Capitalism and Political Trials (VII)
A world epidemic of political trials... Not to mention those who are not political and whose press feeds an insatiable clientele of readers, hungry for sensation and increasingly sumptuously subjected to the "democratic" education of Americanism triumphant over its methods, fascist and Nazi disclosures were masterpieces of sincerity and decency.
For a small century Marxist socialists have said that any political trial is a super-idiocy just as they make fun of the active or passive use of such an expedient.
On February 8, 1849, a young doctor of law, a certain Karl Marx, also defended himself and his companions before the jurors of Cologne from the accusation of excitement at the revolt. Naturally, as his students did in more recent times, he did not fail to play on the formal recitation of the concrete law in order to seize the Attorney General on duty by the tail of his robe. But the substance of his speech was the demonstration that any application of judicial principles and methods to political conflict is a vain comedy in which roles are always distributed backwards, as in a play where the first young male lover in a skirt would recite the main scene to a bearded woman.
The demonstration given is that the common denominator of legality between the parties in political and historical conflict does not exist and that, in this confrontation, the judge who states the sentence represents only one thing - force.
The Marxist accused can thus take on the fact those who clumsily handle the legal apparatus of the moment, but he never cries or protests before the violation of legality and constitutionality, before the offences against freedom and justice; he takes pleasure instead in the crises that shake these institutions from their bases and he makes them the bases of his relentless criticism.
At the time of the Cologne Process, there were three historical forces at play: the Prussian Crown, the parliamentary assembly set up in Berlin by the constitution torn apart by the 1848 uprisings, and the revolutionary vanguard groups founded on the nascent German working class. The balance of power, Marx said in substance, had changed rapidly in two years: the Constitution and the law had undergone a real earthquake and history had made these "pieces of paper" fly in the air. The problem is to discern which force has beaten the others, which will be able to mobilise its forces in the future, and not which would be the norm to which the others should submit themselves by mutual agreement.
Our orientation, which leads to the right of force and not the other way around, is also accepted by others at crucial moments in history. In 1847, the absolute Prussian monarch, assured that he was on the level of legitimacy, declared highly that he would not interpose any piece of paper between him and his people. But after the barricades of March 1848, he swore loyalty to a liberal constitution. Following a long conflict with the Assembly, the Crown succeeded in 1849 in restoring absolute power; hence the trial against the extremist Rhine group that had incited the people to rise up against the Crown. The accuser presents as legal the two successive transitions by claiming that the king had on his own initiative "suspended" a right which was his, then, that he had taken it back. The accused easily ridicules the argument by showing that, in the first case, the king had conceded nothing but that his power had been destroyed and that he had abandoned part of it in the hope of saving what remained, and that, in the second case, when the counter-revolution triumphed, he did not hesitate to tear up the new instituted legality. Who broke the law? Everyone has tried, and those who have tried are suing the others.
The workers group, Marx explains, fought to drive the lazy and cowardly bourgeoisie out of Germany, not to live with it in the shadow of a new rule of law but to go much further.
"The necessary result of all this intrigue can only be either the complete victory of the counter-revolution or a new victorious revolution."
The drugs had not yet been used, but it seems obvious that Dr. Marx had confessed. He was acquitted.
State security, defence of constitutional legality, special courts, people's courts, courts for war criminals, all this stuff stinks up the atmosphere from sunrise to sunset. In America, the communists are being prosecuted (if only they were!) by continuing to develop the brilliant institution of liberal law according to which all political opinion and organisation are admitted, unless they have as their programme the destruction of the state system that exists. To which the Stalinists, instead of replying that one returns in this way to pure capitalist legitimism, perfectly analogous to the feudal legitimism of Frederick of Prussia, react by declaring that it is a slander to attribute to them the intention of preparing the working class for the armed struggle for its dictatorship, that they claim legality and that they would eventually only rise up against it to defend against a reactionary "provocation". Provocation of whom, in this happy country where one cannot find the slightest trace of a Habsburg, a Bourbon or a Hohenzollern? Maybe from Montezuma or Bisonte Nero?
In the great Russian revolution, the magnificent Marxist Bolshevik group which re-established the line of communist vision in the decisive polemics on terrorism against the renegades of our school, since fate gave to Leningrad and Moscow to precisely define what the young Marx described in broad strokes for Cologne and Berlin, namely two revolutions which push in the back two counter-revolutions, had to undergo a disgusting historical heritage of revolutionary justice and popular courts. Marxists of the calibre of a Lenin, of a Trotsky, of a Bukharin were impatient to liquidate forever this literary low junk, and we see it well in the famous so-called lawsuit brought against the socialist-revolutionaries who passed to the opposition and to the conspiracy against the power of the Bolsheviks. These are not cases for pseudo magistrates but for action committees of the revolutionary class, the revolutionary power or - but you are seized with horror - the party.
When the party leading the struggle for power proclaims and theorises without false pretence the historical doctrine of force and declares without hypocritical sensationalisms that only the outcome of the armed struggle established in history who was to take the seat of the judge, that of the accuser and the throne of the king, when it announces the use of violence not as a retaliatory measure but as an indispensable means of political initiative and when it rejects forever the recognition of principles and magistrates, old and new, neutral in the conflict, it is only then that we move towards a revolutionary victory that will not only open the way to a new society, but will also put an end to the hatred of needless and cruel bloody reprisals and vengeance. This is the open Terrorism of Marxists.
Today, when everyone proclaims programmes of tolerance, freedom and democracy, whether parliamentary, popular or progressive, everyone is ready to strike without mercy at the defeated, even if reduced to impotence; everyone sues, condemns, shoots and hangs.
Here we protest because the others condemned the cardinal; these others themselves shout because the condemnation of the fascist commander is too light, but all together they applauded at the gallows of Nuremberg and Tokyo.
All are fervent paladins of the respect of the legality and outraged of the betrayals to the constituted order of the State. But is this state popular and lawful? And who established it? The only thing that is certain is that it is a de facto power to the extent that it was able to capture those who broke its boxes and put them in a cage. A legal justification is within everyone's reach. Are you Marxists? Does a Marxism that changes every ten years please you by any chance? Let's take an Engels passage from 1885; mature enough, shall we?
"The official parties, from the Kreuz-Zeitung to the Frankfurter, reproach the Social Democratic Workers' Party with being a revolutionary party, with refusing to recognise the legal foundations established in 1866 and 1871, and thereby - at least this is the refrain of everyone right down to the National Liberals - with putting itself beyond the limits of common law. I shall ignore the monstrous insinuation here that anyone can place himself beyond the bounds of common law simply by expressing an opinion. That is the police state pure and simple, which one should better practise on the quiet, while preaching the constitutional state out loud. But what are then the legal foundations of 1866, if not revolutionary? The Federal Constitution is violated and war declared on the confederates. Not at all, says Bismarck, it was the others who violated the treaty. The answer to which is that a revolutionary party would have to be simple-minded in the extreme if it proved unable to find at least as convincing grounds for any uprising as those put forward by Bismarck for his in 1866."
The bourgeoisie has been able to deflower all legitimacy, yet today's false workers leaders are only yapping about legality. The discussion that Franz Joseph, Bismarck and the German Socialists had on the law is equivalent to that of the governments of Mussolini, Badoglio or De Gasperi, the fascist, republican or partisan officials, on the legality of the law.
From trial to trial and from hunt to hunt to traitors to traitors, the revolutionary force of the workers goes to ruin. We are heading towards a trial à la volante rouge and the polemic is centred on the thesis of constitutional freedom and - listen carefully! - social morality!
The working class in Italy and in the other countries will be beaten and betrayed if it does not succeed in leading the fight out of the malodorous courts of justice, if it does not refuse any sovereignty to the magistrate; and any justice that is not that which it will do with its own hands.
It must speak out in favour of the fight against and outside the Constitution, in particular this Italian Constitution of today, more than any other, embraces the definition of Dr Marx in the speech quoted above:
"That abstract Italian trifle, that piece of paper."
Battaglia Comunista N°8. March 23-02, 1949.
Translator's notes: On the second page of this filo, at the end of the 2nd paragraph, after "to the others", we must add: "The force, revolutionary or counter-revolutionary, is the determining cause." Last page: the "volante rouge" (la volante rossa) was an active association of former Stalinist partisans who, after 1945, continued to make various coups de mains against fascists, bosses, etc. The PCI abandoned them, and they were tried (Bordiga alludes to their trial).
Translation by Libri Incogniti