Romance of the Holy War (XLIX)
At the time of the Brest-Litovsk peace between Bolshevik Russia and the still Kaiserist Germany, in March 1918, lively arguments arose in the proletarian and revolutionary camp. Did the Russian proletarian class, having overthrown feudalism and capitalism, had to come to peace at any price and end the war; that is, did it have to turn the revolutionary victory to a "holy war", proclaimed to overthrow the German imperial power, and to advance the social revolution throughout Europe? It is strange that, while the Marxist communists, the extreme wing of the European and Italian socialist movement, approved and understood the Leninist politics of war and the acceptance of the conditions imposed at Brest "without even discussing them", anarchists and revolutionary trade unionists, even those who had been against the bourgeois war and interventionism since 1914-15, were enthusiastic about the term and the idea of the "proletarian holy war". It is strange because, given that war is waged with the army, and that the libertarians reproach the Marxists for the use of an authoritarian state apparatus to direct the struggle within, it is not seen how a revolution without state power would be reconciled with a revolution that arms armies to make real wars. The maximum expression of state authority is the military fact; the war against modern armies and with modern means (and something else one cannot think of) requires an organism with the maximum of centralised unity, of absolute discipline, and of hierarchical authority. If for us Marxists it is impossible, for a not brief period of transformation, to entrust the foundation of the non-capitalist and non-proprietary economy to the autonomous initiative of the free industrial or agricultural federated communes, as the libertarian formula wants, and therefore we argue that it cannot do without the strength of the workers' state, and the central management of the class party, much more evident to us is the absurdity of the idea that this federalism would serve as a basis for mobilisations and military operations. A century has passed since the bourgeois idea of a war arising from a flamboyant ideal of the masses, led by barefoot sons of armed rage. In the war, the methods of organisation, of planning from a centre, reach the highest point. If we Marxists, too, after the full use of all the advantages of modern technology, now the monopoly of capitalists, see, in the end, a social organisation without coercion and coercive interventions, it is certain that the premise of this superior stage of communism is not only the implementation of a vast series of social measures, but above all the decisive overcoming of the era of wars and state armies.
War is being waged by the great depositary centres of an immense network of technical and economic resources, by increasingly powerful centres; and this is the tragic lesson of recent times. The wide appeals to irregular formations, to the resistance, to the patriots, to the maquis and so on, have had as a goal, not a serious shift of the military relations of force (because the damage that, even though they bleed out, those movements have done to the "enemy" has been null and void in relation to the results of the official and regular forces) but the political result of emptying the energies of the masses, and to eliminate the opposition to the filth and oppression that the victors intended to carry out, after success, in the pure service of the interests of the ruling classes, and in contempt of all the promises of freedom, civilisation and justice.
If there is a social fact that will never be spontaneous, it is war, especially modern war. In it one reaches the maximum of manipulation, by a handful of rulers, of passive multitudes, unconscious, mechanised in a network that destroys any tendency to initiative, reducing men to many homicidal robots. In the beginning, we Marxists could not exclude that, for the development of the revolution, it is necessary to challenge, like that hard, hateful expedient that is the power of the state, also this of the war fought with military organisations.
It is strange, however, as we said, that it excites the libertarians, who want everything and delude themselves that they rest on the autonomy of the "human person". The human person is sacred, war is holy; they are expressions of pure bourgeois idealism, of the most succinctly hypocritical one, and they make us smile. For the philistine, millions of people can well be sacrificed to the sinister fetish of war: the idea of holy war is instead connected, for us Marxists, not to a war of the future to be ennobled compared to the criminal wars of yesterday and today, but to a greater use of mysticism and fanaticism, which, together with bullying and conscription, lead once again millions of oppressed to give their lives in service to the exploiters and oppressors.
War, as a positive and fundamental historical fact, cannot be ignored and exorcised, just as democratic cretinism cannot eliminate and exorcise the violent impact of the classes: we must therefore see its historical development, not starting from moral exaltation, but with the Marxist method of determinism.
In the history of the workers' movement, Dolleans, with an anarchic tendency, does everything to shed sinister light on the position of Marx and Engels in 1870. The first wrote to the second, on 20 July, words of this kind (we are not allowed to check translations and reproductions): "The French need to be beaten. If the Prussians win, the centralisation of state power will benefit the centralisation of the German working class. The German preponderance, moreover, would shift the centre of gravity of the European-Western workers' movement from France to Germany... which would mean the preponderance of our theory over that of Proudhon". On 31 July, Engels replied: "My confidence in the military achievements of the Germans is growing day by day. It is we who have won the first serious battle". And on 15 August: "Elevating anti-Bismarckism to our only guiding principle would be absurd. Today, as in 1866, Bismarck does a piece of our work; in his own way and without knowing it, but he does it". Marx would have been extremely worried because the sentence of his letter on the shifting of the workers' centre of gravity was mentioned in the text of the Brunswick Manifesto of the German Socialists, when it was not to be made public.
All this leads to attributing the crisis of the International to the arrogance and to the spirit of dictatorship of Marx, all aimed at liquidating the "cursed Russian" Bakunin. In another quotation, then, Engels also assailed the new French Republican regime, writing to Marx on September 7, 1870: "These people who had tolerated Badinguet for twenty years, now claim, because the German victories have yielded them a republic (et laquelle!) that the Germans immediately abandon the sacred soil of France, otherwise: guerre à outrance! […] I hope that, after their first intoxication, they will return to their senses, etc.".
As usual, the great historical question on revolution, between authoritarian and libertarian, is reduced by those who don't arrive at putting it on a real historical level - we won't say by those who don't understand they're doing it - to a matter of temperament of notorious leaders. Recently they have reviewed the thousandth book on Lenin, of which we are proud not to have read the second. Since the congresses in London, since his stays in Switzerland, Lenin is described as the man who insatiably, act by act, prepares by hand the satisfaction of his innate need for power, command, his greed to condemn and have executed men! Science and art of the bourgeoisie, in the same degree of decay, will seek in the mother's womb the imprint of sadistic hunger for dictatorship of those men, transforming into such comic strips, only produced within the reach of authors, publishers and readers with hysterical skin and atrophic brains, the serene contribution, and outside of any subjective passion, given by them to the theory of the power and dictatorship of the state, in relation to the classes.
Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, they were men who broke all the boxes when it came to taking offices and receiving honours. The first two got away with it and the satisfaction can be seen, for those who can read, from every line of their demonstrations in the political and practical field. The third, in a different historical phase, for the determinism of the facts was at the head of the state, without anything changing in his simplicity. He beats and rebuts on the doctrine, lashes and lashes out at all those who go beyond the confines of the sown and who, under the pressure of their extreme unshakeable conviction and decision to have been created for "sacrificing" themselves to direct everything, reverse and overturn the action to the point of betrayal; At a certain point, a Lenin decides to do it himself, remaining the same man with the same indescribable smile and infinite good-natured tolerance for the weaknesses, the vanities, and the continuous nonsense of even the best, preserving the same habits of life in the time of misery. His partner Nadezhda Krupskaya, at the Kremlin, was the same as the four-order pensioners in Zurich.
There is a tasty anecdote told by Wolfe. He could not avoid a few "visits" by bourgeoisified ladies, wives of socialist leaders, and there was talk of cooking. I, said Nadezhda, use the stove, in which I pour in a single pot with all we have for lunch. Really?! And the cooking time? It depends, was the quiet answer; up to six hours, when Vladimir is immersed in work; and up to ten minutes, when we are too hungry.
This was the man hatching, according to the idiots, the venomous snake with a thirst for domination. Revolutionary history placed him at the top of the pyramid of dictatorship, which weighed inexorably on the interests, prejudices and hypocrisies of class enemies. That they have not even understood who, in terms of temperament, was Lenin, is the final proof of the materialistic thesis on power, namely that there are some class circles whose elements cannot be convinced by propaganda or constitutional measures, but must be annihilated by force; and without exception by blows.
This was the man, whom no one ever saw with any uniform, decoration, or badge of power and honour. They had to embalm him first, in order to slap him on a theatre stage.
As for Marx and Engels, the scandalous effect of those quotations is really nil, even without being able to integrate them into the real texts.
Making anti-Bismarckism a principle means exchanging for a stupid idealism and ethicalism the method of critical communism that finds the positive causes of historical facts, and whose first line says: there is no more ferocious and infamous inhuman thing than the formation of capitalism, but this process was not only necessary, in the sense that it was the premise for the development of socialism, but, in the times and places where it is still going on, and if it depends on us, we, proletarians and socialists, we should help it.
The same total abandonment of the Marxist terrain occurred when it was raised to the first principle, either the struggle of the priest, or the war against William of Germany, or that against Hitler. The same has been done by those who "after having endured Bagnasciuga for twenty years" (in that passage Marx refers to Napoleon III with contempt by calling him Badinguet), and "after the Anglo-American victories had yielded them a republic (e quale!) they demanded, with the politics of the liberation committees, that the Germans should leave the sacred soil of Italy, without which: guerra ad oltranza".
The Holy War did not make the revolutionary proletarians of the Commune of Paris stupid, and it did not make the Italian socialists stupid in 1914-15.
Unfortunately, it made the Italian proletarians crack after the twenty years of Bagnasciuga, and for the defence of this republic 1946, and even of the monarchy 1943!!!
Let's hope that the same is not reserved for them, at the onset of an imminent conflict between the two wings of yesterday's warriors.
If the Russian state had not degenerated, and with it the movement of the Communist International founded by Lenin, it would have been clear that the situation of the Second World Imperialist War should not be approached with warmongering. A vigorous Marxist party, with its hand and eye on the thread of time, would thus have proclaimed: In 1870, objective analysis showed - since not the idea, but force is the agent that changes the perspectives of history - that Bismarck's victory over Bonaparte was an accelerating and positive element, far beyond Bismarck's opinions and desires, of the process of developing the European class struggle. The period of progressive national wars was not yet over: however, from then on in political action I was far from allying with the Prussian government, and my movement was that of the Commune, against which Bonapartists, bourgeois republicans of France, and German militarists, nurtured the same hatred. I am mature enough to be ashamed of a bourgeois-proletarian defence of the "sacred soil of the Republic of France".
This party, on the dictates of Lenin and the socialist left wing, in the 1914-18 war knew enough to stamp all the sacred unions at once.
This party, in Russia, in 1917, set up the whole battle to take power (February-October 1917) on the word: away from the front, we end the war; against the word of the bourgeoisie and the Mensheviks: war of revolutionary national defence, anti-German holy war. After the conquest of power, the party maintained its programme and ended the war, accepting the heavy conditions of peace of the Germans. In a detailed exposition of the period between the Russian Revolution and the German one, we will see the stages and the reasons for this decisive and precise policy, in which Lenin faces the impulsiveness of the sentimental advocates of the revolutionary war.
This party, in the Second Imperialist War 1939-45, should also have supported breaking the policy and action of war within all states. A Marxist could, however, preserve the right, without fearing that the usual libertarian ideologists would accuse him of sympathising with a tyrant, to make calculations and to investigate the consequences of Hitler's victory over London and of an English collapse. This same Marxist will retain the right, while demonstrating that Stalin's regime has not, for at least twenty years, been a proletarian regime, to consider the useful revolutionary consequences that would result from the - unfortunately unlikely - collapse of American power, in a possible third war of states and armies.
The essential thing will be not to make a policy of "holy war" under any circumstances. Such a policy is there, on the thread of time, in the safe memory of the current generation, to demonstrate its effects and results. Free with the exhausted party committees that we all know, and with the waving of white handkerchiefs to the notorious "jeeps of our heart", the sacred Italian soil, there are no more Germans. But yesterday's anti-German people, smelling themselves, no longer smell holiness. We have the republic (e quale! you said well, Don Carlo mio, e quale: more sanctimonious, reactionary and business-like than the monarchy) and we have the republican opposition, in struggle against the unheard of scandal that the proceeds of capitalist business are the monopoly of the politicians of the majority, while in the CLN the work to guarantee them was done by all together.
For this reason, the Italian bourgeoisie freed itself from Bagnasciuga with the Holy War, and rightly General Alexander, who stipulated the rent, wanted to clarify the misunderstanding: not offence but cordial handshake.
 The literal translation is the nautical expression "boot topping" or "load lines", but the colloquial meaning is "shore-line". The reason is the following: On 24 June, Mussolini gave his last important speech as prime minister, known as the "boot topping" speech. The Duce promised that the only part of Italy that the Anglo-Americans would be able to occupy was the shore-line. He was misspoken in his effort to say they would only occupy Italy as corpses, and he used incorrect vocabulary. For many Italians, his confused and incoherent speech was the final proof that something was wrong with Mussolini. So "Bagnasciuga" here refers to Mussolini, in the same manner as "Badinguet" was a satirical term for Louis Bonaparte that Marx also used.
Battaglia Comunista, No. 13, 1950.
Translation by Libri Incogniti