International Communist Party Against Capitalist Wars

On the tread of time
The Romance of Holy War

(from Battaglia Comunista, issue 13 of 1950)



At the time of the peace of Brest-Litovsk between Bolshevik Russia and the still Imperial Germany, in March 1918, lively polemics arose in the proletarian and revolutionary camp. Was the Russian proletarian class, having overthrown feudalism and capitalism, to achieve peace at any price and liquidate war; or was it to turn the revolutionary victory into a "holy war”, proclaimed to overthrow the German imperial power, and to advance the social revolution throughout Europe? It is strange that, while Marxist communists, the extreme wing of the European and Italian socialist movement, approved and understood the Leninist policy of no more war and the acceptance of the conditions imposed at Brest “without even discussing them”, anarchists and revolutionary syndicalists, even those who had been opposed to the bourgeois war and interventionism since 1914-15, became quite enthusiastic about the slogan and the idea of the “proletarian holy war”. It is strange because, since war is waged with the army, and libertarians reproach Marxists for employing an authoritarian State apparatus to direct the struggle within, it is hard to see how a revolution without State power would be reconciled with a revolution that arms armies to wage real wars. The highest expression of State authority is the existence of the military activity; war against modern armies and with modern means (and there’s no other way to think of it) requires an organism with the highest degree of centralized unity, of absolute discipline, and of hierarchical authority. If for us Marxists it is impossible, for a not too short period of transformation, to entrust the foundation of a non-capitalist and non-mercantile economy to the autonomous initiative of the free federated industrial or agricultural communes, as the libertarian formula demands, and therefore we maintain that it cannot do without the force of the workers’ State and the central direction of the class party, it seems to us much more evidently absurd that this federalism can be the basis of mobilizations and military operations. The time of the bourgeois idea of a war born from a flaming ideal of the masses, conducted by the barefoot sons of armed rage, has been over for a century. In war the methods of organization, of planning from a center, reach the highest peak. If we Marxists too, after the full utilization of all the benefits of modern technology, now a monopoly of the capitalists, see, in the end, a social organization without coercive and repressive interventions, it is certain that the premise of this higher stage of communism is not only the implementation of a vast series of social measures, but above all the decisive overcoming of the era of wars and State armies.

The war is waged by the great centers which possess an immense network of technical and economic resources, by increasingly powerful centers; and this is the tragic lesson of recent times. The wide appeals of irregular formations, of the Resistance, of the patriots, of the maquis and so on, have had as a goal, not a serious shift of the military power relations (because the damage that, although bleeding themselves dry, those movements have done to the “enemy” has been null in relation to the results of the official and regular forces), but rather the political result of emptying the energies of the masses, and repressing the opposition to the filth and abuse that the victors set out to accomplish after victory, in the pure service of the interests of the ruling classes, and in contempt of all the supposed promises of freedom, civilization and justice.

If there is a social fact that will never be spontaneous, it is war, especially modern war. In it we reach the maximum of handling, by a handful of dominators, of passive masses, unconscious, mechanized in a network that destroys any tendency to take the initiative, reducing men to a mass of homicidal automatons. In principle, we Marxists could not exclude that, for the development of the revolution, we must take, like that hard, odious expedient that is the power of the State, even this of war fought with military apparatuses.

It is strange, however, as we were saying, that it excites the libertarians, who want everything and have the illusion of resting on the autonomy of the “human person”. Holy the human person, holy the war; these are expressions of pure bourgeois ideologism, of the dirtiest hypocrisy, and they make us smile. Millions of living people can well be immolated, for the philistine, to the sinister fetish of war: the idea of holy war is linked instead, for us Marxists, not to a war of the future to be ennobled compared to the criminal wars of yesterday and today, but to a greater use of mysticism and fanaticism, which, combined with repression and conscription, once again lead millions of oppressed to give their lives in the service of the exploiters and oppressors.

War, as a positive and fundamental historical fact, cannot be ignored and exorcised, just as democratic cretinism cannot eliminate and exorcise the violent clash of classes: we must therefore see its historical development, not starting from moral exaltations, but with the Marxist method of determinism.

In the Histoire du mouvement ouvrier, by Dolléans, an anarchist, everything is done to throw the position of Marx and Engels in 1870 in a sinister light. The first wrote to the second, on July 20, words of this kind: “The French need a thrashing. If the Prussians win, the centralisation of the state power will be useful for the centralisation of the German working class. German predominance would also transfer the centre of gravity of the workers’ movement in Western Europe from France to Germany... Their predominance over the French on the world stage would also mean the predominance of our theory over Proudhon’s”. On July 31 Engels replied, “My confidence in the military achievements of the Germans grows daily. We really seem to have won the first serious encounter”. And on August 15: “But to magnify anti-Bismarckism into the sole guiding principle on that account would be absurd. In the first place, now, as in 1866, Bismarck is doing a bit of our work, in his own way and without meaning to, but all the same he is doing it”. Marx would later become extremely disturbed because the phrase in his letter about shifting the center of gravity of the labor movement was quoted in the text of the Brunswick Manifesto of the German Socialists, when it should not have been made public.

All this leads to is blaming the crisis of the International on the pride and the spirit of dictatorship of Marx, all aimed at liquidating the “damned Russian” Bakunin. In another quotation, then, Engels also invests the new French republican regime, writing to Marx on September 7, 1870: “Having endured Badinguet for 20 years, having been unable to prevent him from winning 6 million votes against 1½ only six months ago and from stirring them up against Germany without any rhyme or reason, now that the German victories have made them a present of a republicet laquelle!these people demand that the Germans should leave the sacred soil of France without delay, for otherwise there will be guerre à outrance!... I hope that they will all reflect on the matter once more when the first intoxication is past”.

As usual, the great historical question about the revolution, between authoritarians and libertarians, is to be reduced, by those who are not able to set it on its true level (let alone understand it), to a question of personal temperament of noted leaders. Recently they reviewed I don’t know where the thousandth book on Lenin, of which we boast that we have not read the second. Ever since the congresses in London, ever since his sojourns in Switzerland, Lenin is described as the man who insatiably, act by act, systematically prepares the satisfaction of his innate need for power, for command, of his greed to condemn and execute men! Bourgeois science and art, in the same putrescent degree, will search until the maternal womb for the imprint of sadistic hunger for dictatorship of the great leaders, transforming into a series of comics (the only thing these clownish authors and editors are able to write, read by readers with hysterical skin and an atrophied brain) the serene contribution, out of any subjective passion, they gave to the theory of the State of power and dictatorship, in relation to the classes, given by these great leaders to them.

Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Vladimir Lenin, were men who were terribly annoyed by the mere idea of taking office and receiving honors. The first two of them got away with it and their satisfaction is evident, for those who know how to read, in every line of their political and practical manifestations. The third, in a different historical phase, due to the determinism of the facts, was at the head of a State, without anything changing in his simplicity. Explain and rebut on matters of doctrine, lash and reshape all those who lose their way and that, under the pressure of their extreme unconditional conviction and decision to have been created to “sacrifice” themselves in order to direct everything, invert and reverse action to the point of betrayal; explaining and re-explaining to the same comrades and followers to whom at every moment comes a deviationist fever; at a certain point a Lenin decides to do it himself, remaining the same man with the same indescribable smile and infinite good-natured tolerance for the weaknesses, vanities, and continuous nonsense even from the best militants, preserving the same habits of life of the time of misery. His companion Nadezhda Krupskaya, in the Kremlin, was the same as in the fourth-rate boarding houses in Zurich.

There is a tasty anecdote narrated by Wolfe. He could not avoid a few “visits” from bourgeois ladies, wives of socialist leaders, and they talked about cooking. I, Nadezhda said, use the stove, in which I put a single pot with all we have for lunch. Really now! And the cooking time? It depends, was the quiet reply; even six hours, when Vladimir is immersed in work; even ten minutes, when we are too hungry.

This was the man who brooded, according to the imbeciles, the venomous serpent of the thirst for domination. Revolutionary history placed him at the top of the pyramid of dictatorship, which weighed inexorably on the interests, prejudices and hypocrisies of class enemies. That they did not even understand who, in terms of temperament, Lenin was, is the latest proof of the materialistic thesis on power, namely, that there are certain class circles whose elements cannot be convinced by propaganda or constitutional measures, but must be annihilated by force; a no holds barred contest.

This was the man, whom no one ever saw in any uniform, decoration, or badge of power and honor. They had to embalm him first, in order to slap him on a stage.

As for Marx and Engels, just nil is the scandal effect of those quotations, even without being able to integrate them into the real texts.

To make anti-Bismarckism a principle is into trade in a stupid idealism and moralism the method of critical communism which finds the positive causes of historical facts, and whose first verse says: there was nothing more inhuman, fierce and infamous than the formation of capitalism, but this process was not only necessary, in the sense that it was the premise for the development of socialism, but, in the times and places where it was still in progress, and if it depended on us, we, proletarians and socialists, should help it.

The same total abandonment of Marxist ground took place when the struggle of the priest, the war on Wilhelm of Germany, or the war on Hitler, were raised to a prime principle. The same did those who “after enduring Bagnasciuga for twenty years” (in that passage Marx indicates Napoleon III with the derogatory term Badinguet), and “after the Anglo-American victories have made them a the present of the republic – et laquelle! – these people demand, with the policy of the liberation committees, that the Germans should leave the sacred soil of Italy, without delay for which otherwise there will be guerre à outrance!”.


The Holy War did not fool the revolutionary proletarians of the Paris Commune, nor did it fool the Italian socialists of 1914-15.

Unfortunately, it did fool the Italian proletarians after the twenty years of Mussolini, and for the defense of this republic in 1946, and even of the monarchy in 1943!!!

Let us hope that the same fate is not reserved for the proletarians of the future, at the onset of the next conflict between the two wings of yesterday’s holy warmongers.

If the Russian State had not degenerated, and with it the movement of the Communist International founded by Lenin, it would have been clear that the situation of the Second World Imperialist War was not to be faced with holy warmongering. That’s what a vigorous Marxist party, with a steady hand and eye on the thread of time, would proclaim. In 1870 objective analysis could indicate to us – since not the Idea, but Force, is the agent that changes the prospects of history – that Bismarck’s victory over Bonaparte was an accelerating and positive element, far beyond Bismarck’s opinions and wishes, in the process of development of the European class struggle. The period of progressive national wars was not yet over: nevertheless even then in political action we were far from allying ourselves with the Prussian government, and our movement was that of the Commune, against which Bonapartists, French bourgeois republicans, and German militarists, harbored the same hatred. We are mature enough to brand as shameful a defense, as a bourgeois-proletarian bloc, of the “sacred soil of the republic of France”.

This party, on the dictates of Lenin and the socialist left wing, in the 1914-18 war knew enough to brand all sacred-unionisms at once.

This party, in 1917 Russia, set the whole battle to take power (February-October 1917) on the slogan: away from the front, let us liquidate the war; against the slogans of the bourgeois and Mensheviks: war of revolutionary national defense, anti-German holy war. After the conquest of power, the party maintains its program and liquidates the war, accepting the very heavy peace conditions of the Germans. In a detailed exposition of the period between the Russian Revolution and the German Revolution, we will see the stages and reasons for this decisive and precise policy, in which Lenin confronted the impulsiveness of the sentimental advocates of revolutionary war.

This party, in the Second Imperialist War of 1939-45, should equally have advocated the rupture of war policy and action within all States. A Marxist could nevertheless retain the right, without fearing that the usual ideological libertarians would accuse him of sympathizing with a tyrant, to make calculations and investigations into the consequences of a Hitler victory over London and a British collapse. This same Marxist will retains the right, while showing that Stalin’s regime is not, for at least twenty years, a proletarian regime, to consider the useful revolutionary consequences that would have the collapse – wretchedly improbable – of American power, in a possible third war of the States and armies.

The essential thing will be not to make a policy of "holy war” under any circumstances. Such a policy shows, on the thread of time, in the secure memory of the present generation, what its effects and results are. Liberated with the hexaparty committees we all know, and with the waving of white handkerchiefs at the infamous “jeeps of our heart”, the sacred Italian soil, there are no longer any Germans. But the anti-Germans of yesterday, smelling themselves, no longer smell the odor of sanctity. We have the Republic (et laquelle! you said well, don Karl, et laquelle indeed: more pretentious, cowardly and corporatist than the monarchy) and we have the republican opposition, fighting against the unheard-of scandal that the proceeds of capitalist profiteering are a monopoly of the politicians of the majority, while in the CLN the work to guarantee them had been done by all together.

That is why the Italian bourgeoisie freed itself with the holy war from Mussolini, and rightly General Alexander, who stipulated the lease, wanted to clear up the misunderstanding: no offense, rather a cordial handshake.