International Communist Party Against Capitalist Wars



On the Thread of Time
  Shall Stenterello Leave?

Battaglia Comunista, no.3 of 1951

 


Yesterday

Pippetto (1) thought it over 294 days, and then left.

Pippetto politically was not an imbecile; militarily he did not have “le phisique du rôle”. Not only could he not compare himself to the warriors of the Iron Age, and he would have looked rather weird had he tried to wear the armor of Cangrande or Ettore Fieramosca; but, when we approached the draft board buck naked, the proper carabiniere explained to us that they lowered the measurement by an inch, so that Pipetto wouldn’t be forced to write off a successful career before it even began, even in the infantry.

Be as it may, men are not measured in palms; military technique had evolved well since the Middle Ages and beyond. Pippetto was a serious person, he did the research for the role, he did not get giddy over the insignia on his beret, and earned a nice epithet for himself: the soldier-king.

He who boasted that he decided to leave on the 294th day of the European conflict, during a beautiful sunny May, also happened to have a monopoly on the handling of adjectives; and the soldier one did not appeal to him, this man, Gabriele D’Annunzio. The word soldier obviously doesn’t have its root in the Latin word miles, and it does not meet the definition of one who goes off to war to either enjoy themselves or out of civic obligation. Soldier comes from soldo, that is, from the pay received by the mercenary, who fought by profession; and enlisted for the highest bidder. It therefore expresses venality; and Gabriel fashioned himself the term Poet-Hero. The Hero, as everyone knows, offers himself freely.

Many went, it must be said. Another simple man went, as an infantry corporal, without taking off his pince-nez and without using his poor eyesight as a pretext for not going, as those whom nature had not endowed with a heroic spirit did, in a debased manner: this man was Leonida Bissolati, a socialist who had degenerated into reformism and patriotism, who, if he paid with his own life, only added to the importance of the gradual departure away from the revolutionary politics of his youth. Filippo Corridoni of the extreme left also went to the war and fell no less bravely; many others left like Pippetto, but the most famous of them all, who did not fall in battle but was injured in a training accident: caught by accident or soaked in blood, a traitor remains a traitor. The good Scalarini drew an a cartoon for Avanti! with two characters having the same face but different clothes, with the caption: The socialist Mussolini shot by the corporal of the Bersaglieri, Mussolini.

Coming back to Pippetto, against whom we could not actually hold against the classic “Johnny get your gun”, so we’ll just say he should have left on 4 August 1914 to honour his signature. It was the one signed 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 it didn’t work out as signed: because a war against France and England would have provoked serious unrest; from the left-wing monarchists to the anarchists, everyone would have refused the mobilization order; and even the pacifist theorists of political struggle, such as Turati, did not hesitate to openly state that to such a declaration of war they would have responded, including themselves and among the first, with an urban insurrection.

Those days, so often recounted, passed, and little by little the “satisfaction of having avoided the massacre” was transformed – and it always happened that way – into an irresistible frenzy for war, into agitation for intervention against Austria.

"Winner or victor, I will remember you" – this terrible telegram sent from Berlin did not prevent the constitutional monarch from following the course of events with a prudent step: opposing the new policy were Catholics and Giolittians, through parliamentary maneuvers but with explicit declaration that they would never create difficulties for anti-German mobilization. Only the Socialist Party, in which by October 1914 Corporal Benito still resided in, having removed only a few unimportant feathers, was of concern. Would the Socialists actually subvert the mobilization and the war, or would they be content to disapprove of it?

On 19 May in Bologna, the Party leadership, the Parliamentary Group and the Confederation discussed whether to go on a general strike against mobilization. An extreme left even then held the theses that only the party, and not deputies and union leaders, should decide on the political question, and rebuked them for fearing not failure but success in action. While the majority hesitated, the loyal voice of Turati replied from the extreme right of the party that this was the truth; he recognized the organic logic of the revolutionary defeatist position while he openly disapproved with patriotic arguments of the consequences that any sabotage would have as the army moved towards the frontier.

Despite the Italian socialists, Pippetto left. stopped the escape from Caporetto with sufficient firmness and a good dose of luck; and, once again, Turati prayed with him to the gods of the Fatherland who were swaying over the Piave and the Grappa; the young ingenues of the Left would, if they could, have prayed to the shadow of Marx so that the shameful lie of defencism, which even reached the point of voting for the war credits and the Ministries of National Unity, would not fall on Italian Socialism as well.

The unfolding of these historical phases caused the Italian bourgeoisie to falter somewhat, and taught it more than just a few things: it never lacked the aptitude to learn new ways from new events. Unfortunately, proletarian leaders do not lack this either, and they quickly learn all kinds of things. War always finds one half of Italy wanting it and another half not wanting it; soon afterwards the first half becomes neutralist and the second half starts wanting war, but to reverse all this increases the risks of the great political and economic affair that war entails. Two halves of Italy do not mean two halves of Italians: 95% didn’t want the war in any way, but everything happens in the other one percent: this is the true "Italy", in our language: hierarchies, bureaucracy, organizational and party cadres, different political representations... The bourgeoisie, and we shall not return to this narrative, has devoted itself to endowing itself with a single hierarchy. When the second war broke out, it had it.

It’s very strange; 284 days passed this time as well, ten less than last time. There were, rather understandably, ninety-nine percent of the 43 million (and the 8 million bayoneted) who demanded nothing more than to stay at home. Among the active political elements, there were undoubtedly those who favoured the war and the signed the ’Pact of Steel’ commitment, and they were in control: steel, it turns out, was more malleable than expected. There were many more supporters of the enemy, but they couldn’t speak, besides a few from 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 of, “put aside Voltaire’s Mahomet (2). A little later the Communists linked with Russia. They had to wait for the go-ahead for quite a while, and were left to their own devices to count the days: Stalin stipulated the pact of friendship and delimitation of borders with Germany on September 28, 1939, and on June 22, 1941, the first skirmishes with the Germans took place. Benito was thoughtful, so was Stalin.

In any case, if Corporal Mussolini had left on May 24, the Marshal of the same name left on June 10: in the end they left still, eventually.. Likewise, Hirohito went the same way on December 8, 1941 and feeling the commotion, Delano [Roosevelt] left as well.

Pipetto would have thought even more carefully before declaring the mobilisation, at the risk of receiving new telegrams from Berlin; this time he had learned that the defeated are not in a position of remembering anyone, since modern civilization has appropriated, by assimilating them, the ethical mores of Christianity and bourgeois liberalism. He stood at the Quirinal, pondering how a king of constitutional tradition could insert himself into a patriots’ and do-gooders’ strike against the ongoing war, into that difficult historical operation which has been dubbed “the resistance”.

The elegant maneuver was this, then: now I’ll just cross to the other side, although this was not at all the glorious tradition of a dynasty and a people. We werem’t even at neutrality. On June 10, 1940, we went from “non-belligerence” to war. July 25, 1943, the marshal changes (3), but “the war goes on”. September 8, 1943: from war to peace: armistice signed by Pippetto who quickly escapes to Pescara. Later 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 his pocket is another matter entirely. Up to that point it had passed through countless hands, always a single piece, willing and unwilling, grumbling and resistant. From this point things get a bit tangled. The Germans descend as far as Salerno and put Benito back in official power; the Americans arrive from the South and place back in power, freshly sanctified by Palmiro (4), good old Pippetto and at the very least his son as well. In the Italian Social Republic up north, the legal duty is to “leave”, the moral political duty, they say, is resistance: it applies to all whose belief wanders in the unbroken circle: Pacelli, Churchill, Truman, De Gaulle, Spaak, Stalin, you name it. In the South the duty is, for a while, neutrality, and the ethical duty is to voluntarily enlist with the Allies, until democratic, already Roman, still monarchical Italy “declares war on Germany”. Off we go again: the event this time is so big that we are caught off guard, the date goes out of our historical culture and we miss counting the days: this roller-coaster of memorable events just stops at too many stations. To arrive at Victory station, finally, Pipettically of course, look how brave we are: May 9, 1945. An infallible recipe for all journeys. As a citizen on the call to arms lists, you have seen them all, these departures, and you have a rich experience: the explosion of August 4, the radiant May, Munich, Danzig, the twelfth hour and V-day.

Know how to behave. Know that everyone will remember you.
 

Today

The question looms over the air once again: will we go? Will we wait three hundred days again in the chapel, as in the two previous times, when the world goes up in flames; or shall we hear the courteous invitation: gentlemen, please get on the train?

What then is the imperative? We do not mean to speak of the imperative of the carabiniere, this strange being who sometimes carries out the orders of the Head of Government, Minister for the Interior, whoever; and sometimes puts him away. We talk about the historical, categorical ethical, political and civil imperative, and we clear our throats. After all, it’s a full blown job to check the “Fact”, which we have had the honor of briefly explaining above, in the light of... Philosophy of Law.

From a strictly legal standpoint, as of August 4, 1914, assuming the legal and contractual arrangements at the international scale had not been mere “chiffons de papier” (5), and the Triple Alliancist mobilization order had been given, the citizen was to leave. 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 seals in wax, the king and the district carabineri’s oil lamp were to the same constitutional degree: so go. And yet, had we taken that as the sibyl of Historical and Civic Duty, not just any dumbass but Filippo Turati himself, now a supporter of legal means of political and social agitation, an opponent of the use of violence, an enemy of every dictatorship and every coup de force which the parties use to make the unconvinced 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.

But what Turati: it would have sufficed to consult a revived Cavallotti, worse, an Orlando, chair of constitutional law. So?

The Triple Alliance war did not take place and this accomplishment went down like a charm; there was the anti-Triple Alliance war instead and we already know what happened there: all of them obeyed. This time the considerations of legal procedure perfectly coincided with ethical considerations; at most, it was permissible to think, until 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 new dates come. October 28, 1922. Jurists and philosophers are divided into two camps. On the one hand, 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 hand, 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 was illegal, it had been brought to power by violating both the constitution and the sovereign will of the people, and Pipetto, 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, gradually even Pipetto’s own supporters, and we shall hear that the orders of the government, of the police, of the General Staff if it comes to that, are outside Right: 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, he who refuses it is shot as a deserter in front of the enemy; but for all this political banditry, it is not only lawful, but a duty to rebel and to organize oneself in formations of “patriots” or “partisans”. Thus the followers of all those parties (and we refer to those who were consistently non- revolutionary, non anti-constitutional by principle) are invited not only to armed struggle and the killing of opponents, but precisely to take the huge risks that distinguishes the irregular from the official soldier forced into the regular forces: you won’t be taken prisoner, if you’re overpowered and caught you’ll be shot on the spot.

Officers, magistrates, priests, and even policemen, not only did this – or admitted to doing it – but they demanded it of others in the name of morality and sometimes by using force.

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, the individual citizen has two choices: either you’re a 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 with your back to the wall.

The conclusion seems obvious: philosophize all you like, but if such a legal situation can 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 was in ancient societies, logically, a class burden: the Roman slave did not go to war, unlike the free citizen, who participated in the State and received corresponding benefits. The medieval serf did not go to war, the lord departed in his stead, who was also obliged to defend the field on which the serf slaved away, in case of a threat. If other combatants served, they were hired, not only for pay, but also thanks to agreements that were sufficiently 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 for their redemption with their professional earnings.

The modern bourgeois State does not make only the bourgeois and landlords fight, which would be very appropriate, but, 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 – isn’t that so? – were not so advanced as today! Among these guarantees is that the members of the regular forces, fighting by obligation of law, 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 expelled from the law by the declarations of an organized part of the national society, during and after the war.

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

Pippetto’s monarchy was clearly playing a game in radiant May, when the situation was ultimately very simple; many groups had deprecated the war, but no one, since the small Leninist current of the PSI had no autonomous action, actually threatened the State that risked turning the war into a civil war. The only thing that mattered to anyone who went to the war was the probability of being killed by the Austrians. Unfortunately, they killed over six hundred thousand of them. Law, at the core of its foundational philosophies, comes down to a calculation of probabilities. But Pippetto’s monarchy had, just ten months earlier been put on the defensive by the threat of the anti-Triple Alliance insurrection, and thus had had the wisdom not to march then.

The totalitarian regime, on the other hand, did commit itself, even though it knew that a whole series of more or less secret groups were putting it on the defensive. It put them on the defensive right back at the start as anti-nationals. Those who wanted to chose their anti-State wing took a chance and worked to sabotage fascist military action from outside and inside.

When the vicissitudes of the war created in Italy two different areas of law and power came a big unrest, and in the reprisals between the opposing groups, if the practice of civil war, which has no pardons for the defeated, and historically has never been able to have any, came into force, a series of tragic repercussions befell on the entire population as the various parties and powers engaged in the struggle and sometimes mobilized, before the illegals and irregulars of the resistance managed to declare yesterday’s regulars outlawed and founded their State.

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

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

However, just a few years later, they have all already declared that there’s the chance of having to treat the currently organized groups 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, and which, in return, has committed itself to a civil unity of “coexistence” and “emulation” of different opinions, this republic is therefore divided today, in its political personnel of yesterday, into two branches: if, in spite of everything and on both sides, it puts out the call for its irregular and partisan volunteers, be they red or black, let it understand (since Pipetto hesitated, and succeeded halfway, whereas Benito risked everything, and it turned out real bad) that it is in its interest that Stenterello, poorly supported by his staff, and with Pacciardi as colonel, avoids mobilization. This State, that emerged from such recent illegalism, lacks the lawful prerequisites to implement conscription for war, and the farce that turned a change of sides half-way through the war into a substitute for victory cannot result in greater trouble for the Italian people than that which befell Japan, and then Germany itself. The former says: you gave me the cure against 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 regime 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 rule of law 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, historically, philosophically and legally, has neither the power to force me, citizen John Doe, to go to war, nor the power to prosecute me for desertion.

Who are you going to tell this philosophy to? 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 necessary executed, today for not wanting to carry out acts of war, and tomorrow for not having chosen the right time and being too late in his defeatism against the war? Can he be accused 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 allow him to fight for whom he wants and only if he wants.

The corporals took away our spinelessness thirty-five years ago: today we will see them leave, to the East or to the West, all ranking as colonels now.

Well, despite the precariousness of their position, and although the opposition is prepared in word 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 triduum 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% but 99,9% of the inhabitants are absolutely fed up.

This miracle will have been performed by a magician of demonic power: the one who fabricates the multicolored and chameleon-like alliances and political blocs from whose vortexes the forces of rebellion are sucked into and spat out drained and servile, kneeling down and prone to all suggestions, ripe material to militarist slavery, the most idiotic 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.