On the Thread of Time
Tartuffe, or on Pacifism
(from Battaglia Comunista, issue 6 of 1951)
In the writings of Marx and Engels the attacks against the generic bourgeois pacifism and the movements to avoid the war come up over and over again.
In 1864 Marx was forced to put in the statutes and in the inaugural address of the International, which ran the grave danger of being drafted by Mazzini, the words of moral civilization and law, and the phrase that the same legal and ethical rules that govern relations between individuals should be applied to relations between peoples. It was neither the first nor the last time that Marxists saw themselves forced in political action to the handling of theoretically incorrect terms and propositions. Marx explains this in his epistolary and says that he put those empty words where they could do the least harm. To be surprised by this as a duplicity means precisely to believe that ethical rules can really have any effect on directing relations between men, as a whole or alone...
The first articulation of Marxism is enough to put the principle of “non-violence” attributed to Christ for millennia in spite of the fact that he had said: I come not to bring peace but war! (and in his historical context, it was a war against social oppressors); and in modern times represented by Tolstoy and Gandhi, whose doctrines nevertheless admit that bloody clashes are inevitable.
Abstract pacifisms, between individuals, between classes, between States, are all the same to the Marxist, who puts in their place the historical analysis of the “theory of force”.
In the polemic against Bakunin in 1871 Marx recalls the origins of his anarchist organization, named with a confusion of terms very similar to those of today: the “Alliance of Socialist Democracy”, from the bosom of the despicable bourgeois pacifist movement.
The Alliance “is entirely bourgeois in origin. It did not emerge from the International; it is the off spring of the League of Peace and Freedom, a still-born bourgeois republican society”.
Bakunin, having entered this society, proposed a “united front” with the Workers’ International, but the latter rejected the proposal at the Brussels Congress. This alone determined the break between the Bakuninists and the bourgeois League, which was followed by the break of the former with the Marxists.
There can be no different opinion about the present movement of the “Partisans of Peace” which the bourgeoisie and philistines are joining...
The Marxist disdain for literati and demagogic pacifism is such that it has been, as we are going to show, too many times exploited with clever falsifications by social-patriot war mongers. In all editions of the Anti-Dühring, up to 1894, Engels found nothing to modify his refutation of “non-violence” written in 1878, thus including the period after the Commune. Not only does he reproach Dühring for not having a word to remind him of the Marxist concept of violence as the midwife of every new society, and for groaning because “every use of violence demeans the one who uses it” – but he cries out to him: “And this in spite of the immense moral and spiritual impetus which has been given by every victorious revolution!” And he shows that he is not only thinking of revolutions, but also of wars themselves, with the words, resonant with the position that we illustrated at length, which we quote verbatim: “And this in Germany, where a violent collision—which may, after all, be forced on the people—would at least have the advantage of wiping out the servility which has penetrated the nation’s mentality following the humiliation of the Thirty Years’ War”.
The gentlemen opportunists are unsurpassed in the art of falsification; we prefer, however, that they cook us a warmongering Engels instead of turning him into a “partisan of peace”. It would be less scandalous with the eagle or the swastika, than with the well-worn“dove” or the olive branch.
Marx is said to be obscurantist, Engels is much more comprehensible; be careful, however, that no wine, however straightforward, can be drunk as fresh water.
We will find in Lenin the crystal clarity and the solution of the whole problem. However, this does not mean that the false preachers, the clerics of political punditry, do not claim to make use of him as well.
Lenin cannot introduce the Marxist explanation of the relationship between socialism and war without first getting rid of the pacifist misunderstanding at the beginning, and his classic theses of 1915 move from this problem, aimed at mercilessly branding the warmongering socialists of all countries with irreparable infamy.
"Socialists have always condemned war between nations as barbarous and brutal. But our attitude towards war is fundamentally different from that of the bourgeois pacifists (supporters and advocates of peace) and of the Anarchists."
War is a barbarous and bestial thing, although beasts and barbarians have never offered spectacles comparable to those of the military action of our capitalist times. In most cases animals, especially if not starved and disturbed, and likewise primitive men, are harmless. Then modern and Christian civilization had to come, and we read in the smug pro-American press that in Korea the “meat grinder” works wonderfully, that is the scientific pulverization of the enemy units. The beasts and barbarians will want to excuse Lenin and us. Capitalist gunners and airmen mince meat, unlike them, after they’ve had their meal. They spill blood after quenching their thirst with whiskey. Neither the lynx nor the cannibal would understand them.
The differences between Marxists and pacifists are not the same with regard to anarchist doctrine and bourgeois pacifist doctrine. The anarchists admit as we do “civil wars, i.e., wars waged by the oppressed class against the oppressing class, slaves against slave-owners, serfs against land-owners, and wage-workers against the bourgeoisie, as legitimate, progressive and necessary”.
However, so the anarchists as well as the bourgeois pacifists differ from us on the subject of war, in that “we deem it necessary historically (from the standpoint of Marx’s dialectical materialism) to study each war separately”. Here Lenin means not only every social war, between classes, but also every national war, between States. The former are all understood and accepted by Marxism, which takes the side of the oppressed and exploited class, and evidently not even the anarchists, in the face of such wars, would follow the words of peace, conciliation, disarmament, given by bourgeois and social-democratic traitors. But when we turn to the national wars, things change. While the nationalist and militarist bourgeois will have the audacity to justify war as a means of spreading its social system, or as a means of conquering vital space for a country that has little room for too many men or too much capital, or will even go so far as to exalt war as “worldy hygiene” – the Tartuffe-like bourgeois, the puritanical petit-bourgeois, will condemn “any war” in the name of the ideals of “universal peace” and “disarmament”, will advocate the arbitration of international questions which arise between States, and will construct on the world level the same illusion that he has accredited to the political level with the parliamentary system: nations equal in the world, citizens equal in the nation. With this ingenious system, it is clear that “all wars” will be abolished, just as all fisticuffs and shenanigans have been abolished since the time of the sheriff and the Supreme Court.... Such rubbish, up and down, against which Lenin wrote the most powerful pages, becomes “the Leninist-Stalinist theory of the equality of nations”!
The anarchist in turn, who agree with us on the matter of civil war, at least in theory, will abolish at all times and under all skies the war between States and will consider it, without any discrimination, of being a bad thing, for the sole reason that every military operation involves total authority and subordination of man to man, and his view of emancipation also on the social plane leads him to see the individual ideologically liberated, emancipated “in conscience”, before the oppressive and exploitative machine is around him everywhere broken. The deciphering of the historical becoming is reduced, even for the anarchist, to be for or against. He is for peace against war; and that’s it.
Contrary to these incomplete positions, the Marxist, as we showed in dealing with national wars in the various periods, admits that"In history there have been numerous wars (we repeat: Lenin calls them wars of States) which, in spite of all the horrors, atrocities, distress and suffering that inevitably accompany all wars, were progressive, i.e., benefited the development of mankind by helping to destroy the exceptionally harmful and reactionary institutions (for example, autocracy or serfdom), the most barbarous despotisms in Europe (Turkish and Russian). Therefore, it is necessary to examine the historically specific features of precisely the present war.”
Lenin, right before WW1 broke out, established that it was in no way a “progressive war”, but a mee war between imperialist exploiters, so that the duty of all socialists was to fight against all governments in all countries and in time of war; Lenin is keen to establish that this duty did not arise from an abstract position of “condemnation of all wars”, as is accessible to conservative or libertarian ideologists.
But there is more. Not only do we differ from the bourgeois pacifists because they deny the use of arms in class struggles, and because of their inability to historically appreciate wars, but on another point, on which Lenin shows that he thinks the anarchists are also with us, as well as on that of civil war.
We are divided from the bourgeois pacifists by our concept of “the inevitable connection between wars and the class struggle within the country”, the notion that “that war cannot be abolished unless classes are abolished and Socialism is created”.
This passage, which for reasons of propaedeutics we have cited last, is the first thesis on pacifism, and it is the most important.
It destroys any possible accommodation in Marxism-Leninism of movements whose aim is the suppression of war, disarmament, arbitration or legal equality among nations (such as Wilson’s League or Truman’s UN).
Leninism does not say to the capitalist powers: I will prevent you from waging war, or I will strike you if you do wage war: it says to them, I know very well that until you are overthrown by the proletariat you will be, whether you want it or not, dragged into war, and I will take advantage of this war situation to intensify the struggle and strike you down. Only when this struggle is victorious in all States, the era of wars will end.
This is a general position. The Marxist cannot be a pacifist or “anti-war” because that would mean admitting that war can be abolished before the abolition of capitalism. It is not enough to say that this would be a theoretical error. It is a political betrayal, since such an illusion does not convey to the masses that it is necessary to take up the struggle, but rather facilitates their subjugation not only to capital but also to war itself. The proletarian masses led by either fake or bad Marxists, who have always said they were pacifists, had to go to war against the Germans, because their leaders said that they alone threatened peace, just as they had to go to war against the Russians for the same reason: they marched twice and will march perhaps a third time, and from opposite camps, to fight a war “which will put an end to wars”.
This is, shall we say, a general position. The Marxist is not a pacifist, for reasons identical with those that do not make him, for example, anti-clerical: he does not see the possibility of a society of private property without religion and without churches, but he sees churches and religious beliefs ending as a result of the revolutionary abolition of property.
The system of wage slavery will live the longer its accomplices make it believe that, without overthrowing its economic foundations, it is possible to make it immune from religious superstitions, or to eliminate the possibility of wars, and to remove from it its other backwards or brutal characteristics.
In the period when it was evident that the wars of national liberation were over, the bourgeoisie largely protected itself from radical proletarian class action with the movements of “partisans of free-thinking” that were rampant at the end of the century. Later, in the period of the imperialist wars, it protected itself with the hybrid movements of “partisans of national defense” and today of “partisans of peace”.
To substitute, in the face of the approach of new wars, the dialectical criterion of Marx and Lenin – both in doctrine and political agitation – with the blatant exploitation of the naivety of the masses with regard to the sanctity of Peace and Defense, is tantamount to working for opportunism and betrayal, against which Lenin set out to build the new revolutionary International super hanc petram; on this foundational stone: capitalism and peace are incompatible.
Let us dedicate to the pacifists of today a lapidary thesis of the Third Congress (theses 33 on The International Situation and the Tasks of the Comintern): “Humanitarian and anti-revolutionary pacifism has become an auxiliary force of militarism”.
Stalin, in his recent interview, made extensive use of the concepts of peace, defensive war, and just war.
When the two sides say to each other: your claims are purely propaganda in nature; and when these claims are formally the same, the discussion is at an impasse. Attlee accused the Russian government of having begun preparations for war at a time when its Western allies, having won Germany and Japan, had completely demobilized; and from this he wants to draw evidence that Russia wants to provoke a war. Stalin replies that the Russian government in turn demobilized after 1945, and that the fact that Attlee is lying on this point proves that it is the Westerners who are deceiving their peoples in order to drag them “into the new world war prepared by the ruling circles of the United States of America”.
The terms are categorical and serious, not just puppet-speak. No one, in the whole planet, stands in an observatory from which one can measure whether they are arming more, and from earlier, in Russia and its annexed countries or in America and its Atlantic aggregates. But such a result would not shift the issue. Since any government, of any kind, rightly or wrongly, regards a conflict as highly probable if not certain, it may well conduct a policy with the double objective of avoiding or postponing the outbreak of hostilities; and of arriving more prepared for it. The intensity and timing of the measures of military preparedness, before being determined by the “aggressive will”, which means nothing, are determined by the productive equipment and the interests that military work arouses in it. Those who have less productive equipment of industries and communications, and less reserves of products, have a much longer “time of preparation” and therefore, even if they are convinced “defencists” and “pacifists”, they start earlier, if they are not stupid. Suppose that it’s proven that Russia has demobilized more slowly, and resumed military preparation earlier; this way will not be proven the innocence of those American “circles” that Stalin formally accuses, opening a process already judged years ago for us.
The head of the Soviet government wanted to give arguments that were not propagandistic but “scientific”; his opponents did not take up this challenge very well. Russia, Stalin affirms, not only devotes hundreds of billions (in liras, tens of thousands of billions) to the reconstruction of the territories destroyed by the Germans, and tens of billions to colossal works such as the new hydroelectric plants on the Volga and the Amu Daria, but also practices the reduction of domestic consumer prices which, if effective, means on the one hand a better standard of living, on the other hand less accumulation for new works and less spending on the administrative machine. If at the same time he exalted the expenses for the war industry and the army “he could not fail to run the risk of bankruptcy”.
The argument is strong, but it involves the question: what does bankruptcy mean in a socialist economy? It could only mean the collapse of workers into exhaustion from too little food and too much effort. But bankruptcy means the inability of the State to pay its debt, and it makes sense under national capitalism: public property falls prey to private capitalists, foreign if not domestic. In the words of Stalin, not to be believed to be at random, is contained a perspective of compromise (an offer would mean less, the offer as the intention, the will, or the maneuver weighs little to the wise of Marxism). Western imperialism, which for less damage to its equipment, a better average standard of living, greater reserves, control of sources of raw materials and of world communication networks (let us not overestimate the better level of science and appòlied technology as well), can accumulate and invest more, could open an international credit to the Russian government, with the same commitments it would have to allocate to the war.
Whoever weighs the hypothesis of bankruptcy, considers himself exposed to the oscillations of a market, of a stock exchange common to his opponent, his competitor.
Where economic science falls into agitation, which in our opinion is not only no longer revolutionary and class agitation, but is agitation of little use even on the level of national competition, is when victory is assured to the troops who feel they are fighting for the right cause. It is one thing to say that for Marxists there are just wars, it is another to echo the bourgeois motif “the just cause always wins”. The example of the struggle in Korea does not fit, now that the Reds are backing down. Did American soldiers consider that war unjust? Stalin, fortunately for him, will never have had around the American soldiers, extra-philosophical animals par excellence, at his feet. What would one say then of German soldiers, who fought to the last in conditions of overwhelming inferiority, with a military efficency that was the highest in the world?
Today’s wars are won neither by conviction nor by fanaticism. The importance of the political factor in war opportunism, at Lenin lashed out, does not lie in the fact that the soldiers of the various armies had really bought into the pacifist and defensivist innocencentism of their governors and generals; it lies in the fact that a force that could have cut off the knuckles of the Major States at the back of the front, that of the proletarian organizations, was leased by its leaders to the war, and at least itself sabotaged. The soldier, if he could follow his own idea and conviction, would go home; if he finds himself being ground up by the military apparatus, he follows the hierarchical apparatus all the more as he feels it is equipped to be decisive and aggressive.
It is very accurate to say that the UN is an organization that acts in the service of the American aggressors. But Marxism was thrown out the windows the moment it was admitted that the UN itself could be a “bulwark and safeguard of peace”, and only after it was founded did it become an instrument to unleash a new world war.
We already knew at the date 1919 (First Moscow Congress) that “Propaganda for the League of Nations is the best means for confusing the revolutionary consciousness of the working class”. With today’s belated discovery, it is admitted to have consummated such a fault, to have, in the words of that same text, launched “instead of the watchword of an International of revolutionary workers’ republics, that of an international association of alleges democracies, which should be achieved through a coalition of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie”. Here again, it was Lenin who wrote, inciting the fight against the idea of the League of Nations, “an association of robbery, exploitation and imperialist counterrevolution”.
It was about much more than giving the vote to China in the UN, or taking it away from the Dominican Republic.
The Stalinist policy is fought by the Marxists of the left precisely because it has destroyed and destroys the only energies that could undermine and beat the imperialist and militarist power: class-based energies.
This position is at the antipodes of that of all the right-wing communists and socialists who let themselves be dragged towards the thesis that America is peaceful and the Soviet Union aggressive. It is useless to get away with telling these defectors that they are paid by Atlantic capitalism: it is certain that for such a fine result more rubles have been spent than dollars.
The cornerstone of a Marxist position on the present conjuncture can only be this.
The campaign on the preservation of peace and against the provocateurs of war has nowhere any serious content.
The only real provocation to war is the existence and tolerance of the capitalist regime.
The present Russian government evidently has no interest, will or intention to wage a war of aggression.
The American government is preparing for war as an alternative to the march towards capitalist control of the entire world economy, ready however to acquire it by a diplomatic, or corporate transaction, which equally opens immense prospects to super-industry and super-finance and can be less costly than winning the war.
Should general war break out by force of events, or at any rate by American provocation, and perhaps by Russian provocation (since ninety-nine out of a hundred human brains need to know where the aggressor is), the least probable and most desirable thing at the same time is the break-up of the American State and military center, by internal revolution or military overthrow.
The most probable opposite alternative leads to the same point as a “salvation of peace”, and initiates the fermentation of new inter-capitalist conflagrations if the autonomous and revolutionary class movement fails to rise up.
To these not easily scrutinisable prospects of a stormy future, it doesn’t change anything that an Italian government is on this or that side, that Italian soil has to be trampled either by rent or by invasion, by the armed forces of either East or West.