From the Old to the New Anti‑Militarism
(from Avanti!, February 19, 1915)
This article from Avanti! entitled From the Old to the New Anti-Militarism is linked to the previous one [The Bourgeoisie and the Principle of Nationality] in its general refutation of a split view of the game of the two groups of states in conflict. It is important because, over and above the problem of whether or not Italy’s intervention in the war can be averted, it poses the problem of the future recovery of the international proletarian movement, contrasting a reformist type of anti-militarism with a new revolutionary type of position, which rejects all the lies used to feed the illusion that socialism was retreating into the orbit of the nation (as we see today from every movement that calls itself socialist or communist!). Sterile bourgeois pacifism is once again disavowed and it is proclaimed that only the collapse of the capitalist system can prevent wars in the future.
After more than half a year of war and of frantic discussion around it, is it possible today to infer some judgments which can take proper account the new light brought by tragic events on the delicate and very serious subject of the relations between socialism and war?
The question at hand is certainly neither academic nor premature, for it is made necessary and timely by the conditions in which the socialist parties of those neutral States for which there is any possibility of intervention in the conflict find themselves. Tomorrow, after peace, with the enlightenment of history and reporting with the benefit of hindsight, without the blinding of passions that divide belligerents and neutrals in this hour of crisis, the discussion will be dissected and complete, and all the socialists of the world will take part in it in order to reach – undoubtedly – decisive conclusions that will serve as a foothold for the future. But the feverish investigation and the sometimes chaotic and tumultuous discussion have imposed themselves and are imposing themselves on us today; because the Italian socialist proletariat before the eventual outbreak of war will find itself in a very different condition than that of other countries, on which the barrage fell in a very few days; and a far more serious historical responsibility will come to it from the long period in which it remained a spectator to the action – or passion – of its brothers from beyond the Alps.
One thing – it seems to me – from all the findings and inductions which in six months have passed before our eyes stands out clearly: the theory and propaganda of anti-militarism before this war was carried out predominantly with a view to the proletarian interest and necessity of preventing and decrying war by all means and of counteracting the nefarious consequences of militarism in peacetime (expenditure on insane armaments, armed repression of the workers’ movement, the pernicious influence of militarization on youth, etc) – but the problem of what socialists should do, not longer to avert war, but to defend the achievements of the proletariat and save socialism from ruin when war has already broken out, has for much too long been left in the shadows.
The misconception consisted in thinking about the anti-militarist questions in a reformist way (arms reduction, armed nation, arbitration, etc.), whereas the task of socialism is not to restore bourgeois society, but to hasten its demolition ab imis fundamentis, that is, by going back to the cornerstones of its economic organization. Anti-militarism is thus not an end in itself, but is one facet of the anti-capitalist action of socialism. Only with the socialization of the means of production and exchange will “the hostility of one nation to another come to an end”, as the Communist Manifesto says.
Instead, the notion had slowly spread that war, even under bourgeois rule, was impossible. The outbreak of the present frightful outburst of conflict demolished this erroneous belief – and at the same time sealed the Marxist condemnation of capitalism, whose civilization, based on the exploitation of the wage-earner, bends its historical parabola toward the abyss of bellicose barbarism.
Socialism should have been ready to expect from this solemn theoretical confirmation something better than the practical collapse of the International. But modern socialism has yet to complete itself in the crucible of history, at the fire of its internal conflicts and its own errors in order to rid itself of all the dross that pollutes and embarrasses it....
Classical anti-militarism had foreseen little, far too little, of the situation in which socialists and the working classes would find themselves in the few hours when war went from a potential danger to a reality.
The socialists had the experience of partial crises, for small or colonial wars, such as the Anglo- Boer war, the Russo-Japanese war, the Libyan war... but the conflict between the strongest States in the world, between countries bordering each other and prepared for the use of the most disturbing methods of offence, in the anguished period when the coded telegrams exchanged by governments decide the fate of millions of men, swept all opinions, tendencies, forecasts, intentions into a crisis without comparison. It is all too well known what has occurred. Apart from not having been able to avoid the war – which absolutely did not constitute the failure of socialism – socialists have in the main States, and with few exceptions, fully solidarized with their respective governments bringing to them a most remarkable contribution of moral and material energies, much to the manifest joy of the ruling classes.
Having overturned all pre-existing values and conceptions, this disgraceful conduct was justified by socialists converting to the side of the war not only because of patriotic prejudice which prevents them from doing anything to the detriment of their country thoroughly engaged in a deadly war – whatever the fault or responsibility of the government – but more so by striving to prospect a dualism between the “historical missions” of the two sides in the conflict, which would determine the open collaboration of socialism with one of the two.
Such a distortion of facts occurred in parallel on both sides of the fiery borders, and there is no need to return to the rebuttal of these systems of inaccuracies, lies and prejudices, which unfortunately was superimposed on the real vision of the cataclysm, misleading the masses from the line of opposition and antagonism to the ruling classes.
It is almost undoubted that the various governments, contrary to current opinion, counted on the adhesion of the socialists and that without such certainty they would have been much more cautious in their warlike policy. The German, Austrian, French, Belgian, etc., socialists, for their part, considered it unquestionable that the abandonment of the socialist policy of intransigent opposition to State institutions was negligible harm in the face of the danger of weakening the national cause once war was proclaimed.
The effectiveness of socialist anti-militarism thus stopped at the wide-open thresholds of the temple of Janus.
The great socialist revision to which we are heading will have to heal this fundamental error. The socialists of Italy may as well strive to anticipate some conclusions, faced with the prospect of intervention in the war by the Italian State. To the illusion of some that socialism will retreat into the shadows and orbit of the nation, let us counterpose the conviction that socialism will instead turn to new and closer forms of unity and international action, at the same time that the increased distrust of the possibility of a gradual civil improvement of the present regime will push the proletariat more and more toward revolutionary tactics and tendencies. In all belligerent countries a profound change in the opinion of socialists has already begun. These are beginning to reflect that they have sacrificed too much on the altar of the fatherland, and a trend toward peace and reconstruction of proletarian international relations is emerging.
At this historical moment it would be deplorable if the Italian Socialist Party, in the event of a war, allowed itself to be taken prisoner by the situation, allowed its hands to be tied in any solidarity with the bourgeoisie, sacrificing the logical continuity of its political attitude.
Bourgeois pacifism, a sterile movement and not at all revolutionary, may halt before the unnecessarily opposed war, and remember only the need to save the fatherland. But socialism, anti- militarist because it is anti-bourgeois, must not desist from its action before the outbreak of war, must not allow itself to be bound by patriotic scruples. Let other forces, other social factors, other parties think about the salvation of the nation, if the content of that rather abstract term is known to them. The Socialist Party has and can have no other mission than to save socialism, all the more so today when many are beginning to regret having forgotten it. Italian socialism, in spite of the sad knife-war of old and new adversaries, must, and will know – war or no war – to pass through the fire and ruin holding its red flag high, certain to find tomorrow in solidarity with its attitude the workers of other countries awakened from the bloody sleep of destruction and slaughter.