1944: War or Revolution

We’ve recently published an article on the failed attempt of revolutionaries in occupied Poland to form a new communist party that could have intervened in a potential revolutionary outbreak in the aftermath of the Second World War (see 1943: An Independent Communist Party in Occupied Poland?). As we saw there, the ideological draw of national liberation and popular frontism proved too strong, and ultimately the organisation was decimated by its decision to take part in the Warsaw Uprising. It would play no significant role in the movement of factory councils and committees that it predicted would arise out of the ashes of Warsaw. It was a different story with our political ancestors in the Internationalist Communist Party (PCInt) in Italy.

The Italian Left spent the ‘20s and ‘30s of the last century drawing a balance sheet (“bilan”) of the experience of the revolutionary wave which followed the First World War and the gradual degeneration of the official communist movement. When the Second World War broke out, although its militants were likewise in prisons or in exile, they were nevertheless much more prepared to face the challenges of the period than those who were only just coming to terms with Stalinism. The Italian Left preserved the lessons of the past and kept alive its network of militants so that, when the moment was right, the PCInt was born on the wave of massive strikes in the northern industrial centres of Italy (the same wave which gave hope of a European socialist revolution to the Polish revolutionaries when they heard of it).

The following is a translation of a leaflet distributed in Asti (North West Italy) in December 1944 by the PCInt. It’s another addition to the translations of the documents of the Italian Left that we have already published on our website (see: leftcom.org). It requires some context.

The successful Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943 opened a new stage in the war, culminating with the overthrow of Mussolini's regime later that month. The Armistice of Cassibile, signed by the new Italian government and the Allies, announced the capitulation of Italy in September. This gave Hitler the green-light to move in and seize control of Northern and Central Italy. A puppet state under the name of the Republic of Salò was established and Mussolini was freed from captivity to lead it. The German occupation was received with widespread civil opposition and massive strikes, and gave birth to the partisan movement organised around the anti-fascist National Liberation Committee (of which the Stalinist Italian Communist Party became a leading component). In November, the first issue of Prometeo, the underground magazine of the PCInt, was published – it was the only party to unequivocally come out against all sides in the war as imperialist, for which it was met with the wrath of both Nazism and Stalinism (see: The Murders of Fausto Atti and Mario Acquaviva). In June 1944 the PCInt published the Manifesto of the Internationalist Communist Left, which called on the proletarians of Europe to “fraternise beyond capitalism’s artificial borders”, to turn the imperialist war into a class war. This was the message the PCInt, through its factory groups and party sections across Italy and militants still in exile, brought to the wider working class.

This leaflet, written towards the end of the war as German troops were retreating, warned the working class against military insurrection as advocated by the National Liberation Committee. It recalls the “painful episodes” of Grosseto(1), the liberation of Paris and the Warsaw Uprising, where in each case, under the guise of a popular uprising against fascism, a new capitalist ruling clique had taken power over the bodies of dead proletarians (either killed in reprisals or serving as cannon fodder). To this, the PCInt posed the revolutionary alternative, as demonstrated by the workers of Russia in 1917, of settling the score with their own bourgeoisie of all stripes. Unlike the Polish revolutionaries we wrote about, who ultimately sided with the Polish Committee of National Liberation and abandoned their revolutionary aspirations, the PCInt had no illusions about the Italian Committee for National Liberation, which it rightly saw as a capitalist state-in-formation.

In the end, despite mass class struggles in countries like Italy and Poland, the Second World War did not give rise to another revolutionary wave. Instead, it breathed new life into a crisis-riddled capitalism and the mass destruction it wrought allowed for the resumption of a new cycle of accumulation. Today, as wars around the world continue to proliferate, amid talk of “civil war” even in the financial centres of capitalism like the USA, when a working class response to the ever growing economic, military and environmental threats facing humanity is still missing, the Internationalist Communist Tendency continues to preserve the lessons of our political ancestors (see: In the Tradition of the Communist Left on the Path of International Revolution).


(1) On 12 June 1944 in Grosseto, Tuscany, local partisans, aware that the Allies were approaching, attacked a German unit by laying mines on a bridge. In reprisal the Germans took 20 hostages. A local nun managed to negotiate their release, but as the German retreated they killed 5 or 6 unarmed civilians. The case of Grosseto is of course not on the scale of Paris or Warsaw, but it was a local example.

War or Revolution

The war has entered its decisive phase, in the face of the enormous superiority of their adversaries, German troops are obliged to carry out a series of continuous retreats, the true meaning of which — the approaching complete defeat — cannot be hidden by the bulletins of the German command with their absurd and ridiculous statements, which present the loss of strategically and industrially important territories and cities as defensive successes.

The only quiet front is the Italian one, because the military aim of the Anglo-Americans is to keep the German divisions engaged, without pushing them back towards the Alps, whilst politically obstructing the unification of the working masses of Piedmont, Lombardy and Liguria, animated by a spirit of class struggle, against the monarchical government of Bonomi, which already has such a difficult life.

In this atmosphere of expectation of the imminent end of the conflict, the Liberation Committee re-launches, especially through the Italian Communist Party, its incitement to the working masses to prepare for the insurrection against Nazi-fascism.

We call such propaganda provocative and affirm that if the working class committed the naive mistake of rising up against the German troops it would face a terrible slaughter.

The painful episodes of Grosseto, Paris and Warsaw constitute an instructive lesson, which must not be forgotten.

The confusion between war and revolution is also absurd.

The working class is not militarist, and in no historical period have the proletarian political parties posed the problem of action on the level of war of a military nature against the army, which requires, above all, special technical skills.

The proletariat is against war and is fighting against it by making propaganda in favour of desertion and boycott, ready to take advantage of any favourable situation to transform it into a civil struggle for the conquest of power.

The working class is revolutionary, but the revolutionary struggle has nothing to do with the war between armies: the technique is different, different methods are used, different also therefore are the qualities that the leaders must possess.

The proletariat has already shown that its fight is for the conquest of power, and the Bolshevik party, led by Lenin, has given a magnificent example which shows how a workers' political party can and should lead the revolution.

In the absence of the possibility of transforming the war into a civil struggle, as happened in Russia in 1917, the working class must now organise and prepare for the next struggle against Italian capitalism, whose interests, after the fall of fascism, are defended by the Committee of National Liberation.

The parties which are trying to promote an insurrection against the military forces, even and especially if they call themselves Communists, are acting provocatively and demonstrate their intrinsic anti-proletarian essence.

The Internationalist Communist Party points out to the proletariat the only truly revolutionary way, by following which it will be able to conquer power and put an end to capitalist exploitation.

A Group of Internationalist Communists

December 1944

Saturday, October 24, 2020