On the Thread of Time
Marxism or Partisanism
("Sul Filo del Tempo", Battaglia Comunista, n.14‑1949)
At the time of the bourgeois revolutions, the vanguard forces of that class which came to power had their own internationalism, and especially in the fiery period of 1848 – when, moreover, the modern working class was already well established – the insurrections swept from one capital of Europe to another. The revolutionary bourgeois democrats of the various nationalities made frequent contacts, lent each other effective armed support, and there was no lack of theoretical arrangements for a European and world movement of bourgeois democracy. It’s enough to remember the Young Europe movement led by Mazzini, which was parallel to the Young Italy movement and the wide use of patriotic and national mysticism.
A characteristic means of struggle of this period of world conquest by the bourgeoisie was the conspiracy of secret societies and the participation through armed expeditions, of legions of volunteers organized across and within borders, in the struggles that broke out in various countries, mostly in the form of wars of independence.
It is of paramount importance to note that a century ago, this way of conducting the revolutionary struggle, typical of the bourgeois era, was already opposed through a decisive criticism and a very different type of organization and struggle by the first groups of workers and socialists who were going to share the Marxist conception of class. It is enough to reread Engels’s note on the history of the League of Communists premised on Marx’s revelations about the Cologne trial of 1852. The communists in 1848, in the midst of the revolutionary period, were convinced that it was of utmost importance for the proletariat the defeat the feudalist reaction in the various countries, and on the other hand they hoped to graft on the revolutions of Paris and Berlin and other capitals the assault of the working class on the bourgeoisie for the conquest of power. However, even in party circulars they clearly denounced the legionary and "partisan" method of the radical democrats. “At that time (March 1848) the craze for revolutionary legions prevailed in Paris. Spaniards, Italians, Belgians, Dutch, Poles and Germans flocked together in crowds to liberate their respective fatherlands. Since immediately after the revolution all foreign workers not only lost their jobs but in addition were harassed by the public, the influx into these legions was very great... We opposed this playing with revolution in the most decisive fashion. We founded a German communist club, in which we advised the workers to keep away from the legion and to return instead to their homes singly and work there for the movement.”
The wave of crisis of 1848 was followed by a period of consolidation of the bourgeois economy and a pause in political struggles. The feudal reaction was under the illusion of having won politically, but in an analysis in 1850 Marx noted that "the bases of [social] relations are momentarily so secure and so bourgeois, to an extent the reaction ignores. On this all the reactionary attempts to hold back bourgeois development will rebound just as much as will all the ethical indignation and all the enraptured proclamations of the democrats". And Engels further notes: “This cool estimation of the situation, however, was regarded as heresy by many persons, at a time when Ledru-Rollin, Louis Blanc, Mazzini, Kossuth and, among the lesser German lights, Ruge, Kinkel, Gogg and the rest of them were flocking together in London to form provisional governments of the future not only for their respective fatherlands but for the whole of Europe, and when it only remained a matter of obtaining the requisite money from America as a revolutionary loan to consummate at a moment’s notice the European revolution and the various republics which went with it as a matter of course.” This conclusion of this text by Engels, which dates from 1885, is the classic reminder and tribute to the gigantic power of the revolutionary conception of history which we owe to Marx
This is enough to establish that the partisan, refugee and mystic legionary method of the bourgeois revolution is opposed by the workers’ revolution by a very different sort of internationalism, that of the organization into a class party territorially present wherever capital exploits its wage slaves, a unique party for all countries because it is not organized on the premise of the recognition of national states and popular constitutions, a party in an unceasing struggle with the existing bourgeois institutions both in theory and in the practical battle.
The demobourgeois and partisan method, according to which every movement against the existing order in a given country can’t be expected to fight unless it’s based on the support of a regime from across the borders from which it can obtain arms and aid and, in case of defeat, a refuge for inspired soliloquies and puppet governments, has never ceased to undermine with its corrupting seductions the construction of the international proletarian class movement.
The Italian literary tradition possesses Carducci’s famous excerpt about the young men, sacred spring of Italy, who avenged Rome and Mentana by falling victorious over the gentle land of France. In the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, although it is very debatable whether modern democracy would advance with Moltke’s bayonets or with those of Napoleon the Small, the Italian Garibaldians were as volunteer legions at Dijon where they won a minor tactical victory over the Prussians.
When it came to consolidating the socialist critique of nationalism and patriotism, the legionary episodes of the Greek war of liberation against the Turks at the end of the century caused us no little annoyance. They shouted at us in polemics that in Damokos, along with the democrats of all countries, there were also anarchists, and we patiently explained many times that we did not consider the anarchists to be any sort of revolutionary leftist model for Marxists.
In the war of 1914 one can think that the dominant fact was not a choice of the "democrats" of the whole world for one of the two sides. In Austria and Germany the socialists as indeed every other leftist parliamentary party supported the regime and the war. We had already reached the imperialist type of modern war, now generalized throughout the capitalist world. There was a reactionary and feudal regime at stake, Russia, but it was in the camp of the great democracies of the West, those that have always harbored in their generous hearts a partisanism for freedom. In London and Paris they could not dream of organizing legions against the allied Tsar, who was fully engaged in fighting against the battering rams of the Kaiser’s armies. But the Russian Revolution broke out anyway. The position of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in the face of the various opportunist groups of democratic and socialistoid Russian émigrés does not need to be recalled, for its theory is the same as that of Marx with respect to Mazzinianism and Kossuthism, in practice he finally did away with them all, right alongside the Czarists and the bourgeois.
Where partisanism has made its great rehearsals for its ruinous revival this century has been in the Spanish Civil War. Of legionarism in the Great War we have our own version of it here in Italy, with the D’Annunzians. A fact that for Marxist analysis is linked to the vast needs of professional militarism brought about by modern wars, especially in the middle classes, and that leads directly to many of the forms of fascist totalitarianism.
We saw in Spain the two legionarisms, red and black, which both took partisan forms; that is to say, military corps supported and maintained with modern technology and the appropriate expense, without the states appearing in an official way, see for example Russia on one side, Italy on the other.
It seemed like the clash of two worlds, but it all ended with a police operation complacently supported by the great empires of the Western democracies, and with Moscow maintaining an ambiguous attitude except for a serious disruption of the international revolutionary movement, leading to the ideological and organizational disruption and sacrifice of good and bold men, all in the interest and advantage of capitalism.
All this led directly to the defeatist situation, from the proletarian point of view, of the Second World War. While after the First World War all the efforts of the movement based on the communist victory in Russia had been focused on the formation of an international class party which rose up to threaten the bourgeoisie in all countries, the Stalinists liquidated the class and party approach and together with a hundred petty-bourgeois parties overthrew all the forces which unfortunately controlled in the legion-esque movement.
The revolutionary militants were turned into adventurers of a sort that was barely different from that of the fascists in their early days; instead of party men, guardians of the Marxist orientation and of the firm autonomous organization of the parties and of the International, they became general corporals and operetta colonels. They ruined the class orientation of the proletariat, making it recoil fearfully for at least a century, and they called all this progressivism. They convinced the workers of France, Italy and all other countries that the class struggle, which is offensive by nature, with its deliberate and declared initiative, is carried out in a defensive manner, in a resistance, in useless and bloody hemorrhaging against organized capitalist forces which were only overcome and expelled by other forces which are no less regular and no less capitalist, while the method adopted completely prevented the inclusion, during the transition, of an attempt of an independent class attack by the workers’ forces. History will show that such attempts were not lacking, such as the one in Warsaw during which the Soviets waited a few impassive kilometers away for the German army to restore the classical order, but they were attempts condemned by the demopartisan diversion of class energies.
On the difficult path of the socialist working class, the opportunist degeneration of 1914-18, victoriously beaten by Bolshevism, which is to say, by Marxism in its true conception, was on the same level as the partisan degeneration of 1939-1945.
In the first crisis we managed to return to our specific method of struggle by founding the great autonomous revolutionary parties. After the second, the proletariat is still under the threat of a new partisan infection.
The partisan is one who fights for another, whether he does it out of faith and duty or for money matters little.
The militant of the revolutionary party is the worker who fights for himself and for the class to which he belongs.
The fate of the revolutionary recovery depends on being able to raise a new insurmountable barrier between the class method of party action and the demobourgeois method of partisan struggle.