Political Trials: Ends and Means (VIII)
One only has to go back a generation to remember that, in the journalistic polemic, in the discussions between "cultured" people or in the bourgeois salons, the judgment made on the great French revolution of 1789 was still considered controversial. But no one in the self-righteous spheres challenged its historical, social and political results, since there were no longer any parties or currents in favour of legitimistic restoration that could support the need to abolish the "conquests" made in the world on the basis of its immortal principles. (To tell the truth, one thing that did not leave the revolutionary Benito Mussolini stupefied in 1912 was that in Naples there was still printed a Bourbon weekly, Le Vrai Guelfe...)
However, at least in the eyes of the man in the street, the judgment of posterity was still controversial, just as the debate was still open about the serious question of the horrors, the fierce methods that the revolution had practised in its revitalising struggle and in its inexorable progression. Let us go for freedom, equality and fraternity, let us go for the liberal and parliamentary regime and for the rights of man and citizen, let us go for the abolition of absolute monarchies and noble and ecclesiastical privileges, but, in order to obtain all this, they should have thought about it and even renounced it rather than arriving at the atrocities of the Temple, at the legendary outbursts by wig-makers - who had not yet discovered the perm - of frizzled duchesses.
The "sensational", even if this word was not yet used, i.e. the romanised and colourful chronicle of the historical facts by their side-effects and the description of the horrors, thus became a decisive social argument. If an Italian, not so stupid as he had been for a long time, had explained that in the political and historical process the end we reach must be considered much more important than the means we use, his descendants could only blush from an ancestor as cynical and immoral as Nicolas Machiavelli.
Weaning all the propaganda from this mania of the gruesome subject always seemed an impossible feat since it formed the basis of the popular spread of Christianity; and if the reactionaries put priority on the Widow and the Terror to stir feelings during the peroration of any indictment, the radical democrats, the Masonic anti-clerics found nothing better to fight them than to recall the Inquisition and the St Bartholomew.
It has never been possible to conclude the debate on this point with an accepted judgment: which of the two contenders was the cruellest, the fiercest. There is always a fight to be made. We must keep coming back to it and even men like Gandhi or Tolstoy do not escape it. But the problem is that the above-mentioned man in the street does not realise that this is a useless search, that - admitting that it is possible to distinguish between lies told and lies believed on one side and lies told on the other - it is not at all said that it is appropriate to choose against the one who is, in the past, the present and the future, on the side of the harshest means, because the question always resides elsewhere.
In the wars of the previous generation, both sides competed to find dum-dum bullets in the flesh of their wounded. The projectiles admitted by the international conventions of the civilised capitalist world had to be conical and launched by rifled guns, they did not have to cause infections and devastate the tissues, it was enough that they legally send their victims to the other world. At that time there was no talk of aviation, asphyxiating gases, atomic bombs and other toys.
The wrenched hands of the Belgian children and the atrocities of the Cossack hordes of the Tsar, who did not take prisoners, represented the climax of the polemical battle which took place parallel to that of the guns during the war of 1914.
The ignoble spectacle of the Kravchenko trial would be enough to establish that we are still at the same point and that powerful mobilisations for propaganda purposes are still based on the foolish capital of horrors. It is mainly the Anglo-Saxons who are convinced that they have won two wars by this expedition and they are not willing to give them up. The mountains of printed paper are poured out on the world for this purpose; and they also represent a good bargain since, while books and journals of historical and social science are indigestible and little in demand, the public on the contrary throws itself frantically and "toothlessly" (i.e. like the glutton on the best of the good little dishes) on the pages that draw the laws of historical science from the skillfully anatomical descriptions of the interrogations of the third degree based on torn nails, obscene mutilations and vivisections of human guinea pigs.
There has been a campaign against the Russian revolution for decades with despicable inventions of this kind and the same accusations bounced back obscenely in the last war from one front to the next. Half the world swears Katyn's gravediggers were German, the other half thinks they were Russian. Ninety percent of the books of impressions on Russia and on war memories, of the bric-a-brac of romanticised autobiographies of passive maniacs of persecution on Hitlerian and Stalinist police, belong to this kind of literature.
Many of these infamies may not be invented, no matter who they are attributed to, but it is impossible to get to the bottom of this type of research. And more than impossible, it is useless, since their narration can only be used in all cases for at the very least shady purposes of setting up tendentious propaganda.
The Stalinists defend themselves badly against the learned charlatanism of Kravchenko's book and the whole movement of this nature because before they have wallowed in the parallel method of propaganda used by the same capitalist organisation against Nazism and fascism. They will be the victims of this filthy paraphernalia and rightly so, since they have been its accomplices.
They thus upset the process of formation of the new historical consciousness in the proletarian vanguard. They stupidly accept the discussion of whether there is more freedom in Russia than there was in Germany under Hitler or than there is today in America. They have lost sight of the criticism and condemnation of bourgeois freedom that police officers and peddlers have every right to choose. They can no longer answer that the communists choose, as for them, the revolutionary dictatorship, given that as far as they are concerned, they have bartered and sold everything, that they have also bartered and speculated on the stupid slogan of the struggle for freedom " tout court" and that today they find themselves in the proverbial situation of the snake that bites the charlatan.
It may make a certain impression that the German opposition communist Heinz Neumann, a generous and loyal fighter of the proletariat, ended up in a silent execution and that his companion was tossed around between the Soviet and Nazi police forces like so many other unfortunate, poor human backwash from the turmoil of the policies of the great powers. But let us not think that we should meditate and study this more serious historical problem which is the conduct of the proletarian struggle starting from that which emerges from the widow's account. Why then was the Russian tactic in Italy in 1923 or 1943 summed up in its entirety in this instruction "fight for freedom, choose freedom, stand shoulder to shoulder with the liberals of all shades"? And why, on the contrary, in Germany, when Neumann was a supporter of the bloc against Hitler with all the anti-fascists, i.e. the united front for freedom, was he disavowed? And why again after 1941 did the campaign for freedom and the anti-Nazi united front with all the democrats in the world cry out again?
These are far more important questions than whether the activist Neumann was placed in an inn, in a prison or in a gas chamber, even if these images make one shiver.
These are questions that have to do with the sabotage and defeatism of all the resources of the world revolution.
That is why only communists who have not at every turn borrowed something from the enemy camp, who consider bourgeois freedom as exactly the same in every situation, can today have the right to spit in the face of the Kravchenko and on the factory that secretly produces them, like the one that produces atomic bombs in the deserts of New Mexico and Dakota.
Battaglia Comunista, Nr 10, 09-16 March 1949.
Translation by Libri Incogniti