International Communist Party Against Capitalist War

Communism and War
The Anti-Militarist Battle of the Socialist Left in Italy

Presented at the May 1984 General Meeting

The PSI’s anti-militarist agitation began in the early 1900s, long before the Left fraction had emerged. The intransigents of the time, among whom we find the likes of Rigola, Labriola and Ferri, were spokesmen for the hatred of the proletarian masses against the royal army, which traditionally reaped “victories” on the home front by committing merciless massacres during proletarian and peasant strikes and demonstrations. But contradictory motives were intertwined in the formulations of their propaganda: the protest against the massacres and against the brutal treatment of proletarian-soldiers was combined with the claim made to the bourgeois State for an army that truly sprang from the people (the people in arms), the demand for democratization and humanization of the army, arbitration in case of conflict, and the allocation of military expenditures to charitable purposes. In general, militarism was not seen as a modern, necessary product of bourgeois society, but as a legacy of the past, a distortion to be corrected.

In this regard, here are excerpts from two articles by A. Labriola, who later became a Freemason, a political coalitionist and an interventionist:

«First of all, we mean to express our thoughts on the army of May 1898. We are the sort of people who don’t forget. The detestable and unpunished massacres of that time have marked in our memory an indelible and conscious memory. Let the flaccid and anemic representatives of the slaughtered indulge in the usual platitudes about the army being the people in arms (what about the officers?). Not us! (...) it’s up to the revolutionary fraction of our party to energetically call for a campaign against this tendency of congenital responses» (Avanguardia Socialista, Milan, Feb. 15th, 1903).

«The present set-up of Europe, wherever it is not determined by national aggregations, is the result of monarchical conquest and violence. The various systems of alliances devised and implemented by the infernal skill of politicians are either intended to maintain and preserve this arrangement or to substitute for it a different system which is not founded at all on the vindication of national right, but on a new national oppression (...) The Socialist Party stands proudly against this barbaric triumph of armed violence. It does not accept the macabre, bloody legacies of the past (...) Whether a double or triple Entente, the Socialist Party has no sympathy for them. Only by opposing the various combinations of ruling international politics does it have the right to attack at its root the militarism that is in one sense the cause and in another the effect of this situation. Certain positions are accepted en bloc. And frankly, when conservatives state that given the present situation of Europe, as determined by the Napoleonic conquests and subsequent national revolutions, it would be unforgivably fickle to disarm, they are not far wrong. Only by rebelling against the fait accompli and by rejecting the permanence of historical outcomes when they constitute an obstacle to the development of civilization and democracy and by proposing to change them, does one have the right to lead the anti-militarist campaign in a consistent way. Otherwise, it’s not possible to reject the sneers from the conservatives. The Socialist parliamentary group, by embracing the Triple Entente and endorsing foreign dynastic policy, has put itself in the position of not having its anti-militarist campaign taken seriously. Tu l’as voulu Georges Dandin!» (Avanguardia Socialista, Milan, March 1st, 1903).

As regards the limitations of early anti-militarism, we wrote in 1915, after the above quoted lines, in the article From the Old to the New Anti-Militarism:

«Only with the socialization of the means of production and exchange will “the hostility of one nation to another come to an end”, as the Communist Manifesto says. Instead, the notion had slowly spread that war, even under bourgeois rule, was impossible» (from Avanti! February 12th, 1915).

It was the Youth Federation, through its organ L’Avanguardia, that waged the most consistent anti- militarist battle, not only through polemics and propaganda, but also with attempts at agitation, such as the anti-militarist demonstration of Oct. 6th, 1907, promoted by the Central Committee of the Federation and the National League of Future Conscripts, and with a constant effort made to maintain the connection between the proletarians in the factories and those in uniform and to bring socialist propaganda even into the barracks. Here is one of the many leaflets addressed to conscripts:

«To the departing Comrades, Workers, conscripts! (...) You know that you have a formidable enemy, you know this enemy and you don’t need to go looking for it in the homeland of other workers like yourselves: this enemy is capitalism (...) the army, in fact, is nothing but a tool in the hands of the bourgeoisie to keep you bound to the shackles of slavery and exploitation (...) We do not incite you to desertion (...) We do, however, remind you of your inescapable duties as men and as members of the working class: you will not fire on your brothers» (Oct. 6, 1907, Italian Federation of Socialist Youth, League of Future Conscripts of the Class of 1887).

In L’Avanguardia, the harassment and abuse that the proletarian-soldier suffers in the barracks, places of moral and material degradation, are constantly denounced, and it is ever recalled that for the soldier youth forcibly wrested from their job, the officer corps represents nothing more than the exploiters in uniform. No opportunity is then missed to ridicule the pompous, bloodthirsty militarist rhetoric, in its most cherished traditions:

«Our victorious army! The regular army under the orders of Carlo Alberto was ignominiously defeated in the first campaign at Custoza and Novara; it won with Victor Emmanuel II in the battle of Solferino; it was defeated again at Custoza, while on the sea pride and hope was sunk in the waters of Lissa. The major victory, Solferino, was achieved with the help of French arms (...) at Solferino out of 2,313 Allied dead, there were 691 Italians; out of 12,162 wounded there were 3,572 Italians; out of 276 missing there were (alas) 258 Italians (...) Lombardy was thus conquered with French arms (...) Parma, Tuscany and the Legations drove out their masters on their behalf and were joined by plebiscite to the kingdom of Italy; Venice was given by Napoleon III who had obtained it from Austria after Sadowa; the whole Neapolitan kingdom was Garibaldi’s magnificent gift. The breach of Porta Pia was a parody of a battle, and it’s said that General Cadorna recited the rosary while firing a cannon. Do we thus owe the fatherland to these military institutions? What about after 1870? Oh! after that history becomes much sadder, every single page is anything but glorious! After that came Africa of which Adwa and Abba Garima are the shameful stages. So that this militarism, considered in the positive light of history can only speak of those victories which began at Fantina and Aspromonte and followed each other uninterruptedly at Caltavuturo, Candela, Barrafranca, Giarratana, Castelluzzo, Grammichele, and Taurisano, not against enemies from across the border, but against brothers of the same fatherland» (L’Avanguardia, September 29, 1907).

On September 25th, 1907, the first Congress of the Youth Federation was held in Bologna.

«On anti-militarism, it was affirmed that propaganda should be made so that, in conflicts between capital and labor, soldiers would never carry out the order to fire on strikers, and as regards international action we referred to that of the socialist parties, while invoking the possibility of “simultaneous action” by soldiers of the various belligerent countries» (Storia della Sinistra, vol. I, p. 58).

The following year, in August 1908, the second Congress of the Youth Federation was held in Reggio Emilia. Here an agenda was approved committing the young socialists to do "preparatory work in the proletariat so that it will be ready to prevent wars by resorting to any means (...) in accordance with the resolutions of the Stuttgart Congress" of 1907.

In this regard, our Storia della Sinistra comments:

« (...) a reminder that was all the more remarkable in that, at the congress in September of the same year, the “adult” party wouldn’t even find time to discuss “socialism and anti- militarism”, and Bacci would then have to withdraw his motion on this issue, which on the other hand made no mention of the Stuttgart deliberations, in which not only was the proletariat called to the struggle against war, but the latter was inextricably linked to the struggle for the overthrow of capitalist domination».

Even at this second Congress, too, the right-wing wanted a change to the Repossi agenda, which in its first formulation spoke of “preventing war by resorting to any means: from parliamentary action to armed insurrection”.

In this regard Repossi notes in a letter to L’Avanguardia dated Sept. 13th, 1908:

«The Stuttgart resolution (...) calls on the young socialists of all nations to prevent wars by means of national and international workers’ and socialist organization, using every means, from parliamentary intervention to public agitation, from popular demonstrations up to a workers’ general strike and insurrection. So, the only thing of mine is the word “armed” before “insurrection”, but let’s hope we don’t launch the insurrection with our hands in our pockets. Is that not so comrades?».

L’Avanguardia’s campaign against the detrimental effect of militarist oppression on the proletariat is incessant in the years that follow, and it represents an aspect of the defense of workers’ living conditions because the barracks represents a continuation of the exploitation in the factory and the fields, and the officer is nothing but an exploiter with pips on his shoulder:

«As the conscripts depart, Remember (...) The leaders of the state, the gentlemen deputies in parliament have given you and your colleagues six more months in the barracks and have forcibly conscripted 25,000 young men this year, although before today they would have been considered exempt in the 3rd category because they already had a brother related by blood in the permanent army. Who knows if next year the same well-meaning and benevolent parliament won’t also subject only-children to conscription (...) Don’t shoot at your unarmed comrades in labor, and don’t be afraid to openly say you won’t» (October 18,1908, Sylva Viviani).

«Socialist anti-militarism (...) It is necessary for the entire proletariat – whether in uniform or not – to know how militarism is a parasitic, anti-proletarian institution. It’s necessary for the proletariat to know that the essence of the army is intimately connected to the whole apparatus of capitalist society and private property, that the misery, humiliation, and deprivation of freedom imposed on it by militarism, will disappear only with the abolition of private property (...) To the youth, who bourgeois society is about to make shoulder the most terrible and most humiliating of its burdens, that is, the obligation to renounce their own personality in order to put themselves at the service of the fatherland, we have no other wish other that they always remember their duties to their own class» (Oct. 18, 1908, Angelica Balabanoff).

«The latest calls to arms and military swindles. There are various species and sub-species of them. This year for example, they called up the second category – the only sons – for training and they called them up early. But as soon as they were called, the wealthy middle- class protested, citing exams, which wasn’t true because exams had ended or were about to end. However, the minister hastened to exempt them completely from being called up. As for the proletarian only sons though, even though they protested that they were being called up when agricultural work was at its most intense, the undersecretary of war replied to the chamber that military needs dictated that they should still be called up (...) Another swindle is the reduction in the terms of military service promised by Giolitti back in 1906 with the Vigevano project, and which are still as rare as a hen’s teeth. In 1907 they abolished two- thirds of the exemptions from service, and there have already been two drafts calling up family breadwinners (...) The new minister Spingardi (a living swindle himself) is inflicting on the proletariat another bloodletting, of real blood, not money, by subjecting to military service 15 thousand semi-invalids, in addition to the more than 17 thousand poorly able to serve which they already incorporate each year» (August 15th, 1909, Sylva Viviani).

From the soldiers’ letters to the newspaper, from the appalling statistics it gives, the terrible conditions of the soldiers appear: exhausting marches without rations, bestial punishments by military tribunals for the slightest infraction, thousands of young men who arrive in good health and are crippled by life in the barracks: in a single year 327 cases of tuberculosis, of which 177 died “under the banners” and 210 were invalided out and sent home to die; 610 cases of insanity and epilepsy; 18,831 cases of venereal diseases; 14,893 cases of violent injuries of which 821 were very serious and led to death and permanent mutilation (L’Avanguardia, Sept. 26th, 1909). And all this, it should be noted, during peacetime.

«The stroncati, i.e., those rendered incapacitated by sickness and injury and sent back to their homes permanently crippled and unable to work, many of whom after being invalided out died, the number of stroncati increased between 1901 to 1906 by an average of 600 per year. In 1901 there were 3,937, in 1907 there were 7,448» (La leva degli stroncati, L’Avanguardia, Nov. 14th, 1909).

No wonder then that in peacetime there were more than 40,000 draft dodgers and as many as 2,500 deserters every year! “or strikers, to give them a proper respectful name” (L’Avanguardia, ibid.).

Lively agitation was also carried out against the punitive battalions, better known as death battalions, veritable concentration camps where subversives ended up along with common delinquents and where even married men were sent without permission (L’Avanguardia, May 1910, November 1910).

It’s easy to imagine the hatred for uniforms and military insignia spreading through the proletarian masses and simple soldiers; of this hatred, L’Avanguardia was the sole spokesman: “What goes on behind-the-scenes at the great maneuvers. The false enemy that can’t be found. The King welcomed to the cry of “we are hungry”. The death of a bersagliere. Colonel Restagno stops saluting recalled men” (Letter from a group of soldiers, October 1910).

At the Florence Youth Congress (Sept. 1910), the revolutionaries decisively beat the reformists.

«Good theses were enunciated on anti-militarism: “the bourgeois conception of the fatherland is nothing but the official justification for the crimes and iniquities committed by militarism through the ages” – and again, albeit with somewhat naive wording: “greater intensification of the anti-militarist and unpatriotic propaganda among families, so they educate their children in love and not in hatred, especially among future conscripts, being infamous and fratricidal the son of the people who fires on the people” – “fight using by every means the irredentist propaganda which tries to propel two great nations into war, and have recourse to any extreme to prevent the legal murder of thousands of human beings” – “put vigorous pressure on the party” to induce the parliamentary group “to take active action to reduce military expenditure and to reaffirm the antipatriotic and internationalist ideals of the Socialist Party”» (Storia della Sinistra, vol. I).

Class-based Opposition to the Libyan War

An event that decisively polarized forces within the PSI was the Libyan War. Italy declared war on Turkey on September 29, 1911, and the Italian fleet occupied Tripoli.

«The proletarian movement had boldly revolted against the nationalist adventure in Tripoli, in line with its well-established anti-colonial traditions. The general strike was not completely successful, but the demonstrations against the departure of the troops were very animated. The Socialist group voted for a Turati anti-war agenda, but the right-wingers De Felice, Bissolati, Bonomi, Cabrini and Podrecca dissented. It should be noted that not a few “revolutionary syndicalists” declared their support for the Libyan enterprise, including Arturo Labriola, Oran and Olivetti» (Storia della Sinistra, vol. 1, p.60).

On Sept. 24, L’Avanguardia came out with the headline “So that Adua doesn’t happen again. You go to Tripoli and we will take to the streets!”.

The General Confederation of Labor had called a general strike for Sept. 27th, the eve of the declaration of war, but the manifesto calling for the strike said it should remain “within the confines of the strictest discipline and within the brief time limit deliberated by the Confederation”.

The railroaders also did not participate in the strike for technical reasons (which the Confederation’s bureaucrats certainly knew about) and throughout most of the South there was little support for it. The intentions of the Confederation’s leaders were for it to be a purely demonstrative action, but this wasn’t the case in Parma and Romagna: in Langhirano the workers tried to prevent the trains from leaving; the carabinieri open fire: 4 dead (including 2 women) and 7 wounded (including two women). The crowd then attack the carabinieri, who lock themselves in the barracks; but when the assault on the barracks was about to take place, the town clerk, who was well-known and respected, managed to calm things down by promising that those responsible would be lawfully punished. A few hours later the troops arrived and militarily occupied the town, making massive arrests.

In Romagna (where Mussolini leads the agitators) the strike is proclaimed a day before by the Chamber of Labor and the local Socialist Federation. Forli and Faenza are completely blocked by the strike. Telegraph and telephone lines are cut, sabotage and clashes take place. Unable to resist, the troops retreat to the barracks. On the afternoon of the 26th a rally is held in Forli with the participation of 12,000 workers who are harangued by Casalini, Nenni (then a Republican), Bianchi and Mussolini. The strike continues throughout the 27th and part of the 28th, then dies down. A few days later, on Oct. 1st, a train loaded with soldiers is stopped in Poggibonsi.

The opposition to the war of the young socialists is unshakeable:

«Down with war! As the proletarian conscripts depart. The cannon Roars. The first bulletin of the war in Tripoli has five dead and about twenty wounded in Modena, Nonantola, Forlì and Langhirano, and quite a number of prisoners beaten up in those places and in several other parts of Italy».

But a large part of the proletariat does not react and the bourgeoisie is able to carry out its plan relatively unimpeded.

«However, one cannot deny it, a part of that proletariat which we thought we had freed from caring what others think – which paves the way to hell – chose not to express its opinion, did not align itself with good sense and human dignity by loudly rejecting the filthy rallying cry and even filthier fact of the sacking of Tripoli. What was the real reason? (...) Five years ago the parliamentary group and the party abandoned (was it cowardliness?) its anti-militarist propaganda and opposition to military spending, leading to ignorance within the proletariat of the de facto conditions it was about to find itself in, and to a boldness within the bourgeoisie that helped it act as it did. The proletariat was unprepared to counter the felony that the bourgeois leaders have not ceased in five years to make preparations against it with increases in military spending and indulgences towards militarism, in view of war, come what may. The proletariat didn’t know» (L’Avanguardia, Oct. 8th, 1911).

On October 15, 1911, an extraordinary party congress met in Modena.

«Bussi, for Treves and for the left-wing reformists, condemned the war and advocated a shift towards a decided opposition to Giolitti, not by this renouncing in theory the old possibilism. Lerda once again (and here better than elsewhere) happily retorted that, as to the first issue, it was not about any particular political conjuncture, but of the origin of the fact of war in the very essence of capitalism and that, as to the second issue, of opposing Giolitti, one could not stop there, but urgently needed to verify the failure of the culpable illusion of expecting advantages for the proletariat and for socialism from the bourgeois State (...) As always Lerda, and the intransigent revolutionaries of the time in general, very acute in detecting and combating the divorce between economic action and political action, between political demands and the maximum program, would then err, due to the theoretical insufficiency of the times, when it came to defining the nature of the latter: according to them it is the idea, the thinking, the socialist soul, about which the masses must be "educated" to protect them from the corporatist danger; the practical reflection of this theoretical insufficiency would become fully apparent during the war, when the “soul” of socialism would be “saved”, but the program would not be wielded as an instrument of attack on capitalist society and on its ultimate manifestation: imperialism.

«For the revolutionaries, Francis Ciccotti also argued that opposition to the Libyan war should be based not on contingent grounds, such as expenditure diverted from work to obtain reforms, but on internationalist principles. Turati also spoke ably against Tripoli (...)

«In this Congress the meetings of the intransigent revolutionary fraction were important, and here the younger elements would take vanguard positions that are related to the subsequent development of an effective Left» (Storia della Sinistra, Vol. I, pp.51-53).

Proletarian Struggles and the Propaganda of the Left

In 1912, ’13, ’14, all of Italy is shaken by a wave of strikes, the number of proletarians organized in class organizations grows, the number of Socialist Party members doubles. Clashes with the army, new massacres. Meanwhile, the war in Africa against gangs opposing colonial occupation continues, and the royal army covers itself in the glory of the gallows and reprisal massacres.

«And onward, cursing this war. The soldiers rebel (...) All illusions are gone; ten thousand young lives have been cut short; misery and unemployment are the baleful guests of every working-class home, and the nausea induced by the cowards and the big and small thieves who made their fortune in the Libyan war has served to awaken the workers, to render the soldiers aware and conscious (...) The military whistles that in Piacenza, Mantua, Cremona and elsewhere responded to the benign smiles of the officers and the music of the royal march are a symptom of a state of affairs that cannot go on: Thus the revolt aboard the cruiser Amalfi and the mutiny aboard the Italian battleship in the port of Barcelona» (L’Avanguardia, April 6, 1912).

«Militarism’s latest attack: the three-year military service. Two-year military service for the temporarily unfit. Height limit lowered by one centimeter (...) Militarism is preparing a new draining of blood and money with the restoration and aggravation of the three-year term of service. Let the young socialists begin agitating at once; call meetings; spread discontent among their fellow workers; point out the enormous damage that the new draft on recruitment can cause to working-class families; prepare, work on public opinion so that militarism cannot carry out a new attack. The three-year term of military service must never be implemented» (L’Avanguardia, May 11, 1913).

Leaflets to conscripts by the young socialists become sharper:

«It eventually happens that the delivery of arms into the hands of those whose only purpose is to emancipate themselves, offers them the possibility of action that it lies with them to implement. Just so: the proletariat has in its hands, through military service, the instrument of force and victory (...) And that is why the conscript must not desert; why the conscript must not flee! (...) He has to go and learn to handle weaponry; to be initiated into military tactics, to know how to use his means of struggle against his workmates and class brothers, but, when the opportune moment arrives, he can turn them against the class that tore him from his family and got him to put on a military uniform» (L’Avanguardia, June 22, 1913).

In July 1913, Il Soldo al Soldato was printed, a pamphlet which would circulate clandestinely in the army at the initiative of the young socialists who later gave birth to the Left Fraction and the Communist Party of Italy. This constitutes the first attempt at organizing socialists within the army and the linking up of the Youth Federation with proletarian-soldiers.

«The Decalogue of the conscript. 1. Do not fire on your fellow workers. 2. Do not be a scab. 3. Hate neither your fatherland nor the fatherland of others. Love the workers’ fatherland, which is the whole world (...)

«Socialism and militarism (...) And just as all oppression stands by means of the continued use of brute force, so too the so-called “present order” is preserved by and rests on force. And the force at the disposal of the modern bourgeoisie, the decisive weapon that is now at the disposal of greedy capitalism to stifle the aspirations of the workers for a more just society, or even merely for treatment that is slightly less inhumane than now, this force and this weapon goes by the accursed name of “militarism” (...) With the harsh education of the barracks, the bourgeoisie makes naive young workers its best and most devoted servants; instilling in their souls the militarist poison and the hatred of other people guilty of living in a country situated beyond the Alps, or across the sea (...) The bourgeoisie neither wants to nor can admit this, it asserts that armies serve to defend and make the fatherland powerful. But the same bourgeoisie does not hesitate at all when, as at Roccagorga, it finds it convenient to employ its soldiers against the workers, who are also children of the same “fatherland”, but who have committed the terrible sin of demanding less inhuman treatment from their lords! (...) Militarism in its most odious form, compulsory conscription, was born with the bourgeoisie, was established by it (...)

«Our propaganda: In order to have a proletariat fit for class struggle and conscious of its destiny, it is indispensable therefore to rescue it from the baleful influence of patriotic education; and the dissemination of anti-militarist ideas is the first duty of the Socialist Party (...) Let the workers be persuaded that even trade union organizations cannot fulfill their tasks when in strikes and agitations armed force militates on the side of the master (...)

«Il Soldo al Soldato (...) Henceforth by means of the new institution, the youth circles will not forget about their members who are soldiers, and will send them letters, newspapers, even money: will put them in touch with comrades who happen to be in the places where they serve, who will be able to help them, keep them up-to-date with everything, so that the harsh life of the barracks will be eased for them and their socialist education can continue. At the same time, the Party and the youth organization can be informed of the abuses committed in the barracks and the oppression which our comrades are subjected to, and will know how to employ all those means of action that can guarantee them fairer treatment (...)

«Avanti! What socialist would not want to contribute to this propaganda, today when the bestial follies of militarism are raging all over Europe, and when in Italy, with the Libyan war and in police repressions, it has celebrated its worst saturnalia? Any other action must take a back seat faced with the need to resist the storm that is sweeping over us».

It was at the convention in Bologna (May 25th, 1913) that the Youth Federation decided to pursue the initiative of Il Soldo al Soldato. On the same occasion it was also decided “to hold within the month of June large simultaneous rallies in all the large cities of Italy against the threatened increase of military service to three years”.

In April 1914, the Socialist Party Congress was held in Ancona.

«The new attitude of the party and its combative newspaper Avanti! had attracted the most enthusiastic adherence of the Italian proletariat, which was reacting to the imperialist exploits of the Libyan War with a very lively class activity (...)

«Important above all, however, was the topic of anti-militarism. No one predicted that just a few months later the topic would not just be topical, but outright tragic. In the fraction assembly the young leftists pointed out that the two speakers selected by the leadership had not been a happy choice: the reformist Treves (admittedly intellectually qualified) and the Neapolitan Fasulo, a pro-bloc, pro-Mason syndicalist who, after the administrative vote, was to leave the party. This was easy to foresee, but it was not so easy to predict that from angry anti-Libyan war militant he would turn into a social-patriot. Minor matters; far more serious was that the protests of the fraction were all submitted to Mussolini, perceived by the youth as the supreme leader. They were unable to come to any other conclusion than that the problem of war and of the country would be dealt with at a future congress, in order to give it a radical Marxist shape as had been done at the others. The items on the agenda itself which the Youth Federation added to that of the two speakers included a condemnation of imperialism, but it fell short as regards defense of the fatherland, which was badly summarised, apropos of the abolition of permanent military service. Mussolini promised that he’d be at the next congress, and the young Reds parted full of enthusiasm for the struggles to come, and there would be no shortage of them taking to the streets in fact. But the congress didn’t happen. The war did instead” (Storia della Sinistra)».

It was actually an anti-militarist demonstration that sparked the Red Week uprising.

«On Sunday, June 7, 1914, bourgeois Italy held its annual celebration of the Statuto. Radicals called a series of rallies directed against militarism and the famous punitive battalions which the Youth Federation had been fighting against for years. In Ancona the rally was held at the “Villa Rossa”, the headquarters of the Republicans, who were strong in that city, as were the anarchists. Nenni, a Republican, had spoken to the crowd, along with Enrico Malatesta, an anarchist, in a lively anti-establishment tone. After the speeches the crowd was flowing toward the center when the Carabinieri opened fire: three young workers were killed and many more wounded. The news prompted a spontaneous wave of indignation which spread throughout Italy. Before the organizations had taken the decision to strike workers were already in the piazzas, especially in the Marches and Romagna. Some provisional republics were naively proclaimed in the regions (Perugia’s Spello). Among the big cities there rose Turin, Milan, Parma, Naples and Florence, where the crowds faced firefights without falling back. It was the formidable “Red Week”» (Storia della Sinistra).

The Red Week came at the height of a wave of class struggle that had shaken all Italy, struggles for bread and for work in which the proletariat always came up against the repressive State apparatus.

«To this Avanti! had contributed in the first place. In commenting on the periodic proletarian massacres that had always distinguished democratic Italy (oh youth, there was still no fascism, as there is no longer today, and Mussolini hadn’t yet switched sides, but the rifles of liberal and blocist constitutionalism would regularly rip through the chests of crowds demanding bread) the socialist newspaper had repeatedly written: At the next massacre, the national general strike! After the shootings in Villa Rossa, the proletariat didn’t need to be told: it went into action».

On the morning of June 8th, Avanti! called for a strike for the 9th; the Confederation is forced aswell to call an all-out general strike for the 9th. The Confederation’s manifesto states, “the Executive Committee will communicate in due course the order to end the strike”. The masses have already been on the move for two days, clashes are occurring in large cities, which in many cases take on an insurrectional character. The State does not have sufficient forces to suppress the powerful movement, and in most cases the soldiers and police are confined to barracks. On June 10th, the agitation is at its peak and a railroad strike begins which blocks the movement of troops. It is at this point that the Confederation bureaucrats give the order to end the strike. The order to retreat comes as a stunning blow but in many cases the movement of the masses continues for a few days longer, but then the wave ebbs due to the lack of direction.

«Violent controversy followed in the party at this betrayal. This was a quintessentially political rather than an economic move, and only the political party should have given the signal to begin and eventually end it. But the ideas were not clear, and from this there once again emerges the need for the true revolutionary theory».

The Left-Wing of the Socialist Party of Italy facing World War

«The nemesis of war, looming over Europe in 1914 at the height of the elections, could have untied the knot tightening round the throat of the world’s working class, and served as a call to armed struggle, drawing it away from the polls. But the moment was missed, and the knot drew tighter» (Storia della Sinistra).

On June 28th the Sarajevo attack; in August the declarations of war and the beginning of military operations. The Second International wrecked by national defencism.

«Everywhere troops obeyed, reservists showed up, departed, and fought. An icy sense of foreboding loomed over Europe».

The Triple Alliance demanded, as per the terms of the treaty, Italy’s intervention alongside the Central Empires. But on August 2nd, the Salandra government declared neutrality. The Italian State could not wage war alongside the Triple Alliance because that would have resulted in determined opposition not only from revolutionaries, but also from reformists and moderates. And who would have stopped the masses then?

«At the first hint of the danger in Europe, which in a formal sense meant the risk of a war on the side of the Central Empires, both the right and left-wing rose as one against the war, and this from the end of July. For the revolutionaries opposition to any war wasn’t up for debate, but war in Italy would have been hateful in such a particular way that the immediate problem which was posed was resolved in a radical way even by the reformists and “moderate socialists” i.e., of how to prevent the war if the government, in honoring its commitments, declares it, orders mobilization and attacks France over the Alps, The right-wingers opted for the revolutionary solution: the word of armed insurrection would be given! Turati, a theorist a thousand times over of non-bloody proletarian action, declared that, although not a young man, he would be the first to pick up a rifle and take to the streets to incite mobilized citizens and soldiers to insurrection and insubordination (...)

«Back then it seemed a pointless question: if we know what to do in the case of a war against France, that is, fire on Italian officers, can we know what to do in the case of a war against Austria? Those who think, as we do, that the two cases are equivalent, are entitled to give just one response, but those gentlemen who see enormous practical differences between the two cases have a duty to have two answers ready if they don’t want to betray their own party and class (...) Between August 1914 and May 1915 everything in fact would go in the diametrically opposite direction, and the alternative war was debated, the back to front war, the war in favor of the Entente».

In July, Mussolini thunders against the war in the columns of Avanti! On July 29th, the PSI leadership launches a manifesto calling on the proletariat to prepare for new “show of strength”.

In the article “As Concerns Neutrality - At Our Posts!" published in Avanti! on Aug. 16th, 1914, the Left reiterated the cornerstones of the revolutionary Marxist position when faced with war: denial of the distinction between defensive and offensive wars; war and militarism as a modern capitalist product and not a legacy of the past; imperialist character of the present war and denial of national motives; denial of idealistic motives such as struggling for “civilization” against “barbarism”, etc.

«In the common aspiration to the postulate of Italian neutrality, some dangerous currents have been making inroads into our movement which threaten to compromise it. Many comrades are expressing a sentiment of lively sympathy for the Triple Entente and spreading this feeling at meetings and in the press (...) Those who think they are getting away from formulas of ours that are out-of-date are oblivious of the fact that they are simply falling back on formulas that aren’t ours at all (...) Let us preserve our party program (...) we can and must therefore remain at our post, against all wars and in defense of the proletariat, which in these wars has everything to lose, nothing to gain, and nothing to conserve».

Already on this occasion there were the first signs of Mussolini’s betrayal, when in Avanti! he added an “editorial note” to the above-mentioned article in which he established a distinction between “the Junker regime” and “French democracy” and qualified Germany as an “aggressor”, while declaring himself to be fully in agreement with the “fundamental statements”. A short time later, on October 18th, Mussolini’s famous article “For an Active and Operational Neutrality” came out, in which the future Duce declared himself definitively aligned with the interventionist camp.

The Left immediately responded in the Il Socialista issue of October 22nd, 1914, with the article "For an Active and Operational Anti-Militarism”. In this article, which reiterated the Socialists’ clear opposition to the war, it also addressed the accusations of the nationalists, who accused the Left of playing into the hands of the Austro-Germans and mixing with pacifists and clerics:

«The preoccupation with “playing into the hands” of the Austro-Germans is another pitfall we thought we had got away from during the crisis that led us to our current intransigence. On fait toujours le jeu de quelqu’un. The fear of allowing the present to be overwhelmed by the past, while we delude ourselves that we are working for the future, is exquisitely reformist. The present, when we are about to overwhelm it, will always cry danger against the resurrections of the past. Marxist revolutionarism should take us completely out of this trap (...) The concept of neutrality has as its subject not socialists, but the state. We want the state to remain neutral in the war, absolutely, to the last, no matter what. To achieve this we act on it, against it, in the field and with the means of the class struggle. From this it does not follow that we want to disarm. Our war is permanent, it breaks out sometimes as in June in open revolt, but it does not concede armistices. Today we are victims of a mauvais mot. Neutralists us? We are immediately accused of pacifism. We, on the other hand, whilst maintaining that the state must remain neutral, remain its open, active and operating enemies».

And again in another article in Il Socialista of December 3rd, 1914, titled Making Ourselves Understood this correct position is reiterated:

«When we call ourselves neutralists, which is more than anything just a way of making ourselves clearly understood, it doesn’t mean anyone can empirically infer that the Italian Socialist Party now intends to give up any of its specific functions and responsible activities. We said that by neutrality must be understood the stance of the monarchical and bourgeois State under pressure from the proletarian masses and socialist currents that do not want war.

«With regard to that stance of the bourgeois State it might not... look good. And so what? By agitating, for example, on behalf of political prisoners, are we not attempting to force the State to perform an act that will undermine its prestige?

«Neutrality thus means for us intensified socialist fervor in the struggle against the bourgeois State, accentuation of the class antagonism that is the true source of every revolutionary tendency, and the socialist party adhering to the war waged by the State, would sound the death-knell of such a tendency, much to the rejoicing of the conservative classes.

«That other currents agree with us on the point of neutrality, and that this neutrality doesn’t displease the church, the conservative parties and the monarchy itself, does not change the character of the socialist attitude at all, for those tendencies would disarm in the face of any war being proclaimed, while we will continue to proclaim ours, alone tomorrow as today, with its significance unchanged in its meaning of opponent of bourgeois politics, and as revolutionary negator of the present institutions and of their pernicious and barbaric consequences (...)

«If today these parties (reformists and democrats) are advocates of the most bitter and extreme violence, as expressed in the war, it isn’t because they have had a sudden burst of revolutionary inspiration (for in that case the most genuine revolutionaries would be nationalists), but because war in fact does not involve the negation of existing institutions, or contain an aspect of subversive demolition, but it places violence under the official sanction of military bodies and constituted authorities (...) War is conservative! The “Fasces of Revolutionary Action” which the few interventionist deserters from the socialist movement would like to establish, will find themselves moving in a field of perpetual contradiction: they will not achieve their aim of raising an echo of heroic enthusiasm among the masses, but will merely serve to make the action of bourgeois militarism easier, when the bourgeoisie, converted sooner or later to war, sees fit to drag those masses, repressing their protests under its iron fist, into the bloody vortex of tyrannical communion in the useless sacrifice and the infecond crime».

In another article in L’Avanguardia, a three-parter entitled Yesterday’s Socialism in the Face of Today’s War, dated Oct. 25th, Nov. 1st and Nov. 16th, 1914, The Left reaffirms the correct Marxist theses on the inevitability of war arising from modern relations of production and its disastrous effects on the proletariat.

«We remark, meanwhile, that those state bourgeoisies which are unable to keep the production lines running in peacetime, and to ward off financial catastrophes are, likewise, even should they wish it, powerless to prevent wars from breaking out, appearing as these do as the inevitable, and only, way out of socio-economic situations into which the states have been forcibly placed. Does the bourgeoisie, on the other hand, really suffer so greatly from war? There is certainly some destruction of capital, but as far as the bourgeoisie understood as a class, rather than as the material possessor of capital, is concerned, what interests it is the preservation of the legal relations that allow it to live off the labor of the vast majority. These relations, within the nations, consist of the right to monopolize the instruments of labor, which in their turn are the result of other labor performed by the proletarian class. To be extra clear: for as long as the right of private property over land, over housing and over the mines remains intact, after the devastation of war the proletariat will reconstruct the machines, the factories, etc., and will hand them back to its exploiters (...)

«In conclusion, war, disastrous in every respect for the proletariat, is unfortunately possible today. The bourgeoisie can see its material wealth being eroded, but also war’s potential to preserve and perhaps strengthen the relations for reconstituting it by lulling the class struggle to sleep and extinguishing it in national fervour (...) Militarism is the most fearsome adversary of our propaganda precisely because it does not resort to persuasion but bases itself on the constitution of a forced and artificial environment, in which living relations are completely different from those of the ordinary environment (...) Pacifism? No. We are advocates of violence. We are admirers of the conscious violence of those who rise up against the oppression of the strongest, and admirers of the anonymous violence of the masses who rebel for freedom. A mighty effort that breaks chains is what we want. But the legal, official violence, regulated by the arbitrary power of authority, the unreasonable collective assassination that the ranks of soldiers carry out automatically at the sound of a barked command, when bearing down on them from the opposing side, no less automatically, come the other mass of victims and assassins wearing a different uniform, this violence that the wolves and hyenas do not have, disgusts and repels us».

During the ten months of neutrality the Italian bourgeoisie bites the bullet. England, mistress of the seas, implements the naval blockade and allows the passage of goods to Italy on condition Italy cuts off its trade relations with Austria and Germany. The supply of raw materials, especially coal, becomes problematic, trade languishes, and there are waves of layoffs especially in the steel and mechanical industries, which call for State contracts. From the first months of the war, the army makes massive grain purchases to fill the military storehouses and cover for every eventuality. Contractors are scrambling to supply the army in preparation for the coming conflict.

The dilemma is which side to throw themselves in with; the discussion is open within Freemasonry, the super-party of the bourgeoisie. The foreign minister, the Marquis of San Giuliano (right- wing Freemason), during a meeting with Arturo Labriola (left-wing Freemason), after lamenting the Italian economy’s unpreparedness for war and the impossibility of immediate intervention, says, “We evidently need to wait for the concluding phase of the war, in which our intervention may be decisive in favor of the cause we espouse” (M. Fatica, Le origini del fascismo e del comunismo a Napoli). The blocist Altobelli, in a speech to the House on December 5th, 1914, declares he would be a partisan of neutrality “if the objection, so saturated in interrogatives, had not arisen, that is, that in the final settling of accounts Italy might emerge empty-handed”, and he informs the government that “we Socialists (...) would look on it sympathetically if, with Italy’s assistance, the victory of the Triple Entente were assured”.

Soon the dilemma would be resolved in favor of the Entente. Economic and political reasons push in this direction, and it is decisive that a large part of the Socialist Party has already made it clear that while it would revolt in the case of a war against France, it would not oppose a war against Austria. On April 26th, the secret Treaty of London is signed, and on May 24th, the “radiant dawn” of the interventionists, Italy declares war.

«The terrible Italian war of 1915 was a real slaughterhouse, of which the second world war, despite the torment of the noncombatant populations, was merely a dull repetition. With its 600,000 official combat deaths and the ten battles on the Isonzo, it exasperated the proletariat’s hatred for the ruling class, which slaked its thirst for blood far more when it raised the democratic flag than later on, when it raised, with muted militarism, the Nazi- Fascist one» (Storia della Sinistra).

On May 16th, the eve of the declaration of war, a conference of the PSI leadership was held in Bologna which included members of the parliamentary group, leaders of the Confederation, and representatives of 40 federations. From this conference there emerged a bland communiqué in which, after reiterating its “unwavering aversion” to the war, the proletariat is summoned to demonstrations imbued with a “character of discipline, dignity and impressiveness”, after which the Socialists washed their hands of the dirty business “certain that for themselves, for the country and for history, before Italy and the International, they had done their duty, and had kept separate, and would continue to keep separate, their responsibilities from those of the ruling classes”.

The leaders of the Confederation refused to proclaim, in the event of intervention, a general strike, repeating that it would not succeed.

«We told them to their faces: You do not fear that the strike will not succeed, you fear that it will succeed. You know that the workers are enraged at the war, but you don’t dare call a strike to prevent mobilization. It’s not that you fear the consequences of repression; it’s not cowardice that we accuse you of, but of fearing you will be stained with betrayal of the fatherland. Your bourgeois prejudices are such that you think that even in the case of a sought- after war, one not of defense of territory but of aggression and outright conquest, like the one we find ourselves in, the socialist has a duty not to undermine the military operations of the fatherland. Needless to say the desire for war of the Italian people is a shameful lie, when raising one’s hand against so monstrous a war is considered a crime!» (Storia della Sinistra, p. 100).

Defeatist Attempts by the Naples Socialists

The Socialist Section of Naples, recently formed after a harsh struggle with the social masons, was the soul of the anti-militarist battle. The latter consisting not only of the theoretical and polemical battle contained in the writings in Il Socialista, L’Avanguardia and Avanti! and in the patient work of organizational weaving that later resulted in the formation of the Communist Party of Italy, but also, despite its meager forces, in its practical efforts to agitate and organize the proletariat against the imperialist slaughter. Some significant episodes:

«Jan. 31, 1915: Anti-war rally in Naples (...) The secretary of the adult Socialist section, Gerardo Turi, spoke first, and with vibrant words he pointed out to the audience what a disaster the war would be for the proletariat. He recalled the victims of June to prove once again that the fatherland and the masters who rule it do not hold back when it comes to dispensing lead and handcuffs to the workers».

On this occasion a manifesto was circulated to the workers:

«Workers! The state with its militarist policy is preparing further and greater misfortunes for the country, it wants to hurl it without reason into the destructive and deadly whirlwind of an European war, while Italy is still paying for the governmental crime of the Libyan plunder (...) And the ruling powers of the monarchical state, along with their accomplices the renegades in our party and all of the reactionary or unofficial press (...) while they persist in the policy of upholding the privileges of the landowning class and of the pauperization of the great mass of producers, want, in the interests of maintaining things as they are, to deceive, yet again, the impoverished proletariat of Italy, the eternal sacrificial victim, by talking about irredentism and supreme national interests (...) Remember that those who speak to you in favor of war are your worst enemies (...)

«Workers! The Socialist Party, which today (as in the past and in the future) is the only one defending your interests and class rights against all the other parties coalesced to your detriment around the systematically murderous monarchy, is closing its ranks, fiercely and menacingly, around you, and is inciting you, also in the name of the unavenged victims who fell cursing at your side along the dolorous ascent of your Calvary – and especially in the name of the pregnant woman and child who fell in the square of Rocca Gorga and the many victims in June – not to grant a minute’s respite to your most cynical and direct enemy, the bourgeois State. Bear in mind that a frightful war such as the one the State is preparing would make your economic condition much worse, weakening you and setting you back a few centuries as concerns your achievements (...) To the military mobilization the Socialist Party will respond with the mobilization of the formidable proletarian army (...) Down with all wars! Long live Socialism!» (L’Avanguardia, February 14th, 1915).

March 28th, 1915, Campania Socialist Youth Congress. Speaker’s conclusions on the theme “Socialist youth, militarism and war”.

«In support of proletarian interests, socialist youth have an obligation to carry out propaganda that is rigidly anti-militarist and contrary to patriotic sentiment (...) Neither does it neglect to attack the present European war by predicting that the Italian proletariat, in the event of war will know it should refuse to march, and that the proletarians and comrades under arms will, at the opportune moment, support and back the revolutionary action of the socialist youth. Finally, it advocates the necessity of pitting mobilization against mobilization and the usefulness of Committees of Public Safety which at opportune moments must assume the leadership of violent and simultaneous action».

The approved agenda reads:

«Considering that all wars, however they are whitewashed, whether provoked by States or diplomacy or by groups of vampires tend to strengthen the State and the capitalist devices of exploitation and oppression (...) considering that the fatherland (...) is nothing but an atrocious irony for the proletariat which is forced to beg for bread beyond the borders set by bourgeois egoism and overseas (...) considering that militarism (and therefore also war) constitutes for the ruling minority who hold economic and political power the most powerful means of self-preservation and oppression (...) it mandates the comrade who will represent Campania at the National Congress in Reggio Emilia to strenuously support the following: (...) stubborn and systematic war on the false notions of the fatherland and patriotism (...) exposing the disgraceful conditions in the barracks to the people and showing how evil and ugly they are; instilling in the hearts of all workers – of working youth especially – hatred for military service, denouncing its anti-social and anti-human purposes and keeping the class struggle alive to the bitter end (...) preventing at the present time Italy’s entry into the war by any means – including revolutionary means – and acting with the mutual consent of the comrades under arms (...) immediate constitution throughout the peninsula of strong and dedicated committees of revolutionary action, or rather of public safety; urging every worker to oppose State violence with their own violence and to prefer a civilian death with weapon in hand defending the revolutionary barricades, i.e., vindicating the rights of the proletarian class, to a savage death on the battlefield for causes and interests that aren’t their own» (L’Avanguardia, March 14th, 1915).

At the Fifth National Socialist Congress in Reggio Emilia (May 9-10-11, 1915), the representative of Campania speaks on anti-militarism. His conclusions:

«What will young Italian socialists do in the case of military mobilization? (...) Induce, by demanding from the party of adults a similar attitude, the proletarian economic organizations, especially those following the directive of the class struggle, to proclaim the general strike which, in such a case, takes on an openly insurrectional character; it’s the only means of preventing the war and not arriving at a truce between the classes, a truce which we have rightly criticized in regard to the comrades of most of the warring States. In the event then – in Italy it does not look possible – that this cannot be achieved by the proletarian organizations and the adult socialist party, the socialist youth federation must equally call on its adherents not to answer the call to arms and on its members who are already soldiers to refuse to march; and – at the cost of any sacrifice – prepare the general and simultaneous armed insurrection of all its members, that is, a real revolutionary movement, making every effort to draw the masses behind it. The federation, in other words, must prepare, by means of a well-organized institution of revolutionary action committees, the simultaneous parade of all of its forces (...) In the event, finally, that in spite of such action, war should break out due to the stubbornness and delinquency of the rulers (...) the socialist youth federation must maintain its attitude of staunch aversion to the war, persisting in its oral and written propaganda, and invite the federated youth not to answer the call to arms or not to march as the case may be» (L’Avanguardia, May 8th, 1915).

The comrades of the Socialist section in Naples were very clear that the war would be a disaster for the proletarian class, and that it must be prevented by moving immediately to an insurrectionary general strike.

In two articles in L’Avanguardia, the representative of the Naples section, after writing about the need for an insurrection to prevent war, tries to answer the questions: are we ready? – when? – what will the army do? (Jan. 10th, 1915, Verso la nostra ora storica). The answer unfortunately proved optimistic, but it shows with what programmatic clarity and subversive spirit the Left was already acting back then.

The first question: are we ready?, is answered in the affirmative, but specifying:

«We are ready, or rather we have reached the political moment necessary for the pronunciamento of the revolutionary forces”, and the reasons for it are listed: 1) The raging war in Europe and “the total popular aversion to any bellicose enterprise by the State”. 2) The openly reactionary policy of oppression followed by the State apparatus, its action on illegal terrain “whereby the proletariat of the industrious cities and agricultural villages, since the time of the false Italian unification under the Savoy family, has been systematically machine- gunned and bayoneted in the back by the Centanni, Bava Beccaris, Gregori, etc. By treacherous means, at the country crossroads or in the squares of populated urban centers, it has suffered obscene mockery and insult (I remember a poor young pregnant woman who was disemboweled by Lieutenant Gregori’s mercenaries... Also speak thou for me O wretched innocent child of five years old, killed in the arms of your mother also in Roccagorga, show your little body shredded by the royal machine gun!). And, as an act of redress, he was arrested and tried en masse, led handcuffed through the horrible State jails” – This "has every day for about a quarter of a century added more fuel to the revolutionary fire”. 3) “The hunger which has long been knocking inexorably on the doors of the workers’ homes due to which, here and there, the masses are already rising up threateningly against the powers of the state responsible for it, which in return institutes national bonds in favor of its insatiable militarism and taxes the poor to provide billions more for the war preparations. These are the main reasons telling us that the historic hour of proletarian class action against the ruling State that starves them has arrived».

To the second question: when? The Left always gave the same answer:

«It is understood by each of us that the proper time for revolutionary action needs to be when preparations are being made to go to war. It must be then and not afterwards for two reasons: 1) So that the movement can take on an openly revolutionary character, 2) So that the Italian proletariat, as well as being better able to fight during rather than after the war, by taking resolute class action, can easily induce the belligerent armies to fraternize».

To the third question: what will the army do? – a circumstance “of boundless importance” and on which successful action “to a great extent” depends – the Left replies:

«It is certain, however, that the army will act according to the extent and capacity of the revolutionary movement: if this manifests itself as sluggish and sporadic, it will not be able to take it into consideration (...) on the other hand, if it proves to be broad and robust, it is probable that that the call of the socialist party and the non-militarized proletariat will be met with a marvelous response (...) European armies have given us several favorable examples over recent years: the mutinies in the army and navy of Tsarist Russia (...) the Portuguese republic being formed by an unexpected contribution from the army and navy. The mutinies of some of our regiments in Libya, and others that have occurred recently in Italy – that of the 15th Infantry for example – should give the rulers pause for thought. Nor do we want to remind them that the artillerymen and specialists from the Engineering Corps are almost all with us. The votes and agendas of numerous military groups, the numerous gatherings of conscripts and recalled servicemen held in the company of socialists should make it clear to the monarchy that the army is not so willing to follow the aspirations of the General Staff. Not to mention the serious discontent in the barracks (...) The Italian soldiers forcibly recruited, who before donning their uniforms had to face machine-gun fire and bayonet-mounted charges in the conflicts between capital and labor, who do not intend to sacrifice their vital class interests to the god of war, and who also know from experience the tactical inability and cowardice of those who are bound to lead them (...) Finally, the episode reported by Avanti! of the pale-faced, blond German soldier, saving ten Belgians from being shot by drawing his gun on the officer about to give the order to fire, gives us hope (...)

«As for us – we’ll say it right now – we may all get jailed or shot, but we will not conform. Let the leaders of the adult and youth Socialist Party prepare what is needed for the great moment» (Verso la rivoluzione, Jan. 31st, 1915).

August 10, 1914: Agenda of the Naples section of the PSI.

After having recalled that the proletariat has nothing to defend on the national frontiers and that war responds to the interests of the bourgeoisie “which uses the glorification of militarism not only to satisfy its imperialist greed, but to defend itelf against the advance of the proletarian classes”, it vows “that the Socialist Party and the workers’ organizations will abide by a directive of opposition to any war” (Il Socialista, Oct. 13, 1915).

February 1915. Socialist Section of Naples:

«In discussing the action to be taken in the event of intervention by the Italian State in the European war”, it once again calls on the Socialist Party to maintain an uncompromising opposition to the war, to vote against military expenditure, to break all possible truces between parties, “to associate itself with the proposal of the Milan section committee for a general strike in the event of mobilization» (Avanti!, Feb. 6th, 1915).

May 1915. Naples Section, Plenary Assembly, Convocation Manifesto:

«Comrades! As the greatest crime of the Italian State becomes a reality, as the dreadful massacre of working youth begins (...) I invite you all, men and women, young people and adults – to the plenary assembly on Sunday 23rd to affirm and specify once again our unyielding aversion – immutable in time and space – to all capitalist-bourgeois wars (...) let us not accept the fait accompli (...) in the name of the people who languish and suffer, let us put our curse on war; declare that we will never cease the class struggle even during the war (...) Before the war begins to thin out our camp, it’s our fervent wish to see us all of us, compact and united, join in one covenant (...) Down with all wars! Long live International Socialism. The secretary».

At the Campania Regional Congress, held on December 6, 1914, there were 16 sections represented 374 members in all, with 100 of them from Naples. With these forces, later decimated by the war, the Left waged its courageous battle.

On March 22nd, 1915, the Naples Socialist Section held a private meeting against the war and against the government ban on public demonstrations. 200 people attended, including some provocateurs belonging to the Mussolini fasces who tried in vain to provoke incidents. The section secretary reiterates the need for the proletariat to take to the streets if Italy goes to war. Then the anarchist Melchionna takes the floor and rails against the liberticidal government and the warmongers.

A confidential letter from the prefect testifies to the climate in which the activities of the section are taking place:

«From confidential news received it had emerged that in order to set the scene hand- distributed leaflets published by the Avanti! bookstore were to be distributed over the next few days. Arrangements having been made to surprise the distributors in flagrante delicto, on the evening of the 19th in the Vasto Section, the brothers Isaia Raffaele and Gaetano were stopped, and numerous leaflets seized from them, of which I enclose seven copies. Presented to the King’s Prosecutor to answer for the crimes referred to in Articles 126 and 247 of the Penal Code, they were, by order of the aforesaid magistrate, sent to jail at the disposition of the Prosecutor General’s Office and charged with inciting hatred between classes» (Le origini del fascismo e del comunismo a Napoli).

In the days following the Bologna Convention, the Left, in open controversy with the PSI leadership, makes a last desperate effort to mobilize proletarians in view of the imminent outbreak of war. Telegram of May 18: “following the deliberations of the Bologna convention, socialists and registered party officials Amadeo Bordiga and Gerardo Turi requested the Labor Exchange hall for a preparatory meeting for the purpose of calling anti-war rallies, to be held the following day”.

But immediately the Prefect prohibited any public rallies. But on the evening of the 18th at the Labor Exchange, the meeting is held, attended by the section leader and the Socialist Youth leader, the anarchist Imondi, and representatives of the Labor Exchange. The Section comrades, after bitterly criticizing the results of the Bologna conference, proposed the formation of a “permanent agitation committee” to “emphasize neutralist propaganda even after the eventual beginning of hostilities”. To this the Exchange leaders replied in vague terms that they had no “mandate”, and that they considered the proposal “for the time being inappropriate or at least untimely”; one of those present then violently lashed out at them, insulting them. But the section leaders, pretending not to notice the dilatory maneuver, tried to wrest from the union bureaucrats at least a partial convergence (it was necessary because only they controlled the ranks of the proletarian organizations and only they could proclaim the general strike). A copy of a leaflet addressed to workers and women was presented to those who attended the meeting. The plan that was laid out by the comrades of the Left was that, if the rally was big, “we should immediately go out in procession to protest under the editorial offices of the interventionist newspapers and then go down to demonstrate in the working-class neighborhoods”.

But before any move was made the highly efficient and well-informed repressive apparatus was triggered: here is the prefect’s report on the matter:

«According to instructions previously given, the leaflet in question, which doesn’t include the printer’s details, was seized as soon as it appeared in the hands of Bordiga and Turi and of the anarchist Sarno Roberto who was also pulled in. The questore also had the organizers Turi and Bordiga notified – through the same Commissioner S. Lorenzo – that the anti-war rally would not be allowed to go ahead even in the courtyard of S. Lorenzo Maggiore, and at the same time he issued a circular to all departments to make absolutely certain that the distribution of the leaflet was prevented, especially at the gates to factories, and the prompt removal of any subversive posters that may have been put up».

This is the seized poster:


«In this tragic and sinister hour an attempt is being made by every means to obtain your consent to the criminal sacrifice that tomorrow will be made of you, your brothers and your children on the battlefields! You are being shamelessly deceived with false news and lying arguments. The press – even the press that until yesterday was salaried by the Germans! – is unanimous in the vile media campaign that paints the war as just and necessary in order to conceal the responsibility of its proponents and claims that the country is unanimous in wanting it. But the economic and political organizations of the proletariat will hold large popular demonstrations on Wednesday in all the cities of Italy to reaffirm before the government and parliament, which must deliberate on Thursday, the unwavering aversion of all workers to the war. Socialists are now alone against all in this struggle for humanity and civilization, which will not stop even before the “fait accompli” of the declaration of war.

«Working men and women! Hurry, therefore, to the GREAT MEETING AGAINST WAR to be held on Wednesday, on the 19th at 7 p.m. in the atrium of the Labor Exchange, speakers Hon. Arturo Caroti and Hon. Modigliani, The Labor Exchange, the Socialist Section, the Socialist Youth Fascio, the Ferrer circle, the Arnaldo Lucci circle, the S. Anna alle Paludi circle, the Anarchists, the Railwaymen’s Union».

The Italian Proletariat’s Response to the First Imperialist War

In the months leading up to Italy’s entry into the war, the living conditions of the proletarian masses deteriorated further; rising prices, especially of bread, layoffs, the rampant warmongering propaganda while the memory of the Libyan War and Red Week was still alive, stimulated the hatred of the masses. The struggle for bread and the hatred of militarism coalesced into riots that erupted throughout the country before and during the war.

On February 21st, 1915, the PSI calls demonstrations against the war: the rallies turn out to be massive. On Feb. 25th clashes occur in Reggio Emilia: carabinieri fire into the crowd, killing one worker and injuring many others. On March 31st in Milan, the procession of socialists led by Serrati clashes with that of interventionists led by Mussolini. The police intervene to reinforce the latter and arrest Serrati. On April 11th, in Rome, a socialist demonstration is suppressed by the state forces, which make massive arrests. On the same day in Milan, the police, dispersing an antiwar demonstration, kill a young mechanic. The Chamber of Labor, PSI and USI proclaim a general strike for the 14th, with impressive results.

In late April and early May, groups of conscripts protest in Reggio Emilia to the cry of “Down with war, long live the social revolution”. In Castelfiorentino (FI), conscripts refuse to leave and invade the station. Similar episodes in Vinci, Certaldo, Campi Bisenzio and Prato. On April 19th and 20th the entire town of Campi Bisenzio goes on strike. On May 6th in Piombino a general strike against the war prevents the departure of the conscripted men. Also, during the same period, trains of soldiers are blocked in Castelnuovo Val di Cecina and S. Giovanni Valdarno.

The May 1st demonstrations in 1915 prove to be impressive. 100,000 workers process through Turin, raising anti-war placards.

On May 12th in Milan a young socialist is killed in a clash with interventionists.

In Turin on May 15th workers clash with interventionist students; the latter beat up a carter to the cry of “long live the war”. On the 16th a strike is set for the next day, Monday the 17th: from behind the barriers 100,000 workers burst into the center and clash with the cavalry. One young worker is killed and 14 wounded. The prefect cedes power to the military authority. In the afternoon of the same day, groups of workers loot gunsmith stores and exchange fire with the troops in small skirmishes. Numerous wounded on both sides. The Casa del Popolo is invaded and sacked by the military. The only socialist leaders not arrested, i.e., the right-wingers, call on the workers to return to work. But during the night the clashes start up again, and on the 18th the strike continues and only ceases on the following day.

«Once again the courage and decision of the proletarians of Turin were demonstrated, and also the good revolutionary spirit of those comrades; but on that occasion, too, a mistake of a “cyclical’ nature was committed. Turin is always driven by a phase-based error, that is, it is hard to learn that certain decisions in class struggles must be national and not local ones. With an Italian confederation and party that is not fully functional, nothing is accomplished even with Turin and its powerful organizations and cooperatives» (Storia della Sinistra).

In 1916 and 1917 there were also demonstrations, strikes and mutinies in the rest of Western Europe. Strikes against the war took place in Paris and Saint Etienne and mutinies on the French and German fronts. The famous mutiny of French army in May 1917, drowned in blood, was huge. Echoes of the Russian Revolution resounded on all of the fronts, sparking a wave of hopeful enthusiasm. In Italy, between December 1916 and April 1917 there were 880 denunciations for propagating alarmist news and 2,300 charges and 3,901 arrests for participating in subversive and antiwar demonstrations.

On May 1st 1917 in Milan, some 4,000 women and children demonstrated with red flags and placards demanding “bread and peace”. On May 4th, a women’s procession attacks the factories with stones until the workers come out. The procession becomes larger and pickets the industrial quarters. The prefect calls for 6,000 infantrymen and 20 cavalry squadrons as reinforcements. On the 5th the strike continues despite massive arrests. The Chamber of Labor leaders agree with the Prefect to end the movement. Demonstrations take place in many localities, and workers from militarized factories also go on strike. From July 3rd to 7th the entire Biella area strikes. In May 1917 a demonstration took place in Mantua against the arrest of a deserter. Throughout 1917 there are land occupations in numerous locations in Lazio. In four and a half months from December 1916 to mid-April 1917 there are 459 demonstrations with about 100,000 participants.

In Turin, the bread shortage becomes increasingly unbearable. Long angry queues in front of bakeries. Many go to work with empty stomachs. On August 21st, the crisis deepens. Women’s groups demonstrate at the Prefecture and City Hall. Authorities make promises, but it’s too late. On the morning of the 22nd in the Vanchiglia district the mob attacks the guardhouse; the guards shoot, wounding 3 workers. There are several clashes in various parts of the city. The strike spreads, becomes general, and to the demand for “bread” is added the demand for “peace”. Here is the account of one protagonist:

«Instead of entering the factory we began to riot in front of the gate, loudly shouting: We haven’t eaten. We can’t work. We want bread! Cav. Diatto then appears in person to assure us he would ask immediately for a truckload of bread from the army Catering Corps. For a moment the workers fell silent. But only for a moment. They looked into each other’s eyes, as if in silent consultation, and then all together, they started to shout again: We don’t give a damn about bread! We want peace! Down with the sharks! Down with the war! And they left the vicinity of the factory en masse, some heading towards the town center to the Chamber of Labor, and some to other factories that were still working to invite workers to join the strike» (Del Carria, Proletari senza rivoluzione).

In the afternoon tens of thousands of workers converge on the Chamber of Labor. Grocers and gun stores are looted. In the evening the military authorities occupy the Chamber of Labor and arrest the secretary. This exasperates the working masses: armed skirmishes begin. The next day the entire city is blockaded without any order to that effect coming from the union leaders. Barricades are built. Workers barricade themselves in the northern part of the city. By the evening of the 23rd there are already 7 dead and 37 wounded.

The 24th was the decisive moment: the troops have a firm hold on the center. The workers press on with a succession of actions in small groups and try to bring the soldiers over to their side with rudimentary leaflets and infiltration by groups of women. But military discipline doesn’t crack. In one sector the soldiers are overwhelmed, a PS [State Police] station is occupied; they aim to take over the area where the police headquarters, prefecture and barracks are located. If successful the city would have been taken, but armored cars enter the field, and with machine gun fire mercilessly repel the attack. By the evening of the 24th, there are 21 dead among the workers, 3 among the military, a hundred wounded and 1,500 arrested. The battle is lost, but workers’ resistance will continue until the evening of the 26th

«In the riots of August 1917, it was the Turin workers who once again led a vigorous action of real class warfare. The harshness of the repression and the violence of the proceedings before a military tribunal brought against all the local party leaders (including Serrati himself having courageously rushed in, given that censorship was whiting out the entire newspaper) as well as the animated discussions that followed within the party, and the historical coincidence of the reversal of Caporetto which occurred shortly afterwards, meant these uprisings acquired quasi-legendary proportions. Competent Marxist Treves could condemn the error of “localism”, whereas the Turinese rightly scolded the party for having left them to fight on their own but in the dispute the didn’t know how to say that the local motion was caused by the fact that, under pressure from Treves and their tradition, precisely because it was not ignoble, the proposal for a “simultaneous national” rather than local movement would have had to pass over Turati and Treves’s dead bodies before triumphing, whereas, on behalf all the rest of Italy, we left-communists responded to Critica Sociale by openly posing the need for a split in the party as a condition for the taking up of arms in a revolutionary action» (Storia della Sinistra)

If the conditions of conscripts were terrible in peacetime, one can imagine what they were like in wartime. Since a revolutionary directive and an effective work of penetration and clandestine organization inside the army was lacking on the PSI’s part, the conscripts were forced to resort to desertion, which was massive, and sudden mutinies which were repressed with relative ease.

A June 1917 letter from Cadorna mentions 20,000 deserters among Sicilian soldiers who arrived back on the island on ordinary leave and never returned to their units. According to other sources, in April 1917 there were 2,137 deserters and in August of the same year 5,471. As of October 1, 1917, there were a total of 56,000 deserters and 48,000 draft dodgers. In a report to the Prime Minister, the Supreme Command stated that as of September 30, 1917, there were 48,282 draft dodgers in Italy and 337,506 in the rest of Europe, while there were 56,268 deserters from the corps in Italy and 3,394 abroad. Thus, there were 104,550 draft dodgers and deserters in Italy.

Above all, the increase in the phenomenon is significant: 650 more deserters per month between May 1915 and May 1916; 2,100 more per month between June 1916 and May 1917; 5,500 between June and September 1917. By the end of 1918, 1,100,000 trials for desertion will have taken place. It is evident that these poor young men trying to escape the slaughter found support everywhere among the population.

In March 1917 during the 10th Battle of the Isonzo, three regiments composed mostly of Sicilians had surrendered to the “enemy” without a fight. In June during, the offensive in Trentino, many divisions had refused to fight and had shown little aggressiveness. In May, at the offensive battle of Karst, the Italian army lost 27,000 prisoners against 23,000 lost by the Austrians. On May 29th, 800 men of the Puglie brigade passed to the “enemy”. In the following days one regiment of the Ancona brigade and one of the Verona brigade surrendered. To restore discipline and patriotic spirit, the command then ordered dozens of executions by the barbaric system of decimation. On July 16th, the Catanzaro brigade revolted as it was about to go into the trenches. Among the soldiers there spread spontaneously the intention to march on Udine. The mutiny was put down by sending in machine gun and cavalry units: 28 soldiers were shot on the spot and 123 reported to the war tribunal. On August 15th, a second lieutenant and 37 soldiers surrender to the Austrians. In the action against Monte San Marco, after a tremendous artillery bombardment, the infantry refused to come out of the trenches. In the summer of 1917 on the convoys going to the front they shouted: “long live peace, we want peace!”

At Caporetto, Italian soldiers abandoned positions deemed impregnable in a matter of hours, entire corps surrendered without a fight, entire intact batteries were abandoned by artillerymen. Masses of stragglers headed toward the Tagliamento River; the slogan was, “go home the war is over”. At the bridges of Cornino and Pinzano, two entire divisions fell apart without a fight (in 1920 intact defensive positions were discovered here). A source we needn’t suspect of being biased to our cause, Austrian General Krauss would say, “from the very first days, and then again and again, whole columns of prisoners came to meet us shouting ‘long live Austria’ and ‘to Rome’”(data from the ‘Commission of Inquiry’ reported in Proletari senza rivoluzione).

The collapse of the front at Caporetto exploded into a frenzy of national defencism; even the Socialist Party was on the verge of throwing itself into the arms of the “Fatherland in danger”, and only the presence of the Left prevented it from this new lurch and forced it to hold firm tok the anti-war position.

«But in those hours, while the real Italians were (very platonically) making a levee of their breasts against the Austrian “hordes”, many of us party militants were rushing to Rome to contain the treachery of our deputies, and were able to ward off its full effect by forcing them to remain, almost physically, in the Via del Quirinale (...)

«Throughout October and November (the famous “rout” and the jettisoning of arms took place on October 24, 1917) this real fight within the party continued; serving in the aftermath to give undue credit to our faltering rightists for not having dishonored themselves. The fact is that we were so determined and active, that they were unable to shake off their ... honor!

«Lazzari and the Directorate at that time were firmly determined to prevent what the great majority of the deputies wanted to do: if not actually to enter a “national defense” cabinet, at least not to deny the vote to such a ministry and for defense credits. It was an achievement which seemed an important one to the youth that made up the extremist Marxist wing, and for a moment it silenced the disagreement over sabotaging the war which Lazzari had disavowed. In practice the proletarian soldiers had applied defeatism, albeit insufficiently, by deserting the front. They had thrown down their weapons instead of keeping them for class actions, as was happening at the same time on the Russian fronts; if they had not fired on their officers, it was because the officers had run away with them instead of wielding the historic guns of Amba Alagi 1897 (another great Italian milestone) in an attempt to stop the flight» (Storia della Sinistra).

It was precisely at this crucial turning point that the first nucleus of the Revolutionary Intransigent Fraction was finally formed (Florence, August 1917). It was the Fraction which, on the night of Nov. 18th, 1917, would organize a clandestine meeting of the Party in Florence, at which any further rightwing deviation was blocked. It was reiterated that «the political attitude of the Socialist Party cannot make itself dependent on the ups and downs of military operations», there was condemnation of any manifestation of a sense «of adhering to the war or of granting respite to the bourgeois class or of otherwise changing the direction of proletarian action», and the «irreducible opposition to the war» was reiterated. «From that moment, the most decisive people, who became a tight group in that meeting, became better and better organized (...) and delineated the specific platform of the “Italian Communist Left”, which was not the same thing as the old intransigent fraction, but much more than that» (Storia della Sinistra).

Today outbreaks of war are becoming more and more generalized, rearmament with missiles and conventional weapons is back on the policy agenda of the great powers, and the whole world is once again close to a world conflict. As the crisis develops, militarism grows more acute every day and tends to dominate the entire economic and social structure. This is the only solution the world bourgeoisie can offer the human species to overcome its crisis of overproduction, in order to breath oxygen into the infernal cycle of production and reproduction of capital that has got jammed up. Once again the world proletariat faces the alternative EITHER IMPERIALIST WORLD WAR OR PROLETARIAN REVOLUTION.

But capitalism can only be blown up from within. The machine of imperialist capitalism will jam up under the blows and action of the revolutionary proletariat, which will rebel against the heavy burdens of militarism, whose members will refuse to butcher one just because they wear different uniforms or speak different languages. Against the bourgeois solution, the revolutionary communist party offers the one positive solution for all mankind, which is that of promoting and leading the struggle to stop the imperialist war, transforming it into a civil war for the seizure of power and for the class dictatorship, and going forward to the ultimate goal of communism. This is the teaching that Marx, Engels and the glorious October Revolution handed down to us.

To fulfill this historical task, the party must equip the proletariat with the “wish to arm itself”, combatting policies that seek in every manner to deliver the proletariat into the service of national interests, the fatherland, and democracy. The Revolutionary Party, strong in theory and historical experience, must conduct antimilitarist agitation and issue anti-militarist propaganda within society at large and especially within the bourgeois army, with a view to creating its own specific party organization, in order to prepare the subjective conditions for the formation of the proletarian army.

This study, which we have begun to publish here on the relationship between communism and war, aims to better define the tasks of the party, both in the stage of preparation for war and tomorrow during the war, the party remaining the one and only reliable voice in the face of the unanimous criminal and demented orgy of jingoism.