Anticlericalism and Socialism (XXIII)
Once the sleeves have been rolled up and the forearms have been rubbed with alcohol at 95 degrees, we put our hands into the most serious infectious process of the socialist movement: anticlericalism.
One could perhaps think in the last years of the peaceful capitalist period, on the eve of the First World War, that the main fracture of the political conflict had shifted from the trite plan of the struggle between clergymen and laymen to that of the struggle between militarists and internationalists, much more in keeping with our class approach.
That was not the case, in that among the forces and weapons of the bourgeois class dominant in the world, both the military and the church apparatus still have formidable weight. This was not the case, as between the deviations of the Marxist proletarian line, as well as the fall in the suggestions of patriotism and adherence to wars, still appear and a tolerant opportunism not only confession of religious principles but even practices of worship and, conversely, the dialectically complementary opportunism of the alliance with the equivocal bourgeois currents or small free-masonic and Masonic bourgeoisie.
We could say in Italy when Fascism formed that it was only a new form of bourgeois rule, more consistent with modern times but not such as to make us regretfully prefer and desire the others already known, and that the real danger it contained was not the defeat and violence of democratic liberalism, but the inevitable new suggestion that unfortunately the ruinous doctrines of this would have returned to exert on the proletarian masses. Of the current form of bourgeois government that once again pivots on a party, such as the Christian Democrat, already dear to the Vatican, black beast of the Italic bourgeoisie, can rightly be said to be worth as much as liberal and fascist governments or as much as a hypothetical left-wing demo-social-republican government, that the winners of the last war had liked to invest power. The specific danger that this government or, as one begins to declaim, philo-catholic regime presents for us, is precisely the resurgence of the contradictory anticlerical campaign, new corrupting epidemic of class movement, that has already crossed the other disastrous crisis of anti-fascism.
We can only plunge through a medley into the memory of the anticlerical chronicle, cumbersome is the youth of the generation that witnessed the two wars. Those who have grey hair cannot help but remember the confusionist invocations and tenors of blocists: Are you monarchists? You must be anticlerical because the Savoy monarchy has implemented Italian unity through the breach of Porta Pia and by facing Papal excommunication. Are you Republicans? You must be as anticlerical as Mazzini and Garibaldi were, irreconcilable enemies of the Catholic Church. Are you socialists? You must be anticlerical because the priest is the ally of the bosses. Are you anarchists? You must be anticlerical because the first freedom is that from ecclesiastical obscurantism. And so you all run into the arms of the "popular bloc" - of the "anticlerical circle" - of the "Association of free thought". And then, not shouted in tedious public speeches but whispered in appropriate cases to four eyes, of the Masonic Lodge.
The material, the propaganda armament of this movement was immense, it put its hand history, literature, the chronicles of all countries, served with arms and at a reduced pace the schools of thought, of authors, of writers for other remarkable repercussions, it mobilised Dante and his she-wolf, St. Francis and Our Lady of Poverty, the persecution of heretics, the burning of Arnold of Brescia and Giordano Bruno and a hundred others, the wars and massacres of the Reformed, the night of St. Bartholomew, the exploits of the Inquisition, the Index, the Syllabus , the more or less fictional stories of the Holy Office and the Society of Jesus, the Vendée of France and the temporal power of Italy with the martyrdom of the heroes of the Risorgimento, an unfathomable arsenal of affectionate motions.
The real twists and turns of this campaign in the period that we have recalled were the law in France for the suppression of religious congregations as legal entities, with police operations to expel the occupants of convents, upset by crowds of bigots in prayer, a real divorce of the Third Republic from Papal Rome, then in Italy the formidable drunkenness of the masonic bloc between Republican right-wing socialists and radical democrats, which had as its flag the famous Asino (donkey) of Guido Podrecca, an illustrated newspaper that displayed every week until boredom the fat and filthy figure of Bepi (Pius X) next to that of the dry Spanish Secretary of State Merry del Val, and fuelled sensational campaigns with Catholic boarding school scandals, bringing to historical fame the names of some dirty priests - the international protest campaign after the shooting in the moat of the Montjuic fort of the Spanish anarchist Francisco Ferrer , who was opposed to the influence of the Jesuits, during which the hypocritical currents of bourgeois radicals took advantage of the disarray of the extremist organisations by mingling with them, going so far as to publicly displaying the secret uniforms and masonic insignia endorsed by the supreme leaders outside the Sorbonne in Paris, during popular demonstrations.
Marxist criticism turned against the deleterious effects of this plan of contact and contagion between the political forces of the bourgeois class and the movement of the workers' parties, showing how it led directly to the loss of any class formulation. All that ideological smoke about the alleged conflict between modern and intelligent bourgeois forces and ecclesiastical obscurantism, all the noise raised in multi-coloured demonstrations of tricolored flags and red banners, a carnival extremism with waves of hisses and screaming down at some priest who happened to swell up in black on the street, was denounced as an expedient intended to delay the formation of precise class formations of workers and their organisations that directly threaten the principal interest of the bourgeoisie, and who want to suppress capitalist exploitation by breaking down the power of the State that defends it, without applying different treatment to the employer or the police officer who, by any means, could prove to be an enemy of the pope and not believe in God.
This controversy, which involves profound questions of doctrine and fundamental experiences of political tactics, was fully developed only in the Latin countries and in the countries of the dominant Catholic religion, with inadequate reflections and results in the Anglo-Saxon countries and in the eastern countries of Europe, but it is a fundamental trait of the Marxist struggle against opportunism.
The struggle of the bourgeois class against the feudal powers was theoretically expressed as a call for free examination and the right of criticism for the need to oppose the principle of authority based essentially on religious bases and church bodies. These grandiose movements presented themselves in the field of thought and culture as renaissance, reform, enlightenment, romanticism, framed the rise to power of the merchants and the industrial bourgeoisie, and their historical tradition is typical of the new type of modern capitalist society. The victims, the oppressed, the enemies of this new society and the new ruling class, wage workers, heading towards a new class revolution and a new struggle for power, equip themselves, with Marxism, with a new doctrine. This in turn consists of a critique of the cornerstones of the contemporary order, of its economic nature and its historical generation, in a demolition of the ideological principles by which it is justified. Such a socialist doctrine is fully aware of the social transition that was announced by the critical battle against the foundations of the theological conception of the world, by the struggle to remove scientific investigation and the diffusion of its teachings from the monopoly of religious supervision and the limits of its canons and dogmas. But at the same time, Marxist criticism unmasks and denounces the illusions that "free examination" would be a sufficient conquest to eliminate from society the relations of exploitation and class oppression.
Of "free examination" and of the great forces that are represented by science, teaching and school, they can only serve the classes that have come to power: It is a conquest realised only by the members of this class, or a small privileged minority. The majority forced to carry overwork and undernourishment does not benefit at all from the abstract and empty proclamation of the right to investigate, study and confess the end points of the criticism.
The right to food and life must precede and not follow the right to thought. As it is implemented in the bosom of bourgeois society, this only means the compulsion of the non-bourgeois and the hungry to think according to the canons and theorems of the doctrines that justify capitalism and the system of domination, in conformity with the interests of the satiated and the powerful.
The nucleus of the Marxist position was lost, if we didn't see that this framing of the proletarian forces in the struggle for freedom of thought "in general" coincided with the struggle to impose on the proletariat, parallel to economic slavery, the subjection to think and to be moved and worse still to sacrifice and fight for those principles on which the bourgeoisie had built its power.
This demand for classist directives has been called in practice and political action, intransigence, rejection of electoral alliances, incompatibility between membership of the socialist party and membership of Freemasonry and other anticlerical societies, "popular" universities and the like.
Since then, it has been absolutely obvious that the popular adjective has become repugnant. The Roman populus, and the Greek demos excluded slaves but grouped patricians and plebeians. The feudal lordship did not want to consider itself part of the people, alongside the "mechanical villains", The revolution of the anti-feudal bourgeoisie brought back to the historical scene the people that in the modern meaning is complex of industrial rulers, merchants and financiers with small landowners and wage workers, in an indistinct whole, with common legal status. People today mean the embrace between the exploiter and the exploited.
The Marxist who says people and popular has committed suicide.
We have therefore returned to the fight against obscurantism after so many events. The parties of communist and socialist etiquette, administrated in a pure spirit of civil servants, now feel obliged to participate in such a uproar. Called to fight Hitlerism and fascism, finding it convenient to use the Christian-Democratic ally, they then mocked anti-religious and anti-priest prejudices; they organised revolutionary work in convents, authorised the members to the mass, the Eucharist and the holy oil. They ratified the concordats with the Vatican, not only to please their social-Christian allies, but they respected them to the letter as the abhorred fascists had stipulated in their time.
Called today to fight against Americanism, since it uses the Christian Democratic Party (in Italy), they draw on the arsenal of old Masonism. But imagine for a moment that the Yankee bosses had found a suitable ground to manage Italy with the help of a Masonic-type group, if the Republicans, Liberals and right-wing social democrats had been stronger, you would then see these social-communist gentlemen making ample and casual use of the theses of Marxist orthodox criticism to the secular and anticlerical bourgeoisie.
The signal for the new alignment of forces was given by the Vatican's excommunication, provoked by the fact that the local Stalinists began to create too much trouble, not for the new hierarchies, but for the ruling circles of international capital.
And since the only means of political struggle - let's not say an admitted and tolerated means, but an exclusive means - is now the call for a mobilisation of allies, the campaign for the union of all the "secular spirits", jealous of the sacred conquest of "freedom of thought" and of the most noble Italian anti-clerical traditions, was immediately launched.
We no longer know where these allies, auxiliaries and associates can be found, rented as all are in the bourgeois environment, from the petty-bourgeois Masonic types cut from the layers of Western capital and its staff. But the deflated secularist was rigorous, and you try the same. Not that it can move the Saragat and the Pacciardi, not even the good bodies of the Nitti Orlando Bonomi and similar virgulti of secular political culture.
Unable to mobilise the living, the illustrious dead were mobilised. The party and those more or less aligned publishers reprint Voltaire. The Stalinist leaders preface the "Traité sur la tolérance"!
The path of retreat is a road with no end. We started from a vague reformism of bourgeois society, we arrived at a defence of the bourgeois revolution and even at the rebuilding of it, at the historical repetition of the glorious destruction of feudalism. One more step forward - two steps back. Today we apologise for the reformism of feudal society, the prudent claim that it should allow cults other than Catholic, as a development full of - obviously concrete - topicality. Concreteness is also that of the mummified corpse…
And to say that it would be the authentic Leninist school! From revolutionary terrorism and the dictatorship of the proletariat the Muscovites have therefore gone from milestone to milestone in tolerance, a word that seems likely to give decisive annoyance and put serious obstacles in the way of De Gasperi's policies. Let's just say that this plan would be and is totally stupid. We must only point out that unfortunately they would be roses and flowers if, starting from so far away, they had only reached the secular-liberal tolerance. In word, they have followed such a path, but in reality they have completed the even longer one that lead to counter-revolutionary terrorism. Voltaire makes us laugh, but it would be chamomile in the hands of hemlock porters.
Years ago, a beautiful film entitled Intolerance made its way around the screens. In a glimpse of history and its tragic struggles it wanted to confirm the thesis that the origin of all human ills and all social tragedies was an intellectual and moral fact, the incomprehension, the hard obstinacy not to admit and respect the opinions of others.
Thesis aimed at moving an audience, thesis fully inserted in the literature of secularism and free thought.
It is this position that Marxism wanted to reverse once and for all. It is not tolerance that makes the world move. It submits and binds the oppressed classes and submits them to the conformism of the privileged. History shakes when the human herd moves away from the illusions of tolerance. Few men are wolves to man, too many are sheep. Class dominations falter when, in the real process of organised forms of production, violent incompatibilities with traditional mechanisms push the vanguard of a hitherto kneeling class to break free from the hypocrisies of tolerance, to take the great, intolerant path of the Revolution.
 A student of Abelard, a religious reformer, a supporter of a return of the Church to original poverty; clergymen, for example, should not be landowners.
 The Syllabus is a collection of eighty proposals condemned by Pope Pius IX, containing the "principal errors of our time". It was made public in 1864, a new attempt by the Roman Catholic Church to preserve its identity in the face of the surge of the capital movement that was undermining its foundations.
 F. Ferrer's execution actually took place in 1909 and not in 1913.
Battaglia Comunista, No. 35, 14-21 September 1949
Translation by Libri Incogniti