International Communist Party Against Capitalist Wars


On the Thread of Time
The Dagger and Friday, the Nuclear Bomb and Mao
"Sul Filo del Tempo", Battaglia Comunista, n.24‑1950


Waves of news overlap on astonished men, in all spoken and written idioms. Radio and newspapers dribble with the tachycardia of two billion people, with art that increasingly reaches the heights of refinement, the cusps of boot licking. On wave and counter wave, the eight o’clock and twelve o’clock broadcasts, the afternoon and evening editions, they alternate - smartly - optimism and pessimism, defeat and victory, war and peace, up to the maximums of attraction on the lost clientele.

Above all, a seesaw gives vertigo to the whole, multi-coloured humanity: military decision or diplomatic decision? Supreme verdict on the green carpet or on the blood-red battlefields? And two billion of twisted necks, the greatest epidemic of all time, make us turn sixteen times a day to Lake Success or Seoul.

Is it the sword or the robe that makes history?


Perhaps the avalanche of mobilisation and general warfare leaves us enough time to go back over it with a certain calm, reviewing our experience as a multi-millennial species, and going back a little, all the way to our father Adam. It is not our fault that we have gone and set foot so far back, nor is it the fault of the usual and perspicacious Doctor Engels, but of the much abused Mr Dühring, and we will allow the very young to believe that this character was invented by Don Frederick himself, so convenient it is.

Dühring’s bawdy and professorial construction of political economy gave Engels the opportunity to write three chapters on the theory of force, of which we, buried in a library of three quarters of a century ago, know no better. Ever ready, once more, to make a humble confession of asininity.

Adam had actually been sufficient for Dühring to build his edifice of economic doctrine. The cause of exploitation, of the appropriation of the products of other people’s labour, lies in the first unfortunate act of force and oppression consummated in violation of another’s sacred and natural right. Ever since Adam met (not Miss Eve, with director Lucifer, as Engels jokingly recalls) but one of his own kind, and forced him to work for him, ’le jeu est fait’.

For the past lovers that we are, we will take from the text the freshest example, which was convenient for Engels to take: Robinson and Friday. We all remember that, in De Foe’s novel, the castaway Robinson Crusoe, alone on the desert island, organizes his life there, and finally associates with a native servant whom he names Friday, after the day he meets him.

The complicated Marx needed the whole history of human society, but to Dühring these two were enough. He sneers if, with Engels, we read him a passage from Capital: “Capital did not invent surplus labour. Wherever a part of society possesses the monopoly of the means of production, the worker, free or unfree, must add to the labour-time necessary for his own maintenance an extra quantity of labour-time in order to produce the means of subsistence for the owner of the means of production, whether this proprietor be an Athenian kalòskagatòs, an Etruscan theocrat, a civis romanus, a Norman baron, an American slave-owner, a Wallachian boyar, a modern landlord or a capitalist.” In the process, you crooked-faces, take the limpid placement of the landlord in historical and social parallel to the bourgeois, not to the “baron”.

On the other hand, the “theory of the dagger” is much more rushed. According to this theory, it is wrong that economic relations are the foundation of political ones: political force is the primary element of human subjection, economic facts are only a derivative and secondary effect.

The dagger was what Robinson, after getting it by sharpening a piece of iron saved from the shipwreck, used to intimidate the unfortunate and defenseless Friday, who only later had time to learn the Gospel and the principles of eternal morality and law.

The first cause is seen in the “dagger”, that is in force, in political violence, not in an economic need, in a “purpose of nourishment”. Only as an effect of the flashing of the dagger do we see Friday submitting to work for his master, and drawing potatoes from the earth for both of them.

It is here that we have the most limpid and clear Engels, and unfortunately we must go by excepts.

“The idea that political acts, grand performances of state, are decisive in history is as old as written history itself, and is the main reason why so little material has been preserved for us in regard to the really progressive evolution of the peoples which has taken place quietly, in the background, behind these noisy scenes on the stage.” “...even if we assume for a moment that Herr Dühring is right in saying that all past history can be traced back to the enslavement of man by man, we are still very far from having got to the bottom of the matter. For the question then arises: how did Crusoe come to enslave Friday? Just for the fun of it? By no means. On the contrary, we see that Friday “is compelled to render economic service as a slave or as a mere tool and is maintained also only as a tool”. Crusoe enslaved Friday only in order that Friday should work for Crusoe’s benefit. And how can he derive any benefit for himself from Friday’s labour? Only through Friday producing by his labour more of the necessaries of life than Crusoe has to give him to keep him fit to work”. Hence what the dagger theory calls “political association established by the subjection of Friday” arises precisely “for the purpose of sustenance”; something the “daggerists” deny.

“And “the more fundamental” the aim is than the means used to secure it, the more fundamental in history is the economic side of the relationship than the political side.

“However, let us get back again to our two men. Crusoe, “sword in hand”, makes Friday his slave. But in order to manage this, Crusoe needs something else besides his sword. Not everyone can make use of a slave. In order to be able to make use of a slave, one must possess two kinds of things: first, the instruments and material for his slave’s labour; and secondly, the means of bare subsistence for him. Therefore, before slavery becomes possible, a certain level of production must already have been reached and a certain inequality of distribution must already have appeared”. Here Engels explains how voluntary associated production has, as a social-economic fact, preceded forced labor. This arises when the dominator can already dispose of an appreciable mass of means of labor, sometimes procured by violence, but also by other means: personal labor, trade, deception, etc. Robinson had the technique learned in his country of origin, and by himself, before finding Friday, he made not only the dagger, but also a hoe, a hut where he later took in his slave, who died of cold and no longer yields anything, a fence that enclosed the garden, and so on.

Violence is therefore not the starting point, and Marx showed how capitalist exploitation arises out of necessity as soon as on a large scale the products of labor are no longer for the direct consumption of the producer, but are exchanged with others, taking the form of commodities. And Engels happily retraces the history of the rise of the bourgeoisie, showing how erroneous it is to see it in a general “violent appropriation” admitted as the first cause. Even if we admit the initial peaceful disposition of each worker over his product, and the initial exchange of equal values for equal values, “brings us of necessity to the present capitalist mode of production, to the monopolisation of the means of production and the means of subsistence in the hands of the one, numerically small, class, to the degradation into propertyless proletarians of the other class, constituting the immense majority, to the periodic alternation of speculative production booms and commercial crises and to the whole of the present anarchy of production”.

Was violence used in this process? Undoubtedly! In the sense of Marx for whom violence is the midwife of every new society! Weapons were not pointed at every worker who entered the factory as a wage earner: he went there with his feet, singing the hymns of freedom. Bourgeois violence went – and for this it is not blasphemed but praised – against the old feudal state, and it "forces its way through and shatters the dead, fossilised political forms [in which the new economic condition could subsist and develop]”.

We must proceed to the ending of the second chapter on the theory of force. “And if the bourgeois now make their appeal to force in order to save the collapsing “economic situation” from the final crash, this only shows that they are labouring under the same delusion as Herr Dühring: the delusion that “political conditions are the decisive cause of the economic situation”; this only shows that they imagine, just as Herr Dühring does, that by making use of “the primary”, “the direct political force”, they can remodel those “facts of the second order”, the economic situation and its inevitable development; and that therefore the economic consequences of the steam-engine and the modern machinery driven by it, of world trade and the banking and credit developments of the present day, can be blown out of existence by them with Krupp guns and Mauser rifles”.

Here the problem of the social effects of military force and armed action comes to the fore; in the agitated history of humanity, of peoples and classes, the game of armies, weapons and wars.

The weapon is itself an instrument. “Even on the imaginary islands of the Robinson Crusoe epic, swords have not, up to now, been known to grow on trees… If Crusoe could procure a sword for himself, we are equally entitled to assume that one fine morning Friday might appear with a loaded revolver in his hand, and then the whole “force” relationship is inverted”. Engels apologizes, and we with him abandon Friday. We are at more than just the revolver.

“[F]orce is no mere act of the will, but requires the existence of very real preliminary conditions before it can come into operation, namely, instruments, the more perfect of which gets the better of the less perfect; moreover, that these instruments have to be produced, which implies that the producer of more perfect instruments of force, vulgo arms, gets the better of the producer of the less perfect instruments, and that, in a word, the triumph of force is based on the production of arms, and this in turn on production in general – therefore, on “economic power”, on the “economic situation”, on the material means which force has at its disposal”.

“Force, nowadays, is the army and navy, and both, as we all know to our cost, are “devilishly expensive”. Force, however, cannot make any money; at most it can take away money that has already been made... In the last analysis, therefore, money must be provided through the medium of economic production... Armament, composition, organisation, tactics and strategy depend above all on the stage reached at the time in production and on communications. It is not the “free creations of the mind” of generals of genius that have had a revolutionising effect here, but the invention of better weapons and the change in the human material, the soldiers; at the very most the part played by generals of genius is limited to adapting methods of fighting to the new weapons and combatants”.

What follows from here is a synthetic review of military technology that cannot be briefly summarized, let alone extended to the present day. The author starts from the invention of gunpowder in the fifteenth century (for Europe) and relates the progress of firearms to that of infantry tactics: from the arquebus to the breech-loading rifle, from massed action in columns to action in dispersed order. At the same time, artillery evolves. Engels’ data stops at the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the formation of the great standing armies. He at the same time he compares the ships of the time of the Crimean War, moved still chiefly by sail, built of wood, two or three decks with 60 or 100 guns of limited caliber, each weighing from 25 to 50 quintals, and comes to the battleships of his own time, which he calls colossal because of their 9,000-ton capacity and 8,000 horsepower; he mentions 100-ton guns, and the news that Italy has a ship (perhaps the Lepanto) under construction, with armor three feet thick.

All that can be recalled about the enormous power of modern armament in calibers, rapidity of fire, and range; about the quadrupled figures of tonnage, motive power, speed, of battleships; about submarines, which have been added to the torpedo boat of which Engels gives an early mention; on military aviation used on land and sea, on aircraft carriers, on a hundred new implements of destruction, on chemical warfare, up to the atomic bomb, would only come to give more solid ground to Engels’ argument about the inseparable relationship between productive development in quantity and quality, and military potential. The quotation can then continue.

“Here, too, therefore we see absolutely clearly that it is not by any means true that “the primary must be sought in direct political force and not in any indirect economic power”. On the contrary. For what in fact does “the primary” in force itself prove to be? Economic power, the disposal of the means of power of large-scale industry. Naval political force, which reposes on modern warships, proves to be not at all “direct” but on the contrary mediated by economic power, highly developed metallurgy, command of skilled technicians and highly productive coal-mines”.

The third and concluding chapter on the Theory of Force is directed to disprove the erroneous doctrine that only through the dominion of a man on other men is achieved the dominion over natural forces. On the contrary, it is the modes of control over the forces of nature that explain the dependence between dominant and dominated classes, that explain how, in almost all historical examples, the oppressors are few, the oppressed many. We have here moved from the field of military power of organized States to that of their internal power as class organisms. Each organized form is born as a social necessity, precisely for the useful control of the resources of nature, we place a more active culture than the immediate collection of spontaneous fruit. This first form of State becomes, in the course of development, the legacy and monopoly of a few, it stands out against the society of cohabitants, and it is then that it is based on force and overwhelming, which is based on the monopoly of the mechanism of production. From this essential profiling of Marxism, Engels, returning to the field of military clashes between peoples, draws that observation which is always so dear to us Marxists of the Left, in the polemic on recent wars and against “crusaders”. Here it is: “in the immense majority of cases where the conquest is permanent, the more barbarian conqueror has to adapt himself to the higher “economic situation” as it emerges from the conquest; he is assimilated by the vanquished and in most cases he has even to adopt their language”.

Military prowess, if in some cases it has marched parallel to the evolution of economic forms, in no case has it been able to violate their development in a definitive and general way, and make them go back to the oldest ones.

Apart then from the case of national conquests, invasions and “aggressions” (nowadays very fashionable) when “the internal state power of a country becomes antagonistic to its economic development as at a certain stage occurred with almost every political power in the past, the contest always ended with the downfall of the political power”.

“Inexorably and without exception the economic development has forced its way through”.

Twofold, then, is the classic Marxist conclusion that interests us here. The first one says: it is not to be feared that the highest form of socialist economy will succumb to the lowest, capitalist one, just because organized state-military capitalist powers win a great war. And this because of the same relationship which prevented the military victories of legitimist armies from stopping the bourgeois revolution. The second one says: in the military clash between two modern powers, whatever its appearance of a clash between two peoples, two nations, the one which has the most powerful economic and productive equipment, in quality and quantity, prevails. Today we are interested in this second point.


The Korean peninsula has some similarities with the Italian peninsula. The territory is about three quarters of ours, the population a little more than half, the density is therefore lower, but still high: 100 inhabitants per square kilometer. It runs between two inland seas, with a mountainous ridge, and is at approximately the same latitude. Historically the analogy continues: fields of conflict of neighboring major powers, invaded by land and sea, the recent war has divided them into two opposing states: here the Gothic line, there the famous 38th parallel. We were then reunited, they were not, but if we were philosophizing we would have to conclude the following: to hell both opponents, did they have nowhere else to go and clash in? Instead, from the opposite sides, to us whites and to them Asians, it has been authoritatively dictated: yours is a civil war, an ideological war, a holy war that will decide which of two principles of world organization shall win. Astonished, in both cases, southerners and northerners did not know how to resolve this thorny dilemma; they did not even dare to translate their ignorance and meagerness into the banality of the saying: away from my land decide what you want.

How did it begin? Did the northerners attack the southerners or vice versa? Good question, here in Italy if no one attacked we would still be two stumps, and with what disdain of the reds and blacks, all puffed up with unitary and national claims! The sacred duty of the Italian southerners was to invade the North, of the northerners, for the leaders and allies of that time, to invade the South, and what a brilliant initiative since Julius Caesar passed the Rubicon! Instead, the poor Koreans were called criminals by both sides, as they were accused of having wanted to cross the parallel. It is not known who threw the dice, since Syngman Rhee and Kim Il-Sung both forgot to produce world-historical statements.

In any case, the fascist republicans of Salò had the Germans on their backs, the southern liberationists had the Americans on theirs, and the land and air fronts were managed very well with the effects well known to us, and today no less known to the Koreans. We are already in a position to take stock of the two principles that have historically assailed our glorious land: the pre-March (on Rome) social regime is starver and repugnant, the post-March social regime is repugnant and starver. We are not the ones to say it, stubborn doctrinal extremists: we refer to the opinion of northerner militants: MSI speak! - and southerner militants: PCI and PSI speak!

In Korea the Southerners had the sturdy aid of the American army and pushed up in forced marches. But then the Northerners had the aid of the Chinese army and came down no less overwhelming. Gustav line? Gothic line? Where this will stop, we don’t know.

Of course we expressed ourselves like the fools we are, with our pens not hired because they were too blunt. We should have said Free United Nations Army, on the one hand, and People’s Voluntary Partisan Army on the other. Gentlemen of both Almightinesses, please forgive us, let us stammer confused that for so much use of capital letters the copy editor wants increased salary...

Strategic failure, propaganda failure, low tail in America, lesson to the maximum modern imperialism, world hegemony to Mao Zedong with 500 million men and 80 million and more bayonets, mighty Sino-Russian blockade astride the world, displacement from Asia of the white westerners (of the overseas whites of course, and dictatorship of the overland ones). All great, all splendid, all easy; for the sole reason that a few divisions of marines have moved among the Korean mountains in a less swaggering way than in the Italian “out of bounds” quarters.

Too easy! Too good, if you will. The Russian-inspired press doesn’t even sing that hymn quietly, doesn’t exploit the propaganda success on its left, in the ranks of the proletarian masses, still deluded, that the prospect of a blow in the vital parts to Truman’s America should rightly galvanize. Propaganda beats on the right. We have seen for decades that when left-right blocs are made, they beat on the method and interest of the right, ten times out of nine. Therefore, no hymn to China, which has nothing to do with it, no threat to throw MacArthur into the Sea of Japan and then into the Pacific, but a continuation of the motive, luring the petty bourgeois, of peace, coexistence, European and world disarmament; a straight face to Attlee who, instead of curbing Truman, went to make sure that by increasing the effort in Asia he did not forget to increase it even more in Europe, since it is Moscow and not Peking that is important to fool.

Strange sordine, and music played on the strings, alas, of local elections, the constitutional court and the tax law! We are not, for the Italian Communist Party, about to go to the air-raid shelter, but at the moment of going out with the moonlight serenade.

Vyshinsky comes up with a beautiful idea: with the unquestioned authority of the UN all foreign troops, including the Chinese, should be forced to leave Korea. An ingenious maneuver, or a very simple explanation: that Vyshinsky would have preferred that the regular Chinese troops did not move?

So has the history of the last two wars taught us nothing about the effect of big, resounding centrifugal raids, even if victorious? The Russians are the ones who have made none. But it’s not armchair strategizing that we wish to engage in here. In order to foresee what will be the outcome of the policy and of the action, even military, of the current Beijing government, we are best guided by economic factors. Is it possible to exclude the possibility of a repetition of the deeds of the ally Chiang Kai-Shek, who exploited the national-popular bloc to carry out the massacre of the Chinese revolutionary communists? Is it possible that there is still a little key hidden under the frame of the linotypes, the teletypewriters... and the cash register: a key that changes the epithet of Revolutionary People’s Hero into that of Monarch-Fascist Gangleader, or the like?

This goes unknown, but what can be said is that China is not the decisive element. It’s immense, it’s very populated, but to arm it and make it fight you need an industrial economic potential that perhaps America alone possesses, while the Russian one, although rapidly increased, can at most organize the Russian mass, and only if not far from the Russian center.

China is forty times as large as Korea; its population twenty times as large; well, China does not have as much industry as Korea, held for half a century by the Japanese and accessible from the sea by its configuration. China has practically no iron and steel industry; it has not the slightest mechanical industry. Let us take an index, recalled by Engels’ text, on the “communications” factor, of primary military importance. Chinese railways are barely twice the size of Korean ones! Let’s take a surface of ten kilometers by ten, or one hundred square kilometers. In Korea it is crossed on average by three kilometers of railway lines, in China by one hundred and fifty meters!

In Europe this same index is four kilometers. In European Russia it is one and a third, in Europe minus Russia almost eight. In the United States there is an average of five kilometers of railroad per one hundred square kilometers, but, the density being low compared with Europe and China, there is the suggestive maximum of 27 kilometers of railroad per ten thousand inhabitants; index which in Europe is only eight, in China 0.3....

Germany, which alone has twice faced everyone militarily, had 15 kilometers of railroad for every one hundred square kilometers of territory, an index even higher than the English one, the only one in the world that, if you allow the image, allows you to cross the square from side to side without walking... the nine kilometers and 850 meters that are necessary in China.

China, with its immense human mass, is more passive than active in today’s militarism and the possible conflict of continents and oceans. That Chiang Kai-Shek still has partisan armies can’t be swallowed, but that the war between him and Mao Zedong was a different affair from the third world war looming today is a certain thing.

For American big capitalism it is not only not a bore but a magnificent speculation to send a few military units overseas, twenty thousand kilometers away; magnificent it will be when it will recruit fools by the millions in UN formations on all continents. Vyshinsky – who is not a fool – is worried about burning a Chinese army, with its more American than Russian armament, in both cases non-renewable, at the six-thousand-kilometer point of the Trans-Siberian Railway, the only practical link.

The power over man is less decisive than the power over matter, and capitalism holds this tightly for four-fifths directly, in substance for the total.

It must be struck in the social struggle, which modifies the relations of human dominion over things. It is no use commanding 474 million men, who have only their own feet, when 150 million have fifty million mechanical means.

Marshal Stalin: with those who go on foot, however firmly dominated they may be, the game is lost. You will not take the side of Dühring’s doctrine against Engels’, you will not force us to agree with such a presumptuous charlatan, and you certainly do not count on resolving the struggle with the theory of the dagger. If it were so, if we should really recognize that all our baggage of a hundred years of Marxism must be thrown away, if so much should be the mortification of us who are, and of those who were, even if only for a short time, Marxists, at least allow us, Marshal Stalin, not to slide to a theory more idiotic than Robinson’s, to the theory of the dagger grasped by the tip.

Mao, like Friday, will turn his back.