Victor Serge

In a time of duplicity

Nicola Bombacci

May 1, 1945. Mussolini shot. The last fascist government leaders shot, some fifteen people. I felt a satisfaction for having written in 1932 (Litérature et Révolution): “The Gramscis and the Terracinis [17] know that they are almost nothing at this moment, that they can be assassinated tomorrow, that they will perhaps never see the light of day again; but they understand the inexorable laws of history, they know where all the parades will end up.”

J. Mesnil reproached me for the puerile, dogmatic expression: “The inexorable laws of history ...” Do we know if these laws exist? We see necessities and probabilities, we want to believe in Nemesis, the goddess of reward and punishment. (I acknowledged that basically I believed in her, but that it was foolish to arm her with “inexorable laws” and that it could probably be seen where fascism was leading without recourse to such poor words.)

Among those of the last fascist group shot figures an old comrade of the ’20s, Nicola Bombacci. An American newspaperman saw his naked body stretched out in a shed with the rest. The newspapers have labeled him an archtraitor, as if archtreason existed. This superlative only shows an excess of hate or a lamentable verbal effort to feign an excess of hate. Bombacci had betrayed socialism, obviously, and the Comintern. I tried to understand it. I saw him once again at Petrograd and Moscow (in ’20 or ’21), tall, thin, sporting a magnificent beard below a bony face, with gentle and lively eyes – enthusiastic, aggressive, cheerful, believing with all his soul in communism. An uncomplicated mind more warm than penetrating, a faith mingled with naïveté.

But what in those times foreshadowed the somber, sinister complications of the twenty years to come? He admired everything. I saw him again in Berlin as an émigré in ’23 or ’24. The first gray hairs were beginning to show in his beard, he retained his good humor but behind a smile touched with discouragement.

Contrary to most of the left politicians, who did not see a long life for Mussolini’s adventure, he considered it as very dangerous. “Once power has been seized!” “And Mussolini is clever, demagogic, devoid of scruples, and he has learned a great deal from the Russian Revolution.” We were in the upholstered drawing room of Jacques Sadoul [18] at Grunewald. We were in agreement. I asked:

“But since you knew how menacing fascism was arid what an important role Mussolini played, why didn’t you get rid of him in time, during the destruction of the cooperatives, etc.?”

“Because our most active militants went over to his side.”

I saw that it was this that tormented him the most: the attraction that fascism, exercised upon the extreme left. He had been a teacher with Mussolini in a little Italian village, he knew him well and even while hating him liked him a little.

Later, disappointed by the stifling atmosphere of the Comintern and doubtless unable to adapt himself to exile, he was offered the chance by Mussolini of returning to the country with the possibility of organizing a legal and loyal “socialist” opposition – capable of nothing. Mussolini was smart enough to present himself to the old militants as remaining some sort of a socialist in spite of everything and of preparing a sequel conforming to his half-secret desires.

Henri Guilbeaux – another founder of the Comintern – let himself be hooked and wound up by presenting Mussolini as the genuine successor of Lenin. But H.G. was nothing but a bitter and cowardly imbecile. In the beginning fascism attracted a great many rebels and even revolutionists by its demonstrations of plebian strength and violence. Then it offered them participation in practical work, building schools, draining swamps, industrializing, creating an empire. Finally, the murmured promise of establishing a New Order which would be only a stage on the road to socialism completed the process.

The outrages and the crimes inflicted upon the working-class movement lost their fratricidal meaning once the Russian Revolution had begun the persecution of the socialist and anarchist dissidents. It is impossible to consider the phenomenon of fascism without discovering the importance of its interrelations with the phenomenon of socialist revolution. (An inverted revolution, counter-revolutionary in its immediate political ends?)

The New Order, that war machine of victorious Nazism, was an old slogan for us. In 1920 the Italian Communists (Gramsci, Terracini) published an excellent weekly at Milan and Turin, l’Ordine Nuovo; they were the originators of that idea.

Victor Serge



17. Early Italian communist leaders.

18. A French army captain in World War I who played a certain role in the founding of the Comintern.


Last updated on 21.3.2004