Reconfirming Absolute Neutrality
(from La Lotta di Classe, no.244, October 17, 1914)
The article we now re-publish was written as soon as Mussolini’s famous 18th October article in Avanti! was published. The issue from which we quote it bears as a first page headline Not “pacifism”: class antimilitarism, while the article is titled For Active and Operating Anti-Militarism.
It was an extremely difficult moment for the Party, for only after a few days would this audacious character disclose the last portion of his mask, no longer speaking of neutrality of either sort, but of open intervention, and making his expulsion from the now thoroughly betrayed Party inevitable.
At that time, more than worrying about the future record of Mr. Benito Mussolini, there were worries over the harmful effect that the ideas cleverly presented with a deceptive gradualism of going from absolute neutrality to active and operating neutrality would have for the Party. What follows was therefore a polemic on the fundamental misunderstanding in the approach to the question of neutralism, and shows from the very first lines how the true Marxist Left in the irreducible struggle against the war, and also against the self-described left-wing justifications for the war, had warned and averted the danger of confusing revolutionary anti-militarism with any relapse into a humanitarian and petit-bourgeois pacifism, completely antithetical to Marxist doctrine. All this after clearly premising that socialism can do without anyone, including Mussolini, such as he was at that time on the merits of all his previous action. This brief polemic is not about whether or not to save Benito’s soul, but about fighting against the danger of a breach opening in the solid class ranks of the party.
The comment may be worth confirming the infallible rule that anyone who wants to draw himself out of the realm of doctrine in order to remain in reality is nothing but a traitor.
On Tuesday evening the general membership meeting discussing the latest statements of the editor of Avanti! which interprets neutrality in a non-absolute way, as stated in the Manifesto of the Party Direction and the Socialist Parliamentary Group, and makes reservations about our party’s practical opposition to the war, approved the following agenda:
«The Socialist Section of Cesena confirmed the agenda issued on the evening of September 25 on which absolute neutrality was claimed and the war was execrated;
«Whereas the unexpected statements of the Director of the Avanti! profoundly disturb the animating spirit of the referendum held within the Socialist Party, which was inspired by the Manifesto of the Direction and the Parliamentary Group in which every war was condemned as detrimental to the moral and material interests of the proletariat;
«Considering also that the Socialist Party cannot remain under the weight of a misunderstanding that harms the precise directive that our Party must have in this special contingency, invites the Direction to state with the utmost clarity that by absolute neutrality it must be understood to mean the Italian proletariat’s ideal and practical opposition to every warlike attitude of the bourgeoisie, and to shape the immediate action of our Party on this precise concept».
The piece here republished was written as soon as Mussolini’s famous article, published in the 18th October of 1914 in Avanti! The issue from which we quote it bears as a headline on the full page Not "pacifism": class antimilitarism, while the article is titled For Active and Operating Anti-Militarism.
This was an extremely difficult moment for the Party, for only a few days later this audacious character would turn his coat one final time, no longer speaking of neutrality of one kind or another, but of open intervention, and inevitably being expelled from the now thoroughly betrayed Party.
At that time, more than worrying about the future record of Mr. Benito Mussolini, there was a lot of worries for the Party over the harmful effect of the ideas cleverly presented in the deceitful pipeline from absolute neutrality to active and operative neutrality. What follows is thus a polemic on the fundamental misunderstanding in the approach to the question of neutralism, and shows from the very first lines how the true Marxist left in the irreducible struggle against the war, and also against the supposedly leftist justifications for the war, had warned and averted the danger of confusing the revolutionary anti-war movement with any relapse into humanitarian, petit-bourgeois pacifism, completely antithetical to Marxist doctrine. All this after clearly premising that socialism can do without anyone, even without Mussolini, as at the time he held a lot of merit in the socialist movement due to all his previous actions. This brief polemic is not about saving Benito’s soul, but about fighting against the danger of a breach opening in the solid class ranks of the Party.
The comment may be worth confirming the infallible rule that anyone who wants to draw himself out of the realm of doctrine in order to “be realistic” immediately establishes themselves as a traitor.
* * *
The topical subject for all our opponents is the attitude taken by Benito Mussolini. They want at all costs to open a breach in the anti-war attitude of the Socialist Party, and hope to achieve this through what seemed to be one of the impregnable bulwarks: the thought and action of L’Avanti! But not even this time will the Socialist Party give up. It has demonstrated that it possesses a collective conscience, so stubborn - if you like - not to decamp from the programme it has mapped out, and so iconoclastic, that it has triumphantly passed, more alive and vital than ever, through the now incessant funeral marches played by all the out-of-tune organists of Italian political activism. Quite apart from the blatant exaggerations about the extent of Mussolini’s thinking - from which we have already expressed our open dissent - it is now certain that socialism can, where necessary, do without him too, whatever the imposing contribution of energy he gave and gives for the common battle. This can be seen first and foremost from the terrible revision envisaged by Mussolini’s heretical and restless genius, and reconfirmed the Italian socialists’ line of action against any participation of the Italian state in the war.
Let us - having said this - take a bird’s eye view of the opinion of the editor of L’Avanti! so elegantly put forward in the issue of the 18th. It is better to make a fleeting psychological analysis than a lengthy theoretical examination. The preoccupation with putting oneself in the realm of reality is tantamount to accepting the polemical - and practical - insidiousness of our adversaries, who pretend to place the principles of socialism on any other basis than that of the reality that surrounds us, thus demolishing its subversive potential. The preoccupation with ’playing into the hands’ of the Austro-Germans is another pitfall from which we thought we had escaped during the crisis that led us to our current intransigence. On fait toujours le jeu de quelqu’un(1). 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 lead us well out of this trap. It seems indisputable to us that Mussolini has faltered. He has fallen into the deception that the vicissitudes of historical reality tend to all those who want to overcome them.
Mussolini then only arrived at a formula that to the usual disadvantage of being abstract adds the other of being contradictory. Active and operative neutrality? It seems to us that it means nothing.
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 we do not want to disarm. Our war is permanent, it breaks out sometimes as in June in open revolt(2), but it does not concede armistice. Today we are victims of a mauvais mot(3). Neutralists we? We are immediately accused of pacifism. We, on the other hand, maintaining that the state must remain neutral, remain its open, active and operating enemies. We have with the Salandra government many issues to settle.
Let us agitate for the political victims. Let us continue with the anti-bourgeois, anti-militarist propaganda and work. Let us not grant suspensions or truces, let us close the road to the mirage of national unanimity that has dazzled our French and German comrades.
This is not pacifist cowardice. And it is even less ’national egoism,’ as it could put the nation tomorrow in a position of military inferiority before the eventual enemy. About which we should have no qualms. All of this in the field of generic evaluation - apart from the analysis of the reality we are witnessing, from which we must not retreat, but which we have carried out and will carry out in all forms of propaganda, believing that so far the conclusions drawn from it do not at all destroy revolutionary and anti- militarist socialism.
1. “You always play into someone’s hands”.
2. Reference to the Settimana Rossa” (Red Week), which raged from June 7 to June 14, a gigantic proletarian insurrection after some young workers were killed at an anti-militarist protest. It required around 100,000 troops to put down, with 16 dead. Already here, the proletarian insurrection was betrayed the trade unions and reformist leaders.
3. “Dirty word”.