International Communist Party Against Capitalist War

What Is Becoming Obvious

(from Avanti!, 17th September 1915

This article for one part has descriptive value and shows how in the First World War, after a year, the military situation had reversed: the Franco-English with the support of the new Italian allies threatened Germany and Austria; these invaded Russia. The victory that in 1914 seemed to be marching towards the West, seemed in 1915 to be turning its wings to the East.

Socialists did not draw the consequences that ’supporters’ of either group of armies would, because they did not consider the future of mankind to be conditioned by the victory of either.

But the article takes the opportunity from the inverted reality to reconfirm the revolutionary Left’s theoretical and critical assessments of the abused problems of democracy and militarism, of offensive and defensive, of national concord and national defence, and uses admissions of the opponent to reiterate that capitalism, militarism and democracy are social evils that grow hand in hand.

The military situation today is almost the complete reverse from that of a year ago. Back then, the Germanic armies, having crossed Belgium like an avalanche and invaded France, threatened Paris from very close, while the hopes of the Allies were lied more in the diversion of Russian pressure, which seemed through East Prussia to be aiming at the heart of Germany, than in any success on the western front. Today, the German march westward was finally halted by the Allied armies, while, to universal astonishment, the Russian troops, victoriously pressed by the Austro-Germans, retreated eastward. A year ago the French republic moved the capital city to Bordeaux; today it isn’t unlikely that the Tsarist government will be forced to make a similar move. The wings of victory have reversed the direction of their flight.

Let us recall these well-known facts, certainly not to go into dissertations of a strategic nature, but to note, should it be granted to us, some important elements of the question around which the debate is always raging, despite the fact that we are forcibly muffled.

It was a year ago, under the suggestion of the Teutonic threat against Paris, that that special type of propaganda of considering and interpreting the European conflict that gathered so much sympathy around the cause of the Allies began everywhere and especially in then-neutral Italy.

The new facts to which we have alluded allow us to write another polemic in defense of the opposite thesis, even if this upsets the philistines who claim that now’s not the time for discussion, invoking the sacrifice of which they are not participants.

The most democratic and peaceful nations were then portrayed as being unknowingly attacked by autocratic and militaristic Germany, prepared for war for a long time, thus enclosing the vast scenario of the immense tragedy within the narrow framework of a banal antithesis between democracy and militarism.

The classical thesis of international socialism, according to which militarism was an evil common to all bourgeois States because it was a consequence of the capitalist regime and unbridled industrial and commercial competition, was declared superseded.

Out came the purported national revisionists of socialism (Labriola and Barboni, we will recall for everyone) to argue that the causes of militarism are not economic, i.e., common to all bourgeoisies in general, but political, i.e., limited to certain States in which pre-bourgeois social forms survive, such as the influence of dynasties, feudal and military castes, etc.

It is certainly not a short or easy matter to discuss the generic causes of a phenomenon as vast and complex as modern militarism, but one can be both more modest and more exact, bringing the investigation to what are instead its conditions, and then ascertain by the light of facts in what social forms and in what degrees of historical evolution those conditions can best be realized. The conditions of militarism, such as it is today in all its aspects, technical, economic, political and moral, are in quick summary the following: intense and rational development of large modern industry; great financial potential of the State machinery; administrative organization that allows the exploitation of all the nation’s resources (compulsory conscription, modern tax system); possibility of obtaining the concord and consent of almost all citizens, which presupposes a liberal political regime and the implementation of social reforms.

It seems to us that all this is incontrovertible, just as it is also crystal clear that that State in which the above-mentioned conditions are best brought together will be better prepared for war and more easily able to become its initiator; that is, at least until those who think that State entities have moral claims have shown us in which corner of the Empyrean awaits the supreme tribunal that will have to judge the good or bad intentions of rulers.

So, given that militarism today is what it is, and has nothing to do with the survival of barbaric or feudal militarism, it turns out that it lurks more happily in the more modernly industrial, more capitalistically wealthy, more politically democratic countries.

That is why we believe that Germany’s great military preparedness should be put in relation to what is most modern and most democratic in that country, and not to the famous leftovers of the past which would consist of the Kaiser’s personal authority, agrarian feudalism, the illiberal Prussian constitution, etc. These external and uncharacteristic aspects don’t prove anything; just as, in the opposite camp, nothing is proven by the existence of the multiple vote and a clerical government in Belgium, of an agrarian aristocracy which has in its hands the hereditary Chamber in England (or of the State Church for that matter); in France perhaps of the death penalty, which of course means all is forgiven regarding Russia.

We will recall again in this context that instead of referring to Russia in order to destroy the thesis of…democracy arrayed against German militarism, we repeatedly pointed out that Russian militarism was far from its full efficiency precisely because of the deficient socio-economic development of the Moscow empire. Russia’s military preparedness needed the billions lent by the democratic French bankers to bring itself even partially up to the level of the times.

Today — and we do not believe that one can in good faith say otherwise — we take up our thesis with one more powerful argument.

Russia proved itself to be militarily unfit to fulfill the task assigned to her by the advocates of “democracy”, who, while juggling their sophistry, privately consoled themselves by thinking that the “barbarism” of the Teutonic hordes would be overwhelmed by a wave rush of men from an even more barbaric country which have rushed to the rescue in a twist of fate. Instead, the opposite happened, for modern German military technique was victorious over the simple raw numbers, the scientific strategy of the Germanic marshals paralyzed the overwhelming impact of the Cossack cavalries; in a word, the more modern of the two adversaries achieved success.

Russia, certainly not crushed, now seeks its salvation in an intensification of industrial development and in a democratization of its backward State machinery, in order to be able to re-descend into the fray modernized, democratized, and fitter for war.

All this may seem paradoxical to those who have been repeating the same tiresome refrains for a year now with ineffable arrogance, and who are indignant when they see that discussions take place on the basis of facts, by those socialists they already condemned to confinement in the limbo of harmless utopia. But we have not yet surrendered our arms to the apparent and local success of the opposing current, and we don’t give up the right to think.

Returning to the topic, we’ll quote the opinion of an opponent: Hervé: “our friends and allies are at this moment cruelly paying not only for their insufficient economic development which paralyzes the supply of their materials and ammunition depots, but they are also paying for the lack of parliamentary control at the head of their country”.

So, also according to Gustave Hervé, to do war well you need, in addition to ample financial resources, generously democratic institutions, without which the country remains morally unprepared, the war becomes a personal affair of the leaders, and the Russian grand dukes remain free to spend the billions in loans, provided by the Bank of France, with their mistresses for other purposes — peaceful ones, it is understood.

A democratic country can better coordinate its military activity also because the education and recruitment of men is made easier for it, not only by the increased economic resources of the State, but by a complex administrative device that develops in parallel with the introduction of the most democratic forms of government (censuses, registry office, civil status, equality of citizens before the law).

Very recent history also shows us an obvious conjunction between the adoption of democratic reforms and the intensification of military preparations: it will suffice to mention the French law on the three-year term of service that immediately followed the great secular reform, the Japanese military organization contemporaneous with the granting of a European-style constitution, the Italian colonial war made by the same ministry that enlarged suffrage, etc.

It is thus increasingly evident that a democratic regime favors the preparation and success of war; and when one recognizes this, as Hervé does, for one’s allies, why then argue the reverse for enemy countries?

Leaving aside as well the question of responsibility for the war, which after all is a hair-splitting matter, it must be recognized that Germany’s success is due in large part to the perfect egalitarian and democratic cohesion of the various classes achieved before and during the war, to the same factors, that is, thanks to which France resists it.

It is true that Hervé senses the contradiction and adds, “the Germans, who enjoy Personal Rule, know where it has led them, despite their momentary victories”. But Hervé will have to recognize that from the German people he could not expect a greater military performance than the one we are witnessing, whatever the denouement of the conflict.

When we associate German democracy and militarism, we do not intend (it’s always proper to note this) to put it in any way in a better light; on the contrary, we reaffirm our aversion to it as to those of its kind, who merely pretend to be so different from it.

And at the same time we reaffirm the open conflict between proper socialism and democratic allurements, a conflict too much forgotten by socialists, in Germany and elsewhere. The super-philosophers who will smile at our insistent argument have probably forgotten history, and are ignorant that military conscription was first introduced in France by the Republican Convention. At each juncture we shall quote for them the opinion of another of our opponents: Guglielmo Ferrero (Giornale d’Italia of two weeks ago). «Today, instead, the States having fully applied the democratic principle of compulsory and universal service and having at their disposal immense means due to increased wealth, the limit for military resistance coincides with the limit of moral, financial and physical resistance of the entire population».

The conclusions, for easily understood reasons, we’ll leave for others to draw.