Jean van Heijenoort writing as Marc Loris

“New” Ideas on Italy

‘New’ Ideas on Italy (International Notes), Fourth International, February 1943, p. 62–63, under the name “Marc Loris”.

A pamphlet 0entitled Italy Against Fascism has recently appeared in New York, dated September 1942. We received our copy through the mails. The author (or authors) and the group that published the pamphlet remain anonymous. We can easily understand conspiratorial caution. Unfortunately, however, they take the same precautions on the plane of ideas. They do not say to which tendency they belong, they do not reveal their political past, they do not criticize any definite movement or organization. This attitude gives the pamphlet an extremely vague and to a certain degree equivocal character.

For it soon becomes clear that the authors of the pamphlet are not political novices, youths who are awakening to political life. On the contrary, if we try to reconstruct their history on the basis of the pamphlet, it would appear that these are old routineers of the emigration.

The pamphlet begins by giving a picture of the Italian underground movement. It notes the appearance of a new revolutionary generation of Italy which was not acquainted with the pre-fascist epoch and it declares: “A young Communist inside Italy would feel intellectually and emotionally closer to a liberal revolutionary in Italy than to a leader of the Italian Communist Party abroad. A young liberal would feel the same way.”

Let us admit for a moment that this fact is true. It can be explained by various factors such as the bankruptcy of liberalism in our epoch and the degeneration of the Communist International (Stalinism). The pamphlet itself does not offer any explanation of this asserted fact, but, as we shall see, builds a whole political program around it.

One sentence betrays the way the pamphlet approaches political problems:

” .... the most important difference between anti-Fascists (inside Italy) is based not so much on ideas as on experience.”

But ideas are generalized experience. They find their expression in programs, tendencies, political traditions. This artificial and superficial opposition between ideas and experience reveals a theoretical carelessness and cannot help but remind us that Italy was one of the hunting grounds of Bakuninism. So it is not surprising that we find, a little farther along, a sentence as shallow as this:

“To the totality of destruction that is Fascism has been opposed the totality of freedom that is revolutionary anti-Fascism.”

What does this “totality of freedom” mean? Contempt for “ideas,” that is to say scientific theory, is always combined with a blind acceptance of empty phrases.

The pamphlet then goes on to say about the Italian underground movement:

“Widespread propaganda has been carried on to weaken the morale of the armed forces and of the civilians; a clandestine press has been set up on an unparalleled scale; political meetings have been held and combat groups formed in nearly every town and village; a strict co-ordination of all these units has been established.”

And further along:

“The production of the clandestine press varies from booklets to loose manifestos, and these are widely distributed by the opposition throughout Italy.”

This information sounds rather exaggerated. Undoubtedly an underground movement does exist and we have seen poorly mimeographed sheets printed in Italy. But printed booklets! Combat groups in nearly every town and village! A strict co-ordination of all these units! We merely have to recall the state of the underground movement in Russia in January 1917 or in Germany in October 1918 to see that we are dealing here with an unpardonable product of petty-bourgeois grandiloquence.

The pamphlet reproduces the program on which “the most active anti-Fascist groups inside Italy are in complete accord.” This also seems to be the program which the author supports; however, he does not state it explicitly.

The first point of the program is:

“They recognize that the present war is a continuation on a world-wide scale of the international fight against international Fascism and its supports, a fight initiated in Italy twenty years ago.”

This is a typically liberal affirmation, completely false. The struggle in Italy twenty years ago was the struggle of different classes inside one nation. The present war is the struggle of contenders who all belong to one class, the imperialist bourgeoisie. (We except, of course, the struggle of the Soviet Union and semi-colonial China.) Let us recall that Churchill declared that if he were Italian he would be fascist. Nevertheless, he is now a valiant defender of “democracy.”

The second point of the program reads:

“Consequently, they believe that imperialistic and nationalistic aims should be excluded from the present struggle, rightly defined as a civil war. They deem it essential for the democracies to understand that Fascism means an international ‘New Order’ of destruction....”

Here is the usual Jeremiad of the liberals, who try to convince the imperialists not to be too imperialist. “. . . it is essential for the democracies to understand “ And what if the imperialists understand how to manage their interests without such unsolicited advice, as the Darlan deal recently showed?

The third point of the program follows the same line:

“They believe that after the victory of the United Nations, no actual peace can be achieved unless the United Nations really become a UNION of PEOPLES on an INTERNATIONAL basis. They point out that the results of the last war have sufficiently proved that nationalism is a negative force, unhealthy even in small doses.” (Capitals and Italics in the original.)

The same pious prayers! Let us note also the denial of any progressive character to nationalism. This is no accident. Liberalism, with its servility before the power of imperialism, very easily joins in contempt for the nationalism of the small oppressed nations, and imagines it is taking on a very left appearance.

Moreover, the author falls into an insoluble contradiction when, in the fourth point, he writes:

“They proclaim that if the war aims and the peace policies of the United Nations are to be based on a nationalistic conception, the Italian people must have the right to ask that all Italian-speaking territory be left untouched.”

The fifth point of the program proclaims:

“On the internal front, they believe that a post-Fascist Italy should be built on the principles of FREEDOM, both political and economic.”

What are the “principles” of freedom? Writing freedom in capitals does not provide the badly needed explanation. What does “economic freedom” mean? Out of “economic freedom” grew the present-day system of trusts and monopolies. Does the pamphlet propose to go back to the epoch of free enterprise? Or does it have in mind some kind of Proudhonist or Bakuninist scheme?

The sixth point announces to us:

“The Italian underground believes that betterment of social conditions cannot he achieved through reforms granted from above, but through immediate political control by the people directly interested in the reforms.”

This statement permits as one interpretation the proletarian revolution but, alas, it is so vague that it also permits many others.

Pseudo-Radical Proposals

The seventh point gives us a program of “fundamental changes”:

  1. Distribution of the land to the peasants, as individual or collective property according to the different agricultural needs.
  2. Socialization of medium and heavy industries with control by factory workers.
  3. Socialization of the banks and of the social security institutes.

Programs like this are nowadays very cheap. If you do not say exactly how they can be materialized, by which forces and against which enemies, they are worthless and even harmful, for they only add to the confusion.

As a fitting conclusion to this pamphlet, there is a chapter on the awkwardness of the American radio propaganda to Italy. This chapter is full of advice to the United Nations: “Their propaganda must show ...” “It must convey the conviction ...” etc., etc. The whole reasoning is abased on the postulate that “this war can best be won by arming and supporting the European Revolutions.” Of course, on this assumption American propaganda is rather stupid and makes many mistakes. But the assumption is false. There is no mistake. The propaganda corresponds to the character of the war. That is why, instead of “arming and supporting the European. Revolutions,” Washington prefers to deal with the Darlans, Francos, Mannerheims, or some Badoglio. “They fail to understand,” the pamphlet complains about the rulers of the United Nations. Not everything. They understand perfectly the realities of imperialism which unfortunately the writers of the pamphlet “fail to understand.” – M.L.