(From L’Avanguardia, 11 January 1914)
It’s not worth it to deal with the cowardly and debased nationalist campaign against Comrade Todeschini. But this has made a very important subject really topical, that of the socialist movement in the Italian states of Austria, and generally in the so-called irredeemed regions. Comrade A. Storchi in a lucid article in Avanti! showed the need for the Socialist Party to express its opinion on this matter, and to support the work of the socialists in Venezia Giulia, continually undermined, and this time we’ve seen with what debased methods, by the local nationalist and royalist bourgeoisie.
Storchi very appropriately complains that some comrades have been regressing in their opinions on the topic, and show some hesitation before the patriotic recriminations of the irredentists who claim that the socialist movement in those regions succeeds to the detriment of the struggle for national autonomy and "Italian-ness".
This is indeed a weak point in our propaganda, like all issues that invest absolute and subversive denial of the principles, ideas, and dogmas most dear to the present society and fundamental to the present institutions. The accusation of being enemies of the fatherland, of being anti-Italian, frightens even the most convinced socialists, and many recoil when the patriotic hogwash resorts to that bombastic phraseology.
The bourgeoisie in its spineless intellectualism shows itself more attached than ever to these forms of national sentimentality. The intimate fibers of the good bourgeois of today can now bear blasphemies against the eternal father and religion, they may not even quiver if they hear undermining the holy principle of private property or injuring the majesty of the king, but they are shocked and vibrate like threads stirred by the hurricane when they see the altars of Patriotism being shaken without regard.
The greatness, the extension, the future of the Fatherland (with a capital F) should be the one dogma accepted by all, the principle to which all bow to, and should be placed—according to the most imbecile phrase circulating on the mouths of humanoid bipeds—above all opinions and all parties.
When the altar of such divinity is scratched even a little, the sacred fire of indignation ignites the souls of the bourgeoisie; they feel—to put it a bit more vulgarly—branded on their ass.
Well, socialists, on the other hand, must proclaim highly that their discussions take place free of all dogma, and that their negating and iconoclastic ideas of the present world do not tolerate any restrictions and do not undertake to observe any limits whatsoever. This, on the other hand, isn’t always done, and the socialist critique of bourgeois institutions is often "indirect", and stands out against the background of the sacred and inviolable ideas cherished by today’s society, whose contradictions and partial shortcomings it does indeed bring into view, but without thoroughly attacking its very core. So in Parliament even the deputies of the Socialist Party, who have a mandate to speak and act in the name and for the interest of the proletarian "class", instead almost always echo the good of the "country", of the "nation" (when not of the "community"!), recognizing after all that the interest of the proletariat and that of the entire nation can be parallel—basically reiterating Giolitti and his sophistry that "the proletariat of a defeated country cannot be happy".
Of those small acts of recognition the bourgeoisie is happy, because it sees in them anything but the enlightening spirit that will pervade the masses when they rise up to shatter all idols and knocking all deities off the altars.
Let us therefore place ourselves out side the irredentist irritability of the bourgeoisie—indeed smack it good and hard—and consider, as socialists, as true internationalists, the problem of "class struggle in countries where there is a national struggle".
Do we deny that national and racial struggles are also of considerable importance nowadays?
Certainly not. One cannot close one’s eyes to these phenomena. In many countries the bourgeoisie was formed through struggles for national independence, and, having won this, typical industrial capitalism developed, thus bringing forth the class struggle and socialist tendencies of the proletariat.
But, as argued a few other times in these columns, this historical succession of the two phenomena: national struggle for independence and proletarian struggle for socialism, does not detract from the fact that, even if we want to recognize in the former a cause or one of the causes of the latter, the ideas and tendencies of the one are antagonistic to those of the other, and that, from the day the social struggle between classes appears, the national idea becomes a weapon of defense of the ruling class against revolutionary propaganda.
National revolutions have occurred in historical epochs far apart for different countries, have had very different characteristics and phases, and do not represent a universal fact common to almost all civilized peoples (as, for example, the disappearance of feudalism and absolute monarchies…) since in many regions national autonomy can never be realized for a variety of historical and ethnographic reasons. The labor and socialist movement, on the other hand, has a great uniformity of character, an undeniable commonality of purpose, and the most pronounced tendency to internationalize. It, by its advance, compensates for the gaps left by the bourgeois revolution, and tends to overtake the struggles between the coexisting nationalities, to direct the aspirations of the broad masses on very different path from that of national liberation. Accelerating this substitution of aims is a duty, it’s the mission of socialists in every country.
The opposite, nationalist propaganda, is in fact used by the bourgeoisie to oppose the spread of socialist ideas. After the excommunication of the priest who invokes the thunderbolts of God, the last resort of bourgeois society is the invocation of national class solidarity to disarm the proletariat away from social warfare.
And so in Trieste, where a class organization exists and flourishes, where the socialist party carries out a successful propaganda, the bourgeoisie would like to invoke the diversion of irredentism to stop that movement that harms it in the economic field. It cries out to those socialists: Stop right there: "first" there is another problem that all of us Italians in Austria, owners or workers, must solve: the conquest of national autonomy; after that your class struggle can take place (after, it is understood, the solidarity invoked for national independence would always be required for imperialist follies and colonial brigandage). But the class struggle is a historical stage so enormously advanced with respect to nationality aspirations, that to yield to that invitation would be to turn back, and to do not revolutionary, but reactionary work.
What's this ridiculous bourgeois irredentism compared to our world postulate: the redemption of the workers? What does it matter to the worker, society's outcast, whether his blood is sucked from him under the auspices of the coat of arms of one or the other dynasty that divides the Isonzo, and unites…the gallows? This, O bourgeois philistines, isn't cheap utilitarianist propaganda. It's not urging us to postpone ideal aspirations to personal economic well-being. We well wish that every worker were so full of holy "idealism" as to risk his life for a cause of common redemption of his own welfare and his very life. But to shake off from one's shoulders, macerated from work, a far greater weight than that which hits the sentimentality of one's heart, when one wishes, with one's full belly and bright eyes, for a "greater Italy".
To say, as did the Giornale d’Italia, that the Socialist Party of Istria is animated by too small a feeling of Italian-ness, is not to make an accusation, but to spout nonsense. What do socialists care about "Italian-ness or Austrian-ness"? And, if our comrades up there still have any such scruples, we urge them to put them aside, and say to them: Onwards, for socialism!