Antonio Gramsci 1921

War is war

First published: in L'Ordine Nuovo, 31 January 1921;
Translated: by Natalie Campbell.

Understanding and knowing how to accurately assess one’s enemy, means possessing a necessary condition for victory. Understanding and knowing how to assess one’s own forces, and their position on the battlefield, means possessing another very important condition for victory.

The Fascists clearly want to carry out to full effect in Turin, a general plan that guaranteed them easy victories in other cities. Foreign contingents have been called up (from Bologna, troops have been chosen and trained). The number of parade spectacles has been stepped up, with the forces, lined up in rows in typical military style.

They continually summon those needed out of the blue, given the order that they come to meetings armed; this just helps to create expectations around mysterious events and to establish a war psychology. Alarmist voices spread like wildfire (’the first to be killed will be a socialist student, we will set fire to “The New Order,” we will set fire to the Chamber of Labour, we will set fire to the bookshop of the Turin Cooperative Alliance’).

This is a strategy with two aims; the first, to disassemble proletariat forces, through panic and the exasperating uncertainty of waiting; the second, to make the fascists familiar with the aim they're working towards. Will the fascists of Turin have the easy victory they got in other cities? We can see that their call for help is a sign of the inherent weakness of fascism in Turin. Here, fascists rely on, and can rely on, only one group of the petty bourgeoisie: shopkeepers, who themselves are clearly not well-known for their God-given, warlike virtues. The working class of Turin is clearly morally superior to the fascists and it knows it well. The counterrevolutionaries of the General Confederation of Labour continue in their affirmation (to discourage the masses and take away from them any capacity of offence or defence) that the workers, having not been involved in war previously, cannot fight and overcome fascism using armed violence.

As far as Turin goes, this defeatist and counter-revolutionary statement is false, even if one looks at it objectively. The workers of Turin have had ‘warlike’ experiences'; the general strike of May 1915, the armed revolt which lasted five days in August 1917, the organised mass action of 2-3 December 1919, the general strike involving periods of Irish tactics and the development of a united strategic plan in April 1920, the factory sit-in last September in which they accumulated a wealth of experience in the military field.

Giving an objective picture of the conditions in which the fight will be carried out, does not mean attempting to down play the seriousness of the danger faced. The working class of Turin clearly finds itself in a good position for war, but no good position, on its own, can save an army from defeat. That good position must be exploited in all ways possible.

Woe betide the working class, if it allows, even for an instant, the fascists to carry out their plan in Turin, as they have done in other cities. Even the slightest weakness, the slightest hint of indecision could be fatal. The response of the workers to the fascists’ first try must be immediate, abrupt, ruthless; the response should be such that the memory of it is passed down to the great-grandchildren of capitalist masters. At the end of the day, war is war and in war it is not agreed when the blows will be struck.

Meanwhile, the working class of Turin has already stated, in a motion of its political party, that it considers fascists as merely the means; the means of a movement which finds its true instigators, those who will really be responsible, in other places. Even La Stampa declared (on the 27 January, now five days ago) that, ‘the current powerful group (of fascists) is only favoured by shop keepers, industrialists, farmers’.

In war and revolution, to take pity on ten is to be cruel to a thousand. The Hungarian working class wanted to take it easy on their oppressors; now it is paying for that decision, and working class women and children are too paying for their kindness. Pity for a thousand has brought with it misery, sorrow; complete despair to millions in the Hungarian proletariat.

It is not agreed when the blows will be struck. The workers must be ever more relentless, since there is no relation between the pain that the working class suffers and the pain that capitalists suffer. The Chamber of Labour is a product of the great efforts of many working-class generations. It is the result of sacrifices and hard work on the part of hundreds of thousands of workers; it is only them who have rights to this property. If it were to be destroyed all that would be wiped out in an instant; that effort, that sacrifice, that hard work, that ownership.

They want to destroy it so that they can destroy the entire group, so they can take away from the worker, any certainty he may have; the certainty of having food, a roof over his head, something with which to dress himself; they want to take all this from the worker’s wife and child too. May he be condemned to death he who dares to touch the Chamber of Labour, may he be condemned to death he who advocates and encourages its destruction! A hundred for one. All the houses of industrialists and shop keepers could not save the house of the people, because the people lose everything if they lose their house. May he be condemned to death he who attempts to take away the bread from the worker, the bread from the worker’s son.

War is war, and he who embarks on that adventure must feel the full force of the beast that he has awoken. All that the worker has created through his sacrifice, everything which generations of the working class have slowly and through much difficulty, created through blood and tears, should be respected as sacred. When sacrilege is committed, up will rise the storm and the harsh winds, and those responsible will be swept away like weightless blades of straw. May he be condemned to death he who dares touch the worker’s property, the man who is told he cannot have any.

War is war. Woe betide its instigator. A working class activist, who must pass into the other world, must have a first class companion to accompany him on his journey. If the patch of sky over a street is turned red by fire, the city must have many coal burners with which to keep warm the wives and children of the workers at war.

Woe betide he who instigates war. If Italy is not used to the seriousness or the responsibility it entails, if Italy is not used to taking anyone seriously; if bourgeois Italy is, perhaps, under the pleasant, simple assumption that not even Italian revolutionaries are to be taken seriously, the die is already cast: it is certain that more than one lone wolf’s tale and slyness, will be left in the trap.