopted by the Central Council of the Profintern was inspired by the Norwegian initiative, which was seen as an attempt at the practical realization, at the international level, of a united front of the proletariat, in conformity «with the steps taken by the Executive Bureau of the SRI, which had already, on several occasions, called on the Amsterdam Steering Committee to take joint action on certain current questions, without, however, these requests being understood and accepted». In spite of this, the Profintern declared itself willing to participate in a joint conference of the two Internationals and entrusted the Norwegians with the task of drawing up a basic blueprint for joint action.
The second resolution concerned the unity of the proletarian front in response to the capitalist offensive. The Profintern set itself the goal of «acting in concert with all workers’ organizations, whatever their political views» in order to achieve «a united front on the ground of the defence of the economic interests of the working class» for goals that could be shared by all: struggle against the reduction of wages, against the extension of the working day, against the intensification of the exploitation of women and children, etc. But even these elementary goals of struggle found the energetic opposition of Amsterdam, which denied its support for anything that would jeopardize the exit from the crisis of capitalism.
The third resolution was about “The Amsterdam Splitting Opera”.
One of the effects of the attitude of Amsterdam and its national confederations, tending to the subjugation of the proletariat to the needs of capitalism, was the abandonment of the trade unions by millions of exasperated workers. On the contrary, the Profintern incited proletarians to join and remain in the trade unions, and fight tirelessly for their transformation into revolutionary organizations.
The fourth resolution examined the relationship between the SRI and anarcho-syndicalists. It made it clear that the SRI united anarcho-syndicalist, communist or politically neutral workers under its banners and warned that the formation of an anarcho-syndicalist international would in fact be an attack on proletarian unity.
The fifth resolution referred to the “International Propaganda Committees” They were entrusted with the task of «doing everything [that was] in their power to safeguard the unity of organization of the International Federations and for the admission into them of all labour organizations without exception».
The sixth and final resolution concerned “the reports of the Executive Committee”. It was: approved all the measures taken by the E.C. for the proletarian united front; recognized the need for a central organ of the SRI, an indispensable weapon of organization and propaganda; envisaged intensified activity among the proletarian masses in the Far East and the energetic defence of the interests of working-class youth.
Berlin conference of the three political internationals. Resuming the proposal made by the KPD in its famous letter of December 1921, Frederick Adler, leader of the Two and a Half International in Vienna, invited the II and III Internationals to a preliminary meeting based on an agenda formulated in two points: 1) Economic situation in Europe and class action; 2) struggle of the proletariat against reaction.
Towards these initiatives, the PCd’I immediately expressed its sharply negative opinion, both in writing and by giving precise instructions to the Italian delegates to the Enlarged Executive, proposing instead the meeting of union centres of any tendency with proportional representation of the various militant political fractions within them.
Neither the Komintern nor Lenin were of our opinion, however, and the Third International acceded to the Vienna invitation. On April 1, 1922, the first meeting of the three Internationals was held in Berlin, with the addition of the Italian Socialist Party, which did not belong to any of the three.
Frederick Adler opened the proceedings with a usual speech good for all occasions and typical of all opportunism. He spoke of the need for the union of the international proletariat. «After all – he asserted – the three Internationals rested on common ground and had a common purpose: the defence of the proletariat».
Clara Zetkin, on behalf of the Third International read its statement, which was very mild and accommodating. It was Lenin himself who had advised moderation. «It is absolutely unreasonable – he wrote – to risk the failure of a practical work of enormous importance in order to take the pleasure of insulting once more scoundrels whom we insult and will insult a thousand times more elsewhere».
The Komintern, for the realization of the proletarian united front, proposed a pan socialist congress expanded to include the Moscow and Amsterdam trade union internationals, and open to all class organizations, based on the following agenda: 1. Defence against the master offensive; 2. Struggle against reaction; 3. Struggle against new wars; 4. Aid for the reconstruction of the Russian Soviet Republic; 5. Abolition of the Versailles Treaty and reconstruction of war torn countries.
If the intervention of the Vienna International was opportunistic and that of the Komintern extremely moderate, Vandervelde, representative of the II International did not fail to spit all his venom against communism, the III International and the Soviet Republic. Not only did he reject all the proposals put forward by the delegates of the III International, Vandervelde did not attack capitalism, he attacked Soviet Russia and the Communist International. Regarding the need for a united workers’ front to fight against reaction, he stated that persecuted and persecutors could not march side by side for the same purpose. Of course, the persecutors were the Bolsheviks, who were guilty of not guaranteeing, in the Soviet republic, “the most elementary rights”.
He then posed these peremptory conditions to the Third International: 1. Renouncing the tactic of establishing trade union fractions; 2. Appointing a commission to examine the situation in Georgia; 3. Freeing the political prisoners and holding a trial against the detainees by granting the right of defence and control to International Socialism. Let us remember that the trial referred to was that against socialist-revolutionary terrorists.
Radek responded with a timely and well‑paced intervention, which in the final draft of this report we will have to extensively republish.
However, in an attempt not to break up an impossible united front of the three Internationals, the Moscow delegates agreed to submit to the diktats of the London International and, going beyond their powers, gave assurances that in the Moscow trial of the 47 revolutionary socialists all the defendants would be admitted as the defendants requested and that, in any case, death sentences would be excluded. Regarding Georgia next, it was assured that the case would be considered at a future international conference.Congress of the Yellow Trade Union International – Rome April 1920
The whole organizational apparatus of the CGL set in motion to worthily welcome their worthy guests. The Socialist Party did not fail to express its benevolent greetings. Avanti! headlined: “The Solemn Inauguration of the International Congress of Trade Unions in Amsterdam” in contrast, in Il Comunista of the same day, on the front page, stood out “Down with the traitors of the proletariat”.
This was our party’s welcome to the congressmen: «Italian communists have a duty to express all their contempt to the conventionists, who are responsible for the greatest betrayals to the working class». The CPofI had prepared for circulation a manifesto denouncing to the proletariat the work of the Yellow International, pointing out how it continued to carry out a policy of collusion with the bourgeois-padronal class, and complicity with world imperialism; how it was responsible for sabotaging the unity of action of the proletariat; how it defended and supported the goal of capitalist reconstruction and how it worked for the defeat of mass actions opposed to the political and economic offensive of capital.
Confirming their close affinity with the diplomacy of the capitalist States, the congressmen before meeting in Rome passed through Genoa, where the famous conference was underway, to offer their readiness for class collaboration.
In Rome, the congressmen did not lose themselves in formulating and organizing plans for proletarian defence against employers’ attacks and the violent reaction of States and white guards: most of their time was spent in attacks against communism and its organizations. There were those who even championed the liberation of the Russian proletariat from the exploitation of the Soviet-Bolshevik State; those who, like the Swiss Dürr, boasted that they had liberated the metalworkers’ union from the Communists; those who, like the Pole Zuawsky, asserted that Russian militarism, no less than bourgeois militarism, was a great threat to world peace and that workers all over the world had to fight it with extreme energy.
But the best part was played by D’Aragona that if a ruthless reaction raged in Italy, it was due to the communists, who discouraged the masses by sowing splits and spreading distrust among the workers. Instead, to save the Italian proletariat from violent repression, D’Aragona invoked the help of Amsterdam: he asked that the Yellow International send the Italian government... a letter.
No doubt, Lozovsky was right a thousand times over when he stated that «the difference between Amsterdam and the Red Trade Union International lay in this: that our opponents strive to reinvigorate the old exploitative society based on wages, while we strive to destroy the last vital energies of capitalism (...) So that at no point do reformist and revolutionary trade unions have opinion or tactics in common».
Too bad that, on the part of the International, these righteous words were not always followed by corresponding practical action.
This first report on the history of the Kurdish question, presented at the last general meeting of the party, was composed of three parts.
The first part, on the historical background of the area where the Kurdish people settled, covered the third and second millennia BCE. We mentioned the peoples who inhabited that area such as the Gutei, the Hurrites and the Medes and their relations with other neighbouring peoples, such as the Assyrians, the Persians. We then talked about the Byzantines. This part ended with an examination of the Kurds in medieval times, particularly looking at the final division of Kurdish lands between the Ottoman Empire and Iran.
The Assyrians called the Gutei by the adjective Kurti, meaning “powerful” “heroic” This term came to describe the various peoples who inhabited the area. One of these were the Hurrites, who spread around Lake Van and throughout most of modern Kurdistan by 2000 BCE.
Eventually the Medes marched on Nineveh and defeated the Assyrians. The rule of the Medes and the consolidation of their power led to ethnic and cultural homogenization. Cyrus inherited the kingdom of the Medes. At the emergence of Islam, the Kurds were divided between the Sassanid Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire. Initially the Kurdish tribes gave strong support to the Sassanids in resisting the Muslim armies. But when it became clear that the Sassanids would fall the Kurdish lords one by one submitted to the Arabs and the new religion.
The Kurds continued to play an important role in Islamic civilization. The Kurdish Ayyubid dynasty led the defence of the Middle East from the Crusaders. In the past it was the Christian Byzantines who forcibly repelled the Muslim Kurds on their borders, who were considered allies of the Sassanids. Then it was the Shiite Safavids who forcibly supplanted the Sunni Kurds in their borders, who were considered, not unjustly, more loyal to the Ottomans, Sunnis. As a result, with the help of the Kurdish lords, the Ottomans ended up conquering most of Kurdistan and generously installed their allies as local hereditary rulers. Until the 19th century, it was the feudal lords who collected agricultural taxes in Kurdistan, and the Empire’s share of these taxes was quite small. As the Ottoman Empire moved toward suppressing Kurdistan’s autonomy, the feudal lords began one after another to rebel.
The second part of the report, which covers the period from Sheikh Ubeydullah’s Kurdish Rebellion (1879) to the Dersim Massacre (1937‑38), deals with the emergence of Kurdish nationalism following the end of feudalism. Of the various movements – the rebellion of Sheikh Ubeydullah, Koçgiri, Simko, Sheikh Said, the Republic of Ararat, and the so‑called Dersim rebellion – some can be considered timid national revolutionary attempts, some reactionary, some national reformist. Some opposed Turkey and some opposed Iran.
With the defeat of the Kurdish principalities in the second half of the 19th century, the Ottoman State redistributed their lands to wealthy merchants, bureaucrats and local sheikhs or religious scholars with political authority. The latter soon became the wealthiest landowners as they received the lands of the followers as donations. As they became very powerful, some of them used their influence to drive nationalist ideas in contrast to the aristocrats before them. For Sheikh Ubeydullah Nehrri, the most prominent of these, the Iranian and Ottoman governments were leeches that prevented Kurdish development, and he believed that the only way forward for the Kurds was the creation of a united Kurdistan, achieved by the merger of Kurdish lands in Iran and the Ottoman Empire.
But the Kurdish national movement did not take a modern form until the early 20th century. The centre of the new movement was to be Istanbul rather than Kurdistan, and its leaders would spend the years of Sultan Abdul Hamid II’s oppressive reign united with the bourgeois revolutionaries and reformers of the Young Turks. After the 1908 revolution, when a constitutional monarchy was declared and the Progress Union Society came to power, Kurdish nationalists went on to form numerous organizations: Society for Advancement and Progress, Society for the Spread of Kurdish Culture, and the student organ Society of Kurdish Hope, founded in 1908, followed in 1910 by the Society for Kurdish Independence, to which all Kurdish leaders belonged.
The new wave of explicitly politicized Kurdish nationalism then decided to expand into Kurdistan. Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1890 had enlisted a significant number of Kurds, along with Turks, Circassians and Arabs, in the Hamidian cavalry regiments, about a decade after the suppression of Sheikh Ubeydullah’s revolt. This regiment was particularly instrumental in the massacres of Armenians and other Christians during the reign of Abdul Hamid II and in World War I, and it served to create powerful ties between the State and a part of the Kurdish and other Muslim populations.
After World War I, various parts of Anatolia were occupied by the Entente, and the Ottoman Empire was reduced to a puppet government in Istanbul led by the liberal Freedom and Accord party, opposed in Ankara by Mustafa Kemal’s National Revolutionary Government.
Although the 1924 Constitution declared that «everyone in Turkey is called “Turkish” citizen regardless of religion or race» for a while Kurdish leaders were divided between the governments in Istanbul and Ankara. In 1927 a new nationalist organization arose called the Xoybûn ”Himsel”) Committee, made up of former members of various other Kurdish nationalist groups. Xoybûn distinguished itself from earlier nationalist organizations in northern Kurdistan by showing no trace of religious rhetoric in its propaganda.
The third part of the study is devoted to the Kurdistan Democratic Party – KDP (in 1946), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan – PUK (in 1975) and the 1991 uprising. It deals with the history of Kurdish nationalism in Iran and Iraq beginning with the formation and collapse of the Republic of Kurdistan in Mahabad, with the emergence and development of the two parties that still dominate politics in western and especially southern Kurdistan. It concludes with the Halabja massacre, the Al‑Anfal genocide, and the 1991 uprising in southern Kurdistan.
During this period, the Kurdish proletariat appears on the scene of history, albeit occasionally and unsuccessfully.
In 1941, the Soviet Union and Britain invaded Iran. The former, which occupied the northwestern part of the country, found it advantageous to support Kurdish nationalist aspirations. Thus a Kurdish administration was formed in Mahabad, which initially aimed only at autonomy within the borders of the Iranian State. Its government was led by the newly formed Kurdistan Revival Society, a secret organization headed by Qazi Muhammad. It was supported by landowners and the bourgeoisie. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) was founded in Mahabad in the summer of 1945 as the governing party.
In 1946 Mustafa Barzani, from southern Kurdistan, who had led the 1931 rebellion, was appointed minister of defence and commander of the Kurdish army. Barzani also organized the KDP in southern Kurdistan, succeeded in gaining the support of a considerable part of the Kurdish section of the Iraqi Communist Party, and was elected its leader in exile.
In 1974, the Iraqi government began a new offensive against Kurdish rebels, pushing them close to the border with Iran. Iraq offered Tehran to meet Iranian demands in exchange for ending its aid to the Kurds. In 1975, with the mediation of Algerian President Houari Boumédiènne, Iraq and Iran signed the Algiers Agreement.
After the defeat of Barzani’s rebellion, leftist dissidents of the KDP in Iraq led by Jalal Talabani decided to leave the old party and in mid‑1975 formed the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The PUK at the time of its establishment was supported by the urban intellectual classes in southern Kurdistan.
PUK forces began clashing with the Iraqi army in the aftermath of the Second Iraqi-Kurdish War, and continued until 1976.
Before moving to crush the Kurdish rebellions of the 1980s, Saddam Hussein had negotiated an agreement that promised the PUK autonomy for the Kurds. In 1986, Iran brokered an agreement between the KDP in Iraq and the PUK as the Baathist government launched the infamous Al Anfal campaign to annihilate Kurdish settlements. After that brutal war of extermination in Halabja and the rest of southern Kurdistan, the PUK and KDP came out so discredited that they decided to form the Kurdistan Front together.
The spontaneous wave of uprisings began in southern Kurdistan in early 1991, and quickly acquired a class content.
The exposition will continue at the next general meeting.
The comrade expounded an initial report describing some historical phases in Belucistan, Pakistan’s largest province, with a focus on Beluci separatist movements. It is an area of 350,000 sq km, about 48% of Pakistan’s land area, is rich in minerals, and there are some oil and gas reserves. It is an arid land, mostly mountainous and in large tracts of desert and sparsely populated: just over 12 million people. It borders Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab provinces to the northwest, Sindh province to the south‑east, Iranian Belucistan to the west, Afghanistan to the north, and the Arabian Sea to the south. The ethnic composition is diverse. Beluci, Brahui and Pashto are the main languages. The region is home to more than 2,800 coal mines, where more than 70,000 proletarians work in poor living and working conditions, many of whom come from Afghanistan or the Swat and Shangla districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. These workers are often victims of cowardly attacks by Islamist groups present mainly in the north of the region. Gas and electricity are lacking in many areas. Belucistan is among the poorest and least developed provinces in Pakistan.
The first State form of that tribal society, the Khanate, arose in 1666, with Mir Ahmad, over a very small area. Persia, having invaded Belucistan, included several parts of the region in its empire by subjecting Kalat, a historic city in the district of the same name, to tribute. The province’s borders extended eastward to the Pakistani Punjab, including Dera Ghazi Khan, northward to the Helmand River in Afghanistan, westward included several present day Iranian cities, and southward included the Arabian Sea coast from Karachi to Bandar Abbas.
Further expansion from the Persian empire occurred with the Afghan-Baloch War, which broke out in 1758. Afghan forces invaded the Kalat: khanate, relieved of tribute, would, however, provide military support to Afghanistan.
In the colonial period the British sought the help of the Khanate during the First Afghan
War (1839‑42), however due to disagreements the British killed the Khan. Much of the land was ceded to the Punjab, Sindh and Afghanistan. What remained of the khanate was the Kalat area; the rest became the British province of Belucistan. This was of key interest to the British, who coveted control of the Bolan Pass, between the Toba Kakar Mountains in western Pakistan, 120 kilometres from the frontier with Afghanistan, which had always been a strategic route of communication.
During the colonial period a process of empowerment of the sardars, tribal commanders, was initiated, and different tribes were pitted against each other, a custom of colonial policies. The khanate was reduced to a puppet State.
Higher taxes led many small farmers to become landless labourers.
The early years of the twentieth century saw the formation of those half-classes that helped give rise, together with some landowners, to various political movements, expressions of the national-bourgeois revolution. In 1937 the Kalat State National Party (KSNP) came into being, advocating a more radical break with the agrarian aristocracy and the formation of an independent State. The KSNP was soon banned from the khanate. The Khanate also made contact with the Muslim League and, ironically, instructed Jinnah, the “founding fathe” of Pakistan, to support the demand for an independent Kalat State. In fact, the British and the Muslim League had agreed, on paper, to the autonomy of part of Belucistan. The Kalat Khanate remained independent for eight months after the bloodbath of partition. But shortly after independence Pakistani troops entered Belucistan annexing several cities. The Belucian aristocracy gave up the armed response when the British refused to provide arms. In 1954 the Pakistani government incorporated Belucistan as “West Pakistan”.
The goals of the Beluci nationalist movement were reduced to granting autonomous province status. But the subsequent revolt was promptly suppressed.
1957 saw a second armed uprising, promoted by some sardars, with the aim of separating the khanate from the central State. This guerrilla campaign was also soon suppressed, Beluci villages were bombed and burned, many tribesmen were shot, and military settlements increased. In an attempt to subdue the tribal leaders, many were replaced with men loyal to Ayub Khan, the president of Pakistan.
These in turn were killed when the 1962 armed uprising broke out. This was led by Sher Mohammad Marri, of the tribe of the same name, leader of the Parari movement, who, like other leaders of national liberation movements in the Middle East, had close ties to Moscow. The uprising, led by the Baloch Liberation Army, much more substantial than previous ones, lasted from 1962 to 1969. The Parars aimed for recognition as an autonomous province and the withdrawal of Pakistani troops from the region. The Pakistani regime intensified repression and did not hesitate to bomb entire villages. However, the Pakistani military regime of Yahya khan negotiated a ceasefire.
The culmination of the Beluci nationalist movement was in the 1970s when the National Awami (People’s National Party), a Pakistani parliamentary left party with several Beluci members, won provincial elections in 1970. During those years unrest and protests had erupted in East Pakistan, which shortly afterwards became independent (Bangladesh). Pakistani PM Bhutto, fearing a similar situation in Belucistan, allowed the nationalist
Beluci party to form a government in the region in coalition with Jamiat-ulema-Islam, a Deobandi-inspired, Sunni fundamentalist party.
In February 1973 this regional government was accused by the Pakistani premier of the time of alliance with the USSR and Iraq. A raid on the Iraqi embassy in Islamabad, in the presence of the press, uncovered an arms cache. The Beluci government was accused of treason and liquidated. The protest movement gained momentum.
Fearing that the uprising would reach Iran, at a time of weakness in the Pakistani army, which had suffered heavy losses in the 1971 Bangladesh War, the Shah came to its rescue with $200 million and 30 “cobra” helicopters with Iranian pilots. The rebel troops, some of whom had gained the upper hand, were thus attacked and repulsed. 500 Pakistani air force pilots also participated in the bombardment, while 80,000 army men killed animals, the Beluchis’ main source of livelihood, destroyed aqueducts and burned entire villages.
Many members of the Marri tribe fled to Afghanistan. In 1976 the Parari renamed themselves the Beluci People’s Liberation Front, finding support among leftists in Karachi and other regions. They started a publication in Urdu and English called “Jabal (mountain): Voice of Balochistan”.
In 1977 Zia-ul-haq’s military coup overthrew the government. Bhutto, a loyal servant, was executed. Zia-ul-haq announced amnesty for imprisoned Beluchis, momentarily extinguishing the uprising. The demands of the Beluci movement were typical of national liberation movements, autonomy and an illusory, bourgeois “socialist democracy” in Pakistan. A new demand for independence re‑emerged only after 1978, with the formation of the Baloch Liberation Army.
However, the movement had begun to fragment. Different leaders pursued cooperation with the central State and ideological differences emerged among the student groups that fueled the protests.
Today there are a number of armed separatist groups, often rivalling each other, although the major Belucian political parties tend toward generic cooperation. Those groups are headed by the various tribes, the Marri, Mengal, Bugti, etc., supported mainly by the middle classes and landowners of southern Belucistan (mainly in the districts of Bolan, Kech, Gwadar, Panjgur, Khuzdar, Sibi, and Lasbela), while northern Belucistan tends to be manned by Deobandi Islamist groups. However, the latter are supported by Islamabad, which are useful in suppressing any feelings of regional independence.
While the middle classes continue to demand independence, tribal leaders, reluctant to full capitalist development, would like a return to pre‑annexation Belucistan. Others dream of a “Greater Belucistan” which would include majority Beluci areas of Iran, Afghanistan, Sindh, Punjab, etc.
Not only the Pakistani and Iranian ruling classes are interested in Belucistan, but also the Chinese bourgeoisie. The resurgence of armed activity seems to have occurred especially since 2000, with the announcement of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, an important section of the new Silk Road. At the terminal of CPEC in Belucistan is the port of Gwadar, which Pakistan purchased from Oman in 1958.
Independents have targeted military outposts and infrastructure, but there have also been attacks on Chinese and Pakistani workers. This demonstrates the anti‑historical as well as anti‑worker character of a national independence movement that is now useless and harmful to the purpose of communist revolution. On this and other aspects the comrade will report to the party after further study.
The vast majority of the time human species has spent on Earth is in what Marxism has called primitive communism, in hunter-gatherer societies. Evidence exists that primitive communism was free of homophobia and transphobia. The first historical record of transgender shamans goes back to Herodotus’ writings on the Scythians.
Despite the devastating effects of contact with European colonialism, it was observed that more than 150 Native American tribes still had male gatherers, and one‑third of the hunters were women. Female hunters tended to form emotional and sexual relationships with gatherers, while male gatherers tended to do so with hunters. Female hunters were not discriminated against, engaged in warfare, and were often associated with shamanism. The phenomenon was also observed in native communities in Siberia, Burma, Malaysia, Borneo, Vietnam, India, and China.Greece and Rome
Homosexuality and transgenderism were common in ancient Greece and Rome. Toward the end of the Republican era in Rome, male homosexuality became a crime punishable by a fine. It was especially with the rise of Christianity that repression intensified. In China, Confucian currents proper to the ruling class expressed homophobic views at about the same time. Homophobia and transphobia developed as a late consequence of the rise of class societies based on the patriarchal monogamous family.The Bourgeoisie
After the storming of the Bastille in Paris on July 14, 1789, and having made it clear at once to the Fourth Estate that the principles imprinted on the revolutionary banner, liberté, egalité, fraternité, were to be understood as the exclusive reserve of the bourgeoisie and the classes allied with them, in 1791 the Constituent Assembly blacklisted “deviant behaviour”, which until then had been punishable even by burning at the stake, under the judging authority of the ecclesiastical courts, with new decrees and standards.
Bourgeois revolutionary France thus became the first European nation to view the homosexual question through a new lens, making relevant changes against religious and medieval prejudice and abolishing ecclesiastical courts and anti‑sodomy legislation, circumscribing this problematic issue within the issue of rape, i.e., violence. The Napoleonic Code, promulgated in 1810, made it clear that both male and female persons were to be considered indiscriminately with regard to the crime of rape.
With such legislative acts homosexuals were guaranteed the tolerance of the law in their intimate relations, although homosexuality and transgenderism continued to be considered immoral and subjected to legal harassment according to the vague criterion of morality and public order.Recent Evolution
At the Congress of German Jurists in 1867 there was a return to the call for an end to criminal discrimination against persons of different sexual orientation. The neologism “homosexuality” appeared in a letter addressed to the Ministry of Justice of Prussia in 1869. The term transsexuality was coined in 1923 by German Social Democrat Hirschfeld.
In 1969 violent clashes between police and several groups of queer people took place at a Manhattan public house, the Stonewall Inn. From the mid‑1970s homosexuals started to claim limited legal rights. In the 1990s a sizeable transnational, as well as inter-class minority, with diverse sexual orientations and specific issues and problems, gathered together under the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) banner, giving rise to movements tending toward demands for the end of all legal, economic and cultural discrimination.
Same‑sex relationships were decriminalized in Poland in 1932, in Denmark in 1933, in Sweden in 1944, and in the United Kingdom in 1967. In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association removed the previous definition of homosexuality as a “mental disorder”. The World Health Organization removed homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses in 1990. In 1977 French-speaking Quebec, the first in the West, began banning all discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Later, most developed nations revoked regulations that considered homosexuality a crime and granted limited rights. The greatest resistance remains in Middle Eastern, Asian, African and Caribbean States; in a dozen nations homosexuality is considered punishable by up to life imprisonment and even the death penalty.
The Catholic Church in its Catechism defines homosexuality as an “intrinsically disordered” inclination and opposes equating homosexual couples with straight couples.Marxism
Contrary to the attacks of vulgates intended to characterize scientific socialism, and the proletariat in general, as insensitive and deaf, if not hostile, to the condition of homosexuals from its very origins, Marxism has always treated these in a similar way to those of other discriminated minorities (children, women, ethnic and religious minorities), without denying their specific aspects. But Marxism sets, consistently with its own revolutionary worldview, all these contradictions and demands within the framework of a given class-based social reality, in opposition to the various bourgeois inter-class conceptions that do not and cannot see that the fundamental contradiction is the one between social classes.
Let us give the floor to Karl Marx in The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.
«The direct, natural, and necessary relation of person to person is the relation of man to woman. In this natural species-relationship man’s relation to nature is immediately his relation to man, just as his relation to man is immediately his relation to nature – his own natural destination.
«In this relationship, therefore, is sensuously manifested, reduced to an observable fact, the extent to which the human essence has become nature to man, or to which nature to him has become the human essence of man. From this relationship one can therefore judge man’s whole level of development.
«From the character of this relationship follows how much man as a species-being, as man, has come to be himself and to comprehend himself; the relation of man to woman is the most natural relation of human being to human being. It therefore reveals the extent to which man’s natural behaviour has become human, or the extent to which the human essence in him has become a natural essence – the extent to which his human nature has come to be natural to him. This relationship also reveals the extent to which man’s need has become a human need; the extent to which, therefore, the other person as a person has become for him a need – the extent to which he in his individual existence is at the same time a social being».
We explicitly cited and commented on this passage in issue 17 of Il Programma Comunista from 1959.
Karl Marx bases the discussion of the matter under the lens of the materialistic dialectic of nature, considering the different sexual orientations in close connection with the family and society and the material and historical evolution of these institutions.
The doctrine of Marxism is distant from both religious and conservative bigotry and from any liberal conceptions, conceptions that are all far removed from a relationship, harmonious, synergistic, between men, between man and woman, between man and nature.
The central point of Marx’s argument is that the heterosexual relationship is a functional act for the biological reproduction of the species, in this sense the man‑woman relationship is “the most natural” one.
There’s thus no condemnation in Marx toward other sexual orientations or definition of these different orientations as “unnatural”.
Certainly implicit in this discourse is that in a society no longer founded on the exploitation and domination of man over man and of man over nature, and no longer founded on the existence and division into castes, classes and cliques, such conflicts, at the bottom of which there are always economic interests, would come to an end almost entirely. By contrast today, when the bourgeoisie and the capitalist mode of production are in their stage of decay, they tend to be accentuated.Lenin
In his famous conversation with Clara Zetkin in the fall of 1920 Lenin was concerned and recommended that the question be treated strictly through the historical materialist method. The same approach can be seen in a 1915 letter to Inessa Armand. For Lenin, proletarian revolution and its consolidation are the condition for liberating new relations between the sexes. First and foremost is the emancipation of women and the question of the family. The topic of homosexuality must be framed within this as a doctrinal approach.
As we wrote in The Oppression of Women and Communist Revolution, 1979: «We are opposed to the ideology of “free love” only inasmuch as it tries to replace revolution as a way of solving once and for all the problem of the relationship between the sexes (...) The search for free love, if purged of all radical-bourgeois ideologies and the anathema of conservatives and reactionaries, is an aspect of the affirmation of ourselves as human beings (...) New forms of relationships between the sexes cannot assert themselves without entirely shattering the existing social order, but the process leading to this finality is already recognizable in the independent path being followed, despite the difficulties, by so many women».The October Revolution
Soviet Russia with the promulgation of the new penal code on June 1, 1922 became, after France in 1789, the second major country to legalize homosexuality and relations between consenting adults.
Red October simultaneously affects all economic, social, cultural, and family aspects, projecting the status of women and homosexuals into new dimensions.
Legalization of divorce and abortion, legal equality of all unions and children however and wherever conceived, along with a policy of social support (kindergartens, clinics, entertainment venues, public kitchens and laundries, etc.), are among the very first interventions of the Communists. New regulations were issued on factory work, the eight‑hour day, lunch breaks, weekly day off, paid vacations, and a ban on work for children under 14.
For Lenin these were radical procedures, but still within the realm of “law”. But they demonstrate the new stage reached by the dictatorship of the proletariat compared to revolutionary France.
As early as 1917 all discriminatory legal regulations against sodomy, provided for in the Czarist penal code, were repealed. Soviet courts also approved marriage between homosexuals, and in the 1920s there are even recorded cases of sex change operations.
These freedoms were granted, for example, years before western women gained the right to vote and a century before laws against homosexuality were repealed.Counter-revolution
All of Red October’s economic, social and cultural affirmations gradually devolved and were revised in Russia with the decline of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the marginalization of revolutionary fractions and the retreat of Marxist forces in the west. As early as 1925, Turkestan lawmakers made homosexuality punishable again. In 1926 homosexuals were defined as “non‑proletarian”. Then in 1934 a new provision in the penal code reintroduced prison sentences for the crime of sodomy. At the same time new regulations would impose limitations and impediments to divorce and abortion. In the Stalinist era, official endorsement and support for the traditional family, the fundamental unit of the new nation-State, whose function is to defend and uphold the standards of the capitalist mode of production, returned.
It will be the communist left, in line with the Bolshevik revolutionary legacy, that will reknit all the red threads of October broken by this “Thermidor”, also with regard to sexual and homosexual issues.The LGBT Movement
The Communist Party recognizes that LGBT individuals, like those of other oppressed groups, face specific problems that they have to deal with in practice. And it recognizes the de facto existence of a movement demanding legal and social equality.
A connection to the labour movement occurred, for example, in the United States of the 1930s and later when the Stewards Union opened up to both homosexuals and all races. McCarthyism also led to purges of African Americans and homosexuals from unions. It is noted, however, that at the time, this movement tended to be circumscribed in a cultural and existential sphere, disconnected from the class struggle.
Communism calls on the gay movement – like that of women or racial or national minorities – to stand side by side in their struggle with that of the working class, in separate organizations, for their just demands, united with the whole proletariat.Communism
Today the bourgeoisie grants gay and transgender people the opportunity to create their own nuclear family units through marriage, which does not fail to replicate all the evils of the traditional heterosexual family, including male and female social roles and proprietary control over children.
Only with the abolition of class society can the foundations be laid for unhinging the institution of the traditional monogamous family as the central axis of society. Only in communism will the totality of specific social, loving and sexual roles assigned to genders in the monogamous family be overcome, along with the rigid distinctions between the various sexual orientations.
The end of all discrimination is tied to the success of communism, which alone can accommodate every drive beyond transitory results for emancipation of the infinite and multifaceted affirmation of human beings.
After the deluge of billions of dollars and euros to avoid economic collapse, it is time for recovery and stimulus packages. The signal has come from the United States, which, as in the 1930s, is preparing a "new deal" in the form of a mega stimulus package, parts of which are still being discussed in Congress. One component is to boost consumption, by sending a check for $1,400 to every American who earns less than $75,000 a year. The other component aims to invest in infrastructure, which has become rotten after several years of underinvestment, and in “future” technologies: electric batteries, for switching to electric cars, the production of processors, artificial intelligence, etc. Europe too has his investment plans, but on a smaller scale. The goal by investing in these technologies would be to relaunch a new productive cycle. The various bourgeoisie have not yet lost all hope of a new economic growth, which of course is, they will quickly realize, only an illusion.
The parallel with the 1930s is very relevant, because we are indeed in a similar situation. After the devastating crisis of 1929, there was a fleeting recovery that led to World War II. Unlike the 1930s, the overproduction crisis of 2008‑2009 did not unfold to its full extent; Instead, we have a chronic crisis and a headlong rush into indebtedness with artificial support thanks to the quantitative easing of central banks. But just as in the 1930s we are on the way to a global conflict. How long do we have before World War III breaks out: ten to fifteen years, to give an approximate time frame! Will this interval be sufficient for the chronic crisis of capitalism to become acute and lead to a resumption of the class struggle? This is what we hope for.
In front of the recurrent crises of overproduction that have hit world capitalism since the great international crisis of 1974‑1975, the big bourgeoisies and their States have organized mass unemployment in order to put pressure on wages, while making a whole part of the labour force, about a third, more precarious and impoverished. To complete this system, they have opened the borders wide to bring in cheap lobar, which capitalism is so fond of. For their part, the big companies, organized as monopolies, responded by reducing stocks as much as possible, thus operating on a just-in-time basis, subcontracting everything that could be subcontracted, and putting into competition, all over the world, a whole dusting of small and medium-sized companies which are obliged, in order to have the market, to give up part of their profits. And as this was not enough, a whole part of the production has been relocated to low‑cost countries, that is to say, countries where there are no social charges, no job guarantees, no unions to defend the workers – at least no official unions, because any organization of the workers is vigorously fought by the local power – this is what our bourgeois economists call the value chains. The manufacture of a product is now, as a result of this reorganization, distributed in different countries and often requires many round trips.
The great boon for the great imperialist centres has been the meteoric development of capitalism in Southeast Asia, especially in China, where capital from Japan, the United States, Germany, etc., has flowed in by the trillions. But now, in turn, the crisis of overproduction is beginning to knock on the door of Chinese capitalism.
If these "value chains" and the quantitative easing of the Central Banks have made it possible to avoid a collapse, as in the 1930s, following the recession of 2008‑2009, world capitalism has not yet emerged from this crisis. Most of the major imperialist States are seeing their industrial production remain well below that reached at the peak in 2007. If these “value chains” allow global capitalism to maintain itself, it is nevertheless at the price of a monstrous debt and an equally colossal pile of drafts in the virtual “coffers” of central banks.
And as in the thirties, the sound of boots can be heard, but this time on the borders of Central Europe, in the Pacific and on the Sino‑Indian frontier, announcing the future world conflict that is inexorably approaching.
In this context, a viral epidemic has been added, which, while having increased the mortality of the elderly over 75 years of age by about 10% in 2020, has aggravated the current recession as a result of the measures taken by some states and the increase in precautionary savings, which has reduced consumption accordingly.
Following the 2020 recession, which peaked from April to June, a recovery emerged in 2021, which also peaked in the same months. We thus have two inverted bell curves, one mirroring the other, so that the growth of one cancels out the fall in production of the other.
All imperialist countries are well behind the maximum reached in 2007 and that the recovery of 2021 is far from glittering. The rise in prices is therefore not due to an economic recovery that would be exceptional!
Since 1918, the United States has become the world’s leading producer of oil, and of gas since 2015. And despite the crisis, they remain far ahead.
What should be noted is that oil production in 2021 remains significantly lower than in 2019: the difference ranges from ‑9% for Russia to ‑15% for Iraq. This confirms the weakness of the recovery of industrial production worldwide and explains the sharp rise in prices. In order to maintain a strong price, production is kept slightly below demand by traditional producers.
The same phenomenon plays out with gas, but the difference with 2019 is much smaller. However, it is sufficient to maintain a high rent, especially in the winter period when gas is used for both heating and electricity generation. Note the sharp drop in gas production in the UK, which must have passed peak production and is running out of reserves. To be confirmed.
In the merchandise exports, as expected, there is a still moderate drop in 2019, followed by a much sharper drop in 2020; depending on the country, the drop in exports ranges from ‑5.5% to ‑15%. China has taken the lion’s share with an annual growth of almost 23%. It is followed by Belgium with 9.8%, then Korea with 7.9% and finally we have the surprising Italy with +3.4%. All others are in the negative with ‑7% for France and ‑12.8% for England.
As respective weight of each, not surprisingly, China is in the lead, followed by the United States, then Germany. As for Japan, it retains its position as the fourth largest exporter, but more surprisingly Italy has passed France. This is the result of the combination of the criminal economic policy of the French bourgeoisie and old capitalism. However, one can think that this is temporary. And the old British Lion is now closing the gap, its decline inexorable.
The current inflation cannot be explained by a strong industrial recovery, since it remains below the level of 2019, which was itself a year of recession. The high price of energy and certain raw materials is rather explained by the fact that their production, as we have seen with oil and gas, is consciously maintained below the level necessary to meet demand, which allows prices to rise and ensures a comfortable rent. For agricultural products, we must also add the poor harvest due to bad weather, which has caused an increase in the price of certain foods.
Added to this is the anarchy inherent in this mode of production.
For energy the European multinationals, in order to save money, have waited until the last moment to fill their tanks, making the price of gas explode, which of course is aligned with the least profitable well – this is what they call the law of the market: it is in fact the law of monopolies allowing some to pocket a real rent. And the famous wind turbines, which should provide some electricity, have provided very little this year due to a lack of wind, making the situation even worse.
And of course speculation, in such a situation, has a field day, contributing to the rise in prices. In addition to this organized plundering, there is another that the various bourgeoisies have been implementing for thirty years now with liberalism. For example, French nuclear electricity, the cheapest in Europe, after Finland, a small country where hydroelectric production is sufficient for its needs, has been aligned with the price of gas so as not to compete with other producers! This is what they call free competition. And it’s not over yet: EDF2 is forced to sell half of its electricity production below cost to subsidized suppliers who produce nothing, but are just there to shear the wool of the sheep.
Thus it is the proletarians who pay for the enrichment of a whole band of parasites. The bourgeoisie has become, with its mode of production, a totally parasitic class incapable of the slightest long‑term forecast. It functions at sight.
Following the massive stimulus plans on the other side of the Atlantic, a polemic broke out between different economists who point the finger at the colossal inflation of the money supply, which would explain the origin of inflation.
As we know, since the crisis of 2008‑2009, global capitalism has been kept alive by the flood of trillions of dollars by central banks! Such a flood of currencies in a "normal" situation would lead to high inflation; this has not been the case, as deflationary forces have proven to be more powerful.
The interventions of the central banks during the epidemic were particularly massive, so what is really going on?
We reported the curves and tables concerning the monetary aggregates M1 and M3. The curves show the strong increase of the monetary aggregate, both M1 and M3 between February 2020 and June 2021. Especially in the US where the increase is colossal! From 2019 to 2021, the monetary aggregate M1 increased by 400% in the United States, while everywhere else it increased by an average of 24%. And if we calculate the total increase since 2007, we have 1303% for the United States, while for the others the increase goes from 100% for Japan to 184% for the Eurozone. There is no doubt that such an increase in the money supply, out of proportion to the wealth created during this period, partly explains inflation. During the period from 2010 to 2019, inflation was, as we explained above, in the prices of financial securities and real estate, creating huge bubbles and instability.
The Pakistani State has announced amnesty for Pakistani Taliban militants if they give up their activities. This comes after the Taliban in Afghanistan released Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants from prisons: a UN report estimated there were 6,000 in Afghanistan in July.
Recently there have been many attacks by the TTP and Baluch nationalist groups against the Frontier Corps (army paramilitary group responsible for the administration of Balucistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). This, too, would suggest that Baluch nationalist groups have recently begun to collaborate with the TTP and Sindhi nationalist militant groups.
On Sept. 17, a visit by the New Zealand cricket team was cancelled due to receiving a threat; the U.K. team also withdrew; however, Pakistani authorities claim it was only an email sent from an address in India, calling it Indian sabotage. Pakistani State television is estimated to have suffered a loss of 200 to 250 million rupees.
On September 19, Pakistan sent 17 food trucks to aid Afghanistan. A Pakistani flag was removed from one of these trucks, civilians and some Taliban militants tried to burn it; the Taliban administration intervened, apologizing to Pakistan, and claiming to have punished those involved in the incident.
The Pakistani government has been trying to reestablish ties with the Biden administration, but with difficulty since the Taliban took office. This is a change in its policy, as in the past years of the Trump administration Pakistan had moved away from it, increasing its dependence on China.
Since the Taliban’s takeover, Pakistan has stepped up its meddling in Afghanistan, possibly due to the collapse of the Ghani administration, whose relations with Pakistan had increasingly deteriorated. There are also plans to trade with Afghanistan in Pakistani rupee, which would give Pakistan a leading economic role.
In addition to this, Pakistan called on States around the world to take action to recognize Afghanistan, and remove economic sanctions imposed on the country. On September 23, a similar appeal was made by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. It is clear that Pakistan has echoed Chinese interests, and that the Chinese State sees Pakistan as an intermediary to gain influence in Afghanistan. The Taliban, for their part, have welcomed Chinese investment.
A 6.2 percent increase in the military budget has been allocated for 2020‑21, totalling 1.37 trillion rupees, larger than that of 2019‑20, which was 4.6 percent. These figures, however, do not cover the military’s major acquisitions, including the separately funded nuclear weapons program, and payments to military retirees, which total 360 billion rupees.On the Labour Front
16,000 workers in various government departments were fired last month after a Supreme Court decision; they had already been fired in the 1990s, only to be reinstated in 2010 by court order during the People’s Party government. These workers protested across the country. Hundreds staged a sit‑in on September 12 in Islamabad, a demonstration was also organized in Dadu Sindh by the unemployed youth movement (PTUDC and BNT). PTUDC is the trade union wing of the Trotskyist organization ”The Struggle”.
Another protest was organized by PTUDC in Mirpur Bhattoro against the dismissal of Sui gas employees, other protests were made in Khairpur Mir.
On September 22, the IESCO hydro union organized a demonstration in Islamabad against the proposed privatization. On Sept. 2 in Peshawar faculty and academic staff protested against the privatization of universities and the top‑down appointment of the board of trustees.
On August 28, a demonstration of more than a thousand workers in the Korangi industrial zone in Karachi was called by various unions, including the Trotskyist union (RWF), grouped into a workers’ solidarity committee. Demands included a wage of 25 thousand rupees, which is already by law the minimum wage but is never met, the elimination of contract labour, and the enforcement of industrial safety laws. This demonstration occurred immediately after a horrific crime perpetrated by the bourgeoisie on August 27, when 17 workers, including a 13-year-old child, were burned to death in a textile factory in Karachi’s Korangi industrial zone. The factory owners are free; the entire bourgeois regime is responsible.
The factory, which produced products for export, had been “checked” for safety by international associations, was unregistered, and all its workers were also without any rights as they were unregistered. The Mazdoor Kisan Party (the only Stalinist party in existence, which rarely does anything) along with some Trotskyist organizations and other unions held protests outside the factory.
An estimated 12 million children are forced to work, 69 percent in agriculture, 11 percent in industry and 20 percent in services. Seventy percent of servile labour involves children. Servile, slave labour often includes work in furnaces, agriculture and domestic services. A real nightmare for these workers who are victims of the worst capitalist exploitation. A share of child labour will never end in capitalism since the needs of profit dictate it.
For the education of young people, as Marx stated long before modern pedagogy itself discovered it, it is essential to combine study and work, in ways and times graduated to age, in a close relationship between generations, finally non‑competitive.
Workers, young and old, must have their own class unions and their own genuine Communist Party; the solution to their miserable conditions lies only in the dictatorship of the proletariat and communism!The economic crisis
After the deluge of billions of dollars and euros to prevent economic collapse, it seems the time has come for “recover” and stimulus “packages”.
The signal has come from the United States, which, as in the 1930s, is preparing a “New Deal” in the form of a mega‑subsidy package, part of which is still being debated in Congress. They aim to increase consumption by sending a check for $1,400 to every American earning less than $75,000 a year. The other component aims to invest in infrastructure, crumbling after many years of non‑maintenance, and in futuristic technologies: electric cars, new types of processors, artificial intelligence, etc. Europe also has its own plans, but on a smaller scale. The goal, by investing in these technologies, would be to revive a new production cycle.
The bourgeoisies have not lost hope in new economic growth, but they will soon realize that theirs is only an illusion.
The parallel with the 1930s is apt; we are in just such a situation. After the devastating crisis of 1929, there was a fleeting recovery that resulted in the new crisis of 1938 and, soon after, in World War II. Unlike the 1930s, the overproduction crisis of 2008‑2009 did not fully unfold. Instead, we had a chronic crisis and a precipitous rush to debt with artificial aid thanks to central banks’ “quantitative easing”.
But, just as in the 1930s, we are on the road to global conflict. How long do we have before World War III breaks out? Ten to fifteen years, to give an approximate time frame. Will this interval be enough for the chronic crisis of capitalism to sharpen and lead to a resumption of class struggle? This is what we hope.
As always we take stock of the current recovery, presented as solid and vigorous by various governments. Let’s start with the United States. After a drop of almost 7 percent in 2020, we have a recovery that looks vigorous, as growth in April is 17.5 percent, then 16.1 percent in May and 9.9 percent in June.
But on closer inspection, this recovery has only offset the drop in output from April to June 2020: ‑17.7%, ‑16.2% and ‑11%. Based on the indexes for the first 6 months of the year available to us, we see that at this rate industrial production in 2021 will still remain 6/7% lower than in 2019, itself a year already in recession.
Of the other countries, we have reported the growth of industrial production in a table. Production in the first seven months of 2021 is still lower than in 2019 and ranges, depending on the country, from ‑2% to ‑5%. Compared to the previous high, reached in 2007, the difference ranges from ‑11% to ‑27%. Germany is the exception with a small ‑2%. Thus, we have not seen a real recovery, although some countries will be able to regain the 2019 level by the end of the year.
Stimulus plans for the moment are having no effect. The economy is not working miracles. However, at best, after two or three years of recovery, just like after 2010‑2011, recession will return.
It is in China, in the real estate sector, that the first cracks in this recovery are being felt. Evergrande, the second largest investor in real estate, with $260 billion in debt, is unable to repay it and hand over apartments already sold. Comparable to Lehman Brothers in terms of financial clout, it should not lead to the same disaster, however, because the Chinese State, which has a massive reserve treasury, will step in to stagger its liquidation or fractional sale. However, the entire real estate sector is in crisis because of general overproduction and overpricing due to frenzied speculation in the sector.
After all, the debt of Chinese companies amounts to 160 percent of GDP, twice as much as American companies! Not to mention the Chinese banks whose balance sheets are full of insolvent bills of exchange. So, despite the Chinese State’s reserve fund, there will come a time when it can no longer cope and the bankruptcies will turn into avalanches that will sweep the entire system.
During the 2015‑16 recession, to stem capital flight and currency devaluation, the Chinese State spent a trillion dollars in foreign currency!
Chinese imperialism is actively preparing militarily for a confrontation to challenge the status quo of the last war, but first the crisis of capital and general collapse may come from China itself. Chinese capitalism since the early 2000s has experienced a gigantic accumulation, thanks to significant capital inflows from the United States, Japan and Europe, but also thanks to gigantic debt. But the end game is coming, the slowdown is general, inflation is approaching 10 percent, and workers are beginning to be in short supply, leading to wage increases as production costs rise.
We have all the signs preceding a vast crisis of overproduction. The Chinese bourgeoisie, echoing the theories of Joseph Stalin, deludes itself that it can stem the crisis and control capital accumulation through the State. We saw the result with the USSR: a general collapse and drop in production that exceeded that of the U.S. in 1929‑32!
To complete this overview, we have reported oil and gas production data in two tables. These cover only the first 5 months of the year. What should be noted is that the United States remains by far the largest producer of oil and gas, despite the severe crisis in the energy sector.
As with industrial production, we have forecast production for all of 2021, based on the first five months available to us. Production has continued to decline, despite the general economic recovery. This, too, proves the weakness, for the time being, of the recovery and explains the increase in prices to $70 per barrel for oil. However, the U.S. and Russia have significantly increased production in the past month, indicating that it will continue to rise and may return to 2019 levels with the risk of further price declines.
For natural gas, the decline in production has been smaller and is expected to return to 2019 levels by the end of the year. For now, based on extraction rates for the first 5 months, production, except for Russia, is still lower than in 2019 by 1.7 percent to 3.2 percent depending on the country. Russia, on the other hand, has exceeded the level reached in 2019 by 6%.
The United Kingdom, on the other hand, is experiencing a historic decline related to the depletion of its gas reserves. In the United States, gas production has turned positive since May, so it should recover and perhaps even exceed the level reached in 2019 by the end of the year.
The graphs for trade show that the trade recession in 2020 was of the same magnitude as in 2015, but much smaller than in 2009. On the following curve we see a recovery in trade, but the increases in January‑July barely offset the decline in the corresponding months in 2020.
In conclusion, still production and trade have not returned to the levels of 2019, also already in recession. We can think that this level will be reached by the end of 2021. But on the other hand, whatever the recovery plans are, we will not come out of the 2008‑2009 crisis, a new economic cycle will not open.
The comrade, in order to give a picture of the power relations among States, used data on the world arms trade in 2020, provided by Sipri last March, as well as news reports from the trade press. He reported data on the main exporting States and purchasers of weapon systems, and also recalled trends in military spending in general that we reported on in a previous paper.
The international trade in weapons and weapons systems is obviously of great strategic importance, more so than oil, gas, or grain, for example. These modern and efficient weapons enhance a State’s offensive capability, outside and inside its borders.
On the other hand, those who are able to produce and sell these devices have the power to direct buyers and extend their control in those strategic areas.
During the so‑called Cold War the States that emerged victorious from World War II had established a strict division of powers in controlling the various regions of the world. Each had its own zone of influence militarily, but also economically, within which trade was facilitated while that to the outside world was rather limited. This was also the case for the arms trade.
With the end of the Cold War, even the appearance that arms sales responded to political or ideological choices vanished. No one advances ideological questions about the arms trade any more. Italy, France and Germany, three States that call themselves defenders of “human rights” compete to sell arms to the Egyptian military regime, and it is utopian to think that they would give up billion-dollar deals over “moral” issues.
It often happens that people sell weapons to their enemies, even during an open conflict, such as currently between Ukraine and Russia. “L’argent fait la guerre”. States producing weapon systems are a very limited number because the military industry, in addition to needing high technical standards, requires huge investment in research and development and material acquisition. At the same time it ensures huge profits and great power. Investments to design and produce some systems are now exorbitant and often require the State to advance at least some of the capital. This explains the need for manufacturing companies not only to ensure that their State buys a substantial number of them, but also to sell them to others.
Obviously, there is a strong correlation between States that invest the most in military spending and those that export arms, war products and services.
In the past 5 years, out of the $140 billion in sales, the top 10 exporting countries took 127 billion, or 90%, and the top 15 countries took 95%. The top 5 companies are all in the United States, and in the 2015‑2019 period alone they accounted for 36% of global exports.
Production is also highly concentrated, and this is proof of how baseless are the talk of equality of nations and “détent” and peace among States. The “military industrial complex” has enormous financial, economic and political power and can quietly influence the choices of States, both in foreign and domestic policy.
Ranking first among exporting States is the USA, which sold 37 percent of global exports in 2014‑19 compared with 32 percent in the previous five‑year period. In 2020, their exports accounted for 41 percent of global value. Russia, traditionally a major exporter of weapon systems, while maintaining second place, exported only 14 percent of the global total in the past year, down sharply from the 20 percent recorded in the 2016‑20 five year period. Its exports in absolute value are estimated to have shrunk by 22 percent. In third place among exporters is France, which shares 8.2 percent of the total export value. In fourth place is Germany, which increased its exports in the last five‑year period by 21 percent over the previous one and now accounts for 5.5 percent of global exports.
In fifth place is China, which, however, saw its exports decline by 7.8 percent between 2011‑2015 and 2016‑2020. During 2016‑20, Chinese exports accounted for 5.2 percent of total arms exports. U.K. exports between the five‑year period 2011‑2015 and the following five‑year period decreased by as much as 27 percent. In the last five‑year period, the UK accounted for 3.3 percent of total exports.
In contrast, Spain has significantly increased its exports in the past three years, thus gaining the seventh place in the world ranking. Of particular note is the case of Israel, which, in the average of the five‑year period, increased its exports by 59% over the previous one, taking eighth place. South Korea, for its part, has really worked wonders in the last five years by increasing its exports over the previous five‑year period by as much as 210 percent, thus gaining 2.7 percent of world exports and ninth place. Immediately following is Italy, which in 2020, in contrast to what happened to many exporting countries, more than doubled its exports from the year before. Absent from this ranking is Japan, which also has industries capable of producing all kinds of weapons. This difficulty for Japan to enter the arms market is a legacy of its defeat in World War II.
Among the major importing States in first place, and for many years, is Saudi Arabia, the leading customer of the U.S. military industry. In second place is the Indian giant: 11% of the world’s arms sales come to the subcontinent, 60% of the country’s war potential is imported, a market of more than $13 billion in the last 5 years: more than double China’s imports.
In third place surprisingly is Egypt, whose imports increased by as much as 136 percent between the five‑year period 2011‑15 and 2016‑20. Note the rearmament undertaken by Australia, which is especially concerned about the growing influence of China.
China, despite the achievements of its military industry, also remains a major arms importer (5th place). The others are South Korea (7th), Japan (12th), Britain (14th), Israel (15th), and the United States itself (13th).
Another major importer is Algeria, the largest on the African continent, after Egypt, incidentally this one considered a Middle Eastern country. Little Qatar spends astronomical amounts on armaments. The United Arab Emirates maintains the ninth place.
Venezuela between 2013 and 2020 lost about 75% of its GDP. A slight recovery in economic activity was noted in 2021. The rise in oil prices, the easing of quarantine measures, the reactivation of remittances sent by Venezuelans abroad, the activation of some non‑oil exports, the deceleration of inflation as a result of the Central Bank’s infusion of dollars into circulation, and finally the facilities provided by the government for the circulation of the dollar, all of these were factors that had an effect, mainly on trade and services.
By remaining low on oil revenues anyway, the government has lost much of its ability to influence the economy, and private companies centralize much of the economic activity. The government maintains tariff policies typical of the oil rent and favours. foreign industry. Importers benefit greatly.
The exchange rate is overvalued and will become unsustainable. It is estimated that it should hover around 28 or 30 bolivars per dollar but in recent months it has been set between 4 and 5.
Although oil production increased in 2021, it is still below the 2019 average, which was already one‑third below 2013 production. However, production in November 2021 increased by 25 percent compared to 2020. But fuel is imported due to refinery paralysis. Oil prices increased by 170% in 2021 compared to 2020, standing at US$72.82/barrel. Oil exports declined by 91% between 2013 and 2020.
Deregulation and price liberalization of goods and services has increased trade margins, but the market has shrunk due to low purchasing power of wage earners and unemployment.
The drama of low wages and high unemployment continues and pushes workers toward struggle, which so far has been contained by “left” and right‑wing unions and parties. The official minimum wage is in the range of Bs 7 per month (US$1.75!).
Despite the government’s demagogic talk, it is the free market and the private sector that determine wage dynamics. A recovery in oil revenues will not lead to significant wage increases, but it will give the government a chance to expand the populist voucher policy.
The insignificant official minimum wage, applied to the country’s 2.8 million civil servants, 26.5 percent of total employment, is offset with bonds issued by the State through the “Homeland system” while overall pay remains below extreme poverty. Even for university workers, the “best paid” the maximum salary is about $11 a month. Of course, pensions in the public sector are regulated by the amount of the official minimum wage.
In addition to the public sector, 25 percent of employees are in the private sector and 47 percent self employed. It is estimated that in the private sector, workers’ de facto incomes range from $40 to $150 per month. By contrast, the family consumption basket stands at $800 and for food consumption alone at $340. Salaries plus bonuses paid in the private sector are insufficient even for food expenses alone.
8.1 million Venezuelans are unemployed, 58% in 2020. During 2021 this rate decreased slightly, remaining around 50%. Emigrants and casual and undeclared work, for which there is no official data, are not counted. Due to the dispersion and disorganization of workers, no major conflicts have arisen. It is public sector workers and pensioners who are the protagonists of the few protest initiatives.
There were agitations among petrochemicals and related companies, universities, health care, schools, courts, letter carriers, etc. Some categories made demands for the payment of vouchers or their increase. These kinds of demands have not been rejected by the Central and Union Federations, which prefer workers to focus on these kinds of demands and not on a general increase in wages and the conversion of bonuses into wages.
Some union sectors have called for wage indexation, which, however, is meaningless when starting from the current extremely low levels. Such political groups and union currents play into the hands of the bosses and the Central Federations that keep the movement away from the struggle for the main demand: across-the-board wage increases that cover the costs of food, health and basic services. Other union groups and activists plan to fight for these goals, but they do not yet have sufficient forces and do not propose a united path to a general strike.
Since well before the pandemic, the working class has been fighting back against the production regime imposed by the demands of capital, while the unions that claim to represent it are lost in negotiations that lead to little or nothing.
The pandemic has not dampened the class clash in the secondary sector of capitalist production. Despite the fears of the bosses, since the early 2020s, manufacturing has continued to slowly grow despite the sanitary blockade; a myriad of enterprises, considered “essential” by the federal and State governments, have continued to produce as if nothing had happened.
Strikes during the pandemic gained some personal protection and safety precautions, but pre‑existing contracts, signed between unions and companies, which maintain the old ways of working, remained in force. These, unregulated by the States, are in most cases established in contracts, which have now become inadequate; but unionists manage to impose their validity through a series of manoeuvrers and by pressuring workers to approve them.
The pandemic has awakened the nationalism of the ruling class, seeking protectionism, which, however, it has seen implemented recently only in the field of intellectual property. It is said to want to bring production from distant exotic locations back within national borders, when, in fact, the industrial capitalist cares little where a commodity is produced but only if he has the opportunity to profit from it.
Propaganda for the “homecoming” of factories overlaps with the lifelong conflicts between businesses and workers.
When companies go about resurrecting American manufacturing, placing it in the cheapest and most profitable areas, the working class struggle may find itself in a favourable situation.
From 2017 to 2020, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Nevada saw more than 100,000 new manufacturing jobs, or 30 percent of national job growth in the sector. The western part of the United States has a lower cost of land and services and generous financial assistance from the States. All this makes it attractive to corporations and small businessmen. The “Southwestern book” has been extolled by the bourgeois media, which never misses an opportunity to repeat that the U.S. economy is on the rebound more than ever.
In addition, given the lower cost of living, wages are significantly lower there. And more to the point, in these States, which have hosted few manufacturing activities in the past, companies can also enjoy a union‑free environment.
Without independent organization, where only struggles can be planned and prepared for, the class is at the mercy of the capitalists and their collaborators.
In the manufacturing sector in the U.S., collective union bargaining has been recognized for nearly 100 years. But it is almost always given by agreement between bosses and union leadership that they will conform to the needs of production, the wage scale, expendable in the name of defending the jobs of union members only.
Workers generally know that the unions’ concern is to correct downward costs, and they push to break off negotiations and direct action, while the unions are in a hurry to close down and get everyone back to work. Meanwhile, companies engage in constant “updating” of contracts to cut costs, with the complacency of union representatives. Workers thus find themselves disorganized, while labour intensity is constantly increasing. They boast of the supposed benefits workers would enjoy by joining a union, when the eagerness to increase profits drives companies to worsen their conditions as well. Union leaders respond that contracts defend the jobs of their members, ignoring wage diversifications between workers side by side on the shop floor. In reality, the bosses maintain discipline there by pitting workers in different conditions against each other, profiting particularly from those at lower wages.
On the wage scale is different treatment between workers hired before a certain contract and those hired after, between workers under direct contracts and those who, while performing the same tasks, are hired by agencies or on a temporary basis. After each agreement, bosses justify these differences as a premium of seniority, or to induce higher performance, but in reality they tend to divide workers in the same plant by pitting them against each other.
Corporate unions remain loyal to the economic needs of corporations, in a rigidly defined role shaped throughout the history of American working-class struggle since 1900. These unions claim to represent their members today, while ignoring the workers to be hired in the future who, because of the agreements signed, will automatically be placed in the lower wage scales and subjected to more intense work rhythms. This failure to defend the entire working class, this contradiction has never escaped the notice of the combative workers in the grassroots bodies and their fellow workers in the lower levels.
Their organization is built, slowly, on their defensive struggles, in a joint effort entirely outside the official agreements made behind closed doors.
What is needed is a united class action on a national scale, and with an international perspective. Without such a coordinated effort – as past attempts in individual workplaces show – the proletariat will be confined to limited struggles in companies, bumping into the effective resistance of the bosses, assisted by the regime unions.
Obviously it is not a matter of principle: we certainly cannot exclude a‑priori any form of expression. Banners, standards and insignia are weapons, tools of war. A horn, a tam‑tam, a totem, to comfort friends and threaten enemies, in given circumstances, are indeed useful.
But now we are not at war. We are at war, but with words, with printed paper, where theses, interpretations and lessons of past wars are compared. For this war of today, symbols do more harm than good. To the point of being able to turn against us. Symbols, images, can be even more lying and deceitful than words.
The Second International hid its betrayal behind sweet images of radiant dawns, over ears of corn and anvils. Many proletarians were deceived by that rhetoric and, believing that they were going towards the rising red sun of socialism, found themselves slaughtered in the trenches of the First World War.
Stalinism, too, drowned communism in a flood of red paint, with scythes and hammers wielded by muscular workers, against the backdrop of the founding saints, from Marx to... Enver Hoxha. Today we would find ourselves contending for those symbols in one of the greatest States of world capitalism.
When the party reorganized in the last years of the Second World War, there was a widespread illusion that the second post‑war period would be as fertile for revolution as the first. Many comrades acted accordingly, preparing for it in every way. Among them they showed themselves to the class adorned with the traditional symbols that had been of communism and the Third International.
All this was the result of a too optimistic evaluation of that historical situation. The Party was fully convinced only in 1952. Those who did not want to accept that the revolution had been postponed for the moment abandoned the party.
They gave in, we said, to “activism”. This does not mean doing activity, an intense propaganda activity of penetration into the workers’ ranks, but the pretension of changing the course of history through organizational tools and, lacking principles, going to school of the “movement”.
Since then we have – temporarily – put aside even any iconography. Not because we want to distance the party from the living working class and make it a circle of study and publications. But to present ourselves behind a symbol – that the first to be seen – would have only made confusion, would have to some extent brought us closer to others and made the task of defining doctrine more difficult.
The titles of our periodicals were The Soviet, the form of proletarian power in Russia, Prometeo, the man who stole fire from the gods, and Spartaco, the rebel slave. But we wanted to call them then, without a doubt, Il Programma Comunista, then Comunismo and Il Partito Comunista.
After many decades of Stalinist and post-Stalinist counter-revolution, it is necessary that the program of the Party be identified in the most precise way through its original ancient tactical and principled positions.
The revolution will be the product of the return to the social scene of real historical forces, not of a particularly willing and visible form of organization. The organizational fact, which does have its importance, must not overpower or overshadow the disruptive content of our program. We want to be recognized as the party of communism, not only and not so much as an organization, in competition with the others. It is necessary not to distract the attention of comrades from a rigorous programmatic delimitation, before that of organization.
The party has an organization but it is not an organization.
The case of the trade union is different; first of all, it is an organization: in it, a fundamental element is the numerical strength, of workers only. An army wearing red shirts seems more numerous than it is. The working class organizes itself to go out of the factories, to seen itself and to be seen, and to occupy the squares, with every useful tool: flags, shouts, slogans, music, anthems, t‑shirts, badges, etc. etc.How do communists recognize themselves?
We call ourselves “International Communist Party”. Three words which say almost everything. And for the moment it’s a bigger name than we are! We have nothing to invent. Tomorrow, when the need arises, symbols and flags will come into their own.
And today our comrades are not afraid, in any situation, to declare themselves, simply, “internationalist”, individually and as groups.
How in the crowd do we recognize ourselves among communists? We answer that the communists must be so well framed (even in the demonstrations in the squares), supportive and trained, in attitudes, in language, in the battle and in common work, that they know each other very well for a long time, or that they can “smell” each other even at the first meeting. It is too naive to rely on an easily falsifiable little mark on a hat or jacket lapel.
But how will the ignorant masses, who know nothing about Marxism and history and have no time to read the communist press, recognize us?
The time will come when they will follow our flags. But this will happen when, through the development of the practical struggle between classes, they will have been able to recognize them, to associate them with a given battle direction, which they have searched for, experimented and accepted.
For the moment, in the media abuse of symbols and images, we can only be recognized by our words and our characteristic attitude of seriousness and consistency.
Clothes, in class societies, are important, because those are seen. It is no accident that priests wear cassocks and judges wear ermines. We communists, who are not idealists, know this. Communists, on the other hand, have never worn uniforms.
But the revolution is not the product of a well‑organized advertising campaign, better than that of the bourgeoisie. Otherwise we would be lost! It will be the practical experience of the working class, in social warfare against the bourgeoisie and its State, during which it will have been able to prove the rightness of the party’s direction, that will make possible the reunion of the party with the class.
Union activity during the summer months in Italy, from late May to the present, has had two main aspects. On the one hand, the attempt by the leaderships of grassroots unionism to organize united struggle actions, first in the logistics category, then proclaiming a general strike for Monday, October 11. On the other, the union landscape was enlivened by a company‑wide dispute – at GKN in Campi Bisenzio, in the province of Florence – which, both because of the combativeness of those workers and the general passivity of the working class, assumed national prominence, attracting the hopes and attentions of confrontational unionism and opportunist workers’ groups and parties of the bourgeois left.
For last Friday, June 18, the three main grassroots unions in logistics – SI Cobas, Adl Cobas and Usb – had unitedly proclaimed a national class strike, which was then joined by the other grassroots unions present in smaller forces in the sector: Sol Cobas, Cub Trasporti, AL Cobas, Sgb, Slai Cobas for the Class Union.
We intervened with a leaflet that emphasized this action between grassroots unions (such as SI Cobas and Usb) which in the logistics sector more than in any other had clashed, while at the same time warning of the fragility of this understanding between opportunist union leaderships, which for years have opposed any united action with all sorts of instrumental arguments and which now, for reasons that are not yet clear and perhaps equally instrumental and contingent, have come to act in accordance with the direction always indicated by our union fraction. The revocability of the united conduct of the grassroots unions promoted by the present leadership has been confirmed by subsequent events.
On the day of the strike, on a picket line in front of a warehouse in the province of Novara, a local SI Cobas leader was run over and killed by a boss driving his truck. On the same day we published a statement. The response of grassroots unionism to this abject act has unfortunately not lived up to its seriousness. In particular, responsibility falls on the leadership of SI Cobas, which, the organization of the murdered trade unionist, was in a position to promote a unified response. From various shores of conflict unionism, a general strike was called for, but even without resorting to maximum class mobilization, one response could have been a united national class strike of basic or general unionism in the province of Novara. Instead, the SI Cobas leadership alone proclaimed a 4‑hour national strike in logistics for Thursday, June 24, and organized a demonstration in Novara the following Saturday, the 26th, without inviting the other organizations of conflict unionism. We commented on these facts in our international press and circulated a leaflet.
On June 29, the government, regime unions and employers’ organizations reached an agreement to restore companies’ freedom to lay off workers, which had been suspended at the beginning of the pandemic to avoid a wave of layoffs. The bosses were thus able to leave workers at home without incurring layoff costs, which fell on INPS, which has since saved for the tens of thousands of pensioners who have died from Covid since the start of the pandemic: life expectancy in 2020 has dropped by 1.2 years, by 4.5 years in the provinces of Bergamo, Cremona and Lodi. The regime’s unions endorsed the return to freedom of layoffs – except for the textile and footwear sectors, where the freeze was extended until September 30 – without batting an eyelid and in the middle of the summer period, when it is most difficult to organize struggles, getting in return the ridiculous “recommendation” to companies to use 13 weeks of social shock absorbers before laying off. Immediately came news of factories announcing closure or layoffs.
The National Assembly of Combative Workers on June 6 was divided on whether to call a general strike on the heels of the release of layoffs, or wait until the fall. A minority section of it considered such a government act disruptive and therefore the propitious time for maximum class mobilization. Instead, the majority decided to postpone until the fall.
Incidentally, the Assembly of Combative Workers for the first time was convened with a joint-signature communiqué with the so‑called Anti-Capitalist Action Pact for a Single Class Front, thus sanctioning its dependence on that party-driven front, which prevents it from being a truly useful body for the unity of action of confrontational trade unionism and the unity of workers’ struggles.
In assessing the effects of the release of layoffs, we have been cautious, considering the more than 800,000 workers already laid off, despite the freeze, by virtue of the non renewal of fixed‑term contracts. To redress the discontent shown within the CGIL in the face of the release of layoffs, FIOM has called for a 2‑hour nationwide strike divided factory by factory. This seems to have been enough to avoid more trouble for the CGIL.
One of the first factories to announce its closure was, on July 9, GKN in Campi Bisenzio.
In the landscape of general passivity of the working class, this is one of the most combative metal-mechanical factories in Italy. Almost all of the workers are FIOM members, and six out of seven delegates belong to the internal opposition area of Fiom CGIL, the seventh is from the USB. Over the years, GKN workers have managed to reject some pejorative agreements signed by Fim, Uilm and also FIOM. Most recently they had led a struggle for the hiring of temporary workers, temporarily achieving positive results. They formed a Factory Collective, that is, a larger body than the RSU, which stands alongside it and is playing a key role in the ongoing struggle. The GKN represented one of the now few strengths of the opposition area in CGIL “Let’s Reclaim Everything” a small minority, on the order of 2‑3 percent at the last congress in 2018.
To intervene in the struggle at GKN, we distributed no less than 4 leaflets: the first one as soon as the closure was announced, on July 11; the second distributed at the provincial general strike proclaimed by the Florentine CGIL, on the 19th; the third at the first national demonstration, in Campi Bisenzio, on July 24; and the fourth distributed on Saturday, September 18 at the second national demonstration in Florence.
We insist on it in three directions: a) praising the pugnacity of the GKN workers; b) explaining the need that the unity they have managed to build inside the factory must be extended outside by uniting the ongoing struggles with those against layoffs, of the employed and the unemployed, in defence of their conditions of employment and life; c) indicating what union demands are consistent with this.
In fact, the GKN factory collective has been very involved in weaving relationships with other workers in struggle and groups of combative workers, regardless of the false boundaries of category and union acronym. The most important cases have been the support given to the Pakistani textile workers laid off by Texprint in Prato and the relationship woven with the “All aboard” struggle committee of former Alitalia workers, who have been fighting for months against layoffs and contractual worsening. Instead, it is on the level of the claim structure that the combativeness of these workers is lost in union political opportunism, eventually straying from the path toward unity of struggle to become entangled in the alchemy of reformist and parliamentary politics. The claim identified by the Factory Collective to unite workers’ struggles would be a “law against relocation”.
The workers are under the illusion that the functioning of the capitalist economy can be regulated, that the bourgeois State can lend itself to such a function, and that this can happen by virtue of a political force capable of entering parliament on the back of a return to working-class struggle.
In Italy from late September to the present, union activity has revolved around two central events: the October 11 united general strike of grassroots trade unionism and the December 16 general strike of CGIL and UIL. In both we intervened with special flyers, on October 11 in Rome, Florence, Genoa and Turin, and on December 16 in Milan and Rome.
The events surrounding the two mobilizations, preparing and following them, confirmed the correctness of the party’s trade union direction. We commented on them in Italian Journal 412 and 413, presenting the two leaflets.
– The united general strike of conflict unionism on Oct. 11
On October 11, all the leaderships of grassroots unionism, bar none, called a united general strike for the first time in at least 15 years. The party remarked on its value, but explained that it was the result of contingent calculations by the majority of the leaderships of grassroots unionism, who by this decision were not coming to deny their opportunist nature, and that a return to the previous conduct of separate and competing actions among the different organizations, which divided the labour movement, was to be expected from them.
Recall that this conduct has characterized the entire period from the 2008 economic crisis to the present. A period during which the working class has been under severe attack on its conditions, and which should have seen union leadership attempt an adequate defence. The incontrovertible opportunism of these leaderships has been shown to have done nothing of the sort; on the contrary, the divisions and clashes between the leaderships of the grassroots unions have deepened.
The worsening of workers’ conditions was matched by the deepening crisis of both the grassroots and regime unions. The grassroots unions were unable to distinguish themselves from the regime unions, so much so that the mistrust of the mass of workers toward the union little distinguished one from the other.
The exception of the labour movement in logistics, though positive, was not able by itself to reverse this very negative overall picture.
Thus, the October 11 united general strike could not lead one to believe in a reversal of the leadership of grassroots unionism.
The direction of the unity of action of confrontational unionism to bear positive fruit must be followed permanently and not occasionally and should inform union action at all its levels, not only of the confederal leadership through the proclamation of the general strike or national demonstrations, but also at the company, territorial and category levels.
Genuine and full unity of action of the organizations that refer to class unionism essential for the achievement of unity of action of workers – will only be possible with a struggle led from below – the grassroots of members, militants, and delegates – against the current opportunist union leaderships.
This struggle from below – which arises spontaneously – against the trade union political opportunism that controls the trade unions will be all the more resolute and effective the more it is led by our party, which alone has a correct view of the complete process of the struggle between classes, and thus, in it, of the trade union struggle, and which, because of this privilege and this ability, is able to direct workers and union militants who do not belong to any party, and even who are ideally close to other parties.
The events leading up to the October 11 strike, its unfolding and what followed it confirmed what we say here about the opportunism of union leadership. The preparation of the strike, which, like its proclamation, should have been unitary – with joint assemblies in the workplaces, in the categories, in the territories – was rather deficient. This is evidenced by the failure of the national unified strike propaganda assembly that was supposed to take place on September 19 in Bologna. At the last preparatory meeting for this assembly, the leaderships of the grassroots unions were divided that of SI Cobas opposed to all others about the management of participants and interventions. The assembly in Bologna was thus reduced to an initiative of the SI Cobas alone, deserted by all the other organizations, which made an appointment, however, after the strike, on October 24 in Rome.
– The fallback: the December 5 demonstrations
While the post‑strike assembly reaffirmed the will to continue the united path, even declaring that it would activate “a stable form of consultation among all organizations” it also sanctioned the defilement of SI Cobas, which in terms of membership is the second largest grassroots union after Usb, from this front of confrontational unionism, which was thus already born lame.
But even the stated intent to establish stable forms of consultation has remained on paper, confirming the value of proclamations of opportunism.
The only unified act following the Oct. 24 assembly was the proclamation of a national day of regional demonstrations against the government on Saturday, Dec. 5. This was a wrong decision, also the child of union political opportunism. With this decision, the leadership of grassroots unionism renounced proclaiming a second general strike, at a more propitious, or at least less unfavourable, time than October 11; this was because of the anti worker attacks contained in the Stability Law, whose parliamentary approval process was being started at the end of October and would end in late December.
The government’s manoeuvring, moreover, was causing a certain amount of unrest within the CGIL. All its leftist currents, which once constituted the so‑called “trade union left” had come out in favour of calling a general strike. Both those supportive of the majority (“Lavoro e Società” and “Democrazia e Lavoro”) and those of the opposition or alternative, as “Riconquistiamo Tutto” and “Le giornate di marzo” respectively called themselves, the latter having broken away from the former in July 2020. In contrast, the majority of the CGIL was against the strike, aligned with the ICFTU.
An initial confirmation of the correctness of the direction of the unity of action of conflict unionism came from the October 11 strike, with a moderately positive outcome, when compared to the general strikes proclaimed by grassroots unionism in previous years.
A second confirmation came from the adherence to the strike of a number of factory workers’ groups organized in the opposition area in CGIL. That is, the unity of action of grassroots unionism enabled a unity of action of confrontational unionism that went beyond the perimeter of the grassroots unions. This helped to strengthen the strike a little, although it was still far from a real general strike of large proletarian masses, blocking production and movement of goods.
The anti‑worker attack conducted by the government with the stability law and the relative intolerance within the CGIL would have favoured, in the face of a proclamation of a second united general strike by grassroots unionism, a call for adherence both by workers as a whole and by combative workers’ groups still framed in the regime unions, favouring a further extension of the unity of action of confrontational unionism beyond the perimeter of grassroots unionism.
Finally, the proclamation of a second general strike by the grassroots union leaderships meeting on Oct. 24 in Rome would, in all likelihood, have made it possible to recompose the united front of grassroots unionism, recovering in unified action the SI Cobas, whose leadership would have had more difficulty justifying its non adherence than it did with respect to the day of local demonstrations on Dec. 5.
For these reasons, our comrades, together with other union militants, as they have done several times in the past, have promoted a call for a new united general strike of grassroots unionism, to be signed by union militants and workers: «For a united general strike of confrontational unionism. Against the new attack on pensions and other anti‑worker contents of the budget law! In defence of wages against rising inflation! In defence of union and political freedoms of the working class».
Two subsequent facts showed the correctness of this initiative. The first was the failure of the day of local demonstrations on Saturday, December 5, promoted by the semi‑unitary cartel (without the SI Cobas) of basic unionism. This day had been characterized in a more political than union sense. The convening statement appeared to be from the radical bourgeois left and called for the formation of a popular movement and the support of parties from that political area. The sparse participation in the demonstrations, which were generally reduced to garrisons, far less than those for the October 11 strike, confirmed that a characteristic trait of opportunism is tending to bend to their own particular political ends the natural development of the class union movement, which they weaken and damage. On the Dec. 5 day, however they convened, the unions were put at the service of one of the many political fronts of the radical left. The members, and not a few of the delegates themselves, deserted it, unlike on Oct. 11.
It is confirmed that to mobilize as a class the working masses are the trade unions, and for their purposes, the defence of the immediate material, economic interests of the workers. Not goals mediated by ideologies, i.e. political: democratic, pacifist, reformist or even “communist”.
Which does not mean an a‑political movement and goals.
On the contrary, the vast majority of political groups sacrifice and subordinate the unity of the workers’ struggle to the political bloc. Thus they exclude workers who do not adhere to their politics from the labour front. For example: the SI Cobas leadership kept out of the December 5 day of demonstrations, and all the other grassroots unions never joined the Combative Workers Assembly, promoted a year and a half earlier by the SI Cobas leadership, because it was evidently subordinated to the political front called the Action Pact.
– Cgil and Uil general strike on Dec. 16
The second element that proved the correctness of the call for a second united general strike of confrontational trade unionism was the proclamation of the general strike by CGIL and UIL, called on December 10 for the 16th (as planned by our comrades, while everyone had ruled out the major regime union in Italy calling for a general strike). Concerning this mobilization of CGIL and UIL, we agitated for the party’s other guideline of trade union action, unity of action of workers, contained in the call for a second united general strike of grassroots unionism. It stated that, in the hypothesis, which should not be ruled out, in which the CGIL proclaimed a general strike, the grassroots unions should participate in it, in a united way among themselves, with a common platform and with common rallies in the processions, in order to try to bring together the workers still controlled by the regime unions and to radicalize the strike. For this goal, the most favourable conditions are precisely in the unity of action among workers, even above divisions between trade unions.
The party points to the path of permanent unity of action among the conflict unions, leading to a single class union front, but does not give the same direction for the regime unions.
But we point out, as the best means of removing the regime unions’ control over the workers, that confrontational unionism participate in strikes promoted by regime unionism because, as written in the leaflet distributed at the Dec. 16 strike, «A successful strike is always a victory for the workers and a problem for collaborationist unionism [while] a bland strike is always a defeat for the workers and a strengthening of collaborationist unionism».
Here again the leaderships of the grassroots unions demonstrated their opportunism. First by not having consulted with a view to a common reaction to the proclamation of the CGIL and UIL general strike, instead acting each for itself and leaving on paper the good intentions enunciated in the final motion of the Oct. 24 assembly. Then, for what each leadership decided to do. There was a range of conduct, from the Usb leadership openly boycotting the strike – certainly the most regrettable conduct – to the SI Cobas executive declaring participation in the strike only 36 hours before it began and only in some companies.
– Union leaderships abandon united pathway
After the improvised initiative on Saturday, Dec. 5, there was no further united action, and each grassroots union organization reverted to its usual opportunistic conduct, unrelated to the others.
Two facts have come to confirm how much the proclamations of opportunistic leadership are worthy. Elections to the United Trade Union Representatives in the civil service are scheduled for this year, determining which unions will be “representative” in the various compartments into which the sector is divided.
For the elections in Local Functions – where 15 percent of employees are employed – the Usb decided to enter into a pact with an autonomous, corporate-inspired union. This decision lying the territorial coordinations. Not even for the elections in the Education and Research sector (the largest, with 38.3 percent of public workers) was consideration given to forging a pact with the rest of the grassroots unions.
The second fact was Usb’s proclamation of a national strike in public health care for Jan. 28, without any consultation with the other grassroots unions in the category.
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We collect here four texts about the function of the personality in history. Their perspective is the defence of the classical positions of Marxism, applied to history, economy, science and philosophy. The texts follow the same dialectical materialistic thought within different topics, emphasizing that the individual is only a product of their circumstances.
Scientific discoveries are made when ideas sparked by historical situations circulate and trigger other ideas. Political changes are brought about by the actions of social classes who are actually driven by the economic and social conditions. The leaders of the party have no other characteristic than being better able than others to reveal the class to itself.
A very important conclusion of the four texts is that the party is now so mature and firm in its assumptions that it can now finally get rid of individual signatures to deploy the most mature, logical and obvious anonymity.
The teachings of Marx, Engels and Lenin already contain the basis for this conclusion, which the texts reproduced here confirm, although in the First, Second and Third Internationals, due to the immaturity of the party, we still used to sign the contributions of individuals. Today, proudly, we can do without them.
Communism, if tomorrow it will have leaders with exceptional individual abilities, such as Marx and Lenin, it will certainly use them. But it is possible that it will not need them to equally win its social war.
On the other hand, the dying bourgeoisie still needs them. In order to intoxicate the vile petty-bourgeois classes, it needs to raise and idolize paper-mâché giants: yesterday a Hitler and a Stalin, today a Trump, a Putin, a Zelensky... All alternately revered deities or vituperated demons from hell.
What is important for the Party is to transmit the doctrine of Communism to future generations, the dialectical materialism, in thought and action, which has been shaped over the years by the lessons of history, lessons collected in the impersonal organ of the Party. Only in the collective militia known as the party is it possible to comprehend and practice the doctrine of Communism.
Quoting from Engels recently, apropos the Marxist evaluation of the Russian revolution, we highlighted the following phrase: «the era of chosen people is over». The opposite thesis is unlikely to attract many defenders. Not after the disaster of German Nazism; not after the fate of the Jews who would pay the terrible price of thousands of years of incredibly entrenched racism by being ground down first of all by Hitler’s Arian mania, then by British imperial wheeler-dealing, now by the inexorable soviet apparatus – and tomorrow, most probably, by cosmopolitan, “happy to chat”, American politics, which has already cut its teeth on black flesh.
It is much harder to show that the era of chosen individuals, of “Men of destiny” – as Shaw called Napoleon, but mainly to ridicule him by showing him in his nightdress – is also over; in a word, the era of great men, warlords, historical leaders and condottieri.
In all groups, and echoed in every faith, be it catholic or Freemason, fascist or democrat, liberal or pseudo socialist, it seems, and much more so than in the past, there is this need to worship and grovel in admiration before the name of some personage, to whom at every step is attributed the entire merit for the success of the “cause” in question.
They all agree that the decisive influence on past events, and those yet to come, is to be attributed to the work, and therefore to the personal qualities, of the leaders sat on high: they argue ad nauseam about whether they should be chosen by electoral or democratic procedures, by the party, or even by an individual who just seizes power, but they are all agreed that everything hangs on the outcome of this process, both in the friendly and in the enemy camp.
Now, if this general criterion were true, if we didn’t have the power to reject it and ward it off, we would have to confess that the Marxist doctrine had suffered the worst of all possible bankruptcies. We on the other hand continue, as before, to entrench around two positions: that all great men, without exception, have already been pensioned off by classical Marxism; and that the track record of the latest great men, who have passed into, or been removed from, circulation, confirms the theory that all of them are on a hide into nothing.
Of interest here are the answers Frederick Engels’ gave to queries he received on this theme. In his letter [to W. Borgius] dated January 25, 1894 he replies to two questions, both of which are very apt, and he refers to great men in the second paragraph of his answer to the second question. The questions are:
1. To what extent do economic conditions have a causal (note: not casual) effect.
2. What part is played by the moment (a word that I believe, had we the original text, we might have translated as factor) a) of race; b) of individuality in Marx and Engels’ materialist conception of history.
But of equal interest is a question he responded to in an earlier letter [to Joseph Bloch] dated September 21, 1890: What was the fundamental principle of historical materialism as understood by Marx and Engels themselves: that is, according to them, was the production and reproduction of daily life the only determining factor or was it merely the fundamental basis of all the other conditions?
The connection between the two points – the function of the great individual in history, and the precise link between economic conditions and human activity, is clearly explained by Engels in the two replies, which he modestly states were private and off the cuff and not drafted with the “necessary precision” he used when writing for the public. In fact he is making reference to the general treatment of the Marxist conception of history he gave in the Anti‑Dühring (Part 1, chaps. 9 and 11, Part 2 chaps. 2 and 4, part 3, chap. 1) and above all in the crystal clear work of 1888 on Feuerbach [Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy]. And as for a brilliant example of the specific application of the method, he quotes The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte by Marx, which casts in a particularly gaudy light the man who can be considered as the prototype of the battilocchio, a term we shall explain shortly.Continuity of Life
Although it will cost us a digression, which also anticipates a Filo whose “central keel has been languishing in the dock” for some time, we would like to commend the unknown student who asked the question in the first letter. Usually those who have understood nothing are the self same who pretend to have understood and absorbed everything, and who then claim to be able to regurgitate and pontificate about it all. Simpler people with a more serious approach are instead eternally convinced that they should try to understand things even better, even if they already have a master touch. Indeed, instead of the usual expression “economic conditions”, the young, and luckily not “honourable”, questioner uses a phrase that is its exact equivalent: “production and reproduction of physical life”. As pupils of a later class, we change “real” to “physical”. The adjective “real” does not have the same weight in the Germanic and Romance languages.
On another occasion we highlighted passages from the masters in which production and reproduction appear together, quoting Engels where he defines reproduction, that is, the sexual and generative part of life, as the “production of producers”.
It would be useless to draw up an economic science, even a metaphysical one, i.e., with unchanging laws, but particularly a dialectical, i.e., which aimed to draw up a theory of a succession of phases and cycles, if the group or society of producers we were examining was dedicated, certainly, to work and economic activities aimed at satisfying their needs and maintaining their existence and productive force within the bounds of physiological time limits, but was nevertheless forced (let’s say by a racist chief!) to operate in such a way as to be unable to reproduce and have biological descendents.
Such a condition would completely change all the production and distribution relations within this rather hypothetical community – as the followers of any economic school would admit.
This suffices to remind us that, within the overall network of economic relations, biological reproduction, which prepares, via a major use of resources and productive effort, future replacements for the worker himself, is just as important as the production that provides food (and other things) in order to maintain the physical life of the worker.
As we shall see later on, when we join with Marx and Engels against Feuerbach, human beings are neither all love nor all struggle. However, the complete vision of the twin economic pedestal of society is this: materialism is victorious in the field of production; no one disputes that the criterion of the material sum of results is what counts there; but on this it is easy to base a theory of the workings of the struggle by passing from the molecular disputes of an alleged homo‑economicus, with an accountancy office in place of a heart, to the battle of classes, within which is summed up, along with the economy, all other forms of human activity. But it is in the field of genetics and sexuality that we should place the central columns of the revolutionary doctrine of socialism; an area where greenhorns find it particularly difficult to put transcendent and mystical reasoning to flight, and to translate the attraction between man and woman (precisely in order to raise it above the filth of modern civilization) into the terms of economic causality.
To ask why the individual, “big” or “small” according to banal common sense, tends to profit economically and conceive erotically is to pose the problem in a narrow and vacuous way. We transpose the dynamic of the process to the development of the species, and we support efforts made to keep its active elements alive and healthy through their multiplication and continuation, both of which cycles are much more wide ranging than those to which the idiotic fear of death and the stupid belief in the eternity of the individual subject get attached: for they are the products and characteristic features of societies which are infested by ruling, exploiter classes, parasitical both in labour and in love.
The damnation of sweat and toil; the ideology that defines a society of class domination,
that is, one based on the monopolizing of laziness and pleasure, will be swept away by socialism.
Nature and Thought
The reduction of the problem we have directly targeted here, namely, the problem of historical personalities, to the general one of the materialist conception, appears immediate. Let us accept, just for a moment, that the flow, development and future of a given society, or even of humanity, depend in a decisive way on the presence, appearance and behaviour of a single person. It would no longer be possible to maintain that the primal origin of all social life is to sought within the features of given conditions and economic situations analogous for the great mass of “other” individuals; of normal people, of “ordinary” people.
If in fact that long hard road, which we would never presume to reduce to a simple automaticity, which leads from parallelism between work situation and level of consumption to the final great affair of the social revolutions, of the transfer of power from one class to another, of the breaking up of the forms that determine that parallelism of productive relations; were it to pass through the head (critique, consciousness, will, action) of a single person, that is, in the sense that the person is a necessary element, such that in the person’s absence nothing would take place to cause that movement, then it would be impossible to deny that at a certain moment all history could hang on “a thought” and on an act deriving from it. Here lies an insuperable contradiction, since conceding this would mean surrendering to a view that is contrary to our own which states that there is no causality in history, that there are no laws, that everything is an entirely random and unforeseeable “accident”. that can be studied after it happens, but never before. That’s the way it is, no more no less, hats off to the hangman.
How do we deny that the birth of such a colossus is a fortuity, how do we avoid reducing the entire field of reproduction to... a chance spermatozoid?
An idea which is more rational and modern conception than the “great-manistic” one characteristic of the enlightenment bourgeoisie, and against which we have fought a hard battle, would have the historical event pass pre‑emptively through not just one but all brains; putting universal education and consciousness ahead of the revolutionary struggle. But even more unsatisfactory than this incomplete and partial conception is the one that concentrates everything in the single cranium, which we can only see becoming so well endowed by means of intercourse, as so often recalled in tradition, between a divine and a human being.
Because marxistically it is so pathetic and pitiable, stupider even than the notion of a universal popular consciousness, we have also pulled to pieces the theory based on the idea of a half of all brains, plus one piloting history; are we then to allow the theory of the single brain to survive? Is the idea of a single reproducer, the human stallion, really any less stupid?
Let us return to our question: what comes first, thought or nature? Is the history of the human species an aspect of nature, or “parthenogenesis”, of thought?
The short work by Engels on Feuerbach, or rather against an apologia by Starcke (which he typically refers to as just a general outline, at best a few illustrations of the materialist conception of history) comprises both a summary of the history of philosophy on the one hand and a history of the class struggle on the other. It is magnificent both in its conciseness and its comprehensiveness.Papers Please!
There is contained within it enough material for an “exposition-stream”, which, with a suitable commentary, could take up a couple of mornings (given that our party meetings now take several days). But let us limit ourselves to registering just the key identifying features.
The author notes that, historically, Feuerbach was not only influenced by materialism and the French revolution, but by Hegel, whose philosophy was able to provide a basis for the conservative and reactionary German right. In a certain sense the subsequent and very different ideas of Marx and Engels were derived From Feuerbach, during the wave of enthusiasm which followed the publication of The Essence of Christianity around 1840, and after a critique which was no less radical than the one Feuerbach made of Hegel, as summed up in the Marx’s famous 1845 theses, buried for over 40 years and concluding with the eleventh: The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.
Hegel put human activity to the fore, but this premise could not lead to a revolutionary development in the historical field because of the absolute nature of his idealism. The design and model of his future society were already contained ab‑aeterno within his Absolute Idea: this development, this discovery having been made in the mind of a philosopher, according to the norms of pure thought, and with the results transmitted to the legal system and the State organism, the full realization of the Idea was thus completed. And why is this unacceptable for us? On two points, which are the two sides of the dialectic itself. We reject the possibility of a point of arrival, of a definite and unsurpassable destination. We reject the possibility that the properties and laws of thought were already in place prior to the opening of the cycle of nature and of the species.
But let’s get on with the quotations! «Just as knowledge is unable to reach a complete conclusion in a perfect, ideal condition of humanity, so is history unable to do so; a perfect society, a perfect “State”, are things which can only exist in the imagination. On the contrary, all successive historical systems are only transitory stages in the endless course of development of human society from the lower to the higher».
Hegel had gone beyond all previous philosophers by giving priority to the dynamics of the contradictions that make up the long road to the present. Unfortunately, like all other philosophers, and every potential philosopher, he ossifies this vigorously bubbling set of contradictions within the narrow confines of his “system”. «But if all contradictions are once for all disposed of, we shall have arrived at so‑called absolute truth – world history will be at an end. And yet it has to continue, although there is nothing left for it to do – hence, a new, insoluble contradiction».
In this passage, Engels demolishes the old objection, revived by Croce just before his death (see the confutation in Prometeo no. 4, Series 2 [“Comunismo e conoscenza umana”, 1952] that it is only Marxist materialism that brings history to a close by stating that the last class struggle will be between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Every idealist, in his insuperable anthropomorphism, mistakes the end of the struggle between economic classes for the end of all contradiction and further development in the world, in nature and in history; and nor can he see, closed within the limits which for him are light and for us darkness, of one cranium, that communism will be, in its turn, an intense and unpredictable struggle by the species for life, a stage no one has so far reached, seeing that one can hardly call life the sterile and pathological solitude of the Ego, just as the miser’s hoard is not wealth, not even of the personal variety.Spirit and Being
Feuerbach arrives and eliminates the antithesis. No more is Nature the manifestation of the Idea (reader, hold on tightly to the Thread. It hasn’t snapped. We are finally getting to the thesis that history is not a manifestation of the Battilocchio!), it isn’t true that thought is the originator and nature the derivative. Amidst much youthful enthusiasm, and also that of the young Marx, Materialism is placed back on its throne. «Nature exists independently of all philosophy. It is the foundation upon which we human beings, ourselves products of nature, have grown up. Nothing exists outside nature and man, and the higher being our religious fantasies have created are only the fantastic reflection of our own essence». And, up to this point, even old Engels agrees, stopping only to mock the antithesis which, as practical activity, the author deploys against Kant’s moral imperative: Love. He is not talking about sex but about solidarity, that “innate” fellowship which links people together. This formed the basis for contemporary bourgeois and Prussian “true socialism”, impotent because unable to see that revolutionary activity, the struggle between the classes and the subversion of bourgeois forms, is required.
It is at this point that Engels sums up the construction that preserves the materialist foundation by freeing it from its metaphysical fetters and from dialectical impotence, which had immobilized it, in a different way, in the same “historical glaciation” as idealism, albeit made to resemble will and practical activity.
Engels clarifies the problem by going back to the formation of patterns of thinking from the time of the primitive peoples onwards. While it would be most useful for our movement to add to and broaden the issue (as undoubtedly we shall do in the future), particularly where Engels compares his deduction with the contributions of various positive sciences, we will glean what we can in order to bring our viewpoint into sharper focus.
«Thus the question of the relation of thinking to being, the relation of the spirit to nature (...) could for the first time be put forward in its full acuteness, could achieve its full significance, only after humanity in Europe had awakened from the long hibernation of the Christian Middle Ages. The question of the position of thinking in relation to being (...) in relation to the Church, was sharpened into this: Did God create the world or has the world been in existence eternally?».
«This question, which at various times was posed in different ways, separates the two camps: materialism and idealism. Materialists assert the primacy of nature (being); idealists the primacy of mind (thought). But the creative act is therefore required, and it is worthwhile to highlight here the Marxist evaluation of idealism contained in this forthright observation: «and among the philosophers, for example, Hegel, this creation often becomes still more intricate and impossible than in Christianity».
Even if the division between the two groups of philosophers has been clarified, the question of the relation between thinking and being remains. Are they extraneous to one another or inter-penetrable? Can human thinking grasp and fully describe the essence of nature? There are philosophers who have counterpoised and separated the two elements into object and subject, as with Kant and his ungraspable “thing-in-itself”. Hegel overcomes this obstacle, but as an idealist, that is, he absorbs the thing and nature into the Idea, which is therefore able to identify and understand what is, after all, its own emanation. Against this Feuerbach poses the criticism that: «the Hegelian premundane existence of the “absolute idea”, the “pre‑existence of the logical categories” before the world existed, is nothing more than a fantastic survival of the belief in the existence of an extramundane creator». But this merely suffices for a critical demolition.
Engels gives a clear explanation, reproaching German culture for a stance it had been unable to move beyond: its inability to understand the life of human society as a movement and an incessant process, a view for which Hegel had in fact laid the basis. This anti‑historical conception would condemn the Middle Ages as a kind of useless and obscurantist parenthesis (an analogous critique by Marxists should be made of the nonsensical approach to the antifascist and anti‑nazi struggle and its critique) and it was therefore unable to correctly link causes to effects, to see the great advances which had occurred during this period and the immense contributions it had made in terms of future developments.
«All the advances of natural science (...) served them only as new proofs against the existence of a creator of the world». They are far more deserving of the comment which the French reformist socialists used to address to Marx and Engels “Well, then atheism is your religion!”».Drama and Actors
There follows an organic presentation of the historical materialist doctrine, perhaps the best ever written. The step that Feuerbach did not take is here taken, by replacing: “the cult of abstract man” by “the science of real men and of their historical development”.
We return briefly to Hegel. He reintroduced (he did not invent) dialectics, but for him it was “the self‑development of the concept”. In Marx it becomes “the conscious reflex of the dialectical motion of the real world”. As in the famous phrase, it is stood on its feet, not on its head.
To begin with the science of society and history is treated using the same method as applied in the science of nature. But no one can ignore the specific characteristics of that “field” of nature that constitutes the life of the human species. Hurrying along to Engels’ “answers” as quickly as possible, we will just quote a few essential passages. «In nature (...) there are only blind, unconscious agencies (...) In the history of society, on the contrary, the actors are all endowed with consciousness, are men acting with deliberation or passion, working towards definite goals (...) But this distinction, important as it is for historical investigation, particularly of single epochs and events, cannot alter the fact that the course of history is governed by inner general laws (...) That which is willed happens but rarely (...) Thus the conflicts of innumerable individual wills and individual actions (...) produce a state of affairs entirely analogous to that prevailing in the realm of unconscious nature. The ends of the actions are intended, but the results which actually follow from these actions are not those intended; or when they do seem to correspond to the end intended (...) they ultimately have consequences quite other than those intended. Men make their own history, whatever its outcome may be, in that each person follows his own consciously desired end, and it is precisely the resultant of these many wills operating in different directions and of their manifold effects upon the outer world that constitutes history (...) When, therefore, it is a question of investigating the driving powers which – consciously or unconsciously, and indeed very often unconsciously – lie behind the motives of men who act in history and which constitute the real ultimate driving forces of history, then it is not a question so much of the motives of single individuals, however eminent, as of those motives which set in motion great masses, whole peoples, and again whole classes of the people in each people; and this, too, not momentarily for the transient flaring up of a straw‑fire, which quickly dies down, but for a lasting action resulting in great historical transformation».
This philosophical part is now followed by the historical part, leading up to the great proletarian movement of modern times. At this point philosophy is expelled from the field of history as was the case in the field of nature. «It is no longer a question anywhere of inventing interconnections from out of our brains, but of discovering them in the facts».Lucid Oracles
We recalled the questions, and heard the answers, which unlike those given by the ancient oracle are not obscure and ambiguous, but clear, and in confirmation of our positions.
To the second of the questions, asked back in 1890:
«The determining element in history is ultimately the production and reproduction of real life».
«The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure – political forms of the class struggle and its consequences, constitutions set up by the ruling class after a victorious battle, etc. – forms of law – and then even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in the brains of the combatants: political, philosophical and legal theories, religious ideas and their further development into systems of dogma – also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form. There is an interaction of all these elements (=factors), in which, amid all the endless host of accidents (...) the economic movement finally asserts itself as necessary».
To the first question, in the letter from 1894 on the causal influence of economic
«What we understand by the economic conditions which we regard as the determining basis of the history of society are the methods by which human beings in a given society produce their means of subsistence and exchange the products among themselves (in so far as division of labour exists). Thus the entire technique of production and transport is here included (...) This also determines (...) the division into classes, and hence the relations of lordship and servitude and with them the State, politics, law, etc.».
«If, as you say, technique largely depends on the state of science, science depends far more still on the state and the requirements of technique (...) The whole of hydrostatics (Torricelli, etc.) was called forth by the necessity for regulating the mountain streams of Italy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries» (cf., Various articles in our press on the precocious nature of the capitalist agricultural enterprise in Italy and on the technical degeneration of modern hydraulic defence works in the Polesine floods) [See Communist Left, no 17].
As to paragraph a) of the second question – the factor of race – we quote just one scathing, and very pithy, apophthegm: “Race is itself an economic factor”. Got it? Production and reproduction? The race is a material chain of reproductive acts.
Finally, paragraph b), which concerns the battilocchio, after which we take our leave of the great Frederick.
«Men make their history themselves, but not as yet with a collective will or according to a collective plan or even in a definitely defined, given society. Their efforts clash, and for that very reason all such societies are governed by necessity, which is supplemented by and appears under the forms of accident. The necessity which here asserts itself amidst all accident is again ultimately economic necessity. This is where the so‑called great men come in for treatment. That such and such a man and precisely that man arises at that particular time in that given country is of course pure accident. But cut him out and there will be a demand for a substitute, and this substitute will be found, good or bad, but in the long run he will be found. That Napoleon, just that particular Corsican, should have been the military dictator whom the French Republic, exhausted by its own war, had rendered necessary, was an accident; but that, if a Napoleon had been lacking, another would have filled the place, is proved by the fact that the man has always been found as soon as he becomes necessary: Caesar, Augustus, Cromwell, etc.».
And Marx! Engels clearly hears shouted from the gallery: give him the same treatment: Thierry, Mignet and Guizot wrote histories of England leaning towards historical materialism, Morgan got there under his own steam, «the time was ripe for it, and indeed it had (not our italics this time) to be discovered».
And yet in a footnote to his work on Feuerbach, Engels states that «Marx was a genius; we others were at best talented». And it would indeed be a great shame, if, after the demonstration, anyone failed to understand that enormous differences do exist between people, both in terms of muscle power and the potential for brainwork.
But the fact remains that even if we have disposed of the most glaring example in Shaw’s “man of destiny”, we cannot kid ourselves we have done away with the “idiots of destiny” as well; miserable self‑proclaimed candidates for filling the space that history has supposedly allotted them; worried sick they will miss their summons... and their chance to bask in glory.
The subject is clearly dealt with in a letter to a worker comrade who, wrongly apologizing for her imperfect presentation, was able to pose the question in rather an expressive way. Here is a part of the reply.
You wrote: «You are right to say a Marxist must look to principles, not people (...) we say people do not count and let’s leave them out of it, but to what extent do you take that? If in part it is men who determine events? If in part it is men who are the cause of the whole mess then we cannot totally ignore them». There is nothing shaky about this way of getting to the question; in fact it offers a very useful way of dealing with it.
The social facts and acts we are interested in, as Marxists, are carried out by people and have people as their actors. Indisputable truth: and without the human element our construction would not hold up. But this element was traditionally considered in a very different way from the one Marxism introduced.
Your simple statement can be enunciated in three different ways; then we can see the true dimensions of the problem which, to your credit, you almost did. Actions are carried out by men. Actions are carried out by the men. Actions are carried out by the man Tom, the man Dick, the man Harry.
Given that a person is on the one hand animal and on “the other” a thinking being, the notion that distinguishes us from “the others” is not that they say that a person thinks first, and then the effect of this thinking is to clear up problems related to his material and animal existence, whilst we say that the basis of everything is to be found in physical, animal, nutritional, etc., relations.
The question shouldn’t in fact be posed person by person, but within the reality of the social systems and their related phenomena.
Now, if you’ll excuse the long words, those three formulations of the way people participate in history are as follows.
Traditional religious or authoritarian systems say: a Great Man, or someone Illuminated by the divinity, thinks and speaks: everybody else learns and acts.
The most recent bourgeois idealists say: the realm of ideas, even though common to all civilized peoples, determines certain laws according to which people are led to act. Here too certain special people will stand out as thinkers, agitators and leaders of the people, and it is they who give the vital impulse to everything.
Marxists then say: the common action of the people or, if you prefer, what is common and non‑accidental and peculiar in the people’s action, arises from material forces. Consciousness and thought come later and determine the ideology of their time.
And what then? We, same as everybody else, believe that it is the acts of human beings that become historical and social factors. Who makes revolutions? Men, of course.
But in the first category it was the enlightened man, the priest or king who was fundamental.
In the second, it was consciousness, and the Ideal, that won minds.
For us: the ensemble of economic facts and community of interest.
We, too, don’t reduce men, from being leading actors, creating or making speeches, to mere puppets, whose strings are pulled by... their appetites. On the basis of common class objectives there are various levels and strata and complex degrees of readiness to act, and hence of the capacity to sense and express a common theory.
The news is that, unlike previous revolutions, particular men, characterized by a peculiar individuality and a name, are not indispensable for us, not even as symbols.Inertia of Tradition
The fact is, just as traditions are the last thing to disappear, so are people frequently spurred on under the evocative impulse of passion for their Leader. So, since we know it won’t change the course of the class struggle but it could favour the mustering of forces and bring things to a speedier conclusion, why not “utilize” this element?
Now it seems to me the main thing many decades of hard lessons have taught is this: we can’t stop spurring men on and winning through men, but what we on the left have actually maintained is that the collectivity of people in struggle can never be the masses as a whole, or even a majority of it; it must be a party that is not too big, with the vanguard circles organized within it. However inspirational names inspire in tens, but ruin by the thousand. Let us put a stop to this tendency right now and, as far as is practically possible do away, not with men, but with the Man with such and such a Name, with such and such a Curriculum vitae...
I know the easy riposte that ingenuous comrades will come up with. Lenin. All right, it is indisputable that after 1917 we won many militants to the revolutionary struggle because they were convinced that Lenin had known how to fight and win the revolution. They came, fought and later deepened their understanding of our programme. By this expedient proletarians and entire masses who might otherwise have remained dormant were awoken. I admit it. But later on? The same name is used to support the total opportunist corruption of the proletariat: we are reduced to a situation where the class vanguard is much weaker than before 1917, when few had heard that name.
So I say that in the theses and directives established by Lenin is summed up the best of the collective proletarian doctrine, of the political class reality, but that the name, as such, presents a debit balance. Evidently it has gone too far. Lenin himself was fed up to the back teeth with his personal importance being inflated. It is only insignificant little people who believe they are historically indispensable. He used to laugh whole‑heartedly when he heard such nonsense. He was followed, adored and misunderstood.
Have I managed to give you an idea of the problem with these few words? A time is bound to come when there will be a strong class movement with the correct theory and practice but without any need to exploit a fondness for names. I believe it will come. Whoever does not believe this must lack confidence in the new Marxist vision of history, or even worse, be a leader of the oppressed who has sold out to the enemy.
As you can see, I haven’t weighed the historical effect of enthusiasm for Lenin against the evil effect of a thousand renegade leaders, but against the negative effects of the name itself, and nor have I stepped into the quicksand of asking: what if Lenin hadn’t died? Even Stalin was a Marxist with his papers completely in order and a first class activist too. The error of the Trotskyites is seeking the key to this great rolling back of the revolutionary forces in the wisdom or temperament of particular men.Contemporary Shady Characters
Why have we called the theory of the great man the theory of the battilocchio?
The battilocchio is the kind of person who seeks attention whilst at the same time revealing his absolute vacuity. Tall, shambling, a stoop to conceal a lolling head and dazed expression, a swaying, uncertain gait. In Naples someone who constantly blinks his eyes in philistine wonderment is called a battilocchio, whilst in Bologna – I say this in order to avoid accusations of localism – they would shout at him: di ben sò fantesma (a real ghost).
History and contemporary politics in 1953 (when everything is affected by the general and far from accidental fact that a semi‑putrefied form of society, capitalism, won’t just roll over and die) is encircled by a galaxy of battilocchios. In the marasmus that characterizes this phase there spreads throughout the admiring and bright‑eyed masses the utter conviction that it is to them, and to them alone, that we must look for answers, that it is ever a case of battilocchios of destiny, and that the historically decisive moment (have pity on us Frederick!) is above all marked by the changing of the guard in the battilocchial corps.
The ineffable trio of Franco, Tito and Peron, by virtue of their total lack of any new message or even original posturing, stand out amongst the heads of State. These champions, these Oscar winners for historical beauty, have taken the supreme art of removing all personal characteristics to the nec plus ultra. Apart from their aristocratic noses and eagle eyes!
As for the late lamented Hitler and Mussolini, the former makes you think of the formidable general staff of non‑battilocchios gathered around him, drawn from the upper criminal classes, who not only made history but also used it to satisfy their own violent whims. The latter can be excused because it was the ineffable layer of sub‑battilocchios who got him into trouble, and because the clique he handed power over to in 1944‑45 – who are our daily delight today – are just as bad.
Another splendid threesome, aligned not in space but in time, who offer demonstrable proof that every succession, whether through death or election, produces the net historical result, i.e. nothing emerging from nothing, is that of Delano, Harry and Ike. The American forces occupying the world fully justify the definition of this period as that of the invasion of the battilochios.Slav Diadochi
A no less representative galaxy of battilocchios is offered by recent and current, and frequently brutally replaced, national heads of those countries and parties which are linked to Russia, and there is no better place to find them than in the Balkans or under Marianne’s skirts. When Alexander the Great died, the Macedonian Empire, stretching over two continents, was carved up into smaller States entrusted to his various generals (diadochi), who soon enough disappeared without a trace. Whoever remembers their names would be sure to get top marks in a history exam.
So when history issues its summons, the great man arrives. And it could well happen that the one who answers the call isn’t that brainy. It could also happen that when there is a vacancy for a battilocchio, a person of a certain stature may fill the post. Here we are not calling anyone an idiot.
The fact is, in Italy for example, the open competition “to be a great person” relates to posts previously occupied by historical colossi. It becomes a matter of acting in a parody of a tragedy that has already been solemnly performed. On the occasion of Togliatti’s 60th birthday, with a tackily outdated ceremony, and endless screeds quoted from his curriculum vitae and his writings, they summed him up in one word: a great patriot.
Only empty stand‑in roles have been on offer for over a century now, offering little hope of any non‑battilocchesque grandeur. History has already found its heroes without looking too hard. Mazzini, Garibaldi, Cavour and many others are still refusing to budge. To tell the truth, there is little left of the fatherland, but there are still certainly plenty of patriots. There is no room to spare on the bus of revolutionary glory. That is not to slander the qualities of today’s subject. The writings of his they’ve dug up from 1919 (when one wrongly didn’t pay enough attention to them) do him credit: he never abandoned Marxism because he was never a Marxist in the first place. What he talked about then is what he talks about now: the country’s mission. A very great, if you like, patriot, just like a great stage-coach in the epoch of electric trains and jet aircraft.
If, having discussed Lenin, we have made no allusion to Stalin, recently deceased, it is not because we are worried that after a punitive expedition our scalp might adorn his mausoleum, a practice there is a good chance of seeing. Stalin is still the side‑shoot of a rigid and anonymous party structure, the which, propelled by non‑accidental historical impulses, constructed a collective, anonymous and deeply entrenched movement. It is the reactions which arose from the historical base, not fortuitous cases in the shabby race for success, which determined the change in direction, which, in a flaming Thermidor, led the revolutionary elite to burn itself out; and since a name can still be a symbol even when a person counts for nothing in history, Stalin’s name remains the symbol of this extraordinary process: amongst the ruins of a backward and inert world, the most powerful of proletarian forces was made to slavishly bow to the revolutionary construction of modern capitalism.
Certainly the bourgeois revolution has to have a symbol and a name even though, in the final instance, it too is made up of anonymous forces and material relations. It is the last revolution to be unaware of its anonymity: thus we think of it as a romantic revolution.
Our revolution will appear when there is no more kow‑towing to individuals, cowardly and confused for the most part, and when as the instrument of its own class power it has a party which has melded together all its doctrinal, organizational and militant characteristics; a party within which names and individual merit count for nothing; a party which denies that the individual possesses consciousness, will, initiative, merit or blame, in order to fuse everyone together into its unified and sharply defined whole.Morphine and Cocaine
Lenin took from Marx the definition, rejected by many as banal, of religion as the opium of the people. The cult of the divine entity is thus the morphine of the revolution, lulling its active forces to sleep, and it is no coincidence that prayers were said in churches across the U.S.S.R. during the recent bereavement.
The cult of the leader, gathered around a personal entity who is no longer divine but human, is an even worse social drug, which we will call “the cocaine of the proletariat”. The expectation of the hero who will ignite and carry along the struggle is like a simpamina injection. Pharmacologists have found a good word for it – heroin. After a brief pathological outburst of energy, chronic lethargy sets in leading to collapse. No injection exists for a revolution that hesitates, for a society that is horribly 18 months pregnant and yet still infertile.
Let us throw out the vulgar expedient of deriving success from the name of exceptional persons and shout out another formula for communism: a society that does without battilocchios.
There are two constructions before which the philistine prostrates himself: the State and the Ego.
If we fight a relentless battle against all cults that base themselves on these two objects of general veneration, we do not however assume that this boils down to simply manipulating the human imagination. They are real constructions that appeared in history, and they have had all kinds of important material effect. And this holds true as much for the various forms and types of State throughout history as it does for the great leaders and teachers thrown up by every people and in every epoch.
What we wish to assert is that just as the Marxist theory of the State, having resolved the enigma of how this formidable factor works, concludes by pensioning it off, so an analogous process happens with the ego, understood in the sense in which it has been understood by philosophers up to now, that is, not merely as the subject allegedly found eternal and absolute in every animal-person, but as the immaterial and imponderable entity that animates the Human being with a capital H, the great leader, the warlord, the innovator who appears in every page of official history.
Like the State, this leader “form” has a material basis as well and manifests the action of physical forces, but we deny that it has an absolute and eternal function: we have established it is a historical product, which in a given period is absent; it arises under given conditions, and under other given conditions it disappears.
Marx announced to the modern State its destiny was to be smashed to pieces. Engels, and Marx, defined the fate of the revolutionary State, which would follow it, as a slow withering away. For the exceptional ego there awaits the same fate, of a fading away and emptying, a deflation and dissolution (sich auflosen), an extinction and switching off (sich ausloeschen) as per Engels. Lenin has another expressive term for it: assopirsi [a dozing off].
Let us look back at the previous Thread on “The Battilocchio in History” to set out and better clarify, with strictly deterministic motives, how the role of the Battilocchio (as we dubbed the superman, the super‑size ego, the “one off” individual) that up till now has had an actual role, will have to go rid of, along with the other characteristics of class society, by the communist revolution.
Dozing off of the great men! To the latest examples we therefore say: “off to bed” you battilocchi! We should nevertheless accept there is a difference. The proletarian revolution will have to use the harsh and cruel tool of the class State, and continue using it to the end, by means of a dictatorship whose usefulness is in proportion to its openly declared usage, unmasked by lies about tolerance and democracy, until the stage is reached when it will be consigned, as Engels said, to the scrap yard of history. But as regards the Battilocchio as a tool, become truly dirty and repugnant, it can be dispensed with before the fall of capitalism. As soon as the proletarian class appears on the stage of history, it can and must substitute the leadership “form” with one of its own: the class party. This is why Lenin so often quoted the phrase from the Manifesto: the theoretical conclusions of the Communists are in no way based on ideas and principles that have been discovered, by this or that would‑be universal reformer.
It was not Karl Marx’s manifesto, or his and Engels’ manifesto, it was The Manifesto of the Communist Party. It is from that point, without battilocchi, that we set out. Unfortunately they would rain down from every side, and it is due to them, unproductive from the start, that we owe the repeated setbacks; which are nevertheless inevitable, as every form has its social inertia, and the inertia of the battilocchi is more resistant than bugs are to DDT, adjusting with increasing virulence to the most drastic of disinfectants.
How far does the practical functioning of groupings of human individuals, which have been forming since the appearance of the human species, revolve around the person of the leader, whose teachings or orders are accepted by all the other components? For the typical philistine this is a “natural” fact, a relationship that will emerge everywhere and at all times, because immediate and necessary, to the extent that if one day that group were deposited in some corner of the cosmos by an interplanetary space ship, and left to fend for itself, still leader would arise; and it would matter little if elected by God or by popular vote, if designated by a noble name or by an uprising of the masses, if favoured with physical presence and muscle power or with astuteness and brilliance of intellect; whether a David or a Gracchus, an Ivanhoe or a Masaniello, a Roland or a Richelieu...
We, as ever, look at the course of history and the bases of production, amongst which is included the type of sexual reproductive relations. These matters are dealt with best in Engels’ classic, and frequently recalled, text on the Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. This text, let it be understood, is the party’s programme for ending the family, private property and the State, all of which is entirely predictable. So let us take a look at the doctrine of the beginning and end of the Battilocchio.
If we want to study the associations of living beings it is proper to go back beyond animals to plants. Modern science with its power to investigate, even if inexorably blinded by the division of labour and by specialization within artificially created disciplines, has already produced a lot of important research in these fields. The sociality of animals has already become a science, which through studying the relations between zoological species and between the species and the natural environment has become, as a logical consequence, an historical science, tracking the movement, spread and dispersion of the various types of animals in various regions. But the study of flora too, like that of fauna, with the simultaneous coexistence of millions of plants of given species in various places and at various times, has by now determined not only a history of the flora (tropical, temperate, arctic etc.) on the earth’s surface, but also a “phytosociology”, or the science of the effects of the “association” and “organization” of plants on the life of the individual phylum, and its evolving forms and internal processes. It is in fact noteworthy (but not a subject we can deal with here) that it is these sciences in particular that try to base themselves on mathematically based theories; which would introduce all orthodox thinkers to the criminal idea of using mathematical methods to predict human, spiritual and political events.
And now even inanimate nature has a history, and we allude not only to geology, which registers the transformations of minerals, rocks, magma and the earth’s crust over the course of the millennia, and for an incalculable period before organic life forms were present, or to the prestigious astrophysics which has dated the “fixed” stars. Radioactivity and the discovery of the components of the complex entity that is the atom, show that in a given sequence it, too, is “alive” and changes its species, from that of the heaviest metals to the most evanescent of gases. These transitions in turn contain inevitable laws of succession, and if in “philosophical” circles the reluctance of this kind of phenomena to “be predicted”, and their alleged rebellion against determinist causality, which is effective within the field of terrestrial and spatial mechanics (Cf. the article in Prometeo on “Marxism and the theory of consciousness”) has been amply speculated upon, we remark here only that Einstein (1) announced that he had found the unifying relationships behind all this – showing that he was as materialist as us Marxists – with the formula: God does not play dice. A formula which for historical materialists could be: Gods and supermen can still play dice if it amuses them, since even without them we will continue along the same road, and use the same methodology ñ difficult though it may be ñ to investigate the relations between electrons, atoms, material bodies, plants, animals and humans, and the immense process of life and history itself which brings everything together, and draw certain magnificent itineraries from it.The Earliest Communities
In the old polemic in defence of monogamy ñ which Engels demonstrated to be only one type of familial bonding, not just contingent and transitory like the others, but peculiar to today’s capitalist “civilization”, founded on the exploitation of the working masses ñ with the aim of exalting it as the only ideal and natural type of relationship between a man and a woman, while also invoking (certain) religions and the law (ubi tu Caius...) it was claimed that even animals, or at least those closest to us, were monogamous. This prompts the question as to whether among the various types of organization of animal societies the family could be said to exist, and if there could be a more extended version, with a leader or leaders. The first Battilocchi had horns then? So it appears.
The most advanced form of animal society is the horde. A few species appear as isolated individuals, copulating after lengthy intervals with members of the opposite sex. But even then for viviparous species, or at least for mammals, the first simple form of collective to take shape is the nest, in which the mother raises and instructs the offspring during the period they are unable to defend or provide food for themselves. Afterwards they all go off to live on their own. Given, however, that in many species the male also stays in the nest or den to participate in the raising and protection of the offspring, some people wanted to provide a naturalistic basis to the axiomatic rhetoric of the family being the basis of society.
Without doubt, most animals live together in herds, flocks, groups and bands, the most advanced of which is the horde.
So in the horde are sexual transactions free, or do families, even monogamous ones, exist within it, that is, does each adult male have his own female? Even the supporters of this thesis in Engels’ time admitted there were differences in the way the family and the horde had developed. As soon as we get on to the human species, we come across Morgan’s thesis that the first historical form is the gens, that is to say, a horde without families, and with free sexual relations. As we proceed from the stage of savagery to barbarism and on to civilization, successive limitations on sexual bonding are imposed. As the family gets gradually stronger, the community gets weaker, torn apart by competition, rivalry and disputes; egoism and individualism start to gain the upper hand, and start to conceal themselves under endless civil frills and epithets.
Returning to the animal horde, elephants, antelopes and llamas for example, it is plausible that there exists among them a fraternity and equality in feeding and defence which is naturally accompanied by free intercourse between individuals of the two sexes, and a common protection of the juveniles in the group. Is there a leader? There are instances of particularly vigorous adult males, and also of old males whose long life has turned them into “experts” in dealing with dangerous situations and searching for food and water etc., who act as guides, as a vanguard and who sometimes use their horns to settle fights between females or younger members. We can find no reason to deny that natural gifts mark out the president of the horde, who takes on a heavy burden and perhaps does not grab the best bits at feeding time or the best looking females for himself. There are types of animal society in which the reproductive function selects the leader: the female among bees, a male in groups in which he is the only one, as among poultry, and the basic social type is polygamy.
The problem of the assumption of a special leadership role in the group is therefore not resolved by invoking the principle of authority, religion, or ethics, which even our idealistic contradictors would not introduce into the field of zoology, but by registering the facts pertaining to the matter: food supply, protection of the members of the group from dangers apart from death from hunger or thirst, and perpetuation of the species. Even in the simplest forms of association among living beings, minimal though the organizational and leadership role may be, it has to be passed on from one generation to the next. There is no library, archive, school or press, and not even a language, but this “hand over” somehow takes place.
This tradition (which literally means transport from here to there, transmission, delivery in fact) starts out as a physical fact and underlies natural selection, leaving aside here the physiological problems and the slow modification of the individual organism of that given species. If you sit down to eat with a wise shepherd and you do not know what to choose from the common platter, he will say: front of the sheep, back of the goat. What does he mean? Do not take fright when a wise shepherd or a great philosopher is quoted... and things are left hanging in the air.
The sheep grazes on the grass on the ground and puts all its weight on its front legs, which are meatier and more muscular. The cunning gluttonous goat prefers the tops of bushes and clambers up to get at them on its hind legs, so it is lean at the front and fat behind. Without needing to flick through any instruction manuals, or go on any courses, the goat knows it needs to graze on the higher branches, and the sheep on the grass under its feet. In the Marxist construction of the theory of knowledge, analogous functions are performed by the goat’s backside, and consulting the Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics by Emanuel Kant. It is a matter of knowing how to read one or the other text, and avoiding captious remarks. Probably, just as the lamb and the kid would not be able to enunciate the applied laws of gravity and natural selection, the great Kant knew how to syllogise on pure reason but not what cut of a spring lamb or castrated goat to choose: leg or shoulder?Homage to the Mater
Let us pass now to the story of the human animal. The first phratries, which on other occasions we have joined in praising (in contrast to bourgeois Christian society) those non battilocchi authors who were Fourier, Morgan and Engels (not to mention Rousseau), were not divided into families, and they held everything in common. They had no conception of subjection of man by man to the extent that in the case of war between gentes the losers were all killed, it being inconceivable that they could be enslaved or admitted into the tribe without the mingling of bloodlines. It is only at the end of the great journey, when all moralists will be six feet under along with the battilocchi, that we will attain humanity, one communist gens. For now our job is to frayer le chemin, to open a path through rough terrain, without making a big fuss about it. Where we need to pass we need to cut our way through. There is no living proof of a tribe with indiscriminate sexual transactions that include those between successive generations, but it is clear that the existence of such a very early horde stage among people is confirmed both by analogy with animals, amongst which there is no barrier to the practice, and by the traces of it left in mythology and literature. But Morgan did track down among the American Indians (today, unfortunately, infested with syphilis, whisky, democracy and television) all the other types of cohabitation, or at least derived a brilliant outline of their structure from the curious terminology used to describe the relations of Kinship: all the men in the tribe are fathers, but there is just one mother, and her sisters are all aunts.
With the introduction of the single prohibition of the union of ascendant with descendent, there remained free intercourse of all men with all women and therefore (even under strict Roman law mater certa, pater autem incertus [mother known, father uncertain], good Latin even for Renzo) the only family relationship that is certain is that between the children and the mother, from whom all authority issues. The woman of the older generation stands above all of the progeny. It seems logical that since the children of both sexes live with the mother, it is she who is the “depositary” of the traditions passed on from one generation to the next. This was so for animals too, but a powerful means of transmission has been added: articulated language (q.v. Prometeo no. 2, first series: “The Genesis of Ideas”). Perhaps the most eloquent mother or grandmother, with a deeper or more persuasive voice, was everybody’s teacher and counsellor. All literatures contain traces of this social stage, called matriarchy or gynocracy, when everything, we believe, was better. This system of reproductive relationships and of spontaneous and communal social organization, with no trace of property or labour rights, also existed among the ancient Germans and the peoples of the north. Marx criticized Richard Wagner for a major historical error in having the characters in the Nibelungen proclaim their horror of incest between brother and sister, whereas in fact it was not considered immoral by the earliest races. In any case, in classical mythology Jupiter marries his sister, nor could things have gone otherwise for us lot descended from Adam and Eve.
We won’t trace out the series of family types here, in which a positive custom progressively prohibits marriage between close relatives, although there is marriage between one group of men and one group of women, non‑consanguineous beyond the second grade.
We are concerned here with how human organizations are managed and we cannot hide our broad sympathy for the matriarchal stage. Hear this description of the customs of the Seneca Iroquois by the missionary Arthur Wright, who associated with them in modern times, and have a laugh at the expense of the barbaresque bourgeois family head. On les aura’ again!
«The women took husbands from other clans. Usually the female portion ruled the house. The stores were in common; but woe to the luckless husband or lover who was too shiftless to do his share of the providing. No matter how many children, or whatever goods he might have in the house, he might at any time be ordered to pick up his blanket and budge. After such orders it would not be healthful for him to attempt to disobey. The house would be too hot for him; and he had to retreat to his own clan or start a new matrimonial alliance in some other. The women were the great power among the clans, as everywhere else. They did not hesitate, when occasion required, “to knock off the horns”, as it was technically called, from the head of a chief, and send him back to the ranks of the warriors».
In this society it is the woman that gives her name to the gens and to the offspring, and it is only the woman who can found a new gens.
Here we still do not encounter the species battilocchius clarissimus. Here we do not yet cross paths with superman. At most with superwoman, and she is much less of a nuisance because she provides material and tangible results, namely the generation and raising of producers. She could never have a default action for non‑compliance brought against her, that much is clear.
The scientific verification of these first stages of human society, without families, without private property, without a State, and, we have added without discovering anything new, without great leaders, immediately caused much consternation to bourgeois science, worried about the formidable materialist construction that had arisen on these foundations. After having analysed, from that original point of departure in the higher state of savagery, the appearance at the same time of the polygamous then monogamous patriarchal family, basis of private property in land, of slavery, and then of serfdom and wage‑labour; and at the point of the passage from the state of barbarism to the first civilizations, the appearance of the political State, we had the premises to calculate, within a historical compass, and thanks to the theory of economic determinism and class struggles, the collapse of these forms, which the current regime continues to eulogize.
And Engels showed that, even then «it had become fashionable to deny the initial stage of the sexual life of human beings». This is no less fashionable today, to the extent that enormous efforts have been made to subject the science of social processes back to the old creationist and idealist leading ideas and to harness it to the immanent forms of rules of behaviour (law, morals, personal human attributes and so forth).
So superficial observers, in this field as well, shrug their shoulders at the information set out in Engels’ short text covering the fundamental discoveries made among various semi‑barbarous and half savage people in Polynesia, Central Asia, in the Arctic, etc. Such people crave news that is “up to date” So let us look at some results obtained since Engels’s time, despite the question having been clearly settled, like all Marxism’s other questions, and needing no further material confirmation.
In the news a few weeks ago it came out that a people had recently been discovered in the heart of the USSR which had been cut off for centuries from the rest of the world, shut off between the Elbruz and the Kasbek mountain chains in the Caucasus. The Russians are apparently building a road to reach it and “civilize” it (that network of the internal market, which from the very beginning changes everything). They live in tall houses without stairs and climb up a pole to get into them (Le Corbusier would hate it!), they have no writing, but obviously the old teach the young; but they are not the leaders. «The authority of the women, who often have more than one husband, counts for much more, as in certain regions of Tibet, for example, where polyandry and matriarchy are still practised and where jealousy is unheard of. (cf., Engels: if one thing is certain it is that jealousy is a relatively recent sentiment: response to the argument that male animals are jealous whereas in fact they only struggle to copulate with the one female sought, at that specific moment, by several males, the female only accepting one, which in the gens was ended by the ordered community). It sometimes happens that travellers to that country receive, as in Kipling’s Kim, offers of marriage or concubinage...». This people who are not led by battilocchi may have had contact with the crusaders in the Middles Ages: it intelligently respects the condition of living labour: it celebrates, although idolatrous themselves, Allah on Friday, Jehovah on Saturday and Christ on Sunday. But don’t worry, soon they will be Stakhanovized!Gaia Versus Uranus
This article from the cultural pages might not seem that serious, so we will cite a piece of really outstanding research from 1953 by Professor K. Numazawa of the Nanzan University of Nagoya in Japan. He takes into consideration a whole series of myths with a common content: the separation of the sky from the earth, on which in the beginning it pressed down. These myths contain interesting common elements, which appear in the biblical version and in Greco-Roman mythology, but above all which run parallel through various zones and peoples in Central Asia. After raising the sky, the light of the sun begins to shine. In most cases it is a woman who achieves this liberation, a woman who grinds rice with a pestle or works a spinning wheel, which she had been prevented from doing, just as the herds of cattle and pigs had been crushed to the ground. Numazawa, who perhaps does not call himself a Marxist, although he is hundred times more Marxist than many who declare themselves as such, uses these detailed references to provide an interpretation of the myth in the two (inseparable) fields of production and social reproduction. The myth expresses the custom of the “visiting marriage” in which the man would visit the woman, and spend the night with her, and then having lost any rights at dawn, he would leave. The woman is the earth who alone removes the sky at the appearance of the sun and the light. In terms of production, we find ourselves at the stage in which cattle herding prevails, and the first type of arable agriculture consists of the cultivation of rice. «The myths have simply transferred what happens in the morning of every working day to the morning of the universe, to its creation». «The myths examined are products of the spheres of matriarchal culture». Lastly the author demonstrates the major geographical coincidence of the many myths studied with the heartland of matriarchal culture, which lay originally on the eastern slopes of the Himalayas, drained by the Ganges, Bramaputra and Irrawaddy rivers. We could find no better an example of a materialist study, a doctrine the author does not specifically mention, restricting himself to discussing his subject with scientific rigour and solid knowledge, which he indicates as the Background, that is the underlying structure, the substructure of the myths of the separation of heaven from earth.
Uranus, the god of the sky, forced his wife Gaia, the earth, to keep their offspring suffocated within her womb. Gaia gave birth to Saturn, or Cronos (Time), who got into his rhythm by striking his father with a sharpened scythe. Labour, as when Eve bit into the apple, and love, had been born, and Cronos can mark the moment when the new Gaia, the Revolution, will raise the dark sky of the class oppressors, the thieves of labour and of love.Safeguarding Life
The procession of Battilocchi sets out from amidst the wreckage of primitive communism and matriarchy, when a complicated nexus of estates, groups of slaves and armed bodies of men needs to transfer its mechanism from one generation to the next, and to do so needs a centre, a vertex, a chain of command, a sanhedrin within which the keys and secrets of domination can be passed on. This is when the exceptional person appears on the scene and starts to perform his role, without doubt irreplaceable from the start.
For as long as defence and the material struggle against danger and attack is the main function of the leader, it is clear that being the biggest, with an exceptionally solid build and displaying considerable bravery is enough to qualify as leader; and all he has to do is choose a young successor to whom he can pass on the art of combat, archery and swordsmanship. When faced with Penelope’s deluded battilocchio‑like suitors, the Proci, Ulysses proved who he was, without saying a word, by arrogantly drawing back his huge bow as though it were just a twig. The same test was passed by his son Telemarchus, and instead of standing firm the pretenders made a hasty departure.
But nowadays we have writing, the press, the registry office and police files ñ i.e., the State ñ and any pettyfogger can pick a wallet and pinch an identity card, with absolutely no need to pit themselves against the powerful Ulysses, not even against his proverbial cunning.
Ulysses did not say, anticipating Louis XIV: the state is my triceps. The State appeared, according to Engels, among the Athenians, when power was passed from the agora, the assembly of the whole population (excluding slaves), to the military leader, the basileus, meaning king. We are nevertheless dealing not with a hereditary king and commander-in-chief, but an elected one. Only later did oligarchies and aristocracies appear. Little by little the machine becomes more powerful, but it also becomes easier to control, to find someone to be the engine-driver. With writing and schools there arises science, including the science of government: the means and the methods are contained in the laws and constitutions. Solon and Lycurgus are still just as famous as the great heads of State and military commanders.
It is clearly impossible here to trace out the whole of this process, which bit by bit made this formidable task of “changing the guard” no longer the responsibility of just one person, who would have required a really exceptionally powerful memory. Nowadays a government minister can be replaced in ten minutes, and any battilocchio whosoever can confidently nip across from, let’s say, the Ministry of Agriculture to the Navy, as though there were nothing to it. There are archives, secretaries, experts and so on right down to the typists and the calculating machines.
The same holds true in the field of culture and science. Pythagoras passed for one who was divinely inspired and today any five-year-old knows about his multiplication tables, and any ten-year-old about his theorem. So all of these children know about it. Galileo went crazy unravelling Aristotle’s writings which stated that weights fall with a velocity proportional to their mass, and today the law that they all fall at the same velocity is learned in the first year of high school. And so on and so forth.
Now we have calculators that have not only replaced Pythagoras’s tables and arithmetical operations but which can do integrations and differentiations which three centuries ago the brains of only two people in Europe could cope with: Newton and Leibniz. Now any idiot can do them. Discoveries too are no longer made by individuals, but by complex organizations dedicated to study, research and experimentation; the means for which can only be provided by capitalists or governments, even if they are total jackasses who know nothing about what they’re funding.
If the monk Schwarz – maybe he never even existed – was on his own when the mortar with nitrate, sulphur and carbon in it exploded, and gunpowder was discovered, it was not the same with the atomic bomb, whose active mechanism is not based on a single principle discovered by a single scientist. We could say the discovery that parts of the atom can be split off and manipulated goes back fifty years to Crooke’s tubes and to the earlier observation that electrical sparks can pass through extremely low‑density gases and produce various types of radioactivity, among which X‑rays, which were discovered in the previous century. And we could say that all this research into the complex constitution of the atom, before the Curie’s discovery of radium, is based on Mendeleev’s system, which established the idea that the atoms of the various elements were composed of some common ingredients in progressive concentrations; a hypothesis that goes back to Proust at the beginning of the eighteen hundreds, when Lavoisier set out the atomic hypothesis to explain chemical phenomena. The Greek atomists, such as Democritus, Leucippus and Epicurus, all had a premonition of this. In the history of invention it will eventually be shown that in ninety percent of cases the connection to named individuals, rather than to the process of technology prompted by productive requirements, is a myth.Atomic Fission
Let us return to heads of State, politicians and warlords, and, if you like, revolutionary leaders. Up to now they had a part to play in events, even though always referred to in a very distorted and hyperbolic way. This role though is not that of a primary cause, a prime mover; and it does not constitute a necessary condition, though maybe it was when barbarian hordes were led across entire continents, their motion though time and space within the historical cycle dictated by the search not for glory, but for riches and food.
Such a role, which is becoming ever more constrained within a different scale of values, in which pugilists can be grouped alongside professors of the history of philosophy; with extremes of efficiency constantly converging on a common average, apart from the former having a submachine gun placed at his disposal, and the latter a good library.
It is no different for the political leader: we have in fact arrived at the point where those who want to improve their career prospects play down any outstanding qualities they may have and do not make use of them. Nevertheless, sometimes history shows it has a main actor, and sometimes that person’s name even becomes known throughout the world, although such an identification changes nothing, and in certain cases creates a major obstacle and a whole load of trouble, as in the case of the revolutionary movements we have discussed.
For a start, this single individual chosen within the general body of the species can be anyone.
Priming an atomic bomb happens like this. We have seen that an atom, extremely small though it is, is not indivisible, but is made up of even smaller particles. When activated, put simply, by an extremely powerful electric charge, in which it is possible to concentrate an amount of energy valued at millions of lire on your electric meter, a small particle (a proton or neutron in the simplest case of hydrogen, the smallest atom) is detached, and collides with another atom within the electrical field, causing it to split, violently and suddenly. The splitting means the particles of this atom in turn shoot out at an incredible velocity and collide with other atoms, which in their turn split as well, breaking into their component parts: this then produces so much energy (held prisoner in the seemingly inert atoms) that the electric meter would now read billions. The bomb has gone off. Practically at the same instant a chain reaction has taken place, through which each split atom splits the adjacent ones as well.
The battilocchio‑atom, from which other atoms receive the freed nucleus, after it was activated by a discharge of millions of volts, a higher electrical potential than a lightning bolt, could have been any one of them.
Do we mean to say that, just as all atoms are identical in the same chemical element, so too all individuals of the human species are exactly the same? Clearly not, rather we wanted to make the comparison to emphasize that, in the present historical stage, the leader’s job is such that it is increasingly possible to find someone to perform it by, as in the cyclotron, choosing any atom at all to be the first atom in the chain.
So, when the cyclotron is charged up in its state of perfect isolation (today the potential is earthed due to several instances of opportunist corruption leaking through the class insulator ñ the real technical problem of the cyclotron is not the enormous mass of energy, but precisely the insulation) and history issues its invitation to mankind, to find out who wants to be the fission atom, an anxious response will come from all those who would be do fine as fixed atoms.
(1) Cf. Prometeo V/II no. 4, July‑September 1952. A later (and final) Thread dealt more directly with Einstein, cf. Il Programma Comunista no. 9, 1955, Relatività e determinismo: in morte di Alberto Einstein [Relativity and determinism: in memoriam of Albert Einstein].
It is really astonishing that quite a few of Marxism’s avowed militants, whose “militant lives” have been of no sort duration (maybe sound Marxism and long militant lives are inherently incompatible) haven’t understood that the historic thesis about the radical dethronement of the exceptional individual, of ‘the elect’, is not a side issue, but rather a central and fundamental plank of our doctrine, and one that is entirely incompatible with any lingering faith in the role of the great person.
A still greater blunder is made when distinctions are made between the various fields of human activity, and the assumption is made that whilst the role of the great innovator, the man of genius, can easily be eliminated from fields such as economy, politics and social history, it cannot be from others such as Poetry, Music and the Arts in general, where the need for such a personal mission remains intact. Allow such an amateurish distinction free‑play for even one minute, and the theory of historical materialism collapses, and the theory which entrusts human destiny to the “advent of geniuses”, or even to “God’s chosen ones” dispatched to earth, becomes respectable.
Of course, our thesis mustn’t be confused with the idea that all individuals have the same mental capacity, or that historically they have tended to have the same mental capacity. In economics as well we have long since dispelled the stupid opinion that Marxism is to do with equitable economic contribution and retribution, even as a demand for the future. Under communism not only will the relation between effort and consumption always be unequal, but whether it is or not will be a matter of complete indifference.
Our battle against individualism must be seen both in a historical and social sense, and in all fields we have plucked the feathers of both the general individual and the special individual, of both the plodding chickens and the high‑flying eagles.
As far as society is concerned, we deny that it is driven by ideas or discoveries that arise in particular ultra-powerful and enlightened minds; ideas which, since they are so powerful, are later transmitted to other minds and thence become accepted opinions and operational will. But such a denial isn’t enough to set us apart from flat bourgeois egalitarianism of the juridical-democratic stamp. The original Marxist element lies in having rejected the notion (also as regards individuals considered en masse) that opinions and conscious will precede the determination of those actions which are defined as of a social and political nature and which shape the course of History. The connexion which exists between general conditions – which along with the underlying form of production include the entire collective endowment of ideas and knowledge understood in the broadest sense, and all the collective institutions, as per quotations which won’t have been forgotten by those who, whilst not geniuses, have read them thoroughly – the historical course, and the alternation of classes and of class powers, doesn’t pre‑exist in the mind of everybody, nor in the mind of some historical condottiere, but in a more or less obscure way both accompanies and arises after the event. Hitherto even the ruling classes and their agents have only expressed their historical task in a confused way. The first class to express it clearly is the modern proletariat; but not the entire proletariat, not some particular person who guides and leads them, but rather a minority collective: the class party. The long past and the long future of humanity (and even the brief stretches of it containable within the span of one generation) do not exist in the minds of everybody nor even in the mind of that person who first makes the connection; they lie instead in a collective organism, whose birth in its turn depends on the general conditions of historical development.
Therefore we see the future shaped neither by everybody’s (or the notorious majority’s) will, nor by the will of one person, and it is in this sense we deny the function of the individual. Neither the general ‘ego’ nor the particular ‘ego’ are the motors of historical events: these are understood as the operators. A similar distinction exists between different types of machines; between the motors that provide mechanical energy, and the machine tools that work the material to be transformed. The ‘ego’ isn’t a prime motor, but a final tool. Now then: how can we hope to uphold our anti‑democratic and anti‑educationist theory in support of the ego‑everybody, if we are so foolish as to incautiously give in to the arrogance of the lone ego‑person? We did not hesitate to get rid of humanity-consciousness, are we then to genuflect before Battilocchio-consciousness?
Once the ‘people/actors’, and the ‘person/actor’ too, have been correctly assigned their rightful place within the social dynamic, a historical distinction can be drawn. The function of the actor is a passive one; our ancient ancestors, the early human species, proceed passively among the uncontrollable and unknowable forces. As the mode of production becomes increasing complex, people, unconscious actors, become increasingly aware of external conditions, and in the end come to dominate them to a certain extent. Collective man, the species, will increasingly sacrifice less to blind necessity; only in this non‑individual sense, and in a classless society, will it achieve liberation.
As this process unfolds, the individual actor, the star who sets himself apart from the common people in the rudimentary types of production, becomes increasingly superfluous; and over the course of history he has become increasingly unimportant in all the innumerable fields of human endeavour.
This schema is bound to attacked by anti‑Marxism, which portrays a future humanity still dependent on the leadership of higher Unities, only with the difference that if once they came from God, then from the progeny of a particular bloodline, they will eventually be installed by universal suffrage: the same old illusion peddled in a more plausible way...
But how can a Marxist abandon one side of this social form that excludes ego and egos, and forecast that until such time as one EGO emerges we will continue to live under a social form in which it is surrounded by Servites?Culture or sentiment
Back in 1912, a congress of young socialists in Bologna gave rise to an important battle between the ‘culturalists’ and the ‘anti‑culturalists’. The former thought the youth organisation should merely be a school of Marxism; that it shouldn’t have any political activity of its own nor offer suggestions to the “adult” party regarding the movement’s tactical questions. The young pupils would be emancipated, after suitable preparation, when they came of age as... voters. The most that can be said about such a formula nowadays is that maybe there is a case for a ‘senior federation’, as a place to stick the extremely elderly when they start getting a bit wobbly.
The anti‑culturalists protested vigorously that historically culture and education have been traditionalist and anti‑revolutionary factors, and that amongst the young the direct determinism of the revolutionary clash with the old forms has always had more impact. The acquisition of theoretical consciousness – which the Left nevertheless staunchly defended as common patrimony of the party and of the youth movement – mustn’t be used as a condition to paralyse all those who are moved to fight simply under the impulse of the socialist sentiments and enthusiasm which social conditions provoke in the natural course of things. Those who were incapable of understanding such a dialectical position and who even perceived it – as far as the driving forces acting within in a young soul are concerned – as putting faith and ‘fanaticism’ before science and philosophy would talk a load of absolute rubbish, and speak of it as a revival of the cult of the hero, and... of an abandonment of Marx in preference for Carlyle!
Evidently there are two interpretations of heroism. The fighter for the masses, anonymous and forgotten by History, who sides with the aims of his class in the civil war under the impulse of a collective egoism, that is, by the need to improve in a utilitarian way his economic condition, and who ends up – without getting a degree in Philosophy or being baptised in the faith – by going beyond the instinct for self‑preservation and risking his life; not as a soldier, but as an unknown volunteer of the revolution. This wielder of pikestaff or gun is swept up in the common action well before he knows anything about rulings on the care of war orphans, or the commemorative medals he will be entitled to: first he forgets himself then, as a person, he will be forgotten by everybody.
Then there is the Hero, with a capital ‘H’ with all his papers in order, who leads the battle and not only gets all the war damage compensation for himself, along with eulogies by the poets, but expects History’s public to be at its post having thoroughly studied all the posters naming the main actors; and who, having once got the living idiots to present arms to the dead, then retires behind closed doors to gloat over his booty. And it was just such a hero who was the object of Carlyle’s worship: Carlyle, who we had never bothered to read anyway and who was the juvenile object of our Marxist loathing.Production, Science and Art
Why is only our species of animal defined sapiens? certainly not because we have triumphed in the ‘creation lottery’ over the donkey and the parrot (respectable and redoubtable competitors, we sometimes think). Mankind is the only living species that has science, because it has labour. However, Art does not occupy a sphere that is higher than Science or Labour. It is situated between the two. The classic contraposition between the two energies that govern us is Nature and Art. Animal species are sustained by Nature alone, whilst the human species more and more produces what it requires to live. Production and Art.
If the first animal to work had been an immortal, sterile Robinson, who didn’t need to pass on to workmates and successors the rules about cutting down certain trees in order to make a palisade around his hut, there would have been no Art, inasmuch as the harmony of the organised belt around him would only exist in relation to the surrounding bush and the jackal hidden within.
Why are Arte and Arto the same word? It is because the immeasurable richness of human constructions comes not from the brain or from the ‘absolute spirit’, but from the hand that first modifies the branch and the stone in search of food. The last to arrive is the spirit, exalted parasite of the millenary efforts of the nameless multitude, rapturous intoxication of the differentiated life set on the altar of billions of victims immolated in those simple, humble acts which made possible each successive step, each rudimentary conquest; spirit, warmed and illuminated by peaks of enthusiasm which it claims, obscenely, to have generated itself; spirit, oblivious of the cost of that first physical spark which shot out from the freezing savannah, despite the Gods, and how difficult it was, with limbs numb with cold, to reach ignition temperature using only the friction generated by rubbing two sticks together at unbelievable speed. How long was it, how many millennia went by before we knew it required 427 Kilogram-metres per calorie? When was the most gigantic conquest of all? And does it have a daft name?
Clearly such inferences about the ultimate significance of art, and most of the greatest examples aren’t necessarily the latest, will be met with the ruthless censure of our class and party enemies, whose conceptions are designed for a diametrically opposed purpose. And just as clearly their desperate, inveterate opposition is linked strictly to the defence of the theory of the Genius towering over the amorphous masses, since that is the only ammunition they have with which to attack our research into the laws of history, which, far from awaiting the appearance of the Chosen One, announces the collapse of the present class powers and the inevitability of revolution.
To steer this ship of ours when its compass isn’t working, we establish True North by turning to Croce. Not that the latter would be so banal as to deny what we have shown about the influence of natural and social conditions, and historical events, on artistic creation; the only trouble is that this collection of relative elements revolves around an absolute datum, without which these elements would remain for him lifeless, and thus it appears explicable how such a quid might somehow be contained within and shine forth mysteriously from that unique cranium. But we won’t play the game of formulating counter-theses with terms that might quite justifiably be repudiated.Aesthetica in nuce
For Croce aesthetics is the kernel, for us, the shell.
«Aesthetics, by demonstrating that aesthetic activity or art is a form of spirituality, a value, a category, or whatever you want to call it, and not (as theoreticians of various schools believe) an empirical concept related to certain orders of utilitarian or hybrid facts, has, by establishing the autonomy of aesthetic value, likewise demonstrated that it is predicated with powers of special judgement, aesthetic judgement, and that it is a subject of history, of a special history, the history of poetry and the arts, artistic-literary historiography».
The antithesis is posed, it seems to us, clearly and insuperably. You can’t consider yourself a Marxist unless you treat Art in the same way as Technology and Economy, and therefore as a part of political history. Incidentally the Greeks use the word teknè to mean Art and they knew a thing or two about it.
We reject the autonomy of the concept of beauty, which after Kant discovered it is irrevocable according to Croce, just as we reject the autonomy and universality of the concept of justice, in respect to individual interest and even with respect to reason. And down the same path we conduct the concepts of beauty and justice, from the absolute to the relative, from the universal to the contingent, from an autonomous existence to one strictly dependent on material conditions and particular interests. To render this service to law and not to art is neither Marxism nor Kantianism, but just total autonomous rubbish.
This question is totally bound up with the question of geniuses and exceptional individuals.
In a brief passage in the previous Filo del tempo article we showed that the leader’s function in the social community is related to the practical necessity of transmitting knowledge, derived from hard‑won and constantly broadening experience, from one generation to another; from the grown‑up adult members of the community to children and adolescents. We recalled that the most immediate form of leadership was the matriarchy, and that at a later stage, when hunting and war came to predominate, it would be the strongest men and those most skilled in the use of weapons who would lead. As rules and labour ‘secrets’ came to assume importance, the power of the brain would begin to predominate over muscle power. Tradition can be transmitted by memory and by memory alone; the wizard, the priest and the wise man take centre stage. Gradually the sum of common capacities required for production becomes more and more complex and the task of transmitting it becomes much more difficult: soon it becomes so difficult that it is beyond the capacity of one set of arms, or one brain. We also noted how language, the articulated word, had formed the first means of passing on information, traditionally one of the resources which clearly separates the ‘sapient’ species from the purely animal, by commencing at the same time to make this ‘handing over’ more collective. Other significant methods of transmission soon occur, allowing what could no longer be contained in one head to be preserved and passed on. Writing is the most important of these, and thus the colossal effort involved in memorising would be reduced to a minimum. Many other expedients would follow, all with a levelling effect, all of them undermining the need for ‘exceptional individuals’ in the resolution of the problems of communal life. Already we have machines that think and reason better than the average man.
At this point it is worth going back a bit, to just before writing and just after language; back to music, which although seemingly a realm of transcendence and absolutes is in fact born as a practical and utilitarian expedient, born not as an isolated flight of fancy from a particular brain but from the practice of collective mnemonics.Word and Song
The German writer Thomas Mann, today a champion of democratic conformism, is correctly remembered as a forerunner, in the time of Wilhelm II, of the Hitlerian doctrines of the national mission of the people and of the German Reich. His pronouncement made forty years ago, about Germany needing a world history such as Spain, France and England had had, wouldn’t have seemed so crazy if not for its lateness with respect to the era in which Marx and Engels castigated the German bourgeoisie for its ignominious absence from the historical scene and the tortuous path it had taken to achieve its national State a century ago. But what interests us is the counter-posing in Mann’s thought of the values, as Croce would say, of the German and Western spirits. Then Mann was lashing out against the “Zivilisation” that he today admires in the pro‑American camp, and contrasting it with German kultur. For him the latter was not only anti‑western and anti‑democratic, but anti‑authoritarian and anti‑literary too. Germany was a land that was unliterarisches, wortlos, nicht vortliebend – enemy of the word and prose. German profundity sought expression not in the banalities of chatter, but in metaphysics, poetry and above all in music, the art that speaks to man without words.
If it is true that music has an ultra‑national expression, it is no less true that it came into being as a vehicle for words, and words in their turn came into being as vehicles for the rules connected with work, with technology. Therefore art isn’t the mode of expression, of communication, but the actual content of the communication, of the expression.
Thus the natural and historical road was: uniform rules governing life and work, music, song, poetry; much, much later came words and prose. Mann, as the barbaric apologist for the illiterate Arminius (Hermann) who crushed the legions of the refined Varus in the forest of Teutoburg, was much nearer the mark than today’s chooser of liberty against the excesses which in 1914 he called ‘revolutionary’, such as the tearing up of treaties; texts which would certainly be difficult to set to music.
Since the first constitutions couldn’t be written down or inscribed in monumental stonework they were transmitted word for word by memory. Mnemonic requirements meant they would be drawn up in verse form; only in legend does one person write them when in fact they distil common wisdom and practice.
The Poet, who today writes and publishes, used to just sing. Then the Poet was not one individual but rather the community, and whoever was unable to chant the verses had no other way of preserving the data of his or her life; civilizing prose has led to bank‑accounts, achievable by any cynical boor. But back then we sowed, and reaped, and were married, and were born, to the chanting of given rhythms which everyone knew, because the collective memory preserved the words and the musical motif. The idea of committing the non‑rhyming word to memory is something that comes after writing.Fecundity of the Numerus
Music sticks in the mind for mechanical and physical reasons. Rhythm is number, the exact measure of time. Tonality and harmony arise from rigid mathematical proportions existing between the number of vibrations hitting the ear. The ear is the first measuring instrument used by man: the eye, qualitatively so much richer, is quantitatively subject to glaring errors.
The practical fact is, thanks to the musical nature of choral chanting it first became possible to transmit and teach rules to a collectivity, and so consolidate the victory of the latter with respect to the life of brutes: productive art. Humanity sang in order to live, not for enjoyment, nor to discover an absolute and “useless” pleasure such as Kant claimed to have discovered. It was the one means that responded to this utilitarian aim: of keeping the species but the collective memory alive and developing its potential when no other archive existed.
Is this just some lucubration, some novelty, dreamt up by ourselves? In fact it’s an idea that has been around for three thousand years. In Greek mythology, the nine muses are the children of Mnemosine, the goddess of memory.
That the nightingale also has a sense of musical timing and pitch just goes to prove that Music is closer to natural and material functions than the distant reaches of pure spirit.
It is a very stale objection that, having once discovered the technical method of writing of music, a long time after written language, only eight note symbols suffice to denote even the most sublime of musical scores.
It was a huge advance in human knowledge to establish two elements as equal. Primitive man knew via his senses only concrete objects none of which were the same: two stones, two leaves, four birds, to begin with stopping at five, the number of fingers on one hand.
Pythagoras in ancient times is famous for having assimilated in his school music and mathematics: both were numerus. The fact that in the same “step” one went from one to two, and then from two to three, seems today not only simple and straightforward, but obvious and banal, even for an infant in primary school. But it was an astonishing achievement then. The “Principle of recurrency” which allows for the handling of the infinite series of numbers using this method isn’t obvious; it isn’t axiomatic; it cannot be demonstrated by logical deduction, and so isn’t to be found in the realm of the spiritual, and just picked up. It is a result achieved empirically through the collaboration of innumerable beings in the life of the species which talks, sings, and counts.
Well then, in the same way the principle of recurrence covers the most difficult theorems of pure arithmetic and all mathematics, including the equations of Einstein’s theory of relativity – which are understood by one in a million people – and his still mysterious unified theory too, so also is the Ninth Symphony contained within Guido D’Arezzo’s seven notes. Complexity and greatness depend on the length and richness of the long journey.
That the Ninth Symphony was written at all is extraordinary, but no less extraordinary is that anybody can perform it; and that it can move people despite the lack of a common language. Its universal value wasn’t therefore given from the start, but only at the end of a long journey; a journey, moreover, in which millions have taken part.Art and Class Struggle
Let us then shimmy up the rungs of this ladder, so much longer than Abraham ever saw. Marxism has always linked its critique of the great golden ages of Art to the great transitional events between one mode of production and the other. If ever there was an Art that was truly collective and naturalistic it was Greek Art, some of whose masterpieces, according to some, are still unsurpassed. Why did the flourishing of such an Art spread from Attica to the Asiatic shores of the Aegean Sea colonised by the Greeks, following in the footsteps of the first industrial and commercial economy, and then vanish from those colonies when their free citizens were defeated by the Persians? As ever striding forth in seven league boots, Engels comments: «If the decline of former classes such as the knighthood could offer material for great tragic works of art, philistinism [of the German petty bourgeoisie] can achieve nothing but impotent expressions of fanatical malignity...».
The time has come, as so often happens, to refer to Engels. We need to prove that we aren’t just plucking new theories out of thin air, as usually happens after a bottle of wine has been opened, but are sticking to the line; following the great red thread.
We are dealing with the relationship between capitalism and Art, which will lead us on to an examination of the relationship between capitalism and heroes.
The approach and first outbreak of the bourgeois revolution, dating back to different times in various nations ranging from the 15th to the 19th centuries, led to a great flowering of literature and in all the arts. The sequence in a general geographical sense is: Italy, Netherlands, France, England, Germany, Russia. But as soon as the mode of capitalist production emerges from its revolutionary incubation, as soon as it spreads it reveals itself as crassly anti‑aesthetic. In the artistic balance sheet of this half of the nineteenth century, what is there to put on the plus side?
Something similar happened as regards the balance sheet of ‘heroism’.
Here we have to hand a magnificent article by Engels, written in 1850, about our alleged fellow traveller Thomas Carlyle. It is, in fact, one of those theoretical roastings in which one rather regrets that too much space has been devoted to the mounds of rubbish reviewed whilst our own elaboration of the theme has been restricted to critical asides.
Carlyle may be numbered amongst the many enemies and critics of the sordidness of emergent capitalist society; amongst those various economists, sociologists, politicians and writers who captured, sometimes in very incisive ways, its contemptible aspects and who were able to strip away its sumptuous covering of progress and civilization. But they weren’t of sufficient stature to understand the indispensable benefits of capitalism, and although containing flashes of subversion and revolution they relapsed into nostalgia for the old regime.
They were unable to understand the immense productive potential of associated labour which capitalism had introduced, albeit as exploitation and class monopoly, bringing into play forces which would overshadow the personal exploits of legendary heroes once and for all. The government of Nations had fallen into the hands of usurers, shopkeepers and cynical and uncouth slave-drivers but they couldn’t be toppled by resurrecting the knights and princes. The serious lack of style with which today’s sharks and parvenus use the proceeds from flogging salami to buy Rembrandts, probably fake, at inflated prices, brings to mind the Roman consul, who, delivering a statue from the Parthenon to the slaves who would be crewing the ship, threatened that if they broke it they would have to make another one; in any case, it doesn’t change the fact that the modern market and the ancient warrior both moved the wheel of history forward.Carlyle’s Wrath
The Scottish writer hurls fire and brimstone against the baseness of his times. He inveighs against the vulgarity of the bourgeoisie, and even against the subjection of proletarians, the poor, brutalised by their exploitation and all and sundry are menaced with rhetorical extermination.
He praises the revolution as an unfolding drama, or as Engels puts it «Where he recognises the revolution, or indeed apotheosises it, in his eyes it becomes concentrated in a single individual, a Cromwell or a Danton».
Alas! How many people became communists and Marxists not because of Lenin’s long struggle, not because of the immensely hard work he put in and the brilliant ideological reconstruction he accomplished, but because of his dazzling successes and the fact his name became associated with a historical drama. How many just wanted to quench their desire for hero‑worship and nothing more? It would cost the revolutionary party dear and even corrupt the work of Lenin himself.
Carlyle thought in whatever field the Genius chose to work, he would always be right. He used to admire the style of certain German writers who are virtually forgotten today, but as for the much more significant Hegel, he wasn’t even aware of him. Such is the destiny of cultists of personal value. As Engels would point out, «In the cult of genius, which Carlyle shares with Strauss, the genius has got lost in the present pamphlets. The cult remains».
Indeed, this morbid need to admire ‘towering geniuses’ inevitably has its down side: passivity. Prostrate adulation becomes an end in itself, and when it cannot be focussed on a person, it flags, only to re‑emerge when the latest colourful, although intrinsically shallow ‘personality’ comes along, unaware he is destined for total obscurity.
The tempestuous events that inflamed Europe in 1848 were bound to have an impact on a man like Carlyle. But just as he had no wish to laud the arrival of the commercial and industrial form of economy, so also – and he was right – he felt no need to defend liberalism and democracy. The story about a ship caught in the gales off Cape Horn is his. Having been blown off course, the crew choose their course by putting the compass points to the vote, and adopt the decision of the majority. And yet the historical message is completely lost. Why? Because he goes off in search of a protagonist of heroic stature! And where does he find him? In Pope Pius IX! And where does he see the main clash of forces taking place? Is it between feudalism and capitalism, between an authoritarian and a constitutional system? No, absolutely not! It’s a struggle of Truth against Lies, Falsehoods and “Shams” (fantasmi) and, according to him, it is against just such nasty things that the popular masses rose up in Paris, Vienna, Messina and Lisbon.
And when it is a question of establishing who it is precisely who can identify Truth and Greatness, the author relies on the Wise, the Elect and The Noble since they alone are up to the task. He then proceeds to reduce the historical struggle, about which he has understood precisely nothing, to a frantic hunt for the great Leader, the exalted figure, to whom the destiny of poor old humanity can be entrusted. And although pouring scorn on the vulgar egoism of the bourgeoisie, which is incapable of aspiring to such giddy heights, he ends up by unwittingly relapsing into undiluted praise for the captains of industry... And to arrive at this point he has explained away the 1848 uprisings with the motto which supposedly inflamed the crowds: Begone, ye imbecile hypocrites, away with non‑heroic histrions! We need heroes!
Based on just such falsifications as these the ridiculous craving for heroes has survived for more than a century, unwittingly affecting current Marxist analysis of the events of 1848 and of all the other great historical eruptions from Europe’s underground!Engels’ cold shower
We can only recapitulate Engel’s ruthless demolition job: «We can see the “noble” Carlyle proceed from a thoroughly pantheistic mode of thinking. The whole process of history is determined not by the development of the living mass itself, naturally dependent on specific historically created changing conditions, themselves determined (...) All would depend on the knowledge of an eternal law of nature, accessible to the wise and the noble, not the fools and the rogues. The struggle between classes is replaced by an antithesis which is resolved by bowing to nobles and wise men: hence by the cult of genius».
But how, Engels continues, are we to find these wise and noble souls? It inevitably leads to a sanctioning of the rule of the privileged classes, who monopolise education along with everything else; and to bowing one’s head to the vulgar rule of the bourgeoisie, who in words Carlyle claims to despise. Carlyle’s «sole grumble and complaint, is that the bourgeoisie does not assign a position at the top of society to its unrecognised geniuses». And here it is that Carlyle discerns «a new class of commanders of men having arisen in England, a new aristocracy»!
And that is where the ‘cult of genius’ ends up, in abject prostration before its enemy! There are plenty of shallow people who would be drawn to the proletarian party if it put its ‘unknown geniuses’ on display. But once they’d seen some bigger and better genius elsewhere, they’d soon move on elsewhere. When talking about this or that party or movement, we are sick to death of hearing political philistines ask, with a self‑important air “but but who is in it”.
The Marxist party should always say: we have nobody to put on show. To the enemy class and their party we declare, we intend to cast down all geniuses and all idiots; and that’s that.
The history of the various opportunisms and betrayals inside the three Internationals can be entirely reduced to a frenzy of active and passive personalization.
Engels concludes his ridiculing of Carlyle by rejecting his theory of the Noble and the Abject which becomes exasperating in its mania for finding extremes, the peaks of the one and the other. The Noble will eliminate the ignoble, the Noblest of the Noble will hang the most villainous of the villains, and so on until only Carlyle remains who has to hang himself.
A dialectical joke, and certainly an apt response to Carlyle’s idiotic doctrine of the historical Criminal.
Mussolini for example would never have gained such prominence, nor his self‑exaltation become so established amongst his followers, if the other side hadn’t inflated his importance to the level of the Carlylean supreme villain, the historical cause of all evil, as had been the case with Kaiser Bill and Franz Joseph, and, later on, Hitler.
The anti‑fascists used to go around banging on about ‘him’, telling us ‘he’ had done this, that or the other, and we would remind them of the little grammatical rule about using the pronoun to refer to someone previously mentioned.
Nowadays we are approaching the stage of functioning without any ‘hims’. Just as in economics, if Marxism isn’t a complete load of rubbish, so also in politics, science and in the Arts.
To learn this we didn’t have to wait until we’d seen a bourgeois regime without a bourgeoisie in Russia; until we’d seen Malenkov and Stalin turning the creative inspiration of writers and artists, painters and musicians, on and off like a tap. It was quite enough to have read the crucial chapter by Engels in the Anti‑Dühring dealing with phase D of the capitalist cycle, which idiots ‘discovered’ in 1950.
«D). Partial recognition of the social character of the productive forces forced upon the capitalists themselves. Taking over of the great institutions for production and communication, first by joint-stock companies, later on by trusts, then by the State. The bourgeoisie demonstrated to be a superfluous class. All of its social functions are now performed by salaried employees».
After this demonstration, Engels moves on to the ‘Proletarian Revolution’.
But let us return to the genius, to the leader. If capitalism ends up without personalities, communism starts out that way. The terrible decline in revolutionary strength over the last thirty years stands in direct relation to the continual exaltation of individuals, the miserable fabrication of undiscovered geniuses, who, like challenges from a new Carlyle, we have been stupid enough to put on pedestals. And the worst of it is, whilst a certain species of spectacularly awful idiot has been elevated to the rank of commodity-genius, many who are far less idiotic have been labelled scoundrels and fools much more than they deserve.No‑one will come
The process of turning the working class into a flock of sheep is virtually complete. For tens of years it has been stupidly waiting, not for the hour to come when it could fight for its own goals and for its own programme, but for ‘him’ to go; and after the various hims had actually gone, it was left more enslaved than ever.
Then they sat and waited hopefully for ‘Big Moustache to arrive’. But ‘Big Moustache’ died without ever undertaking the journey. And yet workers are still told that, rather than acting under their own volition, they should instead wait for somebody else to come along.
Yet the Messiah has been counterproductive in all revolutions. Even the Christian myth declares it so. When Christ announced his imminent departure to the apostles and the other minor disciples, they were left sad and bereft. What can we do, what will the multitude do without your guidance?
But Christ replied, I have to return to my Lord and Father. It is easy for you to see me here in human form, made flesh, as one you think endowed with ultimate power, whilst physically I will fall under the blows of the enemy. Only after my departure will the Holy Spirit come amongst you and the masses of the world in an invisible and impalpable form. And the humble millions invested by him will conquer the forces of the enemy without a physical leader.
The myth, in fact, represents the social, subterranean power of an immense revolution everywhere undermining the ancient world.
It was easy to proceed when the Master caused all to tremble and fall silent, performing miracles, healing the sick, raising the dead and striking the sword from the hand of the aggressor.
The workers will triumph when they understand that no‑one is coming. Waiting for the messiah and the cult of genius, explicable in Peter’s and Carlyle’s case, is for a Marxist in 1953 nothing less than a miserable cover for impotence.
The Revolution will rise again, and will be terrible, but anonymous.
All Revolutions have been intoxications of trials of individuals, fed on innocence and guilt, accusations and defences. The Revolution we await will not do so, if at the end of Marxist theory there is, as we believe, the Revolution. This theory knows no personal responsibility, no acquittals or convictions. It knows acts of force, which are social necessity, and have nothing to do with the legal or moral status of the victims, or the perpetrators.
It would be foolish, therefore, if we demanded the floor for the defence of Stalin, a posthumous defendant. It is the acts of indictment against him that must be shamed, for they conclude for the condemnation, in strange concord, come from the exasperated enemies of decades past, when he was hated as a communist and together with the revolutionary communists of the past decades, when in our opinion he had deserted communism, or come from the friends of those same decades who today uncover endless infamies against him.
* * *
Either one weaves the history of human societies as res gestae, as feats carried out by supreme men and great leaders, in whose genius the facts are experienced as a film, which eventually ordinary men acted out in masses of extras – or one weaves it, like the Marxists, by looking for the driving causes in the conditions of physical life common to the collective masses, and which set them, neither conscious nor willing, in motion.
If one is still on the first view, it is hardly surprising that the same name made ’immortal’ by the glory of deeds and the believed forging of the subsequent destinies of peoples, revolves around the notoriety of vile deeds and incredible shames, which would classify the common man as a brute, a criminal, a reject of society. Typical, and not new, is the case of Stalin, raised to the altars as an exceptional man, and described as a degenerate and monstrous subject.
This must be remembered, and not explained, for the moment, with a dash of Marxism: that is, by comparing the description of the class and party of which the famous Man was the defender, and then that of the class and party that was the enemy and victim. It is precisely the subjects and followers, out of frenzy or ignoble interest, that have put in the double light, as a rule, all those with the necklace of whose names current history has been written, those whom we for derision say the Battilocchi.
The Wise Man who, when asked for political advice, passed his scythe at a certain height above the ground, cutting off from the red field of poppies the flowers that towered highest over the meadow, knew that he who rises above his fellows by special strength and valour, does so also because he excels in harming and raging, and in the sinister ability to oppress others.
We would resign ourselves as Marxists, and therefore as scholars of history, if we thought that such an extermination of the Greatest or the most vile could ever make that Revolution, of which we are assertors, and whose roots are inherent in all the stalks of the field of human grass, lose a beat.
If we were to follow the historical double-entendre about “special” men – claimed, by our contradictors, to be the engines of general events – a human life would not suffice. Not a single lofty name, prophet or sage, saint or ruler of peoples, demigod or demidemon of the legends that have been passed down to us would escape, not even as reflected in works of literary fantasy; in which in another form men set down their own common traditions. The sublimity, and the deepest shame, we would prove them as touched by all. And for the two reasons all are remembered, or perhaps, better, dreamt of, by mysterious transpositions of the earliest forms of human knowledge and transmission of past data. Useless, then, to look for the key to the Stalin problem in this rigmarole of the man‑cause of history, in which slip both the Dulles gang as well as the Khrushchev gang (just to put it familiarly).
* * *
We could probe religions and myths, which are nothing more than the first scriptures of lived social history, not invented according to arbitrariness and chance, but derived by successive deformations from the material conditions of common life, the first examples that identify the good and the bad genius, the saviour of men and the beast that drinks their blood. God, at every stage, is the first model of the Being who is loved and feared at the same time, in the same tremendous extremes.
The first historical characters stand somewhere between the mythical and the human. The tradition that constructs them oscillates between their renown virtues and their horrendous vices. It is indeed the horrid that appears to man, even in non‑ancient times, most suited to raise one man’s pedestal above others.
Of many great leaders and lords and sovereigns, the memory of infamies has in the historical narrative overridden that of merits, and at most has joined the latter without the popular imagination detaching itself from them. Shall we remember the fierce sacrifices and massacres of Assyrian and Egyptian kings that history remembers as foundations and giant works of millenary civilisations? The regulation of the Nile, the pyramids, the cities with sevenfold walls, or the hydraulic reclamation as in fertile Mesopotamia, which Semiramis transformed from a beast-infested forest into a joyful garden between the tamed waters of the Tigris and Euphrates, only to pass into history as a top whore, as it is the sexual side of human deviation that invariably emerges around these resounding names? All this would be too long. And if the great emperors imposed themselves on the peoples, it was not because of the warlike hardships of glorious campaigns, but because they were able to crush the living bodies of prisoners under the wheels of triumphal chariots before their eyes. Is there such a distance from this today? Would the morbid emotion of the civilised American people for a few decimetres of Ike’s intestines be there without the joy of having learned and admired on their screens the magnificent crushing of hundreds of thousands of living bodies, which a Xerxes, a Cyrus, a Tamerlane, a Genghis‑Kan would not have been able to celebrate, under the atomic bombs of Nagasaki or Hiroshima?
Let’s cut to the chase. It is obvious to link to the greatness of the Leaders their sexual exploits with the Favourites of each race, brought to them by all the victories. Octavian falls a few cubits in popularity before Marc Antony and Julius Caesar, for the merit of being the only one not to enter Cleopatra’s alcove. Virility with women literarily pairs well with valour before the enemy, as with Astolfo who epically beats twelve virgins in the night and the following day twelve knights; staking the challenge on his own head.
But even the most vile degeneration and sexual inversion have well seasoned the famed qualities of men of exception. Socrates remains the founder of moral philosophy, despite certain of his jokes with the young Alcibiades, his favourite pupil. To return to Caesar, it is trivial to recall that, according to Suetonius, his loyal legionaries – not his adversaries – sang in triumph, in that Latin that allows one to report rubbish: Hodie Caesar triumphat – qui subegit Gallias – Nycomedes non triumphat – qui subegit Caesarem. True or untrue, is the episode with Nicomedes, king of Bitynia, a historical fact of comparable weight to the overthrow of the classical Roman social form in Gaul and Britain and the origins of the Latin Empire? Are such human events conditioned by the human figure of Caesar, seen here as a gay, there as the greatest general, engineer, writer, historian, statesman, of a century remembered as golden, i.e. fruitful of men of prominence – as, according to us Marxists, it was fruitful of a becoming of collective, not personal, forces?
The empire will fall after having had Nero, Caligula, Tiberius, stained in the vulgar belief of all crimes; but the new forces that will pave the way for the new forms will also look like ferocious invaders; Attila Scourge of God will make the grass die under the hooves of his horses, but also germinate an original world: cursed, blessed? Both. With Vandals, Heruli, Goths, Normans, and their kings of famous names, fierce customs and Christian merits.
Hangmen and Fathers of the Fatherland, Saints and Inquisitors, Reformers and Tyrants, flock to the historical memory with the same names, and with the same glorious deeds they cross their paths, without making too much impression on anyone, poisonings, incests, parricides, burnings and whippings... Moral judgement on names makes anyone, of any school, write a drunken and rambling story. Evidently the reasons for it must be sought outside the infamies, as much as the wonderful deeds, of the hallucinating hailstorm of Immortal Names. This had to be done, and was done, by the historical materialists.
Must we still transcribe the two presentations of the French Revolution, from the feudal and the bourgeois sides? Recall the accusations against the beasts of the Terror, Thermidor and Restoration? Contrast the luminous construction that resolves outdated and fatuous apologies and execrations in the living drama of the classes in struggle, in the driving force of the economic struggle, when Marxism appears? And all moral judgement forever pales?
The most recent characters do not escape these norms. The clash of the First World War was linked to the name of Wilhelm of Germany, idol of some, monster of others: a dirty story of assignations with the Count of Eulenburg was the premise. It was always with this propaganda weapon of sexual gossip that political battles were waged, nor was the Vatican ever spared. When Mussolini was at the top, low rumours of illicit love affairs circulated, his secretaries and trustees were slandered, the weapon of waving the family’s dirty linen was used extensively as in all these cases. What was not said about Hitler? The men of the proletariat were also not a few times hit with these low means. Pigs appeared who obscenely explained Engels’ connection to Marx’s family. Yet the history of communism has examples that have silenced everyone: men who perhaps like Marx and Lenin had no other woman but the admirable wife, despite their professed sexual theory. These days, an idiot showed up who spoke of Lenin’s visit to a closed house in Paris instead of the National Library, which would have infected him... But we believe that we have never met anyone so pig as not to speak respectfully of Lenin’s incomparable companion, an outstanding example of a powerful man’s wife, uniquely devoted not so much to her husband as to the party, of which she virulently reminded Stalin that she was not the last of its members. These lofty figures of Jenny and Nadejda can rightfully be joined by Natalia, Trotsky’s widow.
Now you would like to solve the problem of historical address, which is conventionally attached to Stalin’s name, with the true or invented fact – what, in essence, does that matter? – that he would, as old man, have brought to him young women, and almost little girls?!
In this filthy matter, more than the nervous systems that do not hold up, the mouths that take pleasure in telling are filthy. And the politics that links a success to the employment – true or false as they may be – of such miserable resources, only gives a measure of human meanness and insipidity. If we are dealing with those who once called themselves Marxists, the downward slope is of such frightening depth that we are in the presence of brains degenerated a hundred times more pathologically, than some sexual gland whose hormones do not chemically conform to the general rule.
At the end of his study on Stalin, full of incredible material and vindicated by later events in a dramatic way, Trotsky, whom we can never forgive for having been so often a biographer and psychologist, he a great Marxist historian, concludes with this sentence: «The State is me is an almost liberal formula in comparison with the present (1940) totalitarian regime of Stalin. Louis XIV merely identified himself with the State. The Roman pontiffs identified themselves together with the State and the church, but only in the age of temporal power. The Russian totalitarian State goes much further than Caesaro-Papism, because it has subjugated the entire economy of the country as well. Stalin can well say unlike the Roi Soleil: the Society is me».
The distinction between State and Society is in Marxist and Engelsian theory fundamental. As long as there is a State, they are two distinct and enemy entities. The State is a class machine that weighs down on the body of human society. To erect a State, if Marxism is Marxism, one Man is not enough, one needs a social Class.
Trotsky wrote those words only by way of fierce sarcasm. He did not mean that Stalin had put his heel on the State and on a society of a hundred million men; he would have descended to the level of a Khrushchev who wants us to tremble with Stalin’s little finger.
Lenin also insisted on the psychiatric examination of Stalin in his will. This text may make a great impression, but it is not Lenin’s greatest and most useful. Lenin himself apologises: these things (Stalin’s temper, his rudeness with comrades) seem like minutiae, but they are not...
Lenin, as his wife clearly saw it, wanted to pass on Stalin’s duties to Trotsky, to Zinoviev, to Kamenev. But only because he felt those men were in the path of different forces at the bottom of history, and they would fight, and he like all of us would – if he did not die – fight, on the side against Stalin.
Lenin began to feel ill in March 1922. The first attack of arteriosclerosis blocked his right side and speech on the 26th of May. At the 4th Comintern Congress from 4 November to 5 December 1922 he participated fully: his was a formidable physique; he had recovered. But on 16 December he suffered his second stroke. He wrote his will on 25 December, the postscript on 4 January 1923. On 9 March, a few days after the letter breaking off with Stalin, he suffered the third and most tremendous blow. He seemed to improve slightly in October 1923; he died on 21st January 1924.
But already those who were able to approach Lenin in June 1922, during the Enlarged Executive at which he was unable to speak, were met by a swollen man, his eyes changed, who made visible efforts to remember and speak: although he was precisely of those for whom history is made without men, or without given men, he came out expressing himself to his comrades with a drastic, unrepeatable phrase: we are definitely screwed, boys – roughly.
* * *
What Lenin expressed in the last days of his life must therefore be used with circumspection. The recovery of November-December 1922 was undoubtedly the last event that nature could produce, with the help of the most capable doctors available in Moscow, and the incredible work of Nadejda, who after the second stroke had to start teaching him to speak and read like a child. When Trotsky recounts in his book that Stalin wanted to give Lenin the poison he had asked for, he says that the doctor did not rule out recovery and thus expressed himself: the virtuoso will always be a virtuoso. The word, Italian, does not seem to fit. A Man is perhaps the same person for God, the devil, and the law, throughout his life; but he is certainly not always the same thing, for the doctor especially. We shall deal with the matter, briefly and in closing, not according to Trotsky’s brilliant phrase, nor according to the latest, tragic manifestations of Lenin’s thought.
Whoever uses the State, uses it against a part, a class or certain classes of society. The problem is the relationship between State and Society. Society is a natural colony of man‑animals placed by nature in given conditions, which we distinguish into groups of conditions. The State is an organised machine formed in Society, and united with a part of Society. The basis of the State cannot coincide with Society in a uniform manner: this is the lie of democratic and liberal theory.
The theory of Dictatorship teaches us to use a State-machine. A new machine, made after having smashed the traditional one, but still a machine, made with men bound by various cogs.
This machine acts against the defeated but surviving classes, in order to disperse them, with their annexes and stubborn influences; and then disappear.
As long as the machine exists, it is made of men: writers, orators, organisers, soldiers, guards, policemen.
We admit that the machine-State must function with suitable and selected men, who have given qualities, and even bad qualities for traditional morality. For this reason, we will not renounce the historically transitory use of the machine-State, the tool‑State, the weapon-State, the filth-State.
We do not aim to erect a model State, like all the ideologues who are our enemies. We aim, because history imposes it, to rid society of the State, “vaccinating” it with the use of a last State, in certain conditions sharper and harsher than those that preceded it.
When a social form, such as today’s capitalism, grows too old, it can be assumed that the State that will cleanse society of it will have to be particularly heavy-handed. Suppose it is proved that in it some of the party militants will have to employ and perhaps sacrifice themselves to become subjectively ruthless and ferocious; this will not be a historical reason to recoil from the only way of the Revolution.
This is how Lenin and Trotsky spoke and wrote in the time of their full efficiency, they who subjectively would not have enjoyed crushing an ant (Trotsky once spoke to us with his good smile of “plaisir de la chasse”). We have no reason and no party doctrinal interest in Stalin’s sadism, nor do we see in it a key to history. Anyone who wanted to could look him in the face and apostrophise him, as Nadejda did without trembling. Not Stalin’s viciousness or brutality decided this historical game. Far from it!
* * *
It was not nature that created a monstrous creature, but history that came to a halt on a difficult type of the machine-State straddling too many conflicting forces, which lacked the decisive force: the proletariat of Europe.
This historical form came to a halt in a monstrous encounter between two now alternative forms: democracy and dictatorship.
The question is not whether the State-machine can have at its summit an individual, a syndicate, or a popular assembly. This is metaphysics, not history.
The Russian revolutionary State was led to use the extreme form of internal terror; and to wallow outside the borders in the – everywhere and always lying – defence of democratic and popular lasciviousness.
All monstrous phenomena emerged from this incest of historical forces, which tendencies, proposals, resistance and oppositions tried in vain to avoid: to stay out of parliaments in the West, to save the workers’ party in Russia from being suffocated by a State of bourgeois peasantry, not to get muddied in anti‑fascist blocs. The overcoming was immature, impossible (even for a reborn young Lenin!) without the revolution of the West.
Out of this incest of historical forces was moulded the Minotaur Stalin, a poor passive form without vitality, fecundity and responsibility; neither beast nor man, not subject to processes of condemnation or rehabilitation.
In the face of today’s miserable explanations, the normality or otherwise of Stalin’s rule could be discussed in the same way as common principles of the validity and rectitude of the handling of States, which go back to common criteria of a basic civilisation.
It is in this attempt of Stalin’s bewildered deificators of yesterday that the error lies: this common ground of the enemy forces of history is missing: only one means of discussion runs between them, and that is force: the one who ultimately has to bite the dust will be wrong. All the rest is filthy prostitution to bourgeois ideology, in which today’s false communists of the West have the excuse of having always, without a moment’s resignation to Marxism, loyally, honestly believed, and in which today they plunge back in, drawing breath. Bourgeois legality is their atmosphere, and they were never out of it: or they would have died. Only a bourgeoisie, which sniffs out its own cadaverous stench, can fear them: they have its own stink.
But Stalin, it is said of Russia, in his last twists and turns, violated revolutionary legality, Soviet legality.
Either Stalin had a mandate to rule a dictatorship, or to respect a legality. Lenin had written: What is dictatorship? He said it himself:
A POWER WON AND MAINTAINED BY THE VIOLENCE OF THE PROLETARIAT AGAINST THE BOURGEOISIE, A POWER “NOT BOUND BY ANY LAW”.
Stalin and his low janissaries had no legality to abide by, which they violated. They were, to their misfortune, and in their irresponsible impotence, again bound, inside and outside the curtain, by the economic juridical and ideological laws of the filthy bourgeois social slime.
When the dictatorship of tomorrow, whether with a Lenin‑like colossus at its head, or with thousands of valiant militants, or with millions of simple proletarians (this has very little relevance), will no longer demand excuses and masks of legality and constitutionality, of popular consensus and emulation of radical enemies, it will proceed high, clear, bright and shining, washed clean of the disgrace that today’s wretched defamers bring upon it, who turn it from a giant renewing force in the history of a world into a fierce toy to be led by the bogeyman’s little finger.
The last of the crimes held against Joseph Stalin is the proposal he made in 1953 to increase by 40 billion roubles the payments of the peasantry to the State, i.e. to the industrial economy, i.e. to the ravenous Russian proletariat. The motivation is lowly reformist, minimalist, it reeks a thousand miles of petty-bourgeois opportunism: Stalin did not go to the place, to the countryside, he did not, believing himself a genius, do the accounts; he asserted that each peasant would only have to eat one less chicken. In fact, each would only give 500 roubles a year, a few thousand lire in real value. The argument that Stalin saw the peasants’ tables covered with geese and turkeys in the films is vile: was it he alone who shot and projected them?! The argument that in certain years the colcoses only got 28 billion from the State as the price of goods, only means that for the land (and the rest) they enjoy they pay derisory sums. They stole it from the Revolution.
Stalin disappears after one last idea that is a regurgitation of Bolshevism in the last of the former Bolsheviks. Shift, in the State capitalist economy, a greater part of the income of the rural semi‑bourgeoisie and its agents, to the wage‑earners.
We must bury, without using mausoleums, the idea, so hard to shake out of our poor heads, that men, be they Stalin, Trotsky or Lenin, can make history. “Three who made a revolution” badly wrote the talented anecdotist Bertrand Wolfe. Three who made a revolution!
All the texts used in Khrushchev’s report have not only been around in Moscow since 1924, they have been printed by Trotsky and around the world for decades and decades. But until now, tens of millions of workers in all countries, hundreds of millions, who would have sworn it a hundred times over, have been made to believe that they were forgeries fabricated by bourgeois agents – the likes of which we all are!
Trotsky therefore said all true things to the letter. Like the one that when at the Central Committee session Kamenev read the “testament”, Stalin, «sitting on the steps of the Presidium tribune, in spite of his self‑mastery, felt small and miserable». This was before the 12th Party Congress, held in April 1923, Lenin alive but absent.
Do such texts today only serve to destroy Stalin, already dead? And do they not destroy those who knew them for 33 years, time to raise a Christ on the Cross, and now “reveal” them?
Trotsky also recounts Krupskaya’s words: «Volodya (Vladimir’s nickname) used to say: “He (Stalin, whom Nadejda did not name but pointed to by bowing his head towards his Kremlin lodgings) is deprived of the most elementary honesty, of the simplest and most humane honesty». Speaks a man finished by illness, a woman on the verge of self‑denial and pain, another defeated and exiled man. Volodya, Leon, Nadejda, many of us little men, had to understand that our duty to the cause and the party would be to throw ourselves on Stalin by becoming, if necessary, more dishonest than him. Than Him. By substituting this pronoun, we foolishly gave the false villain Benito, from his very enemies, an idiotic pedestal. We mocked this with our comrades in confinement: what male animal are you talking about?
Even the ardent Trotsky compares Stalin to Nero, to Borgia, and says the Marxist reason: «We are living through an epoch of transition from one system to another, from capitalism to socialism. The customs of the declining empire of Rome were formed during the transition from slavery to feudalism, from paganism to Christianity. The age of the Renaissance marked the transition from feudal to bourgeois society, from Catholicism to Protestantism, and to Liberalism’.
«Nero, too, was a product of his era. But as he died his statues were pulled down and his name erased everywhere. The vengeance of history is more terrible than the vengeance of the most powerful General Secretary. I venture to believe that there is consolation in that».
All this is great and powerful in such a formidable fighter, in such a champion of human will and courage. However, we, minimal as we are, will rectify, theoretically, and not emotionally, some other phrases in the prophetic passage.
«In both cases (Empire and Renaissance) the old morality had destroyed itself before the new was formed». Since Marxists do not need to found a new State, they do not need a new morality. And, if they had one, it would not include Revenge, let alone the consolation it brings to the beaten good fighter.
Again: “A historical explanation is not a justification”.
Having once again expressed our admiration for Trotsky, one of the greatest theorists, we propose as an epigraph to Stalin, after the long‑winded epicediums on his desecrated grave, a different and greater thesis.
Always, a historical explanation is a justification.