Compasses Gone Mad (LXXX)

The early sailors on the high seas, when no land was visible on the horizon to use as a landmark, navigated by the sun and stars, but the method had a fatal flaw; overcast skies.

The magnetic needle, formed at first, it seems, of a rod of iron ore found in nature, magnetite, and then magnetising a steel bar by rubbing one against it, was discovered in the West by an Amalfitan named Flavio Gioja; but it was later found out that the Chinese had long preceded him. By day or by night, with clear or overcast sky, one end of the needle points to the North, and allows to regulate the course of the ship.

When, however, the navigators of the last centuries stumbled into a magnetic storm, that is, in to an area of bad weather where the discharges of lightning, and other perturbations, thicken, the compass went "mad". The needle spun wildly on its centre and pointed to all directions at random: it became impossible to keep course until calm returned.

If, however, the "fields" to which the needle was subjected to during the crisis were of a strength and intensity comparable to those to which the magnetised rod owed its charge and polarisation, it may even lose its properties forever and the ship will no longer find its way, not even in good weather. The compass can no longer "come to its senses".

Because it is clear that today the tiny and scattered vanguards of the revolutionary proletarian current are going through a period of unquestionable disarray and too often seem to no longer know in which direction lies the south of capitalism and the north of communism, the west of reaction and the east of revolution, we can say that we are in a "magnetic storm" of history, in which it is very easy to lose all bearings...

Why, then, say the sceptics, the cynics, the shrewd, who unfortunately today the working class entrusts ninety-nine percent, call those vanguard groups? And for which excursion? And for what battle, if by now they go ahead blindly, and sometimes accuse each other of confusing the front for the rear, the Zenith for the Nadir?

We wish to refer to the few movements that have neither confessed nor been convinced that they are under the pledge or the yoke of one of the great "administrations" of the political movement, whose headquarters are in the shadow of the world's great armaments and great police forces. We have alluded to the groups, derived from resolute tendencies of the revolutionary movement of the last years, which try to proceed without abandoning themselves to the current like passive wreckage, without limiting themselves to the impulses which are, for the draught animal, the whip, and for the crocodile from the joke, the morsel suspended in front of its snout. They are not assimilable to the bureaucratic flocks, which need only the compass to escape the kick up the arse, and earn the bread for their daily meal.

As a safe rule it is better to wander around for some time without a compass than to keep the "higher dispositions" and the monthly stipend. For the few who can be in a particular circumstance, the independent forces of the proletariat, they are the ones to join the thread with the times of the great revival, in which imposing forces are set in a common and sure direction.

Some attempts have been carried out to reorganise the explanation of how much has happened in Russia, in the West, in the world, especially from the outbreak of the First European War in 1914 until this eve of an eventual Third World War. These attempts have as their core the demonstration that the set of events corresponds closely to the "course" that Marxist doctrine has traced for about a century as a cycle of modern capitalism.

We are referring here to the vanguard camp, because from this point onward we set aside the camps of the powerful and modern organised movements, practically in all countries, which gives answers to the previous topic, that we can organise into three different types.

First type. The Marxist doctrine is outdated and to be thrown away. The basic element of history is not the struggle between classes for irreconcilable economic interests. Workers and owners will find themselves framed in national or even world political systems; force will be used, in case this order is disturbed, by the constituted and legal powers.

Second type. The Marxist doctrine is understood in the sense that workers must increasingly assert their common interests, but the possibilities of doing so are given only where political organisation has achieved the conquest of civil and electoral freedom. The use of this means will increasingly eliminate the most felt "social distances" to the achievement of average general well-being.

Third type. The Marxist doctrine of the proletariat's armed revolutionary struggle to gain power and build communist society was affirmed in the Russian Revolution. Since then Russia has been the country of socialism: it will not enter into conflict with the countries of capitalism, even if the proletariat remains indefinitely a dominated class, but which will arm itself to defend itself if it is attacked. By avoiding aggression, which is the aim of the workers' movement in all countries, peaceful coexistence and emulation between the socialism of the Russian sector and Western capitalism will be developed.

There are neither many nor strong political groups in the various countries that reject all three types: the first, refers to Christian, Masonic, Fascist ideals - the second, of socialism as a democratic prevarication, rich in a semi-secular history of nefarious counter-revolutionaries - the third, of Stalinism, now the record holder for a quarter of a century of anti-revolution.

Now, even in the bosom of this restricted list of Marxist groups, which we understand to be of the vanguard even when they are lacking in strength, the attempt to restore order, by way of some theses, with the explanation we have mentioned before, has raised doubts, and the manner of certain manifestations shows that unfortunately they come from some having lost a clear orientation.

The theses that have met with a certain dubious mistrust are mainly the following.

1) Modern control, dirigisme, economic management by the State is a stage understood and anticipated in the course of pure capitalism. Not only is it not a bridge from capitalism to socialism, but it is not even a social form interposed in time between the two, and which has as its protagonist a third, new class, between industrial bourgeoisie and proletariat, a class of state bureaucrats, of technicians, of economic managers of politicians.

2) The current Russian form is that of a revolution that began with the double historical impetus of anti-feudal and anti-bourgeois revolution, and developed as a solely capitalist revolution, meaning that it does not build socialism, but capitalism. While with the nineteen twentieth of its social forces it pushed Asian and medieval forms into the hellhole of contemporary capitalism, with the other twentieth it devoured the few socialist economic forms of the heroic years, reducing them to capitalist forms, since they were mercantile, wage-labour, titled property.

3) The current Western form, of which the highest expression is in America, undoubtedly develops in its turn capitalism, already mature and powerful, towards forms of high concentration and totalitarianism, in full adherence to the Marxist perspective. This becomes clear as soon as we see the essential fact that the winner has inherited the theory and practice of the former and vanquished fascist enemies, the exploitation of the democratic ideology being pure efflorescence. The historical highs of militarism of land, sea and air, of the organised capacity towards conquest, submission and aggression reached there, collimate with the maximum anti-revolutionary potential.

4) The movement of the revolutionary communist vanguard must prepare itself for the fight against two overwhelming waves of "crusaders" and "intermedistes" that will mobilise masses of workers for goals that are neither class-based nor revolutionary; on the one hand so that the "democracy" of the free world may win, and on the other so that Stalinist "socialism" may triumph. At the same time and on the level of the historical perspective, consistent with all the evaluations given from 1848 to the present, of the great military conflicts, the Marxist movement, in applying the defeatist and "internal enemy" practice everywhere, will establish which is the lesser evil between the various possibilities: understanding of the two groups, victory of one or the other. The lesser evil will always be the ruin of the monster of Washington.

This last thesis, if not exactly observed, would make one fear that one would fall back into an intermedism of another nature, or, if you would like another word "sdreuza", into a preferentism. One would have the obligation of a sovereign "impartiality"! It would be wrong, being able to push the buttons of the world revolution, to dare to say: now I will push the American button and then I will push the Russian one! Now it's not about that at all! To see it, as usual, you need to follow the thread of time a little; backwards, you understand.

That whoever hesitates on thesis 1, that is, on the exquisite capitalist nature of any economic statism or state economism, hesitates on thesis 2, concerning the Russian tendency, for the small sector of socialist conquests 1917-1921, towards capitalism, one can explain; if the supposed post-capitalist and pre-socialist stage exists, all Russia lives from it.

In any case, whoever assumes such a position of evaluation should, in passing to thesis 3, agree that only America tends indeed to this post-capitalism in which Russia is wading. And so the proponents of an impartiality and indifferentism, which our thesis 4 would have violated, see in effect between the social situation in the West and in Russia, between the framework of "two rival and equal imperialisms" a difference deeper than much of what we see. They are therefore much closer to the danger of the suggestions of "revolutionary war", a worthy sister and partner of the noble "democratic war" that it absorbed in 1914 and 1941. If Marx, Lenin and Engels (as we have thoroughly documented) admit that those 1789-1871 were bourgeois revolutionary wars, to be supported by the proletariat, and if "state-economism" is another historical stage of capitalism, therefore a necessary premise for communism, a Russian war to tame America, if it could have taken the initiative, and if it could succeed (and even if it could not, as was the case for Napoleon) it could be seen as capable of "spinning the wheel of history".

This is why in many critical positions, under the eagerness to look for new formulas for supposedly unexpected facts, we can't find an organic view and a coherent "analysis" and "perspective" (of which we are accused of having no privative power), but only loss of direction.


We need to pick up the thread again. We are at the spinning phase, absolutely preliminary. After spinning straight you can start weaving again. "Weave, Germany, your funeral shroud; weave, weave, weave" sang the rebel Heine. The funeral shroud of capitalism has not yet been woven; and too many pretentious tailors are already talking about cutting the cloth. We are spinning, because we could not prevent the revolutionary International between 1919 and 1922 from cutting the then abundant cloth according to the wrong pattern.

In 1895 Engels died, whom everyone described as the executor of Marx's will, however bourgeois this story of wills may be. Bernstein became executor of Maestro Engels' will, and this made the echo of his book, “Evolutionary Socialism”, all the more clamorous shortly after its publication. That work founded the revisionist school of Marxism, the current that advocated progressive social reforms and admitted the political and even governmental collaboration of socialist parties with the most advanced bourgeoisie in order to accelerate the evolution of capitalism, which would be the only necessary precondition for the blossoming of socialism. A very strong and extensive controversy broke out between the Bernsteinians and the orthodox Marxists, who claimed the intransigent class struggle and the prospect of the armed revolutionary clash as the only true "presupposition" of the end of capitalism.

For the reformism that was spreading in those decades of apparent social idyll and pause in wars, traditional Marxism "was an unrecognised child of the stormy adolescence of capitalism, and represented a series of deductions drawn from the period of revolutions between 1789 and 1848".

In the same way that today it is claimed that the Marxist construction is flawed in the representation of this "stormy old age" of capitalism, it was then claimed that its theories were flawed when it came to explaining its "quiet maturity". History crushed the revisionists.

From 1895 onwards, the young Lenin sympathised passionately with the radicals' fight against the revisionists and translated Kautsky's polemic into Russian in response to Bernstein. Throughout the following period it is remarkable that while Lenin disagreed with the opinions of many of the Marxists on the left - such as Parvus, Luxemburg, Kautsky - about the issues of the revolution in Russia, he fully sympathised with them on the problems and methods of the revolution in Western Europe.

In Marx's vision we can distinguish three "areas" of revolutionary development. History will move the areas, but it will fully confirm the vision of that development. One area is formed by continental Europe and especially by France and Germany with the countries that surround them, and it is the ripe field for the insurrectionary clash of the working class against the bourgeoisie, whether the revolutions of the bourgeoisie are more or less recent. Another area is given by England and America where the class struggle appears, in the period between the "Manifesto" and Capital, less tense in its political forms. Lenin will then give the classic demonstration that even in these two countries we have fully entered the phase in which the bourgeois state gives itself a bureaucratic, military and police framework all aimed at knocking out any proletarian attempt at control. The third area is the still feudal Russia, the gateway to the backward East, where modern modes of production have yet to penetrate and impose liberal and national demands against secular domination.

If from 1789 to 1848 and in a certain sense 1871 the working class in Europe had to support the young and progressive bourgeoisie in open alliances, Lenin sees clearly that such a situation has yet to arise in the Russian area. If in the West the insurrectionary collaboration of the classes justified the workers' support for the national independence movements, which really until 1871 were a prerequisite for modern class struggle as the expansion of modern industrialism depended upon it, Lenin saw that a similar process could not yet be excluded for Russia.

The radicals of the West were rightly abhorred by any political collaboration between the classes, already degenerating to ministerial possibilism, Millerandism, to masonic bloc-building. Bernstein had completely overturned the correct historical vision: we have emerged, he said, from the period of armed struggle and entered the period of legal collaboration. Instead, we had come out of the period of collaboration, not legal but insurrectionary, with the bourgeoisie in the struggle against the old authority, and we entered into that of the struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie that in turn was to be pushed to insurrection, as we had seen in Paris in June 1848, and in 1871.

Lenin saw this clearly, and it shines through in every line written from 1893 to 1923 for those who can read it and have no interest in distorting it. But in Russia he finds himself against a very different form of degeneration, and to put it better, the same revisionist degeneration: legal Marxism. Struve said: we are out of the phase of alliances with the bourgeoisie, and therefore we have no interest in its struggles for political freedom and the independence of oppressed nations. So what? He disguised himself as an intransigent, compromising with the Tsar, like Lassalle, another imperfect schoolboy of Marxism (he flirted a little with the Kaiser): let us, he said, leave all bourgeois demands aside and let us inoculate in the Tsarist system the peaceful struggle for the economic conquests that matter to the working class: the eight-hour week, wage increases, social laws, etc… The revisionism that in the West was content to barter the workers' revolution for social reforms, in Russia went further, and under skilful ostentation of class method, bartered away both the workers' revolution and the anti-feudal revolution.

The whole life and work of Lenin, paraphrased by a thousand authors, should be read in the light of this dialectical struggle between the strategies of the revolution in the two areas which history kept separate until 1917. Only in this way can one understand the perfect agreement of the theoretical criticism of bourgeois democracy and of all legalitarianism, which has been complete and unchanged since the Manifesto, with the demolition of that pure madness which consists in extending bridges to Tsarism, satrapies, or even to the overseas colonial dominations of the bourgeois powers, under the hypocritical pretext of being anti-bourgeois and in the name of a castrated Marxism.

In Russia, all forces willing to fight with arms against despotism, dynasty and boyars are pushed forward, whether they come from the bourgeois, peasants, intellectuals or oppressed populations; at the end of this struggle, the revolutionary proletariat must present itself as protagonist, ready, with theoretical, organisational and tactical weapons, to its dictatorship.

From that moment on, the struggle for political power stemming from the insurgency will be, in one and unique area, the premise for a quick welding between the very advanced Western type of production and the backward and disorganised Russian type. This was the battle of the Moscow Third International.

When Lenin had read Bernstein's book, he predicted the failure of his doctrine. The Russian 1905 had come to put the insurrection back on the agenda of history, and the thickening of the imperialist storm had come to put more terrible wars back on the agenda. This meant that the prospects drawn from the stormy period of the first half of the last century were fully valid.

The consequence of succumbing to the lie of the calm maturity of capitalism was national-social bankruptcy: it overwhelmed revisionists and not a few radicals. Both saw themselves brought back to the era of helping an adolescent bourgeois regime to grow... They told the workers to take up arms for democratic purposes, for national purposes.

While the medieval survival of Tsarism was a reason for the chauvinist campaign of the Social Democrats in Germany, the huge scandal was that the thesis of support for the war gained some followers of the Russian socialists, and orthodox Marxist leaders, of the Bolshevik wing.

At the end of December 1914, Lenin sent his theses on the war to Russia; the main points are quoted by Trotsky in his "Stalin". They can be summarised as follows: 1) War on war. 2) Turning the imperialist war into civil war. 3) Defeat of the Tsarist government is the lesser evil in any condition.

Naturally, all those disconcerted said that Lenin preferred the victory of the foreigner and German imperialism. Lenin had written to Gorky in 1913: I dare not hope that the Kaiser and Franz Joseph will give us the great gift of declaring war on Russia... But it was Lenin himself who deeply pressed in the West the campaign against the shame of the support of the German and Austrian socialists for the war, and weaved the first plot from which would come the rebellions of Karl Liebknecht, of Friedrich Adler…

A certain parallel can be drawn with Italy. Here, too, the socialists who opposed the war in Italy in the immediate post-war period had favourable elements, insofar as the war had gone badly for the Italian bourgeoisie. It is hard to forget that in the end the enemies of the Tsar and the Italian democratic bourgeoisie were defeated. However, since both the Tsar and the Italian ruling class emerged with their horns broken by the events of war and peace, the internal situation became favourable to the proletarian class struggle. Today bourgeois and "Leninists" are competing for love in Trieste!

If the German armies had not only broken through the Carpathians and Caporetto, but had been able to trample English territory and annihilate the French army, Lenin's revolution would have invaded the whole of the European area and perhaps won. And especially in Berlin.


In the situation of imperialist war in 1939, any question of liberal conquest involving the proletariat had fallen into the past for the entire European area and the conditions of capitalist production and economy were established everywhere. Every distinction of social development and therefore of revolutionary historical field between the Anglo-Saxon, continental and Russian area was overcome, every obstacle of medieval survival had disappeared. More than ever Lenin's formula had to be in force: everywhere, against one's own government and army. The optimum would have been the European revolution. Was there a lesser evil? There was no doubt about it. It was for us, as we know, the defeat of British super-imperialism.

What instead was the disastrous Stalinist policy? Without the exact identification of the extent of its betrayal, and without being able to place it in relation to the timely accusations of the communist left since 1920, it is vain to face the problems of a just revolutionary strategy for a recovery of tomorrow, of which we are not on the eve.

In the time before the war, in the face of the phenomena of economic and political capitalist totalitarianism, which appeared in Italy in 1922 and in Germany in 1933, which appeared in Italy in 1922 and in Germany in 1933, instead of drawing the obvious conclusions on the verification of the perspective of orthodox and radical Marxism and of Lenin's theory on imperialism, the enormous blunder of questioning the democratic presuppositions was confirmed and the bloc for freedom was proclaimed.

When the conflict over Danzig broke out, Russia's policy of a pact with Hitler contributed greatly to the disarray; in France, England and America, the Stalinists declared for us, French and English, that this war was not democratic but imperialist, so we must apply Liebknecht's motto: the enemy is within. The propaganda documents in France are tremendously decisive.

But when the military agreement with Hitler is broken, the war "becomes" democratic again and all the communist proletarians in the world are invited to make a common cause with the English and American imperialist bourgeoisies!

The evidence of contemporary events has shown everyone how the exit from the war situation has meant at the same time, in the whole area, the salvation of democracy and the death of the workers' revolution. And that saved democracy, without any surprise to the Marxists, resembles, like two drops of water, the defeated fascisms. Therefore it is right to say that a greater evil could not be envisaged; that the lesser evil would be the defeat of the powerful English and American centres of world imperialism.

It is only on this line of solid historical experiences that the situation of a Third World War should be examined. Stalin will not "give us the great pleasure" of attacking American capitalism, on whose backbone world capitalism is strung; Stalin with every movement is fully embarked on the campaign for peace.

But if peace will be broken, as it so often has been, in spite of the militant pacifists, transforming them at once into trembling warriors, why not look for the worst outcome? And why not see that it will consist in the triumph of America, for reasons that would derive from prevailing, not in military fields, but diplomatic and economic?

Such a position is superior to that of simple indifferentism, admissible at most for a third party whose forces are at least of the same order of magnitude as those of the two rivals. And it makes sense only if it allows the sum of all the lessons of history on the shame of Stalinism to be exploited in favour of the return to the revolutionary International of tomorrow, and not for the apology of American "freedom" and "prosperity", for the shadow of doubt cast on the continuity of the line from Marx to Lenin, which prepares for the proletarian force, the resources of dictatorship and anti-capitalist terror, which cannot be renounced.

We already possessed this line in the historical political development, and we wanted to take it up again along its difficult thread.

And we could not have possessed it if it had failed us for economic development. It should be left to another exposition to demonstrate that the contemporary economy of the state is classical capitalism, as defined at its inception. The formula of the state as an instrument of police of the bourgeois class, and its economic instrument at the same time, is valid not only from 1789 to 1900, but also today. At times it manages to conceal its economic function, at other times its police function: Marxism sees them both and always.

A vision that forgets materialism is one that gets lost when it does not see the "people" of individual capitalists in the front row. Capital is an impersonal force already in the early Marx. Determinism without men does not make sense, it is true, but men are its instrument, not its engine. Capital can find full satisfaction in the economic motive of interest and the physical motive of appetites, in which we look for its origin, even when the mouths that eat are not the same as those that speak its apologia. The claim that there is such a coincidence is admissible in the idealist, who between the mouth that eats and the mouth that speaks sees the brain and thought as the determining element, and weeps over our infinite contempt for this complete dignity of the human person.

To the compass! In economics, history, philosophy, if you please. To the compass that hasn’t gone mad, lads!

Battaglia Comunista, N. 20, 1951
Translation by Libri Incogniti

(Italian Version)


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