Dogmas and Reality
From Avanti!, 24 November 1914
This article takes up refuting the used and abused accusation of dogmatism and of speculation about the phrase “absolute neutrality”. This phrase doesn’t claim that we’ve arrived at the philosophical absolutes that our detractors quack about. It’s clear that its actual subject is the State, and that the slogan given to the proletariat is to continue and reinvigorate the struggle against the State even if it gets into war and with whichever of the two conflicting groups it joins. Therefore, a very clear and practical slogan.
This short article shows that the very proponents of intervention carry out the explanation of reality in a confused and contradictory manner and are united by nothing more than the mystifying shout: War! A shout that in October 1914 Mussolini himself had uttered in making his about-face. The contradictory theses of various interventionist writers such as Labriola and Salvemini are shown. Some of them even threatened that if Italy is absent from the peace congress, there may be a return to the temporal power of the Pope!
The chorus of blame and complaints buzzing around the Socialist Party when it settles its attitude on any given issue is one of stomach-churning petulance. People who ignore the scope and milieu of the socialist movement, these dull gray scholastics educated only in the ignorant eclecticism of professional journalism, all feel entitled to mount some cathedra when it comes to raining down judgments upon the directives of our Party. Three or four insipid sentences make the rounds on all critical articles, which, after highlighting the intellectual blindness and political debasement of the Socialists, end with the usual elegy and the too usual De profundis.
This was the case not only now, but when the party was leaning toward royal reformism, when it returned to intransigence, when it opposed the Libyan adventure, when it got rid of the Masonic cancer… It’s childishly obvious, that to satisfy all its opponents – even those disguised as disinterested provident advisers! – the Party should… cease to exist. While instead it lives and prospers more and more – and that’s why the clear logic of those gentlemen deduce the incompetence and ineptitude of those who are a part of it and lead it.
Today, truncating this preamble, it’s established, for the philistines, that we’re way out. We like to chew on formulas, and our obstinacy in observing them would be equal to our asininity in not noticing that Mrs. "Reality" has demolished them at the service of the gravediggers of socialism. Moreover, only our congenital stupidity could explain our pride as monopolists of truth – For we socialists, advocates of absolute neutrality and opponents of all wars would claim precisely to have arrived at the notion of that absolute excluded from all the philosophies of decent people, who on some abstract "enlightened relativism", need to build their "comfortable opportunism" in life and politics. Piggybacking on these unheard-of metaphysicalities, credited by some big brains now devoted to morbid exercises, there’s no dumbass who doesn’t feel empowered to bury us under the weight of his superiority, painting us as a flock of fanatical believers, led by a clique of sacristans…. Sheer madness, simply!
But why, say we, is there no attempt to better understand, just slightly, the complex motivations of our attitude? Why limit ourselves to the critique of a few sentences in which our directives are in due time compendiated by a, dare I say it, technical necessity of the party movement? To call one’s opponent an oversimplifier and a dogmatist is just a convenient polemical pretense, which for the most part is just used as a means to not actually refute any of the arguments put forward. And in our ranks, by God, every decision of our governing bodies is debated, examined, and scrutinized (even excessively), and the creed that lends itself to us by dialectical artifice is not in the mind and lips of the most modest of our militants!
The phrase "absolute neutrality" now serves to designate, in the current political language that’s continually being created and unraveled, the tendency advocated by the Socialist Party leadership and the majority of it with regard to the international situation, a tendency that is reattached to complex motives and is spread around in very different shades. It’s not us who oversimplify, it’s those who discuss and criticize "by ear", fabricating gratuitous accusations of "impotence", "cowardice", "denial of reality", etc, with little concern for syntax and grammar, by cherry picking this or that specific expression.
We don’t dream of having arrived at that "fearful absolute" of philosophy that has so alarmed some. Our political position is much more easily reconstructed, without the need to leave this earth to catch ourselves in the clouds.
Socialism, a way of thinking about the reality of life which surrounds us and which has unfolded down to us throughout the course of history, a method of action directed to certain real aims of the proletariat, had hitherto in its doctrine, in its practical experience, considering a conglomeration of facts, deduced and affirmed its generic antithesis to the institutions and functions of militarism and engaged in action against its manifestations. This action may today have been more or less overwhelmed in the events we witnessed but – and here is our thesis, far from being aprioristic – the events themselves have not destroyed that general contradiction. And in the field of politics, Italian socialists are right to believe that both of the wars possible today for the Italian State bear those characteristics on the basis of which socialism proclaims its aversion to wars in general.
Socialist interventionists, on the other hand, believe that one of the two wars assumes such a character as to merit the encouragement of the proletariat for the State to induce itself to initiate it. Where, then, is the absolute monstrosity of our assertions? The divergence agitates more than ever in the realm of reality and life. Socialism, a doctrine deduced from reality, has never taken itself outside of it, for otherwise its dialectic would fall like a house of cards.
The dialectical thesis that we neutralist socialists can affirm, after considering current events, is this: the reasons inspiring the aversion of the working classes to military adventures can be deduced, indeed more broadly, from the facts and outlines of the present war, and from the present situation of the proletariat of all States, whether belligerent or neutral.
And here we are in the vast field of the examination and analysis of recent events, a field in which everyone may make mistakes in overestimating this or that coefficient, everyone may be drawn by his thesis to emphasize some aspect of the question, everyone may appeal to the rhetorical efficacy of arguments based on more or less common feelings rather than on sound reasoning. And on this field the discussion is wide open. But do the interventionists, who for three months have been endlessly shelling us with rhetoric, appealing to all the most debased sentimentalisms, really believe that they’re being more serene and objective than we are? We who are accused of apriorism, dogmatism and so on – for stubbornly demanding a clear explanation of what real advantages could come out of Italian intervention as far as the working class is concerned. But we remain disappointed. For in the face of our interpretation of the catastrophe, inspired by the fundamental lines of Marxist socialism (from which we do not start with our eyes closed but to which we see ourselves drawn back by keeping them wide open) we have not yet found in the advocates of a thesis as full of responsibility as that of intervention, a solid and plausible assessment from which it flows that war in favor of the Triple Entente would benefit the proletariat of Italy and the socialist cause. And the interventionists, stuffed up to their necks in a web of arguments tangled as an impenetrable skein, are not at all in agreement with each other, nor with themselves, in anything besides the enthralling cry: War!
Let’s check out an example (A. Labriola, Neapolitan issue of Propaganda, Nov. 15):
There’s thus no reason to fantasize that the conflict between the Germanic world and the West is a conflict between democracy and militarism, in order to plausibly ally socialism to the cause of the Western world; for the democratic West is also militaristic and is becoming more so.
According to some, the current war is the historical collision of the great nationalities. But Salvemini, on the other hand, argued in the Milan conference that it should not be believed that this is the main motive for war, which is due to a complex web of cause among which the interests of the ruling class reign above all… Some want the war out of hatred for Germans, some to "liberate" them from Kaiserism. Some revolutionary socialists found themselves moved by the threat to bourgeois democracy, some by the expression of national irredentism….
Even the return of the temporal power of the popes was contrived as possible if Italy is absent from the peace congress! And we could go on.
In conclusion? We ask, prejudicially, for some fairness for our opinions and our mission, if not from our opponents whose motives we’re well aware of, at least from yesterday’s comrades who are today advocates of war. For, without claiming that we know the ultimate ontological secret, we believe, however, that in our attitude we are led by a conscious view of reality and a sense of our responsibility such that we will not allow anyone at all to unfailingly treat us as idiots and cowards.