Marxism and Partisanism (XII)


At the time of the bourgeois revolution, the vanguard forces of the class that came to power experienced their internationalism, especially in the period of fire of 1848, when, on the other hand, the already present modern proletarian class, the insurrections had repercussions one after the other in the capitals of Europe. Bourgeois revolutionary democrats from various countries made frequent contacts and lent each other effective armed support. There was no lack of theoretical systemisations of a European and global bourgeois democracy movement. It is enough to recall Mazzini's Young Europe parallel to Young Italy and the wide use of patriotic and national mysticism.

A method of struggle characteristic of this period of the conquest of the world by the bourgeoisie was the conspiracy of secret societies and participation, through armed expeditions, legions of organised volunteers inside and outside the borders, in the struggles that were developing in different countries (wars of independence).

It is fundamental that, since the last century, the first groups of workers and socialists who came to the Marxist class conception, opposed to this mode of conducting the revolutionary struggle, proper to the bourgeois era, gave a decisive critique and a very different type of organisation and struggle. It will suffice to reread Engels' note on the history of the Communist League, which serves as a preface to Marx's revelations on the Cologne trial of 1852. In 1848, in the middle of the revolutionary period, the communists were convinced that the defeat of the feudal reaction in the different countries had great importance for the proletariat. They did not despair, on the other hand, to graft on the revolutions of Paris, Berlin and the other capitals the assault of the working class to the bourgeoisie, in order to conquer power. However, they denounced, even in party circulars, the use of legions and the "partisanship" of extremist democrats.

"At that time the craze for revolutionary legions prevailed in Paris. Spaniards, Italians, Belgians, Dutch, Poles and Germans flocked together in crowds to liberate their respective fatherlands. The German legion was led by Herwegh, Bornsted, Bornstein. Since immediately after the revolution all foreign workers not only lost their jobs but in addition were harassed by the public … We opposed this playing with revolution in the most decisive fashion." (K. Marx before the jurors of Cologne)

"We founded a German communist club, in which we advised the workers to keep away from the legion and to return instead to their homes singly and work there for the movement."

The wave of crises and struggles of 1848 was followed by a period of consolidation of the bourgeois economy and pauses in political struggles. The feudal reaction was under the illusion that it had won politically; but in an analysis of 1850 Marx noted that:

"the basis of the relationships is momentarily so secure and, what the reaction does not know, so bourgeois. All reactionary attempts to hold up bourgeois development will rebound off it just as certainly as all moral indignation and all enthusiastic proclamations of the democrats." (Review from May to October 1850, in Neue Rheinische Zeitung).

Engels notes:

"This cool estimation of the situation, however, was regarded as heresy among many persons, at a time when Ledru-Rollin, Louis Blanc, Mazzini, Kossuth and, among the lesser German lights, Ruge, Kinkel, Gogg and the rest of them crowded in London to form provisional governments of the future not only for their respective fatherlands but for the whole of Europe, and when the only still still necessary was to obtain the requisite money from America as a loan for the revolution to realise at a moment’s notice the European revolution and the various republics which went with it was a matter of course." (On The History of the Communist League).

The conclusion of Engels' 1885 text is a historical reminder and a tribute to the gigantic power of Marx's revolutionary conception of history.

There is enough to establish that to the mystical method proper to the bourgeois revolution, that of the former exiles who became partisans, the workers revolution opposes a very different one: the organisation into a class party, territorially present everywhere where capital exploits its wage slaves, a single party for all countries because it is not founded on the recognition of national states and popular constitutions, a party in incessant struggle with the bourgeois institutions in place as much on the theoretical level as in the practical battle.

The bourgeois-democratic and partisan method, for which any movement can only succeed in opposing the order prevailing in a country if it has the support of a regime of another country that provides weapons and aid, gives refuge in case of defeat at congresses of inspired puppet governments, has not ceased, by its corrupting seductions, to create obstacles to the constitution of the world proletarian movement.

The Italian literary tradition has Carducci's famous text on the young ver sacrum of Italy that avenge Rome and Montana by falling victorious on the gentle land of France. In the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 - one can wonder whether modern democracy progressed more with the bayonets of Moltke or with those of the little Napoleon - the Italian Garibaldini were volunteers, as a legion, in Dijon where they won a secondary tactical victory over the Prussians.

When it came to consolidating socialist criticism of nationalism and patriotism, the legionary episodes of the war of Greek liberation against the Turks at the end of the century were not without problems. They shouted to us in controversy that in Damokos with democrats of all countries there were also anarchists, and we explained many times with patience that we did not consider anarchists as a revolutionary model of the left for Marxists.

In the war of 1914 one can think that the dominant fact was not a choice of the "democrats" of the whole world for one of the two sides. In Austria and Germany, the Socialists, like every other left-wing parliamentary party, were with the regime and the war. We were already at the type of modern, imperialist, general war throughout the capitalist world. There was a reactionary and feudal regime at stake, Russia, but you see it was in the field of the great democracies of the West, those that have always incubated the partisans of freedom in their generous bosoms. You could not dream in London and Paris of organising legions against the Allied Tsar, who was seriously engaged in drawing on the battering ram of the Kaiser's armies. But the Russian revolution broke out. The position of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in front of the various opportunist groups of Russian democratic and socialist emigrants does not need to be recalled. In theory, it is the same as Marx's with regard to Mazzinism and Kossuthism, in practice he fucked them up at the same time as the partisans of the tsar and the bourgeoisie.


It was during the Spanish Civil War that the partisan movement proved its worth during its ruinous reissue. With the d'Annunzists we had had in Italy, during the great war, a production of legionarism. It is a fact which for Marxist analysis relates to the vast demands of professional militarism determined by modern wars, especially within the middle classes, and which leads directly to various forms proper to fascist totalitarianism.

In Spain, we saw red and black legionarism which both took partisan forms, i.e. the form of military bodies supported by modern technology and by relative expense, without the states officially appearing, for example Russia on the one hand, Italy on the other.

It seemed like the clash of two worlds, but everything ended in a police operation complacently supported by the great markets of Western democracies and by Moscow's ambiguous behaviour, and ended in the terrible ruin of the international revolutionary movement, ideological, organisational ruin and the sacrifice of able-bodied and daring men, in the integral interest and to the advantage of capitalism.

All this led directly to the defeatist situation, from the proletarian point of view, of the Second World War. While after the first, all the effort of the movement oriented toward communist victory in Russia was directed to the formation of the international class party that rose threatening against the bourgeoisie of all countries, after the second war, the Stalinists liquidated the classist and party orientation and, with one hundred petty-bourgeois parties, overthrew all the forces that, unfortunately, they controlled, in the legionary-type movement.

Revolutionary militants became adventurers of a type little different from that of the early fascists. Instead of being party men, guardians of the Marxist orientation and the solid autonomous organisation of the parties of the International, they became corporals, colonels or operetta generals. They ruined the revolutionary orientation of the proletariat by making it regress terribly by at least a century. They called it all progressivism. They convinced the workers of France, Italy and all the other countries that the class struggle - naturally offensive and of a deliberate and declared nature of initiative - was concretised in a defence, in a resistance, in a useless and bloody haemorrhage against the organised capitalist forces which were expelled only by other no less regular and no less capitalist forces, while the method adopted absolutely prevented, in the current movement, an attempt at an autonomous attack by the working-class forces. History will show that such attempts did not fail like that of Warsaw during which the Soviets waited impassively a few kilometres away for the German army to restore the traditional order. But these were doomed attempts because of the democratic and partisan misdirection of class energies.

The opportunist degeneration of 1914-1918, beaten by Bolshevism, that is, by Marxism in its true conception, is presented in the same relationship to the difficult path of the socialist working class as the partisan degeneration of 1939-1945.

In the first crisis it was possible to return to our specific method of struggle by founding the great autonomous revolutionary parties. After the second, the proletariat is under the threat of a new partisan infection.

The partisan is the one who fights for another, if he does so out of faith out of duty or out of money doesn't matter.

The militant of the revolutionary party is the worker who fights for himself and for the class to which he belongs.

The fate of the revolutionary recovery depends on the power to raise a new insurmountable barrier between the method of the classist action of the party and that of the democrats of the partisan struggle.


[1] Translator's note: See a series of articles in A. Bordiga, in Prometeo 1924, n° 1 and 2.

[2] See "In Memory of the Commune of Warsaw" in Il Programma comunista no. 23 1953 and no. 1 1954.

Battaglia Comunista No. April 14, 6 - 13, 1949.
Translation by Libri Incogniti

(Italian Version)


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