Between Peace and War
(from L’Avanguardia, 14 November 1912)
When the war with Turkey broke out, the Italian Socialist Party, after the initial surprised shock passed, regained a certain unity of conscience and sided resolutely against the Tripoli adventure.
The propaganda against the war was conducted with sufficient consciousness and set on its true class basis with sufficient agreement that it succeeded in breaking the circle of hostility that had surrounded the Turks of Italy.
Besides the inane rhetorical digressions about “national traditions” that should have made the Italian bourgeoisie averse to imperialism out of respect for the independence of others and some other such naive anti-Marxist sophistry, the anti-Turkish campaign was carried out very seriously and energetically.
The very fact of the determined alliance of the bourgeois parties in favor of the “beautiful war” helped us to show the proletariat that it should oppose it.
The extreme over the top manner with which the nationalists lied allowed us to vividly emphasize the truth.
The events themselves surpassed our pessimistic predictions about the second colonial attempt of Greater Italy. But peace, let us confess, has upset us a little.
Because anti-nationalist propaganda is not widespread enough in the Italian proletariat, despite being so straightforward and lacking in technical language that it is a true sin to not have vulgarized it enough.
One of the causes of the examination is perhaps this: we believed that the very Italian bourgeoisie which made Italy had forgotten, in its philistine degeneration, all patriotic sentiment, and that it would not be able – especially after Lissa, Custoza and Adua – to give birth to a nationalist movement. Nationalist associations such as the “Dante Alighieri”, the Naval League, etc., were bristling, patriotic tirades were relegated by the bourgeoisie themselves with cheap rhetoric, the “fatherland” was out of fashion in the intellectual conventions of polite society.
Instead, the lessons of history had to be remembered.
Noble patriotic sentiment is the avenue the democratic bourgeoisie used to enlist the help of the proletarians, the have-nots, the stateless, in overthrowing the feudal aristocracies.
But it is also a weapon that the bourgeoisie itself uses for a purpose that historically follows the first, namely, to prevent the true class emancipation of the workers, when the workers realize that they have sacrificed themselves in the sole interest of one form of exploitation replacing another.
The bourgeoisie is patriotic by nature in the heroic phase of its revolutionary origin. And it is patriot by calculation of the vulgar utilitarianism of the struggle for its preservation, against the proletariat.
In this second phase the bourgeoisie cleverly exploits the traditions of the first, to lure the proletariat into a truce where the class struggle ceases.
It’s downright painful to see socialists fall into the trap. To hear intelligent socialists go on some wild goose chase after some “Marxist concept of the nation”!
Faced with the peace that the nationalists called shameful many socialists hesitated. Then they resumed their tempers, recognizing that it was not our turn to weep over the failure of the beautiful imperialist feat, and that a glorious peace after a fortunate war would deal a terrible blow to the labor movement.
The nation, in reality, is composed in the great majority by the proletarians. Yet the interest of it (not the interest of nationalists, but the true, actual interest of the nation) clashes with the aspirations of the proletariat, not confusing in this name some petty category improvement.
It is a contradiction. But it is not our contradiction, but that of a decaying social order that is absolutely full of such contradictions: capitalism. Now the socialists go on a lot about the bourgeoisie having to pay for the costs of the war. Here is another dangerous road. Suppose we can manage to get some law that will aggravate the wealthy classes a little more in meeting the expenses of war. This will be meager results.
But we’ll have done great harm by causing a misunderstanding in the minds of the working people. In reality the expenses of the war have been paid and will be paid by the proletariat, which failed to avoid the war in the first place.
What is the bourgeoisie if not an unproductive minority? And with what will it “pay its expenses” if not with the proceeds of their exploitation of the mass of actually productive people? Exploitation that the nationalist resurgence would have enabled it to intensify, had the war succeeded according to its calculations.
Now a campaign with the purpose of paying off the expenses of war from the incomes of the capitalists, even admitting that it would result in a few tens of million less being paid for by the proletariat, will have as a consequence the spreading of confusing regarding those healthy concepts of class antagonism, which can only be detrimental to future conquests.
Instead, it is necessary to carry out extremely energetic propaganda, based on the economic suffering of the proletariat that resulted from the war, in order to obtain that “next time” where the proletariat will know to rise up the moment the war is pronounced.
And to give a final decisive blow to all patriotism, be it true and false, business-motivated or romantic, whether it speaks for the gallows of Tripoli or those of Belfiore.