On the Thread of Time
The Planet is Small
Battaglia Comunista, no.23 of 1950
«The discovery of America, the rounding of the Cape, opened up fresh ground for the rising bourgeoisie. The East-Indian and Chinese markets, the colonisation of America, trade with the colonies, the increase in the means of exchange and in commodities generally, gave to commerce, to navigation, to industry, an impulse never before known, and thereby, to the revolutionary element in the tottering feudal society, a rapid development.
«Modern industry has established the world market, for which the discovery of America paved the way. This market has given an immense development to commerce, to navigation, to communication by land. This development has, in its turn, reacted on the extension of industry; and in proportion as industry, commerce, navigation, railways extended, in the same proportion the bourgeoisie developed, increased its capital, and pushed into the background every class handed down from the Middle Ages.
«The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed... industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe... In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations.
«The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves.
«In one word, it creates a world after its own image.
«...it has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilised ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on the West.
«In the condition of the proletariat, those of old society at large are already virtually swamped... modern subjection to capital, the same in England as in France, in America as in Germany, has stripped him of every trace of national character. Law, morality, religion, are to him so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests.
«The working men have no country...”
«National differences and antagonism between peoples are daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world market, (and yet: “The bourgeoisie finds itself involved in a constant battle [...]; at all time with the bourgeoisie of foreign countries”). The supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster... In proportion as the antagonism between classes within the nation vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end».
This text, read and quoted countless times, is none other than the Manifesto of the Communist Party. Ultrasecular text. Drafted by the young Marx and Engels, it has for many years been talked about enough by cohorts of “modernizers”.
To them, to whom it has been a nightmare to update, it’s no longer the case to stop and ask which of these developments mentioned in the above-quoted passages has gone against the grain in today’s world.
In the various editions of Capital, from 1867 onward, the elderly Marx and Engels never thought of doing away with two absolutely cardinal, essential and irrevocable notes of the text of the Manifesto. Last one: "What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers" and the one interspersed between the passages we have recalled: “Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones”. This wretched bourgeois epoch is not over yet, and these central theses, if undoubtedly among the most striking, if on many occasions they exposed the pacifogutlessness of the cowardly careerist politicians and the recent hierarchs of the proletarian movement, are truer and more powerful than ever.
Older, and alone, still Engels repeatedly retraces the lines of the big picture and rewrites before the eyes of bourgeois society what is at the same time, by a method incomprehensible to the believers of traditional faiths, be those revelation or Enlightenment, both its highest apologia, and a declaration of war to the death.
At each stroke the central concept returns that bourgeois expansion stops at nothing. Substituting feverish activity and boundless recklessness for “medieval armchair scholasticism”, free of scruples and no longer subject to the fear of either God or the devil, bourgeois plunder undertakes “expeditions that put in the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades”.
Just as the hardened hunter does not have his heart moved if the birds of lands virgin of human trampling come to rest on the barrels of his gun, the forerunners of capitalism have stopped at nothing, at the cost of massacring unarmed native, peaceful peoples and tribes, to the very last groups of human beings living in some fertile corner of the world in communion of goods and consumption.
The accounts of colonial cruelties are an essential part of all the texts of Marxism, and they mark the stages of capitalist advance, hammering home the historical law that the bourgeois class, as long as it exists, will not give up trampling down the last patches of the world which does not live according to its way, the last primitive, patriarchal or feudal societies, and with all the greater lust the first countries where the proletariat, its victim, succeeds in breaking the limits of its domination, of its own mode of production and life.
«The modern history of capital dates from the creation in the 16th century of a world-embracing commerce and a world-embracing market», Marx says at the beginning of the second section of Capital. The expansion of the world market and the colonial system are again pointed out as the basis of the spread of manufacturing. The connections between the introduction of machinery and colonial expansion are shown just as clearly. In the final part Marx recalls how the world market, created by the discoveries of the late 15th century, was the premise of industrial capitalist genesis. Columbus had his part in all this, and it’s not without reason that he’s quoted in Ch. III on currency for saying, in a letter from Jamaica in 1503, «Gold is a wonderful thing! Whoever possesses it is lord of all he wants. By means of gold one can even get souls into Paradise».
The Marxist historical construction gravitates to this inseparable pair: capitalism – world economy.
Engels, in Antidühring, repeats, «The great geographical discoveries, and the colonisation following upon them, multiplied markets and quickened the transformation of handicraft into manufacture. The war did not simply break out between the individual producers of particular localities. The local struggles begot in their turn national conflicts, the commercial wars of the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. Finally, modern industry and the opening of the world market made the struggle universal, and at the same time gave it an unheard-of virulence».
A hundred other passages would lead us back to this central thesis: modern capitalism has as its essential historical character that it cannot tolerate a different social regime anywhere in the inhabited world.
Anyone who, after Engels’ senile works, is still not up to date on this basic point, having seen two other world wars in the twentieth century, is either a beautiful idiot or a beautiful rotter.
Lenin’s whole work, for which here it’s enough to mention Imperialism, then comes to draw from the events of the late 19th and early 20th centuries confirmation of the internationality of capitalism, and to define history as that of the struggle for “economic territory”, for the "partition of the world."
In the political battle, Lenin proceeds to attack the betrayal of the leaders who replaced internationalism with the subjugation of socialist parties to national ends. Lenin explains the phenomenon Marxistically, as being a result of capital’s purchase of labor leaders through the resources that imperialist exploitation across the land makes available to the big metropolitan bourgeoisies.
In the situation of acute tension that followed the revolution in Russia and the end of World War I, the whole question is placed by Lenin in the reverse: organization of the world economy by the proletariat – that is, on the behalf of capitalism.
The First Congress of the Third International is held in Moscow in March 1919. Here, too, there’s hundreds of documents for us to cite. Let us limit ourselves to that first manifesto to the world proletariat.
«Seventy-two years have passed since the Communist Party announced its program to the world in the form of a Manifesto written by the greatest teachers of the proletarian revolution, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels...
«Today, when Europe is covered with debris and smoking ruins, the most infamous incendiaries are busy seeking out the criminals responsible for the war.
«For many years socialism predicted the inevitability of imperialist war, seeing its causes in the insatiable greed of the possessing classes of the two chief camps and, in general, of all capitalist countries». The Manifesto thus exposes the warmongering faults of the bourgeoisies that claimed to be aggressed, and especially of the British. It shows that the war was the end of all lying delusions regarding the “perfecting of capitalism”. Capitalism “is no longer capable of fulfilling its cardinal economic functions otherwise than by means of blood and iron”. “If [the opportunists were] be obeyed by the working masses, capitalist development would celebrate its restoration in new, more concentrated and more monstrous forms on the bones of many generations, with the prospect of a new and inevitable world war».
The modernizers have had this second war! And how can they dare not see that today’s perspective is the same as then? «Shall all toiling mankind become the bond slaves of a victorious world clique who, under the name of the League of Nations and aided by an ‘international’ army and ‘international’ navy, will plunder and strangle in one place and cast crumbs elsewhere, while everywhere shackling the proletariat, with the sole object of maintaining their own rule; or shall the working class of Europe and of the advanced countries in other parts of the world themselves take in hand the disrupted and ruined economy in order to assure its reconstruction on socialist foundations?
«It is possible to shorten the present epoch of crisis only by means of the proletarian dictatorship...»
«The bourgeois world order has been sufficiently lashed by socialist criticism. The task of the international communist party consists in overthrowing that order and erecting in its place the edifice of the socialist order».
Regarding these statements of criticism and attack, our opponents may be allowed to say that defeat has since passed. They may well say so, until the red dictatorship reduces them to silence. But those who will boast so much, can and must together boast of the defeat of Engels and Marx, of Trotsky and Lenin, the debunking of the Manifestos of 1848 and 1919.
The real danger lies in those, who claiming to speak on the behalf of those great teachers, and to go back to
those tablets of stone, say that they have only updated them to the new historical situation of 1950, and lead
the masses of today’s proletariat on paths even more defeatist than those referenced by the Communist
International, when it unmasked forever the “perfecters” of capitalism.
In Warsaw, the Congress met and the “Partisans for Peace” movement was officially founded. The Congress and movement weren’t “closed”, but rather open to all species of political and ideological zoology, right down to the priests and quasi-priests of all the most bizarre and quaking sects. Pretending, with a world record bluff, impressive in this world of gossipy bragging, to represent half a billion adherents, half a thousand publicity, success and career hunters gathered, and half a hundred or so speakers followed one another on the platform, saying the most disparate and bewildering things randomly and senselessly; not excluding some who double-crossed and double-committed who caused a ruckus; from this should arise the proof of the broad basis of the agitation, which democratically would be accessible to the most diverse elements and the most varied directives, offering to all even expensive journeys by airlift! We drink a lot these days, but... take a hike!
It’s impossible to follow any thread in such disparate and disjointed language of politicians, parliamentarians, literati, artists, scientists, fortune tellers, sportsmen, thought tourists and vanity globetrotters, flocked from all corners of the world, and quite a few visibly only made eloquent by the well-watered banquets; let us keep to the few who turn out to be clearly carded, and to the resolution spread all over the world as that “which Congress shall vote on at the end of the proceedings”. What an impeccable program!
The main figure in the Congress, or at least in the hierarchies of the movement, seems to have been that Ilya Ehrenburg (1) of whom so much has been said, at first as the first Russian political journalist, then as a disgraced deviant who dared shy away from the party line, now finally as a great world leader, an obvious trustee of the “Communist” parties loyal to Moscow.
The theme of the speech was that peace is well possible, since nothing prohibits, in our contemporary age, the coexistence of all countries whether they adhere to a capitalist or socialist system, without them getting in each other’s way, since “the Planet is so big”.
The two areas into which the “planet” will be divided by a special commission, will not need to make war with each other since a simple “competition by ideological means” will take place between them instead.
The perspective of world history is easily understood by the partisans of this peace. Some time from now, in front of a carpet, which may then be that of the UN to which all appeals go, we will see two champions of the opposing camps, let us say a Mr. Ehrenburg and a Mr. Pearson, now that the press is the fourth power, and as such occupies the place of the militia among the ideological armies. Having taken stock of their respective deferential campaigns of conviction, one of the two will admit that the strength of the other’s arguments was superior, and will politely beg him to move on to also organise his own “area” with the system for which he holds the patent. Only then, out of the two billion poor “delegating” men, will we be given to know whether we live in the world capitalist order or world socialist order, with a well-founded probability that it will be the former, but, well, this time “perfected”.
That the regime for which Ehrenburg writes for can and will co-exist with the regime for which Pearson or whoever writes for is something we can admit as being trivially plausible.
We are only interested in seeing what’s left standing of Marx’s and Lenin’s system when we give these theses: the planet is large, so large that modern capitalism can limit its expansive thrust to only a fraction of it – the contention between those organisms known as States, or between those organisms known as the social classes and their parties, can dissolve without material force, in a contest of words.
Great Leader Ehrenburg! Head of the pacifist school! Where did Thorez fish you out of the Moscow committee? In the Cheka at least one of those who used to read the Manifesto and propagate its ideas must have remained: we used to call him Koba (2). Everything was put at the disposal of new and upcoming leaders from no one knows where, no one knows when, to confess themselves Marxists; perhaps even after the honorable Vice-President Nenni.
You had the right to make a mess out of the texts of 1919 and 1848 but, sent on forced marches on the most noble path of reconstruction, you didn’t stop at even that, but revised everything, updated everything, repudiated everything of a simultaneously very recent and very ancient path; at a nod of yours the restless march of the animal man of today will pause on the bark of the earth, a march that in a thousand forms of myth and literature was recognized by science as the supreme fact of history and life.
Is the planet really that big, Great Leader Ehrenburg? Is it so big that you carry in your yellow leather bag the signatures of a quarter of its occupants? Is it so large that a radio dispatch was enough to move the speakers of your dictates from Sheffield to Warsaw along a twenty-five degree arc of parallel in twelve hours? But the planet, for you, is not even round, it is an indefinite plane whose edges will never be reached and will remain in the fumes of legends like the course of the mysterious circular River Okeanos of the early Greeks or Horace’s terris ultima Thule. You have managed to mobilize even old naive Albert Einstein, and made him swallow the limitlessness of the planet, instead of having him tell you that today the surface on which we walk is not only curved, but so is, according to new scientific doctrines, all the space of the cosmos; for it, too, we return to the starting point; and if Columbus calculated, albeit too small, the radius of the planet, we try today to calculate the radius of the universe and understand its infinitude differently, as we do not believe that which the early nomads attributed to the desert that showed itself boundless to their gaze.
Let us go slower and review the bowling pins knocked down in a row by the throwing of the Ehrenburgian ball. A so-called recent science, Geopolitics, is in vogue. It seeks to study the geography of the planet in its incessant changes as a result of man’s sojourn and work. It is a branch of science that has realized that the laws of historical facts are not discovered in the traces they have left in the individual’s brain but in the actual physics of ponderable objects. Americans, Russians, Germans, who cook it up according to the orders of superiors, nevertheless report to a master who wrote around 1919, the English geographer Mackinder. “Moreover”, he wrote, “the map of the world had hardly been sketched before claims to the political ownership of all the dry land had been pegged out. Whether we think of the physical, economic, military, or political interconnection of things on the surface of the globe, we are now for the first time presented with a closed system”. The bourgeois learns from Marxism, and the ostensibly proletarian leaders throw it out!
For Mackinder, followed by Soviet geographer Mikhailov, also on record but not with Ilya’s yellow card, a syllogism unfolds: Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; who rules the World-Island commands the world.
The World-Island is Eurasia, the ancient continent should you exclude Africa; the cradle of the first humans.
The Heartland is Central Asia, the area of the great inland seas with their rivers not communicating with the Ocean, the Amu Daria, the Sir Daria, the Volga, the Ural, and besides the basins of these, the high ones of the great Siberian rivers flowing to the Arctic, the Obi, the Jenissei, the Lena. Sheltered to the south by the Roof of the World, the Himalayas, to the north by the ice pack and great distances, on the sides by the immense territory separating it from the Oceans now circumnavigated in every direction, the Heartland appears impregnable to those who consider the manpower, the potential man-machines, at the time of the end of the WW1. Minus a few fragments to Tibet, Manchuria and Afghanistan, even then the Heartland was all Russian.
Today, the geopoliticians of the institutes in Truman’s payroll bring in combat aircraft and atomic bombs, and move the Heartland to the polar cap, where the last confrontation would take place, and for control of which a silent struggle is underway.
The Warsaw leaders do not move the Heartland, but rather abolish it. They then invite this heartless world to reap their heartfelt sentimental move.
Moving back in time over the ruins of all the geopolitics of the two hemispheres, they pound hard on the manifestos of the Moscow International, and cross out, having legitimate hierarchical power, both the destruction of the world bourgeois order and the erection of the communist one.
Having thus emasculated Lenin, they throw below the construction of Marx and Engels. But it would be little to have sabotaged it only as a program of struggle and victory of the world proletarian class. We must also make mincemeat of the impressive historical implementations of modern capitalism, the indispensable platform of revolutionary edification. Alongside Lenin we cried renegade to those who “perfected” him; these Bernsteins and Kautskys of today instead make him worse, indeed dismantle him altogether in the new and great things he did.
The partisanism of the leaders unhesitatingly severs the thousand and one threads that the bourgeoisie knew how to tighten around the planet, with the wake of ships, the routes of the great explorers, the steel of the rails, the whirlpools of propellers and the gases of jet machinery, with the aerial wires and submarine cables of the telegraph, with the beams and trains of Hertzian waves.
On the face of Columbus, who desperately begged for few means from the powerful of the time; a few doubloons of gold to open, not the gates of Paradise as it turned out, but those of the mysterious Orient, repeat the sneer of the “geopoliticians” of Salamanca who scoffed at the idea of going around the planet convinced that one would fall head over heels. Europe’s Ilya and Nenni have the same horror of circling the antipodes, stunned by the risk of having to find their heads instead of their feet, with which they reason.
Already the “feudal” Charles the Fifth acknowledged that he owed the bourgeois Columbus the boast that over his kingdoms the sun never set. Not very well versed in theory and letters, the other bourgeois Garibaldi left quite a good phrase: socialism is the sun of the future! The Warsaw leaders make the sun of the future set in the sewers of prostitutes of pen-for-hireism.
Even before Columbus, another unconscious forerunner of bourgeois glories, Dante, wrote in poetic terms about the greatness of the race to the limits of the planet. The pagan Odysseus, shoved into the hell of the Christian God for the crime of swindling our Trojan ancestors, is by the poet invited to narrate his end, left in the mystery of a final journey with no return. And the Greek hero recounts in a not-to-be-forgotten passage the voyage of the little ship beyond the Strait of Gibraltar, where the reactionary Hercules, chief of Jupiter’s palace guards, “set up his boundary stones / that men might heed and never reach beyond”, like a prehistoric Ehremburg. Turning his prow to the South and the West, Ulysses cajoles his companions, as Columbus was to do two hundred years after Alighieri’s writing, in terms that could not but be mystical, but which reflect the millennial real historical power of the drive to adventure: born we were not to live like brutes, but to follow virtue and knowledge! They proceed forward through the storms, “until the sea again closed—over us”.
Man had not yet discovered the sail, and Ulysses’ companions “made wings out of our oars in a wild flight” (3). In 1950, the journalist Ehremburg has turned the supersonic jet-plane into a cul-de-jatte cartwheel.
The current proponents of the 1930 Moscow-type so called Marxism-Leninism have authorized themselves to make a mess of every position of doctrine and every faith, are unscrupulous in the face of principles, and have put slight-of-hand at the core of everything. If from the Heartland they would fan the squadrons of atomic bombers, they would be less chilling than when they issue the torpid invitation to ideological dueling.
The cunning, callous Odysseus, winner of wars by the power of deception where Achilles’ spear had failed, becomes, according to their argument, with his uppity overreaching in order to traverse the planet, just some dumbass.
But the Warsaw dove is more trojan than the Trojan horse.
When the proletariat of all countries from West to East has accepted the belief that capitalist expansion may have a sort of geopolitical limit, across which Marx and Lenin’s revolution will be replaced by peaceful dialogue, its defeat and servitude will be reaffirmed for generations to come.
Marx saw capitalism forge the planet in its own image, will the workers of the world allow the ultimate traitors to forge a capitalism in their own image, pretending as they do to hypocritically find the planet big enough?
Or will they know how to shout to the prostitutes-of-the-pen who served any side before they became party leaders and congressional leaders: the planet is small, to the point that you can walk around it while standing up, but, from Sheffield to Warsaw, from the Arctic pole to the Antarctic, cheekier and more maintained than you, one just ends up banging their face straight against the ground?
1. Noted war journalist for Stalinist Russia during WW2.
2. Young Stalin’s nickname.
3. Dante’s Inferno, Canto 26.