International Communist Party Against Capitalist Wars

On the Thread of Time
  Shall Stenterello Leave?

Battaglia Comunista, no.3 of 1951


Pippetto (1) thought it over for 294 days, and then went to war.

Politically, Pippetto was no imbecile, but militarily he did not have “le physique du rôle”. Not only did he bear no comparison with the warriors of old, and would have cut a curious figure had he attempted to don the armor of Cangrande or Ettore Fieramosca. However, when we appeared naked before the draft board, the carabiniere in charge explained to us that they had lowered the lowest height by a centimeter, so that Pippetto wouldn’t have to give up a safe career, albeit in the infantry.

However the measure of a man is not how tall he is, military technique had come a long way since the Middle Ages. Pippetto was a serious person, he studied with care; didn’t get carried away by the greek fret on his cap, and he earned a nice epithet for himself: the soldier-king.

He who boasted of having made the decision to go to war on the 294th day of the European conflict – and it was “a glorious May” – also had a monopoly on the use of adjectives. Gabriele D’Annunzio, however, didn’t like the term, “soldier”. Which certainly doesn’t have its root in the Latin word miles, and does not respond to the definition of someone who goes off to war either to amuse himself or out of civic obligation. Soldier comes from soldo, that is, from the pay received by the mercenary, whose profession it is to fight; and who hires himself out to the highest bidder. It therefore expresses venality; and Gabriele fashioned for himself the term “Poet-Hero”, when somebody dared to call him “Poet-Soldier”. The Hero, as everyone knows, offers himself for free.

Quite a few would go, it has to be said. As infantry corporal, another simple man would go, without removing his pince-nez and without using his poor eyesight as a pretext for not going, as was the lowly practice of some whom nature had not endowed with a heroic spirit: this man was Leonida Bissolati, a socialist who had sunk into reformism and patriotism, who, by paying the ultimate price, only added to the negative significance of his gradual departure from the revolutionary politics of his youth. Some from the extreme left also set off to war, and died just as resolutely, such as Filippo Corridoni; many others went off like Pippetto, including the most famous one of them all, who didn’t die but was injured in a training accident: whether by evading military service, or soaked in blood, a traitor remains a traitor. The good Scalarini drew a cartoon for Avanti! with two characters having the same face but different clothes, with the caption: The socialist Mussolini, shot by Mussolini the corporal of the Bersaglieri.

Pippetto, to go back to him, against whom we cannot actually hurl the classic slogan “We get armed, you go to war”, should really have taken action on 4 August 1914, in honour of a signature: the signature, that is, on the treaty of the triple alliance with Austria and Germany, founded for the clear purpose of participation in the struggle between the two groups fighting for hegemony in Europe. But there was no marching off to war as stipulated by the signature; there would have been strong protest actions to a war against France and England; ranging from left-wing monarchists to anarchists, everyone would have refused the mobilization order; and the pacifist theorists of political struggle, such as Turati, did not hesitate to state unreservedly that they would respond to such a declaration of war, and among the first to do so, with an urban insurrection.

Those days, so often recounted, would pass, and little by little the “satisfaction of having avoided the massacre” mutated – as it had always been the case – into an irresistible urge to make war, into an agitation for intervention against Austria.

“Conquered or conqueror, I will remember you” – the terrible telegram sent from Berlin did not prevent the constitutional monarch from cautiously following the course of events: Catholics and Giolittians opposed the new policy, by means of parliamentary maneuvers, but they explicitly declared they would never stand in the way of anti-German mobilization. The Socialist Party, which had only a few, unimportant pens brought away by Corporal Benito in October 1914, was the only concern. Would the Socialists subvert mobilization and the war, or would they be content just to disapprove of it?

On 19 May in Bologna, the Party leadership, the Parliamentary Group and the Trade Union Confederation discussed whether to mount a general strike against mobilization. From then on, an extreme left would insist that only the party, and not the deputies and union leaders, should decide on the political problem, rebuking them not for fearing the action would fail, but for fearing it would succeed. While the majority hesitated, the honest voice of Turati replies from the extreme right of the party that this is true; he recognizes the organic logic of the revolutionary defeatist position, but he openly condemns, with patriotic arguments, the consequences that any sabotage would have while the army was moving towards the frontier.

Despite the Italian socialists, Pippetto went. With sufficient firmness and a good dose of luck he stopped the flight from Caporetto; and yet again Turati prayed with him to the gods of the Fatherland hovering over the Piave and the Grappa; the naif youth of the Left, if they could, would have entreated the ghost of Marx to ensure that the shame of defencism, up to voting for war credits and Ministries of Union Sacrée, would not befall on Italian Socialism as well.

This series of historical phases caused the Italian bourgeoisie to falter somewhat, but taught it quite a bit; its ability to learn new approaches when faced with new events never having been lacking. Unfortunately, the proletarian leaders do not lack this ability either, quickly learning all kinds of things. War always finds one half of Italy wanting it and the other half not wanting it; before long the first half becomes neutralist and the second half wants war turned upside down; all of this means increased risk for the great political and economic business interests involved in the war. Two halves of Italy, though, does not mean two halves of all Italians: 99% of them did not want war in any shape or form, but it all happens in the other one percent: which indeed is “Italy”, in our language: hierarchies, bureaucracy, organizational and party cadres, various political representations… The bourgeoisie, and we won’t go into discussing this here either, devoted itself to endowing itself with a single hierarchy. When the second war finally broke out, it had it.

It’s very strange; this time as well 284 days would go by, ten less than in 1914-1915. There was, understandably, the ninety-nine percent of the 43 million (and 8 million bayonets) who demanded nothing more than to stay at home. Among those who were active politically there were undoubtedly those who favoured the war and the ‘Pact of Steel’ commitment, and had the whip hand: steel, it seems, turned out to be more malleable than expected. There were, moreover, those who supported the enemy, although they couldn’t speak out, apart from a few of them abroad. They grumbled and fretted in the shadows. Immediately, as always, the pro-English and pro-French democratic left, of which Catholics had come to be a decisive part, “put aside Voltaire’s Mahomet (2). A short while later the Communists linked up with Russia. They had to wait to know which way to go for quite a while, and were left counting the days: on September 28, 1939 Stalin stipulated the pact of friendship and delimitation of borders with Germany, and on June 22, 1941, the first skirmishes with the Germans took place. Benito pondered, Pepito pondered.

In any case, if Corporal Mussolini had set off to war on May 24, First Marshal of the Empire Mussolini set off on June 10: they always go, in the end. Likewise, on December 8, 1941, off went Hirohito, and sensing the commotion, off went Delano as well.

Pippetto, before signing up to the mobilisation, must have once again reflected on what the costs of further telegrams from Berlin would be; by now he had learned that the defeated are unable to remember anyone, ever since modern civilization had appropriated, by assimilating them, the ethical mores of Christianity and bourgeois liberalism. He sat in the Quirinale palace, pondering how a king of constitutional tradition could insert himself into a strike of patriots and moderates against the ongoing war; into that difficult historical operation which has been called “resistance”.

The elegant maneuver was this, then: I now pass over to the other side, glorious tradition of a dynasty and a people. We weren’t even neutral. On June 10, 1940, from “non-belligerence” to war. July 25, 1943, change of marshal (3), but “the war goes on”. September 8, 1943: from war to peace: armistice signed by Pippetto and hasty flight to Pescara. In a second period Italy will move from peace to war again, but this time against the Germans. Italy? We’re willing to admit that we are all part of it, from the Vetta d’Italia to the tip of Cala Maluk in Lampedusa; but knowing who actually holds Italy in their pocket is another matter entirely. Up to that point it had passed through countless hands, always all in one piece, willingly or unwillingly, grumbling or resistant. From this point things get a bit tangled. The Germans drop down as far as Salerno and reinstate Benito in official power; the Americans arrive from the South and place back in power – freshly sanctified by Palmiro (4) – good old Pippetto, or his son at least. In the Italian Social Republic, up north, the legal duty is to “go off to war”, the moral political duty, they say, is to resist: effective for all those whose beliefs more or less align with the not small circle which consists of: Pacelli, Churchill, Truman, De Gaulle, Spaak, Stalin, and so on and so forth. In the South the duty is, for a while, neutrality, and the ethical duty is to voluntarily enlist with the Allies, until democratic Italy, formerly Roman, still monarchical “declares war on Germany”. Off we go again: the event this time is so big that we are caught off guard, the date is not recorded in our historical culture and we can no longer count the days: this roller-coaster of memorable events just stops at too many stations. To arrive finally, Pippettically, at Victory station, look how brave we are: May 9, 1945. Infallible recipe for all departures. As a citizen on the call to arms lists, you have seen them all, these departures, and you have a rich experience: the outbreak of war on August 4, the Glorious May, Munich, Danzig, the twelfth hour and V-day.

Know what to do. Know that everyone will remember you.


The question looms yet again: shall we go? If the world goes up in flames again, will we spend three hundred days again singing chants, as in the two previous times; or will we hear the courteous invitation: gentlemen, please get onto the troop train?

What then is the imperative? We do not mean to speak of the imperative of the carabiniere, that strange being who sometimes carries out the orders of the Head of Government, Minister for the Interior, whoever; and sometimes puts him into jail. We are talking about the historical, categorical, ethical, political and civil imperative, and we let us clear our throats. Since it is a duty to get back to the “Fact”, which we have had the honor of briefly explaining above, in the light of… the Philosophy of Law.

From a strictly legal standpoint, as of August 4, 1914, assuming that the legal and contractual arrangements at the international scale were not mere “chiffons de papier” (5), and the Triple Alliancist mobilization order had been given, the citizen had to go. What was there to object to? The constitution was there, the elections were there, the legal government was there, the treaty was there with all wax seals, the king and the district carabiniere’s oil lamp were on the same constitutional level: so go. And yet, if as the oracle of Historical and Civic Duty we had listened not just to any dumbass, but Filippo Turati himself, a supporter of legal means of political and social agitation, opponent of the use of violence, and enemy of every dictatorship and every coup de force which parties use to get the unconvinced to listen to reason, he would have said: don’t show up, don’t go, desert, start a riot, shoot the cops, overthrow the Triple Alliance government.

Not even Turati though: it would have sufficed to consult a revived Cavallotti, worse, an Orlando, chair of constitutional law. And so?

The Triple Alliance war did not take place and this wonderful accomplishment was not recognised for what it was; there was the anti-Triple Alliance war instead, and we already know what happened there: everyone obeyed. This time legal and considerations procedures perfectly coincided with ethical considerations; at most, it was permissible to think, until the midnight of the 23rd, that it would have been better not to go to war, but once the marching orders were sent out, no one was to argue. The war is legal, it’s beautiful, it’s democratic, and it’s holy all at the same time. Transeat (6).

Years pass and there are new dates. October 28, 1922. Jurists and philosophers are divided into two camps. On one side not only is everything fine, but the new Fascist government has all its papers in order and, above all, the agreement of the entire Italian people, unified and oblivious to party divisions; on the other side, the new power is radically denied any legitimacy, and even more so later, after the crimes of 1924 and the emergency laws of 1926. The State government is illegal, it had been brought to power by violating both the constitution and the sovereign will of the people, and Pippetto, by tearing up the draft decree of the state of siege demanded by Badoglio, had messed up regarding both philosophy and jurisprudence.

Let us consult monarchists like Agnelli, Albertini, Amendola, not to mention republicans, socialists and eventually even Populars, and we shall hear that the orders of the government, of the police, of the General Staff if it comes to that, are outside of the Law: you shall not obey.

Once the war has begun, and as long as the government, police and military authority de facto hold all the territory, and anyone who refuses to go is shot as a deserter in front of the enemy; but throughout all this political banditry, it is not only lawful, but a duty to rebel and to organize oneself into formations of “patriots” or “partisans”. Thus the followers of all those parties (and we keep referring to those who were non-revolutionary, non anti-constitutional on principle) are invited not only to take part in armed struggle and the killing of opponents, but specifically to take the huge risks that distinguish the irregular from the soldier forced into service: you won’t be taken prisoner, if you’re overpowered and caught you’ll be shot on the spot.

Officers, magistrates, parsons, and even policemen, not only did this – and this is to be recognized – but they pretended it morally, and at times forcibly.

When in two parts of the national territory there were two de facto governments at war with each other, and each of them, in the light of law, defined the other as a rebel government, there were only two positions the individual could take: that of deserter, and thus shootable – or combatant, and thus shootable. And not just shootable only during combat, as in any national or civil war, but “legally” id est put up against a wall.

The conclusion seems obvious: philosophize all you like, but if such a legal situation may be accepted, it cannot be imposed.

The conscription law places on the individual citizen a grave burden without compensation, that of bearing arms to defend the State. Such a burden in ancient societies was, logically, a class burden: the Roman slave did not go to war, whereas the free citizen, who participated in the State and received corresponding benefits, did. The medieval serf did not go to war, the lord went in his stead, and also, when there was a threat, was obliged to defend the field on which the serf was slogging away. If other combatants served, they were hired, not only for pay, but also thanks to certain agreements more or less in keeping with a decent “philosophy of law”. Those who threw down their weapons in defeat were in the hands of the victor, and had their lives saved and the right to freedom if they paid a ransom, with money from their professional earnings.

The modern bourgeois State does not make only the bourgeois and landlords fight, which would be most useful, but, in upholding the doctrine that it is not a class-based State but a people’s State, since every citizen has the same political rights, it makes everyone fight and does not pay them.

Against this commitment there are some conventional guarantees, which should at least be respected as much as the guarantees between mercenaries of pre-bourgeois times, during which philosophy and legal sensibilities – is it or isn’t it so? – hadn’t gone this far! Among these guarantees is that a member of the regular forces, legally obliged to fight, has his life saved should he be captured by the enemy, and obtains freedom once the legal state of war is over.

A State that is unable to provide these guarantees loses the legal right to “conscript” its citizens. And such guarantees exist when the State is not at risk to being legally expelled by the declarations of an organized part of the national society, during and after the war.

Can the Italian State of today, historically, offer such guarantees? No longer Pippetto’s monarchy, Benito’s regime, but this republic of Stenterello? (7)

Pippetto’s monarchy was playing clearly during the Glorious May, when the situation after all was within the law; many groups had deprecated the war, but no one, since the small Leninist current of the PSI did not act autonomously, actually threatened the State that it would be converted into a civil war. Only one thing mattered to anyone going off to the war: being killed by the Austrians. Unfortunately, they would kill over six hundred thousand of them. Law, at its philosophical core, comes down to a calculation of probabilities. But Pippetto’s monarchy ten months earlier, put on the defensive by the threat of the anti-Triple Alliance insurrection, had had the wisdom not to march off to war then.

The totalitarian regime, on the other hand, did march off, even though it knew that a whole series of more or less hidden groups were against. It retorted by condemning them, at the onset, as anti-national. Those who wanted to would take their anti-State chances, and work to sabotage fascist military action from within and without.

When the vicissitudes of the war created in Italy two different areas of law and power it caused havoc, and, in the reprisals between the opposing groups, whenever the standard practices of civil war – unforgiving of the defeated, and historically unable to be – came into force, there would be a series of tragic repercussions on the entire population which the various parties and powers had engaged in struggle, and from time to time mobilized, before the illegals and irregulars of the resistance managed to declare the regulars of yesterday outside of the law, and to found their State.

The Republic of Stenterello was founded and is run by parties and groups that all affirm that it is possible, even on the part of minorities, to “denounce” the legal power when on certain points one disagrees with its practice, as they had done during the fascist period.

It’s true that at first they “philosophized” thus: fascism is the only movement which, having trampled on the sacred rights of man, must be treated likewise. Once fascism has been swept away, by all possible means, there will be a return to normal guarantees and the democratic rules “of the game”.

However, just a few years later, they have all already declared that the possibility exists that the currently organized groups might have to be treated in the same way that fascism and Nazism were treated then.

So this republic that swore before heaven and earth that everything had to be suffered and endured to found it, this republic which made a commitment to uphold a civil unity of “coexistence” and of “emulation” of different opinions, and which today, in its political personnel of yesterday, is divided into two branches: if, in spite of everything and on both sides, it they were to put out a call for irregular and partisan volunteers, be they red or black, let it understood that if Pippetto hesitated, and it turned out half-good, whereas Benito risked everything, and it turned out really bad, that it is in its interest that Stenterello, poorly supported by his staff, and with Pacciardi as colonel, avoid mobilization. This State, so recently emerged from illegalism, lacks the lawful prerequisites to implement conscription for war, and the farce that turned military reversal into a substitute for victory cannot result in greater trouble for the Italian people than that which befell Japan, and Germany itself. The former says: you gave me the antidote to militarism: good, now I no longer carry a gun for anyone. As for the second, still divided into two States, it will be no joke for either of the two regimes to justify mobilization and conscription.

Two groups of parties have defeated the old governing party, not in a civil war but by taking advantage of the vicissitudes of a war between foreign States. No sooner had they founded a new legally constituted state than they split and denounced each other as guilty of the same sin, the threat of aggression, which was the basis of the earlier illegalism. Whichever of the two groups holds power, it’s historically, philosophically and legally, unable to force me, citizen John Doe, to go to war, nor to prosecute me for desertion.

Who are you going to tell about this philosophy? To the district carabiniere? Or to the minister of war, who wouldn’t have that position if he hadn’t organized deserters?

John Doe, respectful of the authorities, conformist, naive, would like to, at the sight of the pink letter, make it the subject of a regular appeal to the High Constitutional Court, so that the draft letter and the whole draft may be declared null and void.

Can he risk being indicted, tried, convicted and if need be executed, today for not wanting to carry out acts of war, and tomorrow for not having picked the right time and delayed applying the defeatism of that war? Can he be made responsible for the umpteenth time of trying to tackle the terrible question of who will be in charge tomorrow?

And if he is trusted, in the name of the sacred right of the individual, to choose between the two adversaries, then we might as well let him fight for whoever he wants to, and if he wants to.

The corporals hardened us up thirty-five years ago: today we will see them going off to war, to East or West, all ranking as colonels now.

Well, despite the precariousness of their position, and although the opposition is prepared in words to go to any defeatist extremes, as it’s no longer a small wing in a party of forty thousand members (but which claims to have millions of subscribers) with seats, newspapers and money everywhere, if the Stenterellos manage to really function as a solid police and military power, if they manage, with dollars and triduums to the god of armies, to build up and march out military divisions, this will be a truly admirable result, in a country where, not 99 percent, but 999 per thousand of the inhabitants are heartily sick of it all.

This miracle would have to be performed by a magician of demonic power: one who fabricates the multi-colored and chameleon-like alliances and political blocs into whose vortexes the forces of rebellion are sucked, and then spat out, drained and servile, bowed and open to all suggestions, ripe material for militarist slavery, the most idiotic slavery of all.



1. “Pipetto” refers to Vittorio-Emanuele III, the “soldier-king” of Italy.

2. “Mahomet” is a play by Voltaire in which he, in criticizing the founder of Islam, was in fact targeting the Catholic Church. The play was ironically dedicated to Pope Benedict XIV, hence the reference.

3. Reference to Mussolini being deposed and replaced by Pietro Badoglio.

4. Palmiro Togliatti.

5. French expression for “paper rags”.

6. Latin expression for “so be it”.

7. The titular Stenterello is a traditional characters in commedia dell’arte of Florence.