The Proletariat Opposes the Imperialist War Firmly Resolved to Reach its Own Historical Objectives

Historical Appendix - Statement from Prometeo, Year 21, 1 November 1943 - the first issue in Italy after the collapse of Mussolini's central government.


In November 1943 the first issue of Prometeo to be published inside Italy since 1924 appeared.(1) It was published by the Internationalist Communist Party (Partito Comunista Internazionalista/PCInt) which was just being formed under the principal impetus of comrades like Onorato Damen, Fausto Atti, Mario Acquaviva, expelled from the PCI (Communist Party of Italy) in the Thirties for resisting its Stalinisation and now released from prison. Alongside them were newly-returned political exiles like Luciano (Mauro) Stefanini and Ottorino Perrone (Vercesi) who had kept up the political work of the Italian Left Communists with the publication of Bilan and Prometeo in France and Belgium up to the outbreak of the War. The Second World War was still in full swing but the Italian capitalist class had seen the writing on the wall for having sided with German imperialism.

In 1943 Anglo-American air raids intensified and civilian deaths ran into several thousands. The central government virtually ceased to exist. In July, Mussolini himself had been peremptorily told to resign by his one-time henchmen in the Fascist 'Grand Council' and on the 25th King Victor Emmanuel appointed Marshal Badoglio in charge of the Italian state. The trick now for the Italian bourgeoisie was to emerge from the war on the winning side at the same time as undermine any deeper threat to its existence from a working class bent on seeing the war end with the overthrow of capitalism itself. (Food riots had become frequent since 1942 and in March '43 signs of working class revival came when the metal workers' strike at Fiat Mirafiori spread through Turin to the whole of northern Italy.) Thus, whilst maintaining the fiction to the Germans that Italy's role in the war continued as before, Badoglio proceeded to reach a deal with Anglo-American imperialism which was already invading Sicily as part of the plan to occupy Italy drawn up by Roosevelt and Churchill the previous May.

Italy was in effect split into three parts. The south, the so-called liberated zone was occupied by Allied imperialism and it was to there that Badoglio and the king fled. This area was slowly extended as Anglo-American troops fought their way up the peninsula. (Rome was taken over from German forces in the summer of '44.) The north remained under German occupation, from September '43 with Mussolini as the nominal leader of the 'Italian Social Republic' (Republic of Salo), and in between was the imperialist battle zone. Here and in the North partisan resistance groups sprang up as the Italian army disintegrated. Allied imperialism was at pains to curb their activities (mainly by limiting weapons supplies) but it did not have direct control. It didn't have to. While the various Committees of National Liberation coming into being began to argue about the future role of the monarchy and what form the post-war Italian state should take, from Moscow the leader of the Italian Communist Party broadcast that this question must be set aside - not in favour of the real issue for the working class which could only be how to pursue the class struggle to overthrow the capitalist state, not what political and ideological mask that state would adopt - but in favour of 'national unity'. For thousands of workers in Italy who still believed that the PCI stood for working class revolution Togliatti's messages, which were in effect to forget about class struggle and the fight for a communist society, brought dismay and confusion. Nevertheless, when he returned to Italy in April 1944 this was the line he reiterated for the PCI in a clear call for the working class to abandon any idea of independent struggle for its own ends:

It is the Communist Party, it is the working class which must carry the flag of the defence of the interests of the nation which fascism and the groups which brought it to power have betrayed. It is the workers who today must defend the Italian nation of which they are the essential force, and whose future they represent.

From the CP newspaper L'Unita, 3.1.44

This so-called 'Salerno turn-round' (svolta di Salerno) was no surprise to the internationalists of the PCInt. It was only further evidence of the PCI's betrayal of the working class and, alongside its Russian mentor, of its defence of capitalist imperialism. (In this case, the Anglo-US/Russian axis.) Yet if the svolta di Salerno won over working class forces to the PCInt, the confusion remained and thousands of PCI supporters went on to join the Party's Garibaldini partisans, under the illusion that somehow or other the anti-fascist struggle for a 'resurgent' Italian democracy would lead on to their 'revolution'. From the outset the PCInt had to tackle the issue of working class support for the partisans and the statements here were the first of many urging the proletariat not to lose sight of their own interests (2). Alone amongst the forces of the Communist Left, the PCInt managed to build a revolutionary organisation which posed a significant threat to the hold of the PCI over many workers. In the long run the internationalists could not overcome the combined force of democratic ideology, their international isolation, and eventually the impact of the 'Marshall Plan for European Recovery'. However, when the PCInt began its struggle the war had brought the Italian state to its knees and workers' unrest in Italy would soon be echoed in Britain, France and even the USA (1946). In November 1943 the PCInt remained true to the struggle for communism when it called for workers to fight collectively on their own account: in neither of the imperialist armies nor the partisan guerrilla groups sacrificing themselves for the replacement of one capitalist regime (fascism) with another (democratic, republican, monarchist), but for their own interests, starting in the workplace. Only out of this struggle can the question be posed of who should organise and control the production and distribution of social wealth - in other words, the question of getting rid of the capitalist state entirely and replacing the capitalist mode of production with communism. The comrades of Prometeo knew too that revolutionary Russia had long since capitulated to capitalism and was now an integral part of the imperialist line-up. They opposed the Stalinists' policy of telling workers to fight alongside 'soviet Russia' - i.e. with one of imperialism's war fronts - by joining the partisans and invoked a vigorous campaign of denigration, attacks and death squads from the PCI. (In 1945 two leading comrades of the PCInt, Mario Acquaviva and Fausto Atti, were to be captured and shot in cold blood by Togliatti's henchmen.) If the PCInt remained an isolated force it was clearly not because the comrades had confused antifascism with the struggle for communism. Rather it was because the situation they faced was unique and the war-weary working class ferment which had cut short the First World War was not repeated to anything like the same extent in 1943-45. As one academic historian has put it:

Mussolini's fall... has no real counterpart in the Second World War, but resembles the dissolution of several of the belligerent regimes in the 1914-18 war: that of the Russian monarchy in 1917, and of the German and Austrian monarchies in 1918; and the near collapse of France and Italy in 1917.
Italy was in fact the only belligerent in the Second World War to follow what was in effect the standard pattern of the First World War: that is, collapse under the strain of war.(3)

Our Way

After twenty years of fascism the crisis which has burst onto the Italian political scene highlights the gravity of the social malaise affecting not only this or that particular political entity, this or that body, but the entire system, with its ruling class and its economic and political structure. Even to someone with little expertise in social analysis it is obvious that the capitalist framework has been dealt a death blow, while its political organs are being ignominiously exhausted in a ridiculous sequence of treachery, cowardice and corruption.

In the end the proletariat has felt the ruin of the oppressive bourgeois apparatus around it and seen, perhaps for the first time, its nerve centres - such as the army, the judiciary and security police - shattered! It seemed the end, not only of fascism, but of the economic system which had made fascism possible, even if this was only the first act in a social drama where the proletariat could at last play the role of major victorious protagonist. We say 'seemed' because the damage hitting our country, even though it demonstrates the process of disintegration and break-up (the first essential condition for the revival of class struggle and the revolutionary movement) nevertheless does not evoke, nor could it do so politically, a revolutionary force capable of exploiting for its own ends such a rare situation in its favour. It could not do this, not because the crisis wasn't deep enough or the situation not sufficiently revolutionary, nor because the subjective element was deficient - that is the proletariat with its physical strength and its intelligence and will to struggle - but only because the relations of force were still objectively in clear favour of the class enemy.

It's only necessary to grasp that, as with the Spanish episode in the first phase of this clash of imperialisms, our country has suddenly become the testing ground, the tragic arena, for the second round in the same interminable struggle. It was thus a vain illusion to think that fascism could be eliminated by a palace coup whilst the German colossus remained standing here.

Any revival of the class, any struggle for freedom and emancipation of the proletariat, must necessarily take into account this hard reality of, on the one hand, the German armed forces under the fascist flag and, on the other, of the Allied forces under the democratic banner. In both cases these creations are simply the tactical expedients necessary for the capitalist rulers to neutralise and win over broader and broader masses of the proletariat. Modern warfare requires muscle power and psychological commitment as much as coal and iron.

For the struggle to take a class direction the proletarian parties, after making a full analysis of the real nature of the present conflict, should have identified ideologically, and thus politically, both sides in the fighting as part of the same bourgeois reality. This, in order to combat them both since, despite appearances, they are intimately linked by the same iron laws for the preservation of capitalist privilege and at bottom carry on a mortal struggle against their real common enemy: the proletariat.

Instead, what has happened? Quite the opposite. Exactly at the moment when it was most obvious that it was impossible for our bourgeoisie to continue its war and when it was manoeuvring in the highest circles to prevent the break out of an open crisis which would directly affect the proletariat, the bloc of anti-fascist parties providentially appeared. This was the decisive factor, three-quarters a conscious manoeuvre to deceive and tranquillise. The advocates of internationalism became the preachers of national defence (but only against the Germans!); the exponents of class struggle were now disposed to consider English imperialism as the provisional ally of the proletariat. Just like the socialists of '14 whom Lenin marked as traitors. The shocked and stunned masses have risen to the bait of the anti-German crusade, in part obeying the atavistic voice of hatred against the German oppressor which is deposited deep down in the soul of many Italians but which revolutionaries, however, must know how to identify and overcome because it's precisely on this basis that all the reactionaries have made recruits for their war of plunder and extermination.

Only we have dared to go against the current. Already, at the time of the Spanish civil war, our party had analysed this movement on the basis of Marxist premises without allowing itself to be influenced by sentiment and this false 'atavism' which always goes against the boundaries of Marxist thought, leading to the exaltation of action above all else and the capitulation of the idea and theory of revolution to opportunism. Only our party, whilst recognising the class character of the Spanish movement, saw that it was destined to exhaust itself if there wasn't a revolutionary party at the time of the crisis itself. Only we dared to say persistently that the republican attempt to channel the combatants from the barricades into the ranks of a republican army opposed to Franco's national army meant the denaturing of the movement; that is the axis of the armed conflict was shifted from its original class terrain to imperialist ground where fascist forces on the one side and Anglo-French-Russian forces on the other were already more or less openly lined up. The party's criticism then was valid while its subsequent stance was strengthened and maintained by its correct interpretation of Marxist thought.

It is no accident that we have stressed the similarity between the odious situation of our country and the Spanish one. In fact, we maintain that the bourgeoisie's ruination of our country by the war will not offer up the serious possibility of the final struggle of the proletariat so long as occupying troops remain on our soil - whoever they are. An eventual revolutionary solution to the crisis which is being overseen by these forces, would mean their renouncing the economic and strategic exploitation of our country.

On the other hand, we deem it an urgent task to rid the masses of any ideological influence or sentimental feelings towards this or that belligerent. That implies an open struggle against the traditional socialist and centrist parties who have turned the anti-German and anti-fascist ferment into a motive for collaboration with imperialism and betrayal of the proletariat.

Even now we are alone in fighting the hard and difficult class battle and, true to the noblest intransigence and the traditions of the internationalist Marxist movement, we are preparing for the struggles which are quite close, organising materially and mentally for the triumph of the proletariat, and leaving to the 'revolutionaries' - of national defence - the much easier task of waiting for the English victory over the Germans and fascism and the much yearned for recompense of a popular government.

The Insidious Danger of Partisanism

The present war has allowed capitalism to add to its arsenal of slogans launched against the proletariat in times of crisis to get it to abandon the class struggle and collaborate fraternally with it: that of the armed bands for national liberation.

After attempting to get more and more masses into the comfortable bed of democracy, inviting them to reach a national concordat in the name of the struggle against the invader, it now seeks a plausible reason to offer a people who, over three years of conflict, have demonstrated they don't want to wage war, to make them forget the high road towards the conquest of power in the heady intoxication of the moment, in order to fraternise with the class enemy, to pave the way with their blood to a renewed democratic regime and to the victory of one imperialism over another. And, powerless on its own to convince the worker to fight for a cause that is not his own, the bourgeoisie mobilises its faithful servants of opportunism to dust off the old implements of nationalist rhetoric to call on the proletariat to gather under the worn-out flags of 'nation', 'new Risorgimento', 'sacred borders', 'defence of the Italian industrial heritage' - or, in other words, to pull it into the terrible machinery of the imperialist war.

Faced with this policy, our position is clear. Partisanism based on anti-German nationalism is a weapon used by the bourgeoisie to blind the worker, to take him away from his specific terrain of struggle so that his blood will nurture a re-awakening of the moribund capitalist regime.


For us there is no choice to make between the two imperialisms who are fighting in our country: the one promising an illusory freedom while the other invites us to avenge a stained honour. We don't want to fight against the German so that Anglo-Saxon imperialism wins. We want to fight so that the roots of all imperialism are destroyed once and for all. We don't want to fight against the Nazi war in order to legitimate the democratic war, whatever garb it hides under. We don't want the proletariat to shed its blood out of love for a bourgeois 'fatherland'; we want the struggle to be for the only cause which interests the proletariat, the conquest of power. For the watchword 'nation against nation' we substitute the watchword 'class against class'; against the motto of the anti-German partisan bands, the arming of the proletariat to achieve historic goals.

Today, more than ever, it's necessary for the proletariat to see clearly. The dilemma is not whether to fight in the democratic or fascist army or to go into the partisan bands; there is only one choice: war or class struggle. On the horns of this dilemma the latter is the only possible choice for us. The liberation of the proletariat will be realised, not by those who have invited it to fight under the flag of democracy, but by the only organism which has launched to the proletariat of the whole world the true revolutionary watchword:

Proletarians desert the war, desert it, under whatever mask it shows itself to you.

1 November 1943

(1) Prometeo was first published in Naples in January 1924. It was an organ of the Communist Party and essentially a mouthpiece of the Left under the editorship of Amadeo Bordiga, ousted from the leadership of the Party when the Left were replaced by Gramsci's pro-Moscow 'Centrists'. Later that year the PCI leadership halted publication of Prometeo under the interests of 'party unity'. In 1928 Prometeo was revived by the Italian Left Fraction in exile, published in Belgium, later France, for a decade under the editorship of Ottorino Perrone (Vercesi).

(2) A number of historical texts by the PCInt. have been translated into English and published by the CWO. For more on the partisans, see Workers Voice 70, 73 and 74. Limited copies still available from CWO address.

(3) Stephen Harvey, 'The Italian War Effort and the Strategic Bombing of Italy' in History no.228, Feb.1985.