The Battilocchio in History (CXII)
Quoting from Engels recently, apropos the Marxist evaluation of the Russian revolution, we highlighted the following phrase: "the era of chosen people is over". The opposite thesis is unlikely to attract many defenders. Not after the disaster of German Nazism; not after the fate of the Jews who would pay the terrible price of thousands of years of incredibly entrenched racism by being ground down first of all by Hitler's Arian mania, then by British imperial wheeler-dealing, now by the inexorable soviet apparatus – and tomorrow, most probably, by cosmopolitan, "happy to chat", American politics, which has already cut its teeth on black flesh.
It is much harder to show that the era of chosen individuals, of "Men of destiny" (as Shaw called Napoleon, but mainly to ridicule him by showing him in his nightdress) is also over; in a word, the era of great men, warlords, historical leaders and condottieri.
In all groups, and echoed in every faith, be it catholic or freemason, fascist or democrat, liberal or pseudo socialist, it seems, and much more so than in the past, there is this need to worship and grovel in admiration before the name of some personage, to whom at every step is attributed the entire merit for the success of the "cause" in question.
They all agree that the decisive influence on past events, and those yet to come, is to be attributed to the work, and therefore to the personal qualities, of the leaders sat on high: they argue ad nauseam about whether they should be chosen by electoral or democratic procedures, by the party, or even by an individual who just seizes power, but they are all agreed that everything hangs on the outcome of this process, both in the friendly and in the enemy camp.
Now, if this general criterion were true, if we didn't have the power to reject it and ward it off, we would have to confess that the Marxist doctrine had suffered the worst of all possible bankruptcies. We on the other hand continue, as before, to entrench around two positions: that all great men, without exception, have already been pensioned off by classical Marxism; and that the track record of the latest great men, who have passed into, or been removed from, circulation, confirms the theory that all of them are on a hide into nothing.
Questions and answers
Of interest here are the answers Frederick Engels' gave to queries he received on this theme. In his letter [to W. Borgius] dated January 25, 1894 he replies to two questions, both of which are very apt, and he refers to great men in the second paragraph of his answer to the second question. The questions are:
1. To what extent do economic conditions have a causal (note: not casual) effect.
2. What part is played by the moment (a word that I believe, had we the original text, we might have translated as factor) a) of race; b) of individuality in Marx and Engels' materialist conception of history.
But of equal interest is a question he responded to in an earlier letter [to Joseph Bloch] dated September 21, 1890: What was the fundamental principle of historical materialism as understood by Marx and Engels themselves: that is, according to them, was the production and reproduction of daily life the only determining factor or was it merely the fundamental basis of all the other conditions?
The connection between the two points – the function of the great individual in history, and the precise link between economic conditions and human activity, is clearly explained by Engels in the two replies, which he modestly states were private and off the cuff and not drafted with the "necessary precision" he used when writing for the public. In fact he is making reference to the general treatment of the Marxist conception of history he gave in the Anti-Dühring (Part 1, chaps. 9 and 11, Part 2 chaps. 2 and 4, part 3, chap. 1) and above all in the crystal clear work of 1888 on Feuerbach [Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy]. And as for a brilliant example of the specific application of the method, he quotes The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte by Marx, which casts in a particularly gaudy light the man who can be considered as the prototype of the battilocchio, a term we shall explain shortly.
Continuity of life
Although it will cost us a digression, which also anticipates a Filo whose "central keel has been languishing in the dock" for some time, we would like to commend the unknown student who asked the question in the first letter. Usually those who have understood nothing are the self same who pretend to have understood and absorbed everything, and who then claim to be able to regurgitate and pontificate about it all. Simpler people with a more serious approach are instead eternally convinced that they should try to understand things even better, even if they already have a master touch. Indeed, instead of the usual expression "economic conditions", the young, and luckily not "honourable", questioner uses a phrase that is its exact equivalent: "production and reproduction of physical life". As pupils of a later class, we change "real" to "physical". The adjective "real" does not have the same weight in the Germanic and Romance languages.
On another occasion we highlighted passages from the masters in which production and reproduction appear together, quoting Engels where he defines reproduction, that is, the sexual and generative part of life, as the "production of producers".
It would be useless to draw up an economic science, even a metaphysical one, i.e., with unchanging laws, but particularly a dialectical, i.e., which aimed to draw up a theory of a succession of phases and cycles, if the group or society of producers we were examining was dedicated, certainly, to work and economic activities aimed at satisfying their needs and maintaining their existence and productive force within the bounds of physiological time limits, but was nevertheless forced (let's say by a racist chief!) to operate in such a way as to be unable to reproduce and have biological descendents.
Such a condition would completely change all the production and distribution relations within this rather hypothetical community – as the followers of any economic school would admit.
This suffices to remind us that, within the overall network of economic relations, biological reproduction, which prepares, via a major use of resources and productive effort, future replacements for the worker himself, is just as important as the production that provides food (and other things) in order to maintain the physical life of the worker.
As we shall see later on, when we join with Marx and Engels against Feuerbach, human beings are neither all love nor all struggle. However, the complete vision of the twin economic pedestal of society is this: materialism is victorious in the field of production; no one disputes that the criterion of the material sum of results is what counts there; but on this it is easy to base a theory of the workings of the struggle by passing from the molecular disputes of an alleged homo oeconomicus, with an accountancy office in place of a heart, to the battle of classes, within which is summed up, along with the economy, all other forms of human activity. But it is in the field of genetics and sexuality that we should place the central columns of the revolutionary doctrine of socialism; an area where greenhorns find it particularly difficult to put transcendent and mystical reasoning to flight, and to translate the attraction between man and woman (precisely in order to raise it above the filth of modern civilization) into the terms of economic causality.
To ask why the individual, "big" or "small" according to banal common sense, tends to profit economically and conceive erotically is to pose the problem in a narrow and vacuous way. We transpose the dynamic of the process to the development of the species, and we support efforts made to keep its active elements alive and healthy through their multiplication and continuation, both of which cycles are much more wide ranging than those to which the idiotic fear of death and the stupid belief in the eternity of the individual subject get attached: for they are the products and characteristic features of societies which are infested by ruling, exploiter classes, parasitical both in labour and in love.
The damnation of sweat and toil; the ideology that defines a society of class domination, that is, one based on the monopolizing of laziness and pleasure, will be swept away by socialism.
Nature and thought
The reduction of the problem we have directly targeted here, namely, the problem of historical personalities, to the general one of the materialist conception, appears immediate. Let us accept, just for a moment, that the flow, development and future of a given society, or even of humanity, depend in a decisive way on the presence, appearance and behaviour of a single person. It would no longer be possible to maintain that the primal origin of all social life is to sought within the features of given conditions and economic situations analogous for the great mass of "other" individuals; of normal people, of "ordinary" people.
If in fact that long hard road, which we would never presume to reduce to a simple automaticity, which leads from parallelism between work situation and level of consumption to the final great affair of the social revolutions, of the transfer of power from one class to another, of the breaking up of the forms that determine that parallelism of productive relations; were it to pass through the head (critique, consciousness, will, action) of a single person, that is, in the sense that the person is a necessary element, such that in the person's absence nothing would take place to cause that movement, then it would be impossible to deny that at a certain moment all history could hang on "a thought" and on an act deriving from it. Here lies an insuperable contradiction, since conceding this would mean surrendering to a view that is contrary to our own which states that there is no causality in history, that there are no laws, that everything is an entirelyrandom and unforeseeable "accident" that can be studied after it happens, but never before. That's the way it is, no more no less, hats off to the hangman.
How do we deny that the birth of such a colossus is a fortuity, how do we avoid reducing the entire field of reproduction to... a chance spermatozoid?
An idea which is more rational and modern conception than the "great-manistic" one characteristic of the enlightenment bourgeoisie, and against which we have fought a hard battle, would have the historical event pass pre-emptively through not just one but all brains; putting universal education and consciousness ahead of the revolutionary struggle. But even more unsatisfactory than this incomplete and partial conception is the one that concentrates everything in the single cranium, which we can only see becoming so well endowed by means of intercourse, as so often recalled in tradition, between a divine and a human being.
Because marxistically it is so pathetic and pitiable, stupider even than the notion of a universal popular consciousness, we have also pulled to pieces the theory based on the idea of a half of all brains, plus one piloting history; are we then to allow the theory of the single brain to survive? Is the idea of a single reproducer, the human stallion, really any less stupid?
Let us return to our question: what comes first, thought or nature? Is the history of the human species an aspect of nature, or "parthenogenesis" of thought?
The short work by Engels on Feuerbach, or rather against an apologia by Starcke (which he typically refers to as just a general outline, at best a few illustrations of the materialist conception of history) comprises both a summary of the history of philosophy on the one hand and a history of the class struggle on the other. It is magnificent both in its conciseness and its comprehensiveness.
There is contained within it enough material for an "exposition-stream" which, with a suitable commentary, could take up a couple of mornings (given that our party meetings now take several days). But let us limit ourselves to registering just the key identifying features.
The author notes that, historically, Feuerbach was not only influenced by materialism and the French revolution, but by Hegel, whose philosophy was able to provide a basis for the conservative and reactionary German right. In a certain sense the subsequent and very different ideas of Marx and Engels were derived From Feuerbach, during the wave of enthusiasm which followed the publication of The Essence of Christianity around 1840, and after a critique which was no less radical than the one Feuerbach made of Hegel, as summed up in the Marx's famous 1845 theses, buried for over 40 years and concluding with the eleventh: The philosophers have onlyinterpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.
Hegel put human activity to the fore, but this premise could not lead to a revolutionary development in the historical field because of the absolute nature of his idealism. The design and model of his future society were already contained ab aeterno within his Absolute Idea: this development, this discovery having been made in the mind of a philosopher, according to the norms of pure thought, and with the results transmitted to the legal system and the state organism, the full realization of the Idea was thus completed. And why is this unacceptable for us? On two points, which are the two sides of the dialectic itself. We reject the possibility of a point of arrival, of a definite and unsurpassable destination . We reject the possibility that the properties and laws of thought were already in place prior to the opening of the cycle of nature and of the species.
But let's get on with the quotations! "Just as knowledge is unable to reach a complete conclusion in a perfect, ideal condition of humanity, so is history unable to do so; a perfect society, a perfect "State", are things which can only exist in the imagination. On the contrary, all successive historical systems are only transitory stages in the endless course of development of human society from the lower to the higher".
Hegel had gone beyond all previous philosophers by giving priority to the dynamics of the contradictions that make up the long road to the present. Unfortunately, like all other philosophers, and every potential philosopher, he ossifies this vigorously bubbling set of contradictions within the narrow confines of his "system". "But if all contradictions are once for all disposed of, we shall have arrived at so-called absolute truth – world history will be at an end. And yet it has to continue, although there is nothing left for it to do – hence, a new, insoluble contradiction".
In this passage, Engels demolishes the old objection, revived by Croce just before his death (see the confutation in Prometeo no. 4, Series 2 ["Comunismo e conoscenza umana", 1952] that it is only Marxist materialism that brings history to a close by stating that the last class struggle will be between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Every idealist, in his insuperable anthropomorphism, mistakes the end of the struggle between economic classes for the end of all contradiction and further development in the world, in nature and in history; and nor can he see, closed within the limits which for him are light and for us darkness, of one cranium, that communism will be, in its turn, an intense and unpredictable struggle by the species for life, a stage no one has so far reached, seeing that one can hardly call life the sterile and pathological solitude of the Ego, just as the miser's hoard is not wealth, not even of the personal variety.
Spirit and being
Feuerbach arrives and eliminates the antithesis. No more is Nature the manifestation of the Idea (reader, hold on tightly to the Thread. It hasn't snapped. We are finally getting to the thesis that history is not a manifestation of the Battilocchio!), it isn't true that thought is the originator and nature the derivative. Amidst much youthful enthusiasm, and also that of the young Marx, Materialism is placed back on its throne. "Nature exists independently of all philosophy. It is the foundation upon which we human beings, ourselves products of nature, have grown up. Nothing exists outside nature and man, and the higher being our religious fantasies have created are only the fantastic reflection of our own essence". And, up to this point, even old Engels agrees, stopping only to mock the antithesis which, as practical activity, the author deploys against Kant's moral imperative: Love . He is not talking about sex but about solidarity, that "innate" fellowship which links people together. This formed the basis for contemporary bourgeois and Prussian "true socialism", impotent because unable to see that revolutionary activity, the struggle between the classes and the subversion of bourgeois forms, is required.
It is at this point that Engels sums up the construction that preserves the materialist foundation by freeing it from its metaphysical fetters and from dialectical impotence, which had immobilized it, in a different way, in the same "historical glaciation" as idealism, albeit made to resemble will and practical activity.
Engels clarifies the problem by going back to the formation of patterns of thinking from the time of the primitive peoples onwards. While it would be most useful for our movement to add to and broaden the issue (as undoubtedly we shall do in the future), particularly where Engels compares his deduction with the contributions of various positive sciences, we will glean what we can in order to bring our viewpoint into sharper focus.
"Thus the question of the relation of thinking to being, the relation of the spirit to nature (...) could for the first time be put forward in its full acuteness, could achieve its full significance, only after humanity in Europe had awakened from the long hibernation of the Christian Middle Ages. The question of the position of thinking in relation to being (...) in relation to the Church, was sharpened into this: Did God create the world or has the world been in existence eternally?".
"This question, which at various times was posed in different ways, separates the two camps: materialism and idealism. Materialists assert the primacy of nature (being); idealists the primacy of mind (thought). But the creative act is therefore required, and it is worthwhile to highlight here the Marxist evaluation of idealism contained in this forthright observation: "and among the philosophers, for example, Hegel, this creation often becomes still more intricate and impossible than in Christianity".
Even if the division between the two groups of philosophers has been clarified, the question of the relation between thinking and being remains. Are they extraneous to one another or inter-penetrable? Can human thinking grasp and fully describe the essence of nature? There are philosophers who have counterpoised and separated the two elements into object and subject, as with Kant and his ungraspable "thing-in-itself". Hegel overcomes this obstacle, but as an idealist, that is, he absorbs the thing and nature into the Idea, which is therefore able to identify and understand what is, after all, its own emanation. Against this Feuerbach poses the criticism that: "the Hegelian premundane existence of the "absolute idea", the "pre-existence of the logical categories" before the world existed, is nothing more than a fantastic survival of the belief in the existence of an extramundane creator". But this merely suffices for a critical demolition.
Engels gives a clear explanation, reproaching German culture for a stance it had been unable to move beyond: its inability to understand the life of human society as a movement and an incessant process, a view for which Hegel had in fact laid the basis. This anti-historical conception would condemn the Middle Ages as a kind of useless and obscurantist parenthesis (an analogous critique by Marxists should be made of the nonsensical approach to the antifascist and anti-nazi struggle and its critique) and it was therefore unable to correctly link causes to effects, to see the great advances which had occurred during this period and the immense contributions it had made in terms of future developments.
"All the advances of natural science (...) served them only as new proofs against the existence of a creator of the world". They are far more deserving of the comment which the French reformist socialists used to address to Marx and Engels "Well, then atheism is your religion!"".
Drama and actors
There follows an organic presentation of the historical materialist doctrine, perhaps the best ever written. The step that Feuerbach did not take is here taken, by replacing: "the cult of abstract man" by "the science of real men and of their historical development".
We return briefly to Hegel. He reintroduced (he did no invent) dialectics, but for him it was "the self-development of the concept". In Marx it becomes "the conscious reflex of the dialectical motion of the real world". As in the famous phrase, it is stood on its feet, not on its head.
To begin with the science of society and history is treated using the same method as applied in the science of nature. But no one can ignore the specific characteristics of that "field" of nature that constitutes the life of the human species. Hurrying along to Engels' "answers" as quickly as possible, we will just quote a few essential passages. "In nature (...) there are only blind, unconscious agencies (...) In the history of society, on the contrary, the actors are all endowed with consciousness, are men acting with deliberation or passion, working towards definite goals (...) But this distinction, important as it is for historical investigation, particularly of single epochs and events, cannot alter the fact that the course of history is governed by inner general laws (...) That which is willed happens but rarely (...) Thus the conflicts of innumerable individual wills and individual actions (...) produce a state of affairs entirely analogous to that prevailing in the realm of unconscious nature. The ends of the actions are intended, but the results which actually follow from these actions are not those intended; or when they do seem to correspond to the end intended (...) they ultimately haveconsequences quite other than those intended. Men make their own history, whatever its outcome may be, in that each person follows his own consciously desired end, and it is precisely the resultant of these many wills operating in different directions and of their manifold effects upon the outer world that constitutes history (...) When, therefore, it is a question of investigating the driving powers which – consciously or unconsciously, and indeed very often unconsciously – lie behind the motives of men who act in history and which constitute the real ultimate driving forces of history, then it is not a question so much of the motives of single individuals, however eminent, as of those motives which set in motion great masses, whole peoples, and again whole classes of the people in each people; and this, too, not momentarily for the transient flaring up of a straw-fire, which quickly dies down, but for a lasting action resulting in great historical transformation".
This philosophical part is now followed by the historical part, leading up to the great proletarian movement of modern times. At this point philosophy is expelled from the field of history as was the case in the field of nature. "It is no longer a question anywhere of inventing interconnections from out of our brains, but of discovering them in the facts".
We recalled the questions, and heard the answers, which unlike those given by the ancient oracle are not obscure and ambiguous, but clear, and in confirmation of our positions.
To the second of the questions, asked back in 1890:
"The determining element in history is ultimately the production and reproduction of real life".
"The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure – political forms of the class struggle and its consequences, constitutions set up by the ruling class after a victorious battle, etc. – forms of law – and then even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in the brains of the combatants: political, philosophical and legal theories, religious ideas and their further development into systems of dogma – also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form. There is an interaction of all these elements (=factors), in which, amid all the endless host of accidents (...) the economic movement finally asserts itself as necessary".
To the first question, in the letter from 1894 on the causal
influence of economic conditions:
"What we understand by the economic conditions which we regard as the determining basis of the history of society are the methods by which human beings in a given society produce their means of subsistence and exchange the products among themselves (in so far as division of labour exists). Thus the entire technique of production and transport is here included (...) This also determines (...) the division into classes, and hence the relations of lordship and servitude and with them the State, politics, law, etc.".
"If, as you say, technique largely depends on the state of science, science depends far more still on the state and the requirements of technique (...) The whole of hydrostatics (Torricelli, etc.) was called forth by the necessity for regulating the mountain streams of Italy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries" (cf., Various articles in our press on the precocious nature of the capitalist agricultural enterprise in Italy and on the technical degeneration of modern hydraulic defence works in the Polesine floods) [See Communist Left, no 17].
As to paragraph a) of the second question – the factor of race – we quote just one scathing, and very pithy, apophthegm: "Race is itself an economic factor". Got it? Production and reproduction? The race is a material chain of reproductive acts.
Finally, paragraph b), which concerns the battilocchio, after
which we take our leave of the great Frederick.
"Men make their history themselves, but not as yet with a collective will or according to a collective plan or even in a definitely defined, given society. Their efforts clash, and for that very reason all such societies are governed by necessity, which is supplemented by and appears under the forms of accident. The necessity which here asserts itself amidst all accident is again ultimately economic necessity. This is where the so-called great men come in for treatment. That such and such a man and precisely that man arises at that particular time in that given country is of course pure accident. But cut him out and there will be a demand for a substitute, and this substitute will be found, good or bad, but in the long run he will be found. That Napoleon, just that particular Corsican, should have been the military dictator whom the French Republic, exhausted by its own war, had rendered necessary, was an accident; but that, if a Napoleon had been lacking, another would have filled the place, is proved by the fact that the man has always been found as soon as he becomes necessary: Caesar, Augustus, Cromwell, etc.".
And Marx! Engels clearly hears shouted from the gallery: give him the same treatment: Thierry, Mignet and Guizot wrote histories of England leaning towards historical materialism, Morgan got there under his own steam, "the time was ripe for it, and indeed it had (not our italics this time) to be discovered".
And yet in a footnote to his work on Feuerbach, Engels states that "Marx was a genius; we others were at best talented". And it would indeed be a great shame, if, after the demonstration, anyone failed to understand that enormous differences do exist between people, both in terms of muscle power and the potential for brainwork.
But the fact remains that even if we have disposed of the most glaring example in Shaw's "man of destiny", we cannot kid ourselves we have done away with the "idiots of destiny" as well; miserable self-proclaimed candidates for filling the space that history has supposedly allotted them; worried sick they will miss their summons... and their chance to bask in glory.
The subject is clearly dealt with in a letter to a worker comrade who, wrongly apologizing for her imperfect presentation, was able to pose the question in rather an expressive way. Here is a part of the reply.
You wrote: "You are right to say a Marxist must look to principles, not people (...) we say people do not count and let's leave them out of it, but to what extent do you take that? If in part it is men who determine events? If in part it is men who are the cause of the whole mess then we cannot totally ignore them". There is nothing shaky about this way of getting to the question; in fact it offers a very useful way of dealing with it.
The social facts and acts we are interested in, as Marxists, are carried out by people and have people as their actors. Indisputable truth: and without the human element our construction would not hold up. But this element was traditionally considered in a very different way from the one Marxism introduced.
Your simple statement can be enunciated in three different ways; then we can see the true dimensions of the problem which, to your credit, you almost did. Actions are carried out by men. Actions are carried out by the men. Actions are carried out by the man Tom, the man Dick, the man Harry.
Given that a person is on the one hand animal and on "the other" a thinking being, the notion that distinguishes us from "the others" is not that they say that a person thinks first, and then the effect of this thinking is to clear up problems related to his material and animal existence, whilst we say that the basis of everything is to be found in physical, animal, nutritional, etc., relations.
The question shouldn't in fact be posed person by person, but within the reality of the social systems and their related phenomena.
Now, if you'll excuse the long words, those three formulations of the way people participate in history are as follows.
Traditional religious or authoritarian systems say: a Great Man, or someone Illuminated by the divinity, thinks and speaks: everybody else learns and acts.
The most recent bourgeois idealists say: the realm of ideas, even though common to all civilized peoples, determines certain laws according to which people are led to act. Here too certain special people will stand out as thinkers, agitators and leaders of the people, and it is they who give the vital impulse to everything.
Marxists then say: the common action of the people or, if you prefer, what is common and non-accidental and peculiar in the people's action, arises from material forces. Consciousness and thought come later and determine the ideology of their time.
And what then? We, same as everybody else, believe that it is the acts of human beings that become historical and social factors. Who makes revolutions? Men, of course.
But in the first category it was the enlightened man, the priest or king who was fundamental.
In the second, it was consciousness, and the Ideal, that won minds.
For us: the ensemble of economic facts and community of interest.
We, too, don't reduce men, from being leading actors, creating or making speeches, to mere puppets, whose strings are pulled by... their appetites. On the basis of common class objectives there are various levels and strata and complex degrees of readiness to act, and hence of the capacity to sense and express a common theory.
The news is that, unlike previous revolutions, particular men, characterized by a peculiar individuality and a name, are not indispensable for us, not even as symbols.
Inertia of tradition
The fact is, just as traditions are the last thing to disappear, so are people frequently spurred on under the evocative impulse of passion for their Leader. So, since we know it won't change the course of the class struggle but it could favour the mustering of forces and bring things to a speedier conclusion, why not "utilize" this element?
Now it seems to me the main thing many decades of hard lessons have taught is this: we can't stop spurring men on and winning through men, but what we on the left have actually maintained is that the collectivity of people in struggle can never be the masses as a whole, or even a majority of it; it must be a party that is not too big, with the vanguard circles organized within it. However inspirational names inspire in tens, but ruin by the thousand. Let us put a stop to this tendency right now and, as far as is practically possible do away, not with men, but with the Man with such and such a Name, with such and such a Curriculum vitae...
I know the easy riposte that ingenuous comrades will come up with. Lenin. All right, it is indisputable that after 1917 we won many militants to the revolutionary struggle because they were convinced that Lenin had known how to fight and win the revolution. They came, fought and later deepened their understanding of our programme. By this expedient proletarians and entire masses who might otherwise have remained dormant were awoken. I admit it. But later on? The same name is used to support the total opportunist corruption of the proletariat: we are reduced to a situation where the class vanguard is much weaker than before 1917, when few had heard that name.
So I say that in the theses and directives established by Lenin is summed up the best of the collective proletarian doctrine, of the political class reality, but that the name, as such, presents a debit balance. Evidently it has gone too far. Lenin himself was fed up to the back teeth with his personal importance being inflated. It is only insignificant little people who believe they are historically indispensable. He used to laugh whole-heartedly when he heard such nonsense. He was followed, adored and misunderstood.
Have I managed to give you an idea of the problem with these few words? A time is bound to come when there will be a strong class movement with the correct theory and practice but without any need to exploit a fondness for names. I believe it will come. Whoever does not believe this must lack confidence in the new Marxist vision of history, or even worse, be a leader of the oppressed who has sold out to the enemy.
As you can see, I haven't weighed the historical effect of enthusiasm for Lenin against the evil effect of a thousand renegade leaders, but against the negative effects of the name itself, and nor have I stepped into the quicksand of asking: what if Lenin hadn't died? Even Stalin was a Marxist with his papers completely in order and a first class activist too. The error of the Trotskyites is seeking the key to this great rolling back of the revolutionary forces in the wisdom or temperament of particular men.
Contemporary shady characters
Why have we called the theory of the great man the theory of the battilocchio?
The battilocchio is the kind of person who seeks attention whilst at the same time revealing his absolute vacuity. Tall, shambling, a stoop to conceal a lolling head and dazed expression, a swaying, uncertain gait. In Naples someone who constantly blinks his eyes in philistine wonderment is called a battilocchio, whilst in Bologna – I say this in order to avoid accusations of localism – they would shout at him: di ben sò fantesma (a real ghost).
History and contemporary politics in 1953 (when everything is affected by the general and far from accidental fact that a semi-putrefied form of society, capitalism, won't just roll over and die) is encircled by a galaxy of battilocchios. In the marasmus that characterizes this phase there spreads throughout the admiring and bright-eyed masses the utter conviction that it is to them, and to them alone, that we must look for answers, that it is ever a case of battilocchios of destiny, and that the historically decisive moment (have pity on us Frederick!) is above all marked by the changing of the guard in the battilocchial corps.
The ineffable trio of Franco, Tito and Peron, by virtue of their total lack of any new message or even original posturing, stand out amongst the heads of state. These champions, these Oscar winners for historical beauty, have taken the supreme art of removing all personal characteristics to the nec plus ultra. Apart from their aristocratic noses and eagle eyes!
As for the late lamented Hitler and Mussolini, the former makes you think of the formidable general staff of non-battilocchios gathered around him, drawn from the upper criminal classes, who not only made history but also used it to satisfy their own violent whims. The latter can be excused because it was the ineffable layer of sub-battilocchios who got him into trouble, and because the clique he handed power over to in 1944-45 – who are our daily delight today – are just as bad.
Another splendid threesome, aligned not in space but in time, who offer demonstrable proof that every succession, whether through death or election, produces the net historical result, i.e. nothing emerging from nothing, is that of Delano, Harry and Ike. The American forces occupying the world fully justify the definition of this period as that of the invasion of the battilochios.
A no less representative galaxy of battilocchios is offered by recent and current, and frequently brutally replaced, national heads of those countries and parties which are linked to Russia, and there is no better place to find them than in the Balkans or under Marianne's skirts. When Alexander the Great died, the Macedonian Empire, stretching over two continents, was carved up into smaller states entrusted to his various generals (diadochi), who soon enough disappeared without a trace. Whoever remembers their names would be sure to get top marks in a history exam.
So when history issues its summons, the great man arrives. And it could well happen that the one who answers the call isn't that brainy. It could also happen that when there is a vacancy for a battilocchio, a person of a certain stature may fill the post. Here we are not calling anyone an idiot.
The fact is, in Italy for example, the open competition "to be a great person" relates to posts previously occupied by historical colossi. It becomes a matter of acting in a parody of a tragedy that has already been solemnly performed. On the occasion of Togliatti's 60th birthday, with a tackily outdated ceremony, and endless screeds quoted from hiscurriculum vitae and his writings, they summed him up in one word: a great patriot.
Only empty stand-in roles have been on offer for over a century now, offering little hope of any non-battilocchesque grandeur. History has already found its heroes without looking too hard. Mazzini, Garibaldi, Cavour and many others are still refusing to budge. To tell the truth, there is little left of the fatherland, but there are still certainly plenty of patriots. There is no room to spare on the bus of revolutionary glory. That is not to slander the qualities of today's subject. The writings of his they've dug up from 1919 (when one wrongly didn't pay enough attention to them) do him credit: he never abandoned Marxism because he was never a Marxist in the first place. What he talked about then is what he talks about now: the country's mission. A very great, if you like, patriot, just like a great stage-coach in the epoch of electric trains and jet aircraft.
If, having discussed Lenin, we have made no allusion to Stalin, recently deceased, it is not because we are worried that after a punitive expedition our scalp might adorn his mausoleum, a practice there is a good chance of seeing. Stalin is still the side-shoot of a rigid and anonymous party structure, the which, propelled by non-accidental historical impulses, constructed a collective, anonymous and deeply entrenched movement. It is the reactions which arose from the historical base, not fortuitous cases in the shabby race for success, which determined the change in direction, which, in a flaming Thermidor, led the revolutionary elite to burn itself out; and since a name can still be a symbol even when a person counts for nothing in history, Stalin's name remains the symbol of this extraordinary process: amongst the ruins of a backward and inert world, the most powerful of proletarian forces was made to slavishly bow to the revolutionary construction of modern capitalism.
Certainly the bourgeois revolution has to have a symbol and a name even though, in the final instance, it too is made up of anonymous forces and material relations. It is the last revolution to be unaware of its anonymity: thus we think of it as a romantic revolution.
Our revolution will appear when there is no more kow-towing to individuals, cowardly and confused for the most part, and when as the instrument of its own class power it has a party which has melded together all its doctrinal, organizational and militant characteristics; a party within which names and individual merit count for nothing; a party which denies that the individual possesses consciousness, will, initiative, merit or blame, in order to fuse everyone together into its unified and sharply defined whole.
Morphine and cocaine
Lenin took from Marx the definition, rejected by many as banal, of religion as the opium of the people. The cult of the divine entity is thus the morphine of the revolution, lulling its active forces to sleep, and it is no coincidence that prayers were said in churches across the U.S.S.R. during the recent bereavement.
The cult of the leader, gathered around a personal entity who is no longer divine but human, is an even worse social drug, which we will call "the cocaine of the proletariat". The expectation of the hero who will ignite and carry along the struggle is like a simpamina injection. Pharmacologists have found a good word for it – heroin. After a brief pathological outburst of energy, chronic lethargy sets in leading to collapse. No injection exists for a revolution that hesitates, for a society that is horribly 18 months pregnant and yet still infertile.
Let us throw out the vulgar expedient of deriving success from the name of exceptional persons and shout out another formula for communism: a society that does without battilocchios.
Il programma Comunista, No. 7, 1953
Translation by International Communist Party