International Communist Party Against Capitalist Wars

The European War and the Proletariat
(from Il Socialista, issue of October 29th, 1914)

This article, whose completeness and clear exposition take nothing away from its doctrinal and programmatic rigor, written a few months after the outbreak of the first world imperialist war, is owed to a comrade from Naples whom we still regard as the doyen of our Party, and who with unimpaired clarity of outlook militates with unchanged spirit in the ranks of the Communist Left. May the reader not only read it but also meditate it thoroughly, and may he remember that in the small Neapolitan editorial office Lenin’s fundamental work on Imperialism was not nor could it have been yet read.

Even before striking the idealistic interpretations of the war at their core, which in those months were mounting on all sides like an overwhelming tide, the analysis of the fact of war is assessed in brilliant synthesis to its material economic roots.

Half a century later, there’s nothing to add that appears forgotten. The reader can here follow the Marxist analysis of British history and rivalry with Germany. The anticipated as well as inexorable condemnations of pretense explanations according to nationality and democracy, wholly applicable to the contemporary world emerging from two world war hurricanes, are shown in clear light. Let us still make our own today the crushing apostrophe to the civilization of bourgeois Europe that Marxism has always described as following social times defamed as barbarian, and the conclusion with the unquestionable hope that the working class will wage a victorious battle against the war and peace of capitalism.

We’ll point the reader to the clear formulation, for Germany, of the accelerated initial rise of younger capitalisms, a thesis characteristic of the Communist Left, reconfirmed in history, then and now.


Among the countless contradiction with which capitalist production struggles with is nevertheless that while, for its trades, it needs peace, it creates by competition a continuous conflict between the bourgeois groups of individual nations, which seek mutually to extend markets for their own products.

This conflict, at times, has no possible solution other than the violent solution of the use of force, i.e. war, which then, from this point of view, can become a factor of historical acceleration in that it enables certain groups to conquer markets that without it would not be possible to conquer, or with extreme difficulty and time.

Colonial wars are those in which these purposes are most clearly manifested, which in European wars are more veiled by the considerable superstructure of ethnic, political and sentimental factors that are superimposed on it, not changing the substance of things but their external appearance, which also has its value and significance however relative. There was a time when war was a direct dependence of misery. When, in a given territory a disproportion was established between the number of inhabitants and the productive capacity of the territory, in the sense that the latter became insufficient for the needs of those, a part of them, and, of course, the strongest, the boldest, the most capable of enduring labors, hardships and dangers, would transport itself elsewhere, that is, emigrate. Since, however, its purpose was to take possession of territories already occupied by others, it had to overcome their resistance, often times to destroy their entire existence, or at least the male existence.

This miserable genesis of warfare from the period of barbarian incursions no longer exists. In countries where the disproportion mentioned above is established, e.g. Italy, the phenomenon of emigration is still produced, but without bellicose action. Modern war is promoted no longer by poor countries, but instead by those in which there is luxuriant and flourishing industrial development, exuberant in relation to the country’s needs. War comes thus not out of misery but out of plenty, which aims to restore the balance between the market and the production of a given country.

How many wars did England sustain to wrest from Holland and Spain the dominion of the sea, when she had to spread the products of her immense and manifold industries throughout the world?

Today England, having achieved the goal of conquering a very extensive market, no longer has any interest in promoting wars.

It can be democratic, pacifist, and aspire to that reduction in armaments which would benefit it, in that it would preserve its present domination, taking away the worry of having to maintain it with very considerable economic (and other) sacrifices.

Today it must constrain with every effort its spiritual tendencies, for that warlike, invading, overbearing spirit, which developed most powerfully in the periods when its capitalist development met with strong resistance in an external environment, to the extent that this struggle attenuated has itself eased up.

In the development of the bourgeoisie in each individual country a similar phenomenon is repeated; no energies of resistance to the proletarian advance are aroused in it until proletarian pressure, tending to limit the profit margin, makes itself felt. In the wider field, as long as the conquest of markets is easy and the saturation of these is far off, action can take place peacefully. It is resistance to invasion that determines conflicts and develops the fighting spirit.

German militarism is after all only the natural product of English resistance in the world market to the very powerful German industry in continual and very rapid growth. The conquest of European markets is more time-consuming, difficult, expensive, and requires too many sacrifices, especially if force of arms must be used to achieve it. Colonial conquests are thus more convenient and easier, as they offer minimal resistance.

England, by extending its action outside Europe, has been able without much effort and sacrifice to achieve its present development. Germany does not have colonies sufficient for its productive energies. Almost the last coming among the great nations, it has had to content itself with the colonial scraps off the table, left by the European countries that came before, above all England.

Probably, risking a bold supposition, if it could have found such a colonial outlet for itself, sufficient to exhaust the rich productive energies of its industries, which, as was the case with other capitalist-producing nations, have a certain mostly short period of very rapid and very great expansion, its development would have been peaceful.

In the absence of new markets to be created, it must wrest them from those who already possess them by the only means available to it in such cases, namely, war, which can only take place in Europe since the latter has taken over the entire rest of the world, and which aims to strike at its greatest obstacle, namely, England. The material impossibility of reaching England directly, due to geographical reasons, which would require a very powerful fleet capable of bringing down the ultra-powerful British fleet, has dragged other nations into the fray, which are indirect victims of this huge duel.

The development of industrialism, as the latter is a product of high culture and initiative, cannot exist in isolation. These spiritual attitudes explicated in other human activities lead to the exaltation of other factors, political, sentimental, intellectual, moral, which in turn explicate their action harmonizing with it.

In the outbreak of war and in its determination, the idealist nature of national claims, and that of the defense of democracy, the historical role of the races, are but outline and complement, and partly outright literary dilettantism. In relation to the real cause-and-effect, these and other elements are like a fly which, standing on the head of the ox pulling the plow, smugly says, “We plow”.

Whatever the outcome of the war, it is natural that each victorious group will want, indeed must try to extract from the extreme means employed the most extreme fruits. It will tend to secure dominance and prevent the vanquished of today from becoming a danger tomorrow.

Who has established those certain rights of nationality, which some say should prevail?

Who will succeed in making them prevail?

No wonder that England is championing this right, which, having no land dominion in Europe, has every interest in creating for itself currents of sympathy, favoring a certain sentimentalism regarding national independence. If these were to triumph, it would increase the number of small states in Europe which could not by themselves undermine its dominance, nor could they ever succeed in agreeing to overwhelm the nation which of each favored the formation.

Not so thought and acted the mainland powers, whose bourgeoisie, for reasons that socialist scientific criticism has thoroughly explained, has a lively interest in enlarging the national constitution that benefits its purposes, without any concern for race or whatever ideology.

In such an immense conflict in what way does the proletariat participate, what can it achieve, or want, or fear?

Let the fate of the present colonial dominions change, its conditions will not change, just as they will not change if some other French province is annexed to Germany, or if the reverse happens, or if Italy has Trent and Trieste, or Russia German Poland and so on.

The differences in political constitution between States, regarding the relative rights of the proletariat, are not such that it’d be worthwhile for workers to offer their blood for one or the other. It isn’t a question of the danger of returning to the state of slavery, which doesn’t exist now even in colonial possessions.

The highly civilized European bourgeoisie not only does not import slavery, it but destroys it where they still find it, because it is harmful to capitalism, though not because it’s barbaric: about that they couldn’t care much, just as they don’t care much about the miseries and pains of the proletarian class.

Let the proletarians therefore, and for them the socialist party which believes it represents their ideals, retrench into their class interest; now and always they must oppose this war, which by in no way undermining the present hinges of society can be of no use to them.