The “Fait Accompli”
From Avanti!, May 23rd, 1915
It was inevitable. In the tragic unfolding of history, which from neutrality takes us into the war, the half-consciences have already made up their alibi, so they can together contemplate defection. Having dutifully done everything to avoid war, it would be the duty of socialists to “accept the fait accompli” and take up the call for national party cooperation for the victory of Italy's armies!
Dutifully done everything, eh?
Let us begin by saying that those – we hope very few will remain – who are now throwing themselves so hastily to the other side of the barricade, without even waiting for the real war to actually begin, are those lukewarm neutralists who haven’t done their duty at all and have always harbored a secret but transparent nostalgia for the comfortable anti-socialist ideologies of the warmongers.
And let us let go, for now, of names and facts. Let us discuss, rather, this equivocal and hypocritical thesis of the fait accompli, which, if accepted, would dishonor the Socialist Party and put us in a position where we’d have to recognize all of Mussolini and co’s claims about our recklessness and cowardice as perfectly just and deserved.
After witnessing, amidst the complacency of the bourgeois world, the astonishing attachment that the socialists of the main European States made to the war cause, the Italian Socialist Party proclaimed that the International was not yet dead, and sided against Italy's intervention in the conflict in favor of this or that group of belligerents.
It was said that we were propagandizing cowardice, inertia, and absenteeism from the decisive historical tragedy; we were denounced as accomplices of the Catholics, the Austrophiles, and lately of Giolitti and von Bülow. We replied to our detractors, more and less supported by the Entente consulates, that the war had not destroyed socialism, but confirmed the need for it to continue to carry out its historical action with class struggle, rather than nullifying it by erasing its principles in patriotic solidarity with the State and the bourgeoisie.
We said that our campaign for neutrality was motivated by reasons of principle and class interests, which clearly distinguished it from bourgeois neutrality and its murky background.
Many of us, it must be acknowledged, erred perhaps in giving first place to contingent and national considerations, which militated against the thesis of intervention and which by sheer incidence might be shared by our opponents; but we all proclaimed that our Party, through its anti-war propaganda, and by defending its class independence from every seduction, as well as from every attack, was aiming at the high historical task of redeeming the dignity of socialism and preparing the ground for the new proletarian International, a task far greater – and more real – than those which could be accomplished in the shadow of the national banner and in cahoots with the sad Pharisees of mercantile patriotism.
Does this sure and clear line of action of ours break down today in limine belli, i.e. on the threshold of bourgeois war? No. As for the national reasons, the bourgeois motives of neutrality, which for us were but subordinate, it’s a fact that they’ve fallen on deaf ears, for the die is cast and there remains no other interest for the Italian State than victory against the enemy, which in turn threatens with arms. And the danger and insidiousness into which those socialists who admit as unquestionable the duty of defending the homeland fall stand out brightly today. Is Italy not today, despite having taken the initiative in a war that is not inescapable, in a condition of national defense? Undoubtedly, since its leaders have thrown it into the fire from which they now invite us to draw it. But we clamorously divided our responsibilities from the insane militarist policy, and it would be illogical and foolish to make ourselves prisoners of the arbitrariness that our eternal enemies committed, availing themselves of privileges that we always fought and scorning the opinion of the working classes that we represent.
To surrender, therefore, to the consummated crime, becoming accomplices in its execution, even though we discouraged its cold premeditation, would be absurd, and would lead us to confess that all bourgeois wars will have us sympathetic after a merely platonic peace propaganda: that at the bourgeoisie's cry of war we will ape the shameless somersault of those patriots who will have opposed the war for the most unmentionable reasons, only to exalt it when it actually starts.
Even the socialists in other countries, about whom we have been judging and condemning for so long, have separated their responsibilities and done their duty... until the war. And if we can do no more than they did, after having had all the time to study the causes that led them astray, we will cover ourselves with ridicule and ignominy.
We could not avoid the war. So we should suffer it by associating with its proponents! So say those who see in war something where the interests of all social classes lie.
We admit there is a forced coincidence in avoiding the worst, defeat; but is there, under the banner of party truce, a fair sharing of sacrifices and eventual gains?
Nevermore. The bourgeois class struggle against the proletariat not only doesn’t suspend, but it intensifies to a fever pitch, as economic exploitation continues and culminates in the blood sacrifice demanded of the workers in the name of the fatherland, to which, however, the capitalists do not sacrifice the fruit of their own speculation.
The cessation of civil disorder is demanded, demanding that the workers give up their holy defense against a system of oppression that its beneficiaries are unwilling to appease.
And whoever recognizes that it’s right for the proletariat to protest against misery and hunger, can dare to stifle its indignation when an attempt is made on its very life? It’s an attack that we could not prevent, just as we still cannot prevent capitalist exploitation because of the immaturity of proletarian forces.
But that is not to say that we’ll give up from our unwavering revulsion to the current world and the sad reality that allows economic servitude and the most infamous military servitude to the detriment of the great majority of men.
Those who today see nothing but the common denominator of patriotism, and therefore are silent in their opposition, have been vanquished. It’d have been better for them if they had switched in time to loyally professed interventionism. By yielding today, under the rush of the war tide, they demonstrate the uncertainty and inconsistency of their thinking and the elasticity of their conscience.
Today neutralism, this unfortunate word, which attracted us so much calumny, is dead. And thus it’s precisely the time to show the injustice of the slanders we were targeted with. It is today that, magnificently alone against the entire bourgeoisie of every party, we can and must show that anti-militarism and internationalism aren’t concepts devoid of content and aren’t the screen of cowardly pacifism-out-of-fear-of-conflict.
Now we must hold firm against the moral pressure of all sentimentality and suggestions, against the material pressure of savage persecution. Today it is necessary to prove that our aspiration to the International was right, despite its purported defeat, and that our neutralism was not devoid of historical meaning as the warmongers blathered. The interruption of socialist work before the outbreak of war would also devalue its precedents, putting it in the most equivocal and dishonoring light.
Once again, O trepid servants of the fait accompli, who would have us kiss the hand that has stricken us down but has not broken us, the two opposite paths are drawn clear and precise.
Either with or against national prejudice and patriotic scruples. Either with nationalist pseudo-socialism or a new International.
There’s only one position from those who in opposing the war did not hide their miserable duplicity, that today that the war is a fait accompli against the war, for anti-militarist and international socialism!