Part 3

Submitted by Alias Recluse on January 2, 2014

Part 3


Feudal Obstacles to the Emergence of Modern Nations


The organization of feudal society and its state posed an obstacle to the bourgeois drive towards the formation of the modern unitary nation due to its decentralized nature in a horizontal and vertical sense. While each one of the recognized “orders” possessed its own rights and to a certain extent was forbidden to intermarry with other orders and thus constituted quasi-nations, the feudal domains, for their part, because they were characterized by a closed economy with respect to the force of human labor power, caused the groups of serf workers to form small unfree nations.

Picking up where we left off at the end of Part 2 of this study on the history of the classical nation and its fate after the fall of the Roman Empire, the barbarian invasions and the formation of the medieval states, it would not be a bad idea to enumerate those aspects of feudalism that militated against the historical reemergence of the nation. The nation, then, is a geographic circuit within which economic traffic is free, the positive law is common for all, and to a great extent there is an identity of race and language. In the classical sense, the nation excluded the masses of slaves and included within these relations only the free citizens; in the modern, bourgeois sense, the nation includes all those who were born in it.

If, prior to the first great Greco-Roman historic stage, we found states that were not nations, and if we once again find such states after this stage and before the bourgeois stage, we never find a nation without a state. Our entire materialist analysis of the national phenomenon is therefore based at every step on the Marxist theory of the state, and the latter is the difference between the bourgeoisie and us. The formation of nations is a real physical fact like any other, but once the nation is united as a state, it always appears divided into social classes, and the state is not an expression—as the bourgeoisie say—of the whole nation as an aggregate of persons, or even of municipalities or districts, but is the expression and the organ of the interests of the economically ruling class.

At this point we have confirmed the truth of two theses: national unity is a historical necessity and is also the precondition, along with the unitary domestic market, the abolition of the estates, and positive law that is the same for all subjects of the state, for the future advent of communism; and the centralized state not only does not exclude the class struggle but causes the class struggle against it to rise to its highest pitch, just as it accentuates the international nature of this struggle in the arena of the socially developed world.

The economy of feudal society was predominantly agrarian. The members of the aristocratic order divided the possession of all the land not only with regard to its topographic boundaries, but above all to establish their personal domination over groups of the peasant population. Due to their privileges the nobles formed, in a certain sense, a “nation”: they did not intermarry with serfs, artisans or bourgeoisie, and they possessed their own laws and judges belonging to their own order. Their hereditary possession of the land in its pure form was not alienable, and was ruled by a title or investiture granted by the higher feudal hierarchy and ultimately, within certain limits, by the king. The bearing of arms was the privilege of this order just like the prerogatives of command; when it was necessary to mobilize large armed contingents, the latter were composed of mercenaries and were often recruited from other countries.

The class of serfs did not form a nation, not only because it did not have any central representation or expression, but also because it was reproduced in closed circles that were kept separate from each other; it was legally subservient to the lord and the legal codes varied according to the zones or the opinions of the lords. The physical boundary for the serf was not the state frontier nor was he under the jurisdiction of the central state power, since both frontiers and power were encompassed by the fief of his immediate lord.

Now we must speak of the ecclesiastical order, which at various stages was very closely aligned with the power of the aristocratic order. But the ecclesiastical order was not a nation and did not define a nation, because it was incapable of genealogical continuity due to the celibacy of the priests as well as the fact that its boundaries were extra-national. The Catholic Church, as its name indicates, is international, or, more precisely, in its organizational and doctrinal features it is international and interracial. This particular superstructure was the product of an economy based on closed units. The serf was the only element that provided labor power, and he consumed part of it in the form of a fraction of the products of the land: local needs were limited in such a way that they were supplied by locally manufactured products, with a completely embryonic division of labor, and the first artisans were barely tolerated (those very famous artisans who, while the peasants inhabited their lands in isolation, were concentrated in the “burg” at the foot of the lord’s castle, and who were later to become the terrible, destructive and revolutionary bourgeoisie). The lord and his small crew of henchmen consumed the quota brought by the peasants to the castle, or which was produced by the corvée labor of the peasants on the lord’s own estate. It is clear that, since a small, privileged minority exercised control over a large quantity of products, their needs gradually increased and therefore so did their demand for manufactured articles, even if the little princesses still ate with their hands and changed their shirts only on special occasions.

This was the origin of the material conflict, the starting point of that whole immense struggle that would invoke the high-sounding words, Fatherland, Liberty, Reason, Criticism, and Idealism against the feudal obstacles to the free circulation of persons and things, and the demand for domestic freedom of trade throughout the entire state, and then for universal freedom of trade, that would allow the lord to enjoy his wealth, but would also whet the appetites of the merchants who would one day proceed to buy with money the sacred and so avidly sought feudal lands: those who deluded themselves that they were gaining a fatherland, would instead obtain within the confines of the state a single currency, a stock exchange, and a unified system of tax collection, conditions that would make possible the eruption of capitalist productive forces.

Feudal Localism and Universal Church


In medieval society the productive and economic base was not national but sub-national, with respect to sites of labor and locations of markets. The linguistic, cultural, scholastic, and ideological superstructure was not national because it was concentrated around the Roman Christian Church, with a universal dogma, ritual and organization. But the power of the Church did not extend so far as to overcome feudal particularism, since the Church strictly supported the interests and enactments of the landowning nobility.

The classical nations had already attained the unity of personal and commercial law within their political frontiers, because agrarian production, which was also fundamental at that time, made it possible to amass commodities and money thanks to the labor of the slaves, and also thanks to the overwhelming inequality that existed, which was not only permitted but tolerated by Roman law, with regard to the number of slaves that were possessed by free citizens, as was also the case with the allodial possession of the land.

After the suppression, clarified in the light of determinism, of this slave type of production, the road to the general flow of manufactured commodities would be opened up by another means—the bourgeoisie—and their production would be carried out in tandem with the development of agriculture, only to enormously—and irrationally—surpass it in the capitalist epoch.

But with Rome the classical nation had become more than just a nation; it was a territorial political universe with an organized power that extended throughout the entire non-barbarian world.

The ineluctable crisis of this mode of production, which had led to fantastic levels of accumulation favored by state centralism and its dictatorship over the provinces, and by the concentrated ownership of land and slaves in the hands of a few super-powerful rich people, had facilitated for the invading barbarians the task of reducing this immense unitary organization into fragments.

In the Middle Ages this universalism was attained under a very different form, in the powerful organization of the Christian Church of Rome. We shall not pause here to examine in detail the great historical process, which can be grasped in the light of the same social tendencies, relating to the Eastern Empire that survived for centuries after the fall of the Western Empire, and which, although it was capable of diverting the Germanic attack from the northwest was incapable of repeating this achievement with regard to the Asians from the southeast, leading, by way of essentially analogous paths, to the fragmentation of a unity that had long been merely symbolic.

In Western Europe the need to develop general commercial exchange in opposition to the feudal parcelization of the land took the form of a demand to reconstruct centralism, which had given the classical Roman world a degree of power, wealth and wisdom that seemed beyond the reach of the feudal states. But the response to this demand could not be that of the “Guelphs”, who opposed the German Empire of the time and its bellicose ruling class with the international influence of the Church, even though this was attempted in the midst of the imperial conflict with the class forces of the first citadels of the new bourgeois class: the Italian cities, ruled by master craftsmen, artisans, bankers and merchants, who had already made inroads throughout all of Europe.

The Church in fact constituted in all the states that arose from the dismemberment of the Empire—after the first centuries of resistance—a common superstructure that served the power of the feudal lords and their monarchs. Precisely because they were not national societies, the functions this superstructure performed transcended the limits of their political borders. National languages spoken by the “people”, or “the common folk”, did not yet exist. The language of the priests in all parts of feudal Europe was Latin, while the masses of the serfs spoke dialects that were incomprehensible to people living ten or twenty kilometers away, so that one could not travel to find work or money, but only to fight, and this is why they rarely needed a common tongue. Latin, however, was not just the language of religious ritual, which was of little importance, but was the only existing cultural vehicle, practically the only language that could be read and written everywhere.

Latin, and only Latin, was taught to the members of the noble order, and this means that education, assimilated by the Church, remained an inter-state structure, even though members of other classes were admitted, and besides the “young lords” and the future priests and friars, a few children of the bourgeoisie of the cities were also allowed to attend school, but the dispersed peasants (and this situation has not yet been totally overcome today, in some unfortunate provinces of nations as noble as … Italy and Yugoslavia!) were absolutely excluded.

It was through this unitary sieve that all high culture passed—the same topics and texts were discussed in Bologna, Salamanca, Paris and London—but so did the practical culture itself and, ultimately, this is where the entire bureaucratic, civil, judicial and military element came from: any class that possessed a culture, possessed some kind of “national culture” in only the vaguest sense, and only after the year one thousand did “national literatures” emerge.

The bourgeoisie themselves adapted to everything and paid their tribute to this social nexus, which is a superstructure of the dominant type of production, but at the same time it is an inevitable means of labor, and while the banker did business with Amberes or Rotterdam from Florence, he did so by way of a commercial correspondence in Latin, even though this Latin summarily butchered the resurrected Caesar and Cicero; no less than the Latin used in the Mass.

The entire Catholic ideological structure, however, despite the scale of this edifice that went far beyond the differences of blood, race and language that separated men, is historically bound to the defense and preservation of the feudal type of servitude. This collaboration began from below with the collaboration of the priest and the local lord, who shared the tithes and taxes from the exploited peasantry, whose status as subjects was strictly connected with their bond to the soil and to the fief where they were born. On the other hand, monastic communities and the major religious orders, although not without a struggle with the lords, possessed vast tracts of land under the form of a productive relation that was completely identical with the feudal form, both of which shared the requirement that this possession of land, bodies and souls was inalienably bound to the title, aristocratic on the one hand and ecclesiastical-hierarchical on the other, to the land.

Universalism and Political Centralism


Although in Italy the first struggles of the bourgeoisie, organized in small city-republics but still incapable of creating an inter-regional economy, were supported by the Papacy and the Guelphs, Dante anticipated the modern bourgeois forms by invoking the monarchy as the first historically possible form of centralized state, although he did not expressly formulate a true national policy due to his Ghibelline universalism that postulated a single European power.

When Dante wrote his treatise De Monarchia, he adopted the Ghibelline position, despite the fact that his family supported the Guelphs. In the theory of history expressed by Dante the demand for a united central power is fundamental, and the sterile battles between municipal families and feudal lords is rejected. The new demand for universalism rested on the formidable tradition of the Roman Empire, rejecting and combating the universalism of the Catholic Rome; this is why Dante condemned the political power and policies of the papacy and invoked the German Emperor as the great monarch who would unify all of Europe in one centralized state: Germany and Italy, and then France and the other countries.

Should we include Dante’s political doctrine in the Medieval period because it does not contain the essential bourgeois demand of separate nationalities, or to the contrary do we perceive it as an anticipation of the modern bourgeois era? We must obviously choose the latter viewpoint. The institution of the absolute monarchy arose, in the midst of the Middle Ages, as the only form of centralized state that could effectively engage in the struggle against the federalism of the feudal lords and their pretensions to local self-government. At the side of these centrifugal forces one also finds the obscurantism of the clergy and of Rome; meanwhile, the great royal courts—a brilliant example of which, that of Frederick II of Swabia in Palermo, is lauded by Dante—cleared the way for the new productive forces and for commerce, and therefore the support of the arts and the exchange of ideas outside the scholastic dictatorship. The Swabian king was not exactly a national king, but the accounts of his atheism, culture and interest in art are not entirely legendary, and it is certainly true that he was the founder of the first industries and manufacturing enterprises, precursors of the social forms that were alien to the retrograde ignorance of the aristocracy, which was expert only in the use of arms. The first form that capitalism mobilized against the old regime of landowners was the central monarchy with its court in a great capital city, where artisans, artists and men of knowledge opened up new horizons for material life.

The Latin treatise De Monarchia is one of the first ideological manifestations of this modern demand and is in this sense revolutionary, anti-feudal and anti-Guelph: the anti-clericalism of the future would make extensive use of the invectives of this great poem directed against the papacy. And if the straightforward national demand is not explicit in Dante, and if he foresees an Italy that is politically united, despite the feudal lords, but only as a province of the transalpine Empire, this is because in Italy the modern bourgeoisie was born early, but with a municipal and local character, which did not diminish the importance of this first manifestation of the living forces of the future, but it was socially subjugated, due to reasons inherent to the change in the geographic routes of the nascent system of commercial exchange, before the vision of a powerful united capitalist state within national boundaries could be conceived. This did not detract from the fact that it was in this country that Dante himself chose to write literature in the vulgar Italian language, paving the way for the decisive dissemination of the Tuscan dialect in competition with the one hundred dialects that extended from those of Lombard origin to those influenced by the Saracens.

The Revolutionary Demands of the National Bourgeoisie


According to the Marxist interpretation of history each period of transition from one mode of production to another witnesses on the one hand the mobilization of the ruling class to defend its economic privileges by means of the employment of the apparatus of power and the influence of its traditional ideologies, and on the other the struggle of the revolutionary class against these institutional and ideological interests. This revolutionary class, in a more or less well-defined and comprehensive manner, engages in a propaganda campaign featuring new ideologies within the old society, new ideologies that contain the consciousness of its own conquests and of the future social mode of production. The modern bourgeoisie developed particularly interesting and suggestive systems, which constituted veritable weapons of struggle, in the different European nations, and all these systems revolved around the great demand for national unity and independence. The beginning of the modern age and the end of the medieval era is situated by the history textbooks either in 1492 or 1305. The first date is that of the discovery of America, and is significant in the history of the bourgeoisie—a truly epic saga of bourgeois history is offered by Marxism, from the incomparable synthesis of the Manifesto to the other classical descriptions—as the date that marks the opening up of the transoceanic routes, the formation of the fabric of the world market, and of the awakening of extremely powerful forces of attraction that, in the form of demand for manufactured commodities, drove the advanced white race to the war of overproduction. And in parallel with this powerful development, the center of the vigorous growth of industry shifted, and it shifted precisely from north-central Italy to the heart of extra-Mediterranean, Atlantic Europe.

1305, on the other hand, is the date when Dante wrote the Comedy, and at that time in Italy the demands of the anti-feudal and anti-ecclesiastical revolution had already made much headway, although in a very limited geographic area. Because Roman traditions had originated within the peninsula, and however much the contributions of new barbarian blood may have had an impact, the organizational forms of the Germanic peoples encountered major resistance in Italy and the feudal regime never really attained a high degree of development there.

Because of the advantages of its location amidst navigable seas, Italian trade and exchange rapidly recovered by establishing the division of labor on new foundations. Although the municipal system had collapsed with the rise of petty local lords and hereditary autocratic monarchies, agrarian serfdom did not, however, become predominant, and a large part of the population continued to be composed of independent peasants and artisans and small- and medium-scale merchants. For these same reasons, the bourgeoisie did not emerge as a national class during this period, a transition that would only take place several centuries later on a larger scale. Because of the setback it suffered in Italy, the capitalist revolution was postponed for a long time, but in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries it was victorious in England and France, and subsequently in Central Europe.

In this way the appearance of a new mode of production, limited to a restricted circle, would fail and therefore have to wait for several more generations to reemerge. Its historical recovery, however, would take place within a much more extensive circuit. This is why we must not lose sight of the fact that the communist revolution, crushed in 1871 in France, had to wait until 1917 to attempt to conquer not just France but all of Europe; and now that it has been defeated and deprived of all significance, as occurred to the limited bourgeois revolution of the Italian cities, it will be able to reemerge after a long period, on a world scale, and not just in the zones occupied and controlled by the white race.

In the period between the 12th and the 15th centuries, it might appear that the demands for the equality of citizens before the law, political liberty, parliamentary democracy and a republic were illusions that had been dissipated by history, but their force only increased due to an important historical advance on a European scale that seems quite obvious to us today. Actually, it is only in appearance that the demands of the modern proletariat for the violent overthrow of the democratic capitalist state, the dictatorship of the working class and the destruction of the economy based on money and wage labor, have been dormant and forgotten.

Throughout this entire period the bourgeois classes and groups, wielding greater influence due to the changes in the productive forces and techniques and the rise of mercantile exchange, never ceased to proclaim at every opportunity the new demands by fighting for them, until they succeeded in a totalitarian manner in smashing the feudal order and imposing their own power.

The artisan and the merchant refused to consider themselves as subject serfs of a petty local lord: both took flight, although this was at first very dangerous, and from one district to another they travelled across the state territory, their labor and their business being in demand, although it was very easy for the nobles to ambush them and take everything they had accumulated, as considerable masses of wealth had formed in the hands of individuals who were not members of the traditional orders and hierarchies. These pioneers of a new way of life demanded the right to be citizens of the state rather than the subjects of a noble: in its first form they aspired to be subjects of the king, as absolute ruler. The monarch and the dynasty were the first expressions of a central power that embraced all the people and the whole nation. The link between the state and the subject, the fundamental pillar of bourgeois law, was therefore beginning to be directly established without mediation by way of the fragmentary feudal hierarchies.

If we want to see this process operating in the domain of the economic base, we need only recall the picturesque historical incident that could be entitled, “The King of England Does Not Pay”. The House of Bardi, the great bourgeois bankers of Florence, advanced to the King of England a colossal sum in gold florins for military expenses: but the King, having lost the war in question, paid back neither the interest nor the principal on the loan: the bank failed and the Florentine economy suffered a terrible blow. The old banker died frustrated, not having been able to find a jurisdiction before which he could bring charges against the deadbeat. In the bourgeois system he could even have done so before an English judge, and he would have been paid.

If we want to depict the juridical aspect of this process, we may refer to the play written by Lope de Vega, El mejor alcalde, el Rey [The Best Mayor, the King], in which the king plays the role of the hero, but the main demand is always bourgeois. In a provincial town a certain Don Rodrigo abducted a youth. The boy’s father, after Don Rodrigo laughed in his face, went to Madrid and petitioned the king; the latter, in disguise, returned with him to the town, unarmed, with a small bodyguard; he assumed the position of judge and severely condemned the local lord, ordering him to release the boy and pay indemnities. The concept that every citizen could obtain justice from the king against the abuses of provincial power, expressed the bourgeois demand for centralism.

Some years later the Miller of Sanssouci became famous for his confrontation with King Frederick of Prussia, who wanted to expropriate the miller’s land to expand his pleasure park. The miller left his interview with the king saying, “There are judges in Berlin!”. The judge would condemn the king in the name of the king, and this would appear to be a masterpiece of the bourgeois concept of the law: but only a few years later the bourgeois itself, due to revolutionary exigencies, would show more resolution and would condemn the king to decapitation.

To the extent that in the old states ruled by the landowning nobility, as in the classical cases of France and England, the importance of commerce and manufacture grew in relation to the agrarian economy, and to the extent that large banking firms, the state debt, the protectionist system, and a centralized and unitary system of tax collection were emerging, the bourgeoisie demanded more privileges from royal power, that is, the central administration. Within the ideological superstructure, by culturally and politically demanding these new postulates, all these unitary systems are described and extolled as the expression not of a dynasty that ruled by divine right, recognized and invested by the religious power, but of all the people, of the totality of the citizenry, in a word, of the nation. Patriotism, that ideal that was eclipsed after its exaltation in classical antiquity, became the motto of the new civil demands and very soon inflamed (since it arose from the demands of the merchants and manufacturers) the intellectuals, writers and philosophers, who adorned the eruption of the new productive forces with a marvelous architecture of supreme principles and literary decorations.

The Iridescent Superstructures of the Capitalist Revolution


Just as the preconditions for the revolutionary struggle of the modern proletariat were established by the full development of the capitalist mode of production, the doctrine and program of the international communist revolution are established once the critique of bourgeois ideologies is fully developed, ideologies which assumed diverse national characteristics precisely because every bourgeois revolution is national and possesses its characteristics of constructing in its own particular way what Marx defines as the way an era “thinks about” itself.

In Italy, as we have already pointed out, the economic content of the bourgeois form emerged precociously, but proved insufficient to assume control of society: its political content, although of great historical importance, was limited to the control of small, free city-republics, and their artisans, merchants or commercial navigation. These forms were incapable of historically engaging in the constitution of a national power. If, however, on the one hand, this first bourgeois society would be reabsorbed by European feudal society despite its military victories against the German emperor, on the other hand its effects on the ideological and above all artistic “superstructure” were to leave their mark on later centuries. The rehabilitation of the political forms of the Roman world and the free classical institutions created by the citizens of the first republics, would be even more distinctly reflected in the organization of states and nations, in the flourishing of the new technology and of the great splendor of renaissance art, which drew upon and emulated the classical models. At the same time the literature and science that challenged the conformist domination of the Catholic and scholastic culture acquired the same impulse, by returning to and reinterpreting the study of the classic texts that provided material that was very relevant due to the social demands of the epoch. This immense movement is therefore the product of a particular development of conflict and of transition from one mode of production to another, the flash after the explosion of a new society within the old one, but which was still incapable of breaking the last chains, and only shook them with a historic earthquake; that is all, even if it could be explained and elaborated in a better way, without, however, having to resort to strange bedroom congresses of battle-tested spermatozoids that gave rise to architects, painters, sculptors, poets, musicians, thinkers, scientists, philosophers, etc., all of the first magnitude.

And there were artists, poets and ideologists, with their memorable and famous works, who never ceased to praise, even when they found themselves in situations of political and social servitude, the concept of the Italian fatherland and nationality, concepts that are incessantly and insistently repeated by their modern-day imitators, who are usually not at their level.

In Germany—and this has been addressed many times in the invectives of Marx and Engels—where one must speak of a series of miscarriages of the birth of the Nation, another great phenomenon took place: the Reformation, which spread to one degree or another throughout all of Europe.

The social struggle of the new strata against the old rule of the feudal princes, who were supported by the Church, was incapable of being crystallized in lasting political results, but it was not just limited in this first stage to the critique of artistic or philosophical schools, either, since it unfolded within the Church and was situated on the terrain of religious dogma. A process of fragmentation of the unified Church into diverse national churches which escaped from the rule of Rome then took place, not only modifying the articles of the mystic doctrine to one extent or another, but above all breaking the bonds with the ecclesiastical hierarchy and replacing it with the new national hierarchies. While a national language is one of the aspects by means of which the bourgeois nation state appears in history, another no less important aspect is religion. What happened in Germany was most impressive with regard to religion and the national church. It was the agitation of the new classes that lay behind the Reformation: bourgeoisie and master craftsmen of the German cities, as much as the peasant serfs of the countryside, looked to Luther as the person who would lead their struggle against the princes, the bastions of the feudal and aristocratic landed structure, but Luther not only rejected Münzer who commanded the defeated but glorious insurrection of the peasants against the minor princes, but did not want to lead the peasants against the great principalities, either.

While the limits and the bonds of medieval society were broken in Italy only in literature and in Germany only in religion, as expressions of immature or crushed revolutions, in the first pure historical case of a bourgeois revolution, that of England, the social economy was shaken to its deepest structural foundations. There, for climatological and geographical reasons, agricultural production never could have fed a dense population, and manufacturing and industrial production, unknown until that point in any country, underwent explosive growth. Tenant farmers accumulated large sums of money while an increasing number of peasants were expelled from the land and proletarianized: in this way the capitalist conditions of production were much more intensely imposed than elsewhere and the manufacturing bourgeoisie acquired great importance. The nobility and royalty were defeated in battle and, despite the brief period of the revolutionary republic and the death of Cromwell, the bourgeoisie quickly seized power by means of a new revolution, under a form that still persists: parliamentary monarchy. There can be no question that the geographical conditions, as much as the productive conditions, contributed to confer upon the United Kingdom the character of a single nation in contrast to the others, as the sea was its only geographical boundary. But as Engels pointed out in his Critique of the Draft Social-Democratic Program of 1891 (in which Engels proposed, for a Germany that was still divided into many small federated states, the demand, “one and indivisible republic”), in the two British Isles one finds at least three nationalities, with subdivisions along both linguistic as well as racial and religious lines. With the passage of time the Irish, of Celtic race, Catholic and formerly speakers of Gaelic, which is now almost extinct, will become substantially differentiated; and the Scottish people still conceive of themselves as very different from the English, taking into account different influences and social traditions, as is also the case in Wales, and the effects of a series of invasions and migrations: Romans, Saxons and finally Normans. The British Isles therefore feature a mixture of races, traditions, dialects and languages, some of them literary, religions and churches; but it was there that the first formation of that historic reality called the unified nation state took place, which corresponds to the establishment of the capitalist social mode.

In France the structure of the national state was being constructed by way of the civil war between the classes. Its geographical boundaries are precisely defined, except for the historical oscillation of the frontier on the Rhine, by seas and mountain chains. A rapid process led to the formation of a single language and a literature that was closely connected with that language and which absorbed the first literary manifestations of the Middle Ages by erasing their differences: this same process gradually also affected the ethnological diversity of France, which was quite significant. We must not forget that this nation typically took its name from the Franks, a Germanic people originally from the east that crushed or subjugated the indigenous Bretons and Celts. We therefore have two peoples of a non-Latin origin, but this did not prevent their language from being formed from the Latin root. The need for national unity was thus not territorial but social, and the bourgeoisie were soon able to obtain recognition as the Third Estate with representation in the Estates General which possessed a consultative function for the real power. When this proved insufficient, the struggle became directly political. There was no industrialism in France that was comparable to the British industries, and the economic schools of thought in the two countries were expressions of this fact: the English adopted the theory and apologetics of productive capitalism, while the French began with the agrarian Physiocratic school, and then proceeded to adopt the mercantilist doctrine that did not see value as emerging from productive labor but from trade in products.

Politically, there were no hesitations: the French bourgeoisie constructed their doctrine of the state by aspiring directly for power: sovereignty was not derived from inheritance or from divine right but from the consultation of the opinion of the citizens; dogma collapsed and reason was victorious, the orders and guilds were destroyed, and electoral democracy, parliament and a republic would be established. The other national form typical of the power of the bourgeoisie had been forged in the crucible of history.

In the transition from the feudal to the modern mode of production, a fundamental economic basis is the clash of the productive forces with the old relations, and the political, juridical and ideological superstructures emanate from this palingenesis of the economic base.

This cannot be reduced to a simple pharmaceutical prescription, however. The bourgeoisie had not carried out a world revolution but only the first round of the succession of national revolutions, and we have not yet seen the last of them.

From this brief summary of the fundamental study of the geographic “zones” and “historical periods” that we are undertaking with regard to the bourgeois revolution, in order to better understand the proletarian revolution—disregarding its national particularities, and embedding it within the spatio-temporal limits of its rich dynamic—we may emphasize the following chronological series: Italy—art; Germany—religion; England—economic science; France—politics. This is the integral superstructure of the capitalist productive base.

The feats of the bourgeoisie in history are evidently economic, political, artistic and religious at the same time. But the richness of its rise cannot be better summarized than with the words of the Manifesto:

“Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding political advance of that class. An oppressed class under the sway of the feudal nobility, an armed and self-governing association in the medieval commune: here independent urban republic (as in Italy and Germany); there taxable “third estate” of the monarchy (as in France); afterwards, in the period of manufacturing proper, serving either the semi-feudal or the absolute monarchy as a counterpoise against the nobility, and, in fact, cornerstone of the great monarchies in general, the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.

“The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part.

“… The bourgeoisie finds itself involved in a constant battle. At first with the aristocracy; later on, with those portions of the bourgeoisie itself, whose interests have become antagonistic to the progress of industry; at all time with the bourgeoisie of foreign countries.”

The Proletariat Makes Its Appearance on the Historical Stage


With capitalist manufacture and industry the new social class of wage laborers was created. There is a historical convergence between the formation of this class in large masses and the greatest efforts on the part of the bourgeoisie to assume political power and constitute itself as a nation. The proletarian masses, after a first phase of chaotic reaction against machinery in a feudal-medieval sense, found their road alongside the revolutionary bourgeoisie, and it was on a national scale that the proletariat achieved class unity, but not yet class autonomy.

The history of the modern epoch was largely characterized by this struggle against a nobility that had too much autonomy and a church that was too universal, in order to found, after the victory and the integral rise to power of the bourgeoisie, the modern nations. If the class content, and the content of subversion of the old mode of production, is—according to Marxism—the same for every national bourgeoisie, it is just as evident according to our doctrine that the bourgeois revolutions, as national revolutions, possess, each and every one of them, an originality and a form of their own that possess a greater significance than an exclusive consideration of their local historical and geographical peculiarities would lead one to expect. And this serves, in accordance with the forced march of capitalist development, to explain why the nations founded in this manner stand together in the struggle against the old regime for class reasons, but fight tirelessly against each other as nations and as states.

With the new ruling class, the bourgeois Third Estate, there also appeared, in the first decades of the 18th century and even before, as the new and fundamental social element: the working class. The struggles for the conquest of power against feudalism and its clerical allies, and the struggle for the constitution of national units, was fully underway: the workers of the cities and the countryside participated fully in them, even when they had authentic class organizations and political parties of their own that anticipated the program of the overthrow of bourgeois rule.

As the real socialist and communist movement emerged, not only was it aware of the enormous complexity of this process as it constructed its theoretical critique, but it also established the conditions, epochs and places in which the proletarians must totally support bourgeois revolutionary movements and insurrections and national wars.

It would not be a bad idea in order to make this more clear, and to rapidly dispel the surprise of those who seem to be hearing these things for the first time, to refer once again to the Manifesto: “The proletariat goes through various stages of development. With its birth begins its struggle with the bourgeoisie.” And here Marx recalls the first, “reactionary” form of struggle: burning down factories, the destruction of machines and of foreign products, calls for a return to the medieval status of the artisans, something that had already been left behind.

This first stage suffices in itself to destroy the anti-historic position of those who simplify matters by saying: there are two classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat; everything is summed up by the fight of the latter against the former. But let us continue with our passage from the Manifesto.

“At this stage, the labourers still form an incoherent mass scattered over the whole country, and broken up by their mutual competition. If anywhere they unite to form more compact bodies, this is not yet the consequence of their own active union, but of the union of the bourgeoisie, which class, in order to attain its own political ends, is compelled to set the whole proletariat in motion, and is moreover yet, for a time, able to do so. At this stage, therefore, the proletarians do not fight their enemies, but the enemies of their enemies, the remnants of absolute monarchy, the landowners, the non-industrial bourgeois, the petty bourgeois. Thus, the whole historical movement is concentrated in the hands of the bourgeoisie; every victory so obtained is a victory for the bourgeoisie.”

Again, let us continue with this passage on the incessant struggles of the bourgeoisie and among the different national bourgeoisie. It continues as follows: “In all these battles, it sees itself compelled to appeal to the proletariat, to ask for help, and thus, to drag it into the political arena. The bourgeoisie itself, therefore, supplies the proletariat with its own elements of political and general education [we would translate this as “training”—Bordiga’s note], in other words, it furnishes the proletariat with weapons for fighting the bourgeoisie.”

The living conditions of the modern proletariat, “modern subjection to capital, the same in England as in France, in America as in Germany, has stripped him of every trace of national character”.

This passage, which precedes the other famous passage from the second chapter, the one that, quoted out of context, is so pleasing to the opportunism of every era (and now the most foolish of them all, the kind that takes the government of Tito as a model), corresponds to the precise historical thesis that we have followed in this reexamination and elaboration of the national question. The bourgeoisie everywhere possesses a national character and its program consists in giving society a national character. Its struggle is national and in order to conduct it the bourgeoisie must unite, transmitting this unity to the proletariat itself while it uses the proletariat as an ally: the bourgeoisie initiates its political struggle by constituting itself within every modern state as a national revolutionary class. The proletariat does not have a national, but an international, character.

This does not imply the following theory: the proletariat does not participate in national struggles, only in the international struggle. The bourgeoisie has the national position in its revolutionary program; its victory destroys the non-national character of medieval society. The proletariat does not have the national position in its program, a program that it will put into practice with its revolution and its conquest of political power, and instead champions the position of internationalism. The expression, national bourgeoisie, possesses a specifically Marxist meaning, and during a particular historical stage it is a revolutionary demand. The expression, nation in general, possesses an idealist and anti-Marxist meaning. The expression, proletarian nation, possesses no meaning at all, neither in an idealist sense nor in the Marxist sense.

This provides the correct framework for understanding everything that relates to both the theory of history as well as the content of the program of the revolutionary class that engages in historical struggle.

The Proletarian Struggle and the National Sphere


Old and new polemical deviations have confused the programmatic internationalist position of the communist proletariat with the formally national nature of some of the first stages of its struggle. Historically, the proletariat cannot become a class and cannot create a class political party except within the national sphere, and even the struggle for power is waged in a national form insofar as it is oriented towards overthrowing the state of its own bourgeoisie. It is also possible that for a certain period of time after the proletarian conquest of power the proletariat might restrict its activity to the national sphere. But this does not obviate the essential historical opposition between the bourgeoisie, which aspires to constitute bourgeois nations, presenting them as nations “in general”, and the proletariat which rejects the nation “in general” and patriotic solidarity, since its duty is to construct an international society, even though it understands that up to a certain point in time the demand for national unity is useful, but always within the bourgeois camp.

With regard to the transitional stages from the bourgeois struggle for power to that of the proletariat, we shall turn to this other passage:

“Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation, it is so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word.”

This passage, along with others, suffers in all existing translations from a certain erroneous gradualism in the use of terms: political organization, political force, political supremacy, political power, and finally dictatorship. The above passage follows, in the series of responses to bourgeois objections in the chapter, “Proletarians and Communists”, this other no less famous passage: “The Communists are further reproached with desiring to abolish countries and nationality. The working men have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not got.”1 After this radical affirmation of principle the text cannot continue by saying: the workers have no nationality. It is a fact that the workers are French, Italian, German, etc. Not only because of race and language (we know that all such things make you laugh), but by their physical location in the different territories where the national bourgeois state governs, which is a very influential factor in the development of its class struggle, as well as in the international struggle. This is crystal clear.

To separate a few sentences of Marx from this context in order to make him say that the workers have as a program, after the defeat of the bourgeoisie, the founding of separate proletarian nations as an essential aspect of their revolution, is not only an illusion, but amounts to imposing on the proletariat, with its high degree of current development, the programs of the bourgeoisie, in order to keep it under the rule of the latter.

This becomes even more clear if we refer to the logical and historical succession, before it is declared that the proletariat does not have a national character, in the preceding chapter, “Bourgeoisie and Proletarians”.

We mentioned the description of the first stage of the struggle of the proletariat, which assumed the form of a struggle against industrial machinery; and then that of the next stage in which the proletariat united for the first time with the bourgeoisie in struggle: therefore a national alliance of the workers was formed, for a bourgeois goal.

Then the clash between the workers and the bourgeoisie in isolated enterprises and localities is described. A major step forward is taken when the local struggles coalesce “into one national struggle between classes”.

Here Marx is not referring to a stupid isolation of the proletarian nation, but to the contrary, to the radical supersession of the localist, autonomist federalism represented by the Proudhonian reactionaries and subsequently by other similar schools that were always combated by Marxism. A conflict that takes place only in the vicinity of Roccacannuccia or Turin is not a class struggle. Once the bourgeoisie has been victorious in its demand for national unity, our class struggle arises for the first time after national boundaries have been physically established. Now we see the other essential words: “But every class struggle is a political struggle.” This is the thesis thrown in the faces of the federalists, and economistic thinkers of all types: “But every class struggle is a political struggle.” And when there were no longer any petty independent powers of the nobility but only the power of the bourgeoisie that was manifested through its centralized national state, we encountered a political struggle from the very moment when the action of the proletarians is centralized within the boundaries of a nation. This is why, when in Europe and France the proletarians only fought as an assault force of the bourgeoisie, in England, with its high degree of industrial development, they already confronted the employers and the British state as a class.

We therefore do not find ourselves within the domain of the programmatic content of the proletarian struggle, but in a description on the one hand of its successive stages in time, and on the other of its stages in space, that is, of the perimeter within which the classes wage their struggles (the word stage at first served to measure distance rather than time [Latin: stadium, from the Greek stadion; a measure of distance—American Translator’s Note]). Now the bourgeoisie in its long struggle had regrouped the small feudal power centers into a single national stage of struggle, and was forced to fight on it.

Next we see it set forth explicitly: “Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie.”

Therefore, the stages, or the successive phases in time can be classified with complete certainty as follows:

• The struggle of the worker against his employer in a primitive and local form.
• The national political struggle of the bourgeoisie and its victory, with the participation of the workers united on a national scale.
• Local and enterprise-based struggles of the workers against the bourgeoisie.
• The united struggle of the proletariat of a particular national state against the ruling bourgeoisie. This amounts to the constitution of the proletariat as a national class, and the organization of the proletariat as a class political party.
• Destruction of bourgeois rule.
• Conquest of political power by the proletariat.

On this basis, in a contingent and formal and constitutional-juridical aspect, the proletariat, just as it constitutes itself as a class state (dictatorship), must also constitute itself as a national state, but all of this with a transitory character.

Nevertheless, the proletariat, which does not possess a national character, does not create this state as if it were a historically defining characteristic of its class (as was the case with the bourgeoisie). The character and the program of the proletariat and of its revolution are still totally international, and the proletariat which must now “settle matters with its own bourgeoisie” does not confront the nations where this has not yet taken place, but confronts the foreign bourgeoisie by joining in a unitary struggle together with the proletarians of the other nations.

To conclude: the proletarian movement in particular historical stages fights for the formation of nations, or favors the constitution of nations of the bourgeoisie. In this stage and the subsequent one in which one no longer speaks of alliances, the national postulate is defined as a bourgeois postulate.

The Proletarian Strategy in Europe in 1848


The Manifesto, and we are not speaking here of a doctrinal exposition or a description of the historical process, but of a strategic political orientation of the already created communist party, in the zone of influence of the countries subject to the reactionary Holy Alliance, calls for support of the insurrections of the bourgeois parties that were fighting against feudal absolutism and the oppression of nationalities, and that, if the bourgeoisie were to be victorious, this should be followed by a break of the alliance and the workers revolution.

We prefer to speak of strategy rather than of tactics, since the questions posed by the incandescent period when the Manifesto was published do not call for particular, local, or contingent solutions that would vary from one place to another by accounting for alternative choices with regard to specific actions. Tactics consist (as is the case in the army when it is being considered whether a unit is in a situation that favors attack, maintaining its position, or retreat) in determining the moment to initiate, for example, a local strike, or even to give the signal for an attack by an armed proletarian group in a neighborhood or village. Strategy embraces the general orientation of a military campaign or a revolution: either favorable conditions exist, or it is of little use, and is instead disastrous, to change it or reverse positions in the course of the campaign.

Without strategy there is no revolutionary party. For decades and decades the commentators on the Manifesto and our other fundamental texts have striven to find excuses for the strategic errors that Marx had committed in his perspective concerning the future action of the communists. This formidable text, however, and with an incomparable brevity, not only contains the interpretive theory of the modern historical process and of the general program of the society that must succeed capitalism, but also contains certain precise references with regard to time frames, postulating a rapid unfolding of the process, in the various zones, concerning the development of class struggles and wars.

It is not possible to dispense with a comprehensive view of the social and political forces in Europe, since the characteristic aspect of this historic period was the fact that, in parallel with the upheaval of the process of formation of nations, together with the lyrical praise for the bourgeois ideology, the movement that arose in Paris found an immediate echo in Vienna, Warsaw, Milan, etc., despite the fact that the resistance offered by the declining pre-bourgeois regime was not the same in the various countries of Europe. In this incandescent atmosphere, everything seemed to indicate that this was the last and decisive attack to overthrow the royal and imperial bastions of the old regime, and in the process putting an end to all kinds of obstacles that stood in the way of the spread of capitalism.

But the exceptional power of this basic proclamation of ours is to be sought in the declaration that, if on the one hand the first act in the drama consisted of the battle for democratic rights and national freedom and against the last survivals of serfdom and medieval obscurantism, on the other hand, within the new capitalist economy, there had already been in existence for about ten years on a grand scale a conflict between the productive forces and the relations of production that accompanied wage labor and industrial and agrarian commercialism, a conflict that was not directed against the forces of landed feudalism.

Those who today still praise increasing levels of production, and who present themselves as alleged revolutionaries, yet merely join in the chorus of the invitations issued to capital to invest and produce more, should recall the tremendous statement, which had already in 1848 foreseen the fall of the bourgeoisie, since society already had “too much civilisation, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce”.

The core thesis of the Manifesto is not that, in the stage that characterized the Europe of that time, Europe would become communist, but that in any period of violent transformation the system of productive relations could shatter and that already in that era it was evident that the relations of a capitalist type did not lead to equilibrium, but to greater contradictions within the limits of the productive forces. A century later the volume of these forces has become much larger, but so too has the thickness of the armored layers that protect the monstrous tank where capital houses these productive forces. The petty bourgeois, incapable of dialectically comprehending the comparison between a scientific prediction and a reality, and who also has not understood the old adage that says, “closing the barn door after the horse has already escaped”, will be horrified to hear a proposition like this: we were closer to the proletarian revolution in 1848 than we were in 1948, just as he will not understand the thesis that he is closer to a state of cretinism with his doctorate than he was when he graduated from elementary school.

The European strategy of 1848 contemplated two formidable tasks for the working class of the different countries: to lend aid to help complete the bourgeois formation of independent national states; and to try to overthrow the power of the victorious bourgeoisie just as it was overthrowing the power of the remnants of feudalism.

History, its vicissitudes and the clash of material forces have caused the conclusion of this process to recede into the distance, but they have not undermined in the least the strategic basis of that time: one cannot win the second point if one has not won the first, that is, one must clear away the last obstacles that stand in the way of the organization of society into national states.

The first obstacle was raised in 1815 and was then reinforced after the defeat of Napoleon: the Holy Alliance of Austria, Prussia and Russia. The position of the Manifesto is that there will not be a European social republic if the Holy Alliance is not overthrown, and therefore it was necessary to fight, together with the revolutionary democrats of the time, to cast off the yoke of the Holy Alliance borne by the peoples of Central Europe, and at the same time it was necessary to unmask these democrats before the proletarians by preparing for the time when, once bourgeois national liberation was assured everywhere with its elected democracies, an even more profound crisis would arrive that is the fruit of the contradictions of the capitalist mode of production, with the historic conflicts and outbursts that it would necessarily entail, instead of the idyllic equality of the citizens in the state and the nations of the world.

If we could only be a little less gossipy and stupid than a salaried politician, who thinks that the course of history ends with the end of his term in office, we would see that this gigantic vision obtained its historic confirmation, however difficult it was to erode the Holy Alliance, even though the triumphant capitalist civilization is even harsher and more despicable.

The fourth chapter, devoted to strategy, analyzes, as everyone knows, the tasks of the communist party in the different countries. A brief commentary serves to establish that the communists in America, England and France, that is, the countries with a highly developed capitalist system, should only have relations with working class parties, while criticizing their critical defects and their demagogic illusions. Then comes the part (whose elaboration we shall outline in this final part of our exposition) relating to Poland and Germany, that is, the countries subject to the regimes of the Holy Alliance: here the support for bourgeois parties is legitimized: in Poland, the party that advocated the emancipation of the serfs in the countryside and national resurrection; in Germany, the parties of the bourgeoisie, because they fought against the monarchy, the nobility and (this is directed at our modern traitors) the petty bourgeoisie. And no less well-known and repeated in other documents is the fact that this proposal of common actions, with arms in hand, did not overlook for even one second the merciless critique of bourgeois principles and capitalist social relations, and next comes the schema of the bourgeois revolution as the immediate prelude to the proletarian revolution. History did not refute this, but postponed its realization: as we have said so many times, both revolutions failed.

Revolutionary Retreat and the Workers Movement


The struggles of 1848 did not lead to the general victory of the European bourgeoisie against the forces of absolutist reaction; much less were they capable of leading to a victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie, something that was only attempted in France. In the unfavorable period that followed, which lasted until 1866, the position of the Marxists oscillated between, on the one hand, the ruthless critique of the democratic and humanitarian bourgeois liberals, and on the other, providing the necessary encouragement to the struggles for the unity and independence of the nationalities, which were embodied in insurrections and wars between states (Poland, Germany, Italy, Ireland, etc.).

When, after the battles of 1848-1849, Marx and Engels drew up a balance sheet of that tempestuous period (which seemed so promising that even today popular opinion perceives it as more colorful than Europe and the world are in this terrible century with all its years of disasters and torments), they were convinced that the revolutionary phase would resume, but not in the short term. First, the theory would have to be systematized and then the organization, before it would be possible to think of a general victorious action: and there was no lack of time during which these tasks could be carried out.

In Germany and in all of Central Europe, as in Italy, the balance sheet of the struggle was the same: the insurgent bourgeois liberal revolutionaries in arms were defeated on the barricades; the workers, who had fought alongside them as allies, also suffered from the results of this serious defeat, so the subsequent situation of a dispute between bourgeois and workers over power never even arose. So it was not the communist revolution that was defeated, but the liberal revolution, and the workers had fought everywhere trying to save it from catastrophe, as was foreseen theoretically and expressed politically in the Manifesto.

The exceptions to this historical rule were England and France. In England the feudal reaction had already been militarily defeated over a century before and the country was already undergoing class conflicts between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie: where, as was the case with Chartism, these conflicts assumed an initial political form, even if it was in the form of vague programs full of democratic ideologies, the bourgeoisie had not hesitated for even a minute to violently repress them, although at the same time it had to make a series of legislative and reformist concessions mitigating the inhuman exploitation of the factory operatives.

France followed a different course, of extraordinary significance for the theory and politics of the proletarian revolution. After the defeat of Napoleon, which for Marx was a decisive defeat of the bourgeois revolutionary force by the European absolutist reaction (it is necessary to know the truth about this, in the face of all those who listen to the phrases about Caesar, the despot, the dictator, the person who stifled liberty in 1789 and suchlike stories; in a letter from Marx to Engels dated December 2, 1856, Marx writes that it is a “… historical fact that the intensity and the viability of all revolutions since 1789 may be gauged with fair accuracy by their attitude towards Poland. Poland is their ‘external’ thermometer. This is demonstrable en détail from French history. It is conspicuous in our brief German revolutionary period, likewise in the Hungarian. Of all the revolutionary governments, including that of Napoleon I, the Comité du salut public is an exception only in as much as it refused to intervene, not out of weakness, but out of ‘mistrust’….”). Now let us review the series with which we are already familiar. Between 1815 and 1831, a Bourbon ruled, placed on the throne by Austria, Prussia and Russia after Waterloo. In 1831 the revolutionary insurrection in Paris overthrew the absolute monarchy and Orleans mounted the throne, with a parliamentary constitution. It was therefore a victory for the bourgeoisie, who were henceforth supported by the workers.

The bourgeois monarchy, however, openly favored the big landowners and financiers, and in February 1848 Paris rose again and proclaimed the republic. Bourgeois, petty bourgeois and workers proclaimed, as Marx enthusiastically recalled, the resplendent (without any knowledge of neon lights) slogan of 1793: “Libertè, Egalitè, Fraternitè”.

This time the working class, which the new government immediately rebuffed by refusing to implement the social reforms it had promised in exchange for workers support, began the struggle to go further than their traitorous allies. This struggle took the form of the impressive battles of June 1848 described by Marx in that book that is both science and epic, The Class Struggles in France, which was first published serially in three issues of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. Politisch-ökonomische Revue in 1850. The crushing defeat of the workers historically established the capacity of the modern republican and democratic bourgeoisie to carry out more ruthless repressions than the feudal aristocracy and the despotic monarchy. From that moment we have possessed the complete revolutionary schema utilized against the opportunist wave of the first world war, and which had to be mobilized against the opportunism of the second world war as well. It is in these pages that we find the fundamental political thesis: Destruction of the bourgeoisie! Dictatorship of the working class! And also: Permanent revolution, class dictatorship of the proletariat! These are the “forgotten words of Marxism” reestablished by Lenin. And these were the words that were forgotten again, whose memory must be reestablished today against the renegades from Marxism and Leninism, and which Engels highlighted in his Introduction to the edition of 1895 by formulating the fundamental economic thesis: “appropriation of the means of production … and, therefore, the abolition of wage labour, of capital and of their mutual relations” (Introduction by Engels to the 1895 edition of The Class Struggles in France).

If the state, as in Russia, takes possession of capital without abolishing capital, it does the same thing as a bourgeois state. The state that economically abolishes capital, wage labor and the relations of exchange between capital and labor, can only be the state of the proletariat!

In France—but not in the rest of Europe—after 1848 the series of glorious alliances made with the Jacobin bourgeoisie was denounced by the workers, and it is precisely from 1848 that we possess our model—yes, model, the revolution is the discovery of a historic model—of the communist class revolution. These denunciations were not revocable since they were marked by the blood of tens of thousands of workers who fell at the barricades, three thousand of whom were bestially shot down by the bourgeois republic after they had surrendered and been taken prisoner.

Marx justified the fact that in 1852, during the coup d’état of Louis Napoleon, which was by no means a return to feudalism, the French proletariat, which certainly could not be accused of baseness, opposed with icy indifference the fall of that fake democracy. The Italian proletariat did not acquit itself nearly so well with that banal episode involving Mussolini, which was comparable to the French case!

The French nation is a conquest that is already assured by history. The proletariat no longer has any impediments standing in the way of its “liberation from its own national bourgeoisie”. The workers of France, with the uprisings of June and the Paris Commune, have served this great mission with great honor since the conspiracy of Babeuf in the great revolution. But they belied their tradition in 1914 and 1939, which were two serious crises for the bourgeoisie. Here, too, the words of Marx are valid: “A new revolution is only a consequence of a new crisis. The one, however, is as sure to come as the other.”

National Struggles after 1848


The development of the revolution in Germany in 1848 did not reach the stage of the political victory of the bourgeoisie and its establishment in power; and therefore the German proletariat, which at that time was not very numerous, did not reach the strategic point of attacking the bourgeoisie after having first supported it. From then on the position of the Marxist communists is that of favoring a process leading to the creation of a German national state and a liberal revolution against the Prussian dynasty and state, as a necessary transitional stage towards an open class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

The process leading to the formation of the German state is particularly complex from the historical point of view. We still do not have a united German national state: such a state did not exist before the first world war, and only Hitler finally created it with the forced annexation of Austria, which had been deprived after its defeat in the first world war of its rule over peoples of other nationalities. Today, after the second world war, the victors have divided the Germans into three states: East Germany, West Germany and Austria. But while both sides are talking about the reunification of the two Germanies, everyone is trying to isolate the weak and small Austria from them.

In order to characterize the position of Marxism on this issue we could provide innumerable quotations from the post-1848 period. The Prussian state is defined as a feudal and reactionary state that cannot be transformed into a bourgeois political state within its territory, and the Hohenzollern monarchy is also viewed as an adversary of the bourgeois revolution. Dynasty, aristocracy, army and bureaucracy, all are considered in terms of nationality as non-German, with influences and connections of non-national, Russophilic, Baltic and Philoslavic kinds. An indisputable basic element in the analysis of the formation of political nationality after the advent of capitalism, is the antagonism with the great bordering nationalities, and although this is fully applicable to the French, who are age-old enemies, it is completely missing from the eastern frontiers: within this process we must consider as particularly contradictory the wars of Frederick II, which, although they reinforced the power of Prussia, did so by transforming Prussia into a garrison-state.

With respect to the wars against Napoleon, they did not provide a suitable foundation for the German nation, either, since they were waged against the vanguard of the new bourgeois and national society formed by the armies of the Convention, the Consulate and the First Empire, and their nature was distorted due to the alliance with the oppressors of the nationalities, the autocrats of Russia and Austria. As a result, these wars could not serve as foundation for the process of German unification.

We must nonetheless obtain a clear understanding of the position of Marx and Engels, since on the one hand they refused to consider the Prussian state and territory as the basis for a modern nation, but on the other hand were not in favor of the preservation and independence of the small states and principalities. Prussia, without these minor states, or without preserving its hegemony over them, is not the German nation that was awaited for centuries, but one cannot speak of a Bavarian or Saxon nation, either, and the diminutive grand duchies are pure feudal residues. Marx and Engels never—because they had their sights set on the model of the neighboring “single and indivisible republic”—supported a federal system.

For Marx and Engels a democratic state centralization in which each citizen would be juridically German and a subject of the central power would have been a great step forward. Later, the revolutionary assault of the increasingly more numerous German working class would be directed against this united capitalist state.

After the defeat in 1850 of the domestic anti-feudal insurrection, with the full capitulation of the weak bourgeoisie to Prussianism, the change could only be expected to be brought by wars between states, wars based on national questions. Marx’s positions with regard to the war with Denmark in 1849, the Austro-French war of 1859, the Austro-Prussian war of 1866, and finally the Franco-Prussian war of 1871 which led to the creation of the empire although this empire would always retain a Prussian and Bismarckian imprint, are of particular interest.

In all of these wars, as we have pointed out on other occasions, Marx and Engels clearly took sides and supported the victory of one of the contenders, and engaged in political agitation in support of their views. Their positions were naturally far removed from apologetics for the bourgeois radicals and the national revolutionaries of various nationalities who were then travelling all over Europe and who are treated by Marx and Engels—even the most illustrious ones like Kossuth, Mazzini, Garibaldi and others (not to speak of the French of the same ilk who completely lacked any justification for the historical appearance of the bourgeois fatherland, such as Blanc, Ledru-Rollin and other pompous figures)—as phonies and sanctimonious donkeys. We must constantly keep this distinction in mind, so that our historical reconstruction is not ingenuously considered as just another example of the recent and contemporary nauseating praise lavished by “proletarians” on all the Churchills, Trumans, DeGaulles, Orlandos, Nittis and so many other present-day liberators and partisans. A few references and just one quotation will do, as we refer the reader to a few of our “Threads of Time” on the Nation, War, and Revolution (issues nos. 9 to 13 of Battaglia Comunista, 1950).

War between Piedmont and Austria in 1848 and 1849. Austria is condemned despite its being the victim of aggression, since this was a war for the formation of the Italian nation.

War between Prussia and Denmark in 1849 for the conquest of Schleswig-Holstein. Commonly condemned as a war of aggression on the part of Prussia; Marx and Engels support it, however, because its purpose was to incorporate ethnically German territories into the Prussian state.

War between Napoleon III in alliance with Piedmont against Austria in 1859, and subsequent conflicts in Italy in 1860. The position of Marx and Engels is clearly in favor of the constitution of the united Italian state, and therefore in favor of the defeat of Austria; Engels demonstrated that German interests were not defended on the banks of the Mincio. Does that mean that Marx and Engels supported Bonaparte? Now we also see the text that also invoked the struggle against Bonaparte on the Rhine, proposed much later, against Russia. The Second Empire is also castigated for having defrauded the Italian nation in Nice, Savoy and also in Corsica. Marx would later refer to this in his text on the Paris Commune, ferociously stigmatizing the intervention in defense of the papacy and against Rome as the capital of Italy, as he did after the intervention of the Second French Republic crushed the Roman Republic in 1849.

Since we shall discuss the wars of 1866 and 1870 below, we shall submit the quotation that clarifies the thought of Marx: the necessary demand in support of the formation of the German nation, in order afterwards to overthrow the bourgeoisie; denunciation of the counterrevolutionary state ruled from Berlin.

The letter to Engels, dated March 24, 1863:

“… Vincke and Bismarck do, in fact, accurately represent the principle of the Prussian State; that the ‘State’ of Prussia (a very different creature from Germany) cannot exist either without Russia as she is, or with an independent Poland. The whole history of Prussia leads one to this conclusion which was drawn long since by Messrs Hollenzollern (Frederick II included). This princely consciousness is infinitely superior to the limited mentality of the subject that marks your Prussian liberal. Since, therefore, the existence of Poland is necessary to Germany and completely incompatible with the State of Prussia…. the Polish question simply provides further occasion for proving that it is impossible to prosecute German interests so long as the Hollenzollerns’ own state continues to exist.”

We see at every step, then, Germany, the German nation, German interests: clearly German national interests. This clearly expresses, with respect to a particular case—but one that was very important—the thesis that the unitary and centralized constitution of the national state is in the interest of the bourgeoisie, since it is the form of its class power, but it is also in the interest of the proletariat up until the moment of its realization, because from that moment on the scramble for political and class positions commences, by means of which the proletariat will overthrow the power of the national bourgeoisie.

The Polish Question


Complete solidarity with the demand for the national independence of Poland, oppressed by the Czar, was of fundamental importance because it was not just a matter of a historical opinion expressed in theoretical texts, but of a real and distinct political alignment of the forces of the First International. Not only did it offer and provide the most complete support of the forces of the European workers, but the Polish revolt is considered as a springboard for the resumption of a revolutionary situation and the general struggle on the whole continent.

We shall follow these manifestations of the texts and documents of our school in detail because we have to show that the opinion that Marxist politics, with regard to making evaluations and deductions as the different contingent situations arise, has no difficulty in changing course, is erroneous; to the contrary, the political decisions are rigidly bound, stage by stage, to a unitary view of the general historical course of the revolution and, in the case at hand, to the materialist-historical definition of the function of nationalities according to the succession of the great and typical modes of production.

The fragmentary and episodic utilization of these elements has been practiced for more than a half century by various tendencies, for the purpose of justifying the incessant reversals of opportunism and eclecticism, which with each passing day claim to have elaborated a new doctrine and a new norm, shamelessly transforming the devils of yesterday into the angels of today, or vice versa.

The Polish question, however, is important even from other points of view. It might seem that a marked display of sympathy for the struggles for national independence possesses an almost Platonic dimension because it is limited exclusively to only writings and studies of a historical or social theoretical type, and also due to the fact that these efforts are not also translated onto the plane of political programs and action programs of the party, of the real and true communist proletarian party that during the period we are examining (1847-1871) already had assumed as its original and proper content the struggle between the proletariat and capitalism, and the destruction of that social mode of production. But it is not the writers Marx and Engels whom we shall call to testify, but Marx and Engels the international leaders of the communist movement. If someone after a superficial and juvenile reading, might deduce that the writings of Engels on the Po, the Rhine, Nice and Savoy were merely political-military studies undertaken during a lull in the class revolution, departing from the social-economic method (not to mention, in case this was not obvious, that within this conception it is permitted to open up parentheses and ‘free trade zones’ of every kind within the Marxist doctrine of the course of human affairs, in each and every one), it is very important to show that all the deductions he makes are born from an absolute adherence to the root of the materialist explanation of history and of the discernment of the collective human “journey” in time in the light of the development of the productive forces. No one should be allowed to forget this, even if they are holding a sword, or rather a scalpel, a pen, a paintbrush, a chisel or a saw, or the hammer and sickle.

A “situational” Marx and Engels are very much suited to the Kominform and similar congregations, and comprise the core falsification among all the miserable falsifications that circulate in that milieu.

In a letter dated February 13, 1863, Marx inquires of his friend Engels about the events in Poland. The news of that heroic insurrection in the cities and the countryside, which became a real civil war waged against the Russian forces, caused Marx to exclaim: “This much is certain, the era of revolution has now fairly opened in Europe once more. And the general state of affairs is good.” But the memory of the bitter defeats of 1850 is still too fresh: “But the comfortable delusions and almost childish [this marks the first instance of the use of this adjective that was so frequently utilized by Lenin, but always in a non-disrespectful way--Bordiga's note] enthusiasm with which we welcomed the revolutionary era before February 1848, have gone by the board…. Old comrades … are no more, others have fallen by the wayside or gone to the bad and, if there is new stock, it is, at least, not yet in evidence. Moreover, we now know what role stupidity plays in revolutions, and how they are exploited by blackguards.” So get going, idlers, you are not children anymore, but senile; rise up to the level of Karl Marx with regard to this point.

This letter gives, with a handful of indications, which we shall complement by referring to subsequent letters, the balance sheet of the attitude of all the European political forces towards the Polish insurrection. The Prussian “nationalists”, who turned into supporters of national independence in order to deprive the Viennese Emperor of his status as the leader of the German confederation and hypocritically proclaimed their sympathy with Italy and Hungary which were demanding their independence, were caught with their hands in the cookie jar: they were just so many filthy Russophiles and they closed ranks against the Poles. The Russian democratic revolutionaries (Herzen) were also put to the test; despite their Slavic predilections they had to defend the Poles against the Russian state (refusing to agree to support a proposal that once a constitution was granted by the Czar, Poland should continue to be a Russian province). The bourgeois governments of London and of Plon-Plon (Napoleon III) expressed their hypocritical support for the Polish cause due to their rivalries with Russia, but both were suspect, and the betrayal of the French is a matter of record; their agents were in constant contact with the right wing of the Polish movement that would effectively back down, especially if the revolt were to suffer a setback.

Almost nobody could or wanted to create a European “democracy” out of insurrectionary Poland; and Marx immediately tried to get the International Workingmen’s Association, which had been formed in London on September 28, 1864, to publish a practical action program. Before the famous meeting in Saint Martin’s Hall, Marx addressed the English workers Association. He sketched out his plan in brief: a short proclamation to the workers of all countries on the part of the English—a meticulous treatise on the Polish question written about particular aspects by Marx and Engels. And just after September 1864 there were discussions within the General Council, over which Marx exercised a moral chairmanship although he had not officially accepted the position, concerning what kind of action to undertake. These discussions led to some debates of great interest that clarified the political problems of the moment.

Pro-Polish action is therefore included in all the documents that emanated from the party, from the workers International; and it was considered to be the principal lever for the maximum development of workers agitation in Europe by helping to precipitate the occasions for the emergence of a revolutionary movement. Therefore the elaborations concerning principles about the historic problem of the support of the internationalist proletariat for a national struggle have a great importance.

The International and the Question of Nationalities


Within the General Council of the First International and under the leadership of Marx, a series of interesting debates provides the elements for the rectification of errors of principle on the question of the historic struggles of nationalities. The tendency to ignore them instead of explaining them from the materialist point of view, rather than being evidence of an advanced internationalism is instead a manifestation of particularist and federalist positions derived from utopian and libertarian theories that Marxism had jettisoned.

The same congress of the International Workingmen’s Association that was convoked in solidarity with the Poles (it produced a letter from the English workers to the French workers with respect to Poland) also expressed support for the Armenians oppressed by Russia, and as Marx himself recounts, many elements who were radical democrats and who aroused the mistrust of the workers also attended this congress. Concerned about theoretical clarity but also about the power of the movement, at a historical moment when the demands for independence had a real revolutionary content, Marx arranged to have an unsuitable report shelved and drafted the powerful Inaugural Address, in which the struggle of the proletarian class in England and on the continent was given the greatest emphasis.

Marx’s famous letter of November 4, 1864, totally clarifies the position that should be taken with regard to the arrival of so many democrats in the workers ranks. This is interesting with regard to any attempt to form a correct evaluation of the activities of those who would today be accused of right-wing deviation with regard to the national question. A certain Wolff proposed a statute that he claimed was the same one adopted by the Italian workers societies: Marx writes that the latter “… are essentially associated Benefit Societies…. I saw the stuff later. It was evidently a concoction of Mazzini’s, and that tells you in advance in what spirit and phraseology the real question, the labour question, was dealt with. As well as how the nationalities question intruded into it.” When Eccarius asked him to attend the meeting of the subcommittee, Marx heard “a fearfully cliché-ridden, badly written and totally unpolished preamble pretending to be a declaration of principles, with Mazzini showing through the whole thing from beneath a crust of the most insubstantial scraps of French socialism.”

There was also, in the Italian declaration, “something quite impossible, a sort of central government of the European working classes (with Mazzini in the background, of course)”.

Finally, Marx drafted the Address, reducing the statutes from 40 to 10 articles, and read the text that would later become historical, accepted by all. His method, however, was not clearly illustrated in this text. Many of the people in attendance will not understand anything, he commented to Engels, and they are the types that would join the liberals in a campaign to demand universal suffrage.

Everyone knows that the famous Address, after the social and class part, contains a final paragraph referring to international politics, which states that the workers demand that the relations between states should be subject to the same moral norms that rule over relations between men. The phrase is repeated in the first address on the war of 1870, and not only expresses a bourgeois postulate, like all those concerning the national question, but expresses it in a purely propagandistic form. Marx will be excused for having had to act fortiter in re, suaviter in modo—harshly with regard to content, but gently with regard to form. But the false Marxists of our time have also fallen beneath the worst urine streams of the ultra-bourgeois democrats. Let us take a look at Marx’s true clarification:

“Insofar as International politics is mentioned in the ‘Address’, I refer to countries and not to nationalities, and denounce Russia, not the minores gentium [smaller nations]. The Sub-Committee adopted all my proposals. I was, however, obliged to insert two sentences about ‘duty’ and ‘right’, and ditto about ‘Truth, Morality and Justice’ in the preamble to the rules, but these are so placed that they can do no harm.”

On December 10, 1864, Marx summarized the debate on the proposal of Fox concerning the appeal on behalf of Poland. This good democrat went to great extremes in order to speak of “the concept of ‘class’, [or] at least a semblance of it”. But there was a point that did not escape Marx, an expression of sympathy for the French democracy that was almost extended as far as “Boustrapa” (Plon-Plon).

“I opposed this and unfolded a historically irrefutable tableau of the constant French betrayal of Poland from Louis XV to Bonaparte III. At the same time, I pointed out how thoroughly inappropriate it was that the Anglo-French Alliance should appear as the ‘core’ of the International Association, albeit in a democratic version.”

The proposal was accepted with Marx’s revisions, but the Swiss delegate Jung, representing the minority, voted against this “altogether ‘bourgeois’” text.

To get an idea of the degree of interest stimulated by the question of the revolt in Poland, we should point out that the General Council not only had direct contacts with the bourgeois Poles, but that in one session it even received representatives of the aristocracy, since they also formed part of the national anti-Russian union. These aristocrats assured the Council that they, too, were democrats, and that the national revolution in Poland was impossible without a peasant uprising. Marx restricted himself to asking himself whether these people really believed what they were saying.

Let us now move on to 1866: once again the Polish question was “the real bone of contention” in the Association. A certain Vésinier accused the International, no less, of having become “a committee of nationalities in tow to Bonapartism”. This aroused Marx’s wrath. “This ass” had attributed to the Parisian delegates, who to the contrary had considered it inopportune, a paragraph on Poland included in the agenda of the Geneva Congress. In this paragraph it was deplored that, “yielding to pernicious influences, questions such as the abolition of Russian influence in Europe that bear no relation to the aims of the Association, were included in the programme of the Geneva Congress, etc.” should be addressed. Vésinier’s thesis is as follows: it is neither class-based nor internationalist to encourage a national war by the Poles against the Russians and to become enemies of Russia, because we must be for peace among the peoples. As justification for this position he recalled the iniquities of the Bonaparte regime and of the English bourgeoisie, and the emancipation in Russia and Poland of the serfs, which only recently took place, and asserted “that it was the duty of the Central Committee to proclaim solidarity and fraternity among all peoples, and not to put one of them alone beyond the pale of Europe”. Vésinier then accused the Poles of using the Association “to help to restore their nationhood, without concerning themselves with the question of the emancipation of the workers”. Marx restricted himself to pointing out the howlers that all this nonsense and fairy tales were full of, depicting it as “the Muscovitist line pursued by Proudhon and Herzen” and saying that Vésinier “is just the fellow for the Russians. Of little merit as a writer…. But with talent, great rhetorical power, much energy and above all unscrupulous through and through”.

Vésinier’s proposal was defeated; “we are commemorating their [the Polish] revolution on 23 January”. We are totally of the opinion that every armed revolution “against the existing social conditions” is worth more than any theory endowed with an exaggerated extremism and that the pacifism between the peoples that Vésinier invoked was really an embrace between the bourgeoisie of the West and the Czar of all the Russias, in the genuine or feigned belief that this served the interests of the working class.

The Slavs and Russia


The historical cycle of the formation of bourgeois nation states, which proceeded in parallel with the spread of industrialism and the formation of the great markets, spread to England, France, Germany and Italy; other lesser powers could be considered to be constituted nations: Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Holland, Sweden and Norway. The Marxist demand applied to the typical case of Poland, and we must evaluate it as a declaration of war against the “Holy Alliance” of Russia, Austria and Prussia. But this cycle would come to an end, in the Marxist view, leaving unresolved, among other problems, the problem of the Slavs of Eastern and Southeastern Europe.

In 1856 Marx had become interested in a book by the Pole Mieroslawski, openly directed against Russia, Germany and Pan-Slavism, in which the author proposed “a free confederation of Slavic nations with Poland as the Archimedean people”, which means the people of the vanguard, the pioneer of freedom. Something of this kind was to take place with the formation of the Little Entente of the Slavic states (Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Poland as the most important and homogeneous state) after the first world war and the dissolution of the Austrian Empire (1918). And everyone knows that lasted for barely twenty years, until there was another repartition between the Germans and the Russians in 1939.

Marx’s critique of Mieroslawski’s social theory is very interesting. Besides criticizing Mieroslawski for founding his great hopes on the English and French governments, Marx points out that he does not foresee the future major industrialization of many Polish cities and regions and bases his independent state on the “‘democratic’ Lechitic community”. At first the Polish peasants were united in free communities, in a kind of agrarian guild system, confronting a “dominium”, or territory under the military and administrative control of a noble; the nobles, in turn, elected the king. The land of the free peasants was soon usurped, one part by the monarchy and the other by the aristocracy, and the peasant communities were subjected to serfdom. Nonetheless, a “peasant middle class” survived, with the right to form a semi-nobility, a sort of “Equestrian Order”: but the peasants could become members of this order only if they participated in a war of conquest or in the colonization of virgin lands; this stratum in turn was transformed into a kind of “lumpen-proletariat of the aristocracy”, a kind of tatterdemalion nobility: “This kind of development is interesting”, Marx writes, “because here serfdom can be shown to have arisen in a purely economic way, without the intermediate link of conquest and racial dualism.” In fact, the king, the high and low nobility, and the peasantry were all of the same race and spoke the same language, and the national tradition was as old as it was strong. Marx’s thesis therefore establishes that the class yoke appeared with the development of the productive technical means, even within a uniform ethnic group, just as in other cases it appeared as the result of a clash between two races and two peoples, in which case race and language, in turn, functioned as “economic agents” (Engels—see Part 1).

Evidently the Polish democrat did not foresee the appearance in the conflict of a real industrial bourgeoisie and much less that of a powerful and glorious proletariat, which in 1905 held their own against the Czarist troops, and even rose up during the second world war in a desperate attempt to take power in the martyred capital against the German and Russian General Staffs, ending up just like the communards of Paris, who fell in the crossfire of their enemies.

Marx’s attention never for even a moment strayed from Russia, since he considered the Czar’s army as the mobile reserve force of the European counterrevolution, always ready to cross the frontiers whenever it had to restore “order” by crushing any movement that sought to overthrow the states of the old regime, thus cutting off the road towards the different points from which the revolution of the proletariat could emerge. Almost ten years later, Marx was interested in the doctrine of Duchinski (a Russian professor from Kiev, who lived in Paris at the time). Marx relates that Duchinski maintained that “the real Muscovites, i.e., inhabitants of the former Grand Duchy of Moscow, were for the most part Mongols or Finns, etc., as was the case in the parts of Russia situated further east and in its south-eastern parts. I see from it at all events that the affair has seriously worried the St Petersburg cabinet (since it would put an end to Panslavism in no uncertain manner). All Russian scholars were called on to give responses and refutations, and these in the event turned out to be terribly weak. The purity of the Great Russian dialect and its connection with Church Slavonic appear to lend more support to the Polish than to the Muscovite view in this debate. (….) It has ditto been shown geologically and hydrographically that a great ‘Asiatic’ difference occurs east of the Dnieper, compared with what lies to the west of it, and that (as Murchison has already maintained) the Urals by no means constitute a dividing line. Result as obtained by Duchinski: Russia is a name usurped by the Muscovites. They are not Slavs; they do not belong to the Indo-Germanic race at all, they are des intrus [intruders], who must be chased back across the Dnieper, etc. Panslavism in the Russian sense is a cabinet invention, etc. I wish that Duchinski were right and at all events that this view would prevail among the Slavs. On the other hand, he states that some of the peoples in Turkey, such as Bulgars, e.g., who had previously been regarded as Slavs, are non-Slav.” (Letter from Marx to Engels, dated June 24, 1865).

We do not know if this passage from Marx’s letter was used in the recent bourgeois polemic against the Russian Revolution, since according to the common view the Russian people are Asiatic and not European (and furthermore, according to mainstream opinion, that is why they have to endure a dictatorship!). This racial thesis, absolutely inoffensive for authentic Marxism, is prejudicial to our contemporary Russians who follow in the footsteps of Stalin, and rely on a racial, national and linguistic tradition rather than on the class bond of the world proletariat.

In the Marxist sense, the fact that the Great Russians should be classified as Mongolians rather than as Aryans (we should not forget that famous phrase that Marx so often invokes: “Grattez le Russe, et vous trouverez le Tartare”, “scratch a Russian and you will find a Tartar”) is of fundamental importance with regard to the following question: is it necessary to await the formation of a vast capitalist Slavic super-nation that would include the whole Russian territory, or would at least extend to the Urals, in order to conclude the cycle in which the forces of the European working class must offer themselves up to the cause of the formation of nations, so that once this cycle is terminated the European revolution becomes possible? Marx’s response was that the formation of modern nation states as a premise for the workers revolution corresponds to an area that extends in the east as far as the eastern borders of Poland, and under certain circumstances might include the Ukraine and Little Russia as far as the Dnieper. This is the European area of the revolution, the first one that must be addressed, and the cycle that served as the prelude to the next cycle characterized by purely class-oriented action, is the one that later came to an end in 1871.

We must not forget, in order to prevent ethnology from being transformed into the sole determining factor, that peoples of the Mongolian stock, that is, of the Finnish race, form nations in Europe (Hungary and Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia) which, because they are socially advanced, are within the European historical zone, and Marxism had a favorable view during this period of their attempts to win independence from the three regimes of the Holy Alliance.

The Wars of 1866 and 1870


As the Polish insurrection collapsed and this road by which the revolution might be resumed was closed, just as it was closed in 1848, Marx and Engels perceived that war between Austria and Prussia was approaching. Italy would undoubtedly participate in this war as a result of the pressing problem of Venetian independence, while the position of Russia and France remained in doubt; it was clear that a new period of upheaval was gathering momentum. Sedan would settle all accounts, and the only enemy of the revolution would be the French Empire, which would have to be defeated.

On April 10, 1866, Marx thought that it was the Russians who wanted war, because they had concentrated troops on the Austrian and Prussian frontiers, with the intention of taking advantage of the situation and occupying the other two parts of Poland. This would mean the end of the Hohenzollern regime, but the real objective was to eventually descend upon revolutionary Berlin in order to support the Hohenzollerns. Marx and Engels hoped that at the news of the first military defeat Berlin would rise.

It was something new that, despite the fact that they opposed Austria on the Venetian question, Marx and Engels nonetheless considered that an Austrian victory would be useful, with respect to its effects on the anti-Prussian revolution.

As for Napoleon III, the latter was no less hostile towards the proletarian cause than Alexander of Russia, and up to this point his dream had been “to become the fourth member of the Holy Alliance”, a dream that was now shattered.

After the outbreak of the war, the Council of the International debated the situation on June 19, 1866, vigorously addressing the problem of nationalities.

“The French, very strongly represented, gave vent to their cordial dislike for the Italians.” Marx revealed the fact that the French were at bottom against the Italo-Prussian alliance and would have preferred the victory of Austria. In this session, however, what was of greater importance than taking a position was the theoretical question: “The representatives of ‘jeune France’ (non-workers), by the way, trotted out their view that any nationality and even nations are ‘des préjugés surannés’ [outdated prejudices].” Here Marx drily commented: “Proudhonised Stirnerianism.” (Stirner is the philosopher of extreme individualism who, focusing everything on the subject’s “ego”, on the one hand helped inform the theory of the super-dictator of Nietzsche, and on the other, the theory that rejected the state and society, the basic theory of the anarchists: both theories are the quintessence of bourgeois thought. Proudhon on the economic and sociological terrain glorified the small autonomous group of producers who exchanged their products with the other groups.) Marx further clarified this condemnation, denouncing the retrograde nature of something that was being passed off as radical. As we have already pointed out, the position that Marx attacked did not involve the supersession of this historically bourgeois, but operative, postulate of the nation, but rather fell short of it.

“Everything to be broken down into small ‘groupes’ or ‘communes’, which in turn form an ‘association’, but not a state. Furthermore, this ‘individualisation’ of mankind and the mutualisme it entails are to proceed by bringing history to a halt in every other country and the whole world waits until the French are ready to carry out a social revolution. Then they will demonstrate the experiment to us, and the rest of the world, being bowled over by the force of their example [do you not get the impression that he could be speaking of today’s Russians?], will do the same. Just what Fourier expected from his phalanstère modèle [today they would say the socialist fatherland, the country of socialism…--Bordiga's note]. D'ailleurs, everyone who clutters up the ‘social’ question with the ‘superstitions’ of the Old World is a ‘reactionary’.”

On this occasion Marx, ordinarily so reluctant to engage in public activity, could not avoid speaking out against his future son-in-law Lafargue. His speech caused the English to break out in laughter when he pointed out that Lafargue, after abolishing nationality, had spoken in French, a language unknown to most of those present: “I went on to suggest that by his denial of nationalities he seemed quite unconsciously to imply their absorption by the model French nation.”

What was Marx’s position on this war? First and foremost, he favored a Prussian defeat. And in the same letter to Engels, rather than in an address to the Council (we must keep in mind the confidential nature of the writings that we are now quoting), he says: “For the rest, the position is difficult now because one must equally oppose the silly Italianism of the English, on the one hand, and the mistaken polemic against it of the French, on the other, and above all prevent any demonstration which would involve our Association in a one-sided course.” Therefore, in the war of 1866, Marx did not openly take the side of any of the belligerents, an attitude comparable to that of the Poles during the anti-Russian insurrection.

After the Austrian victories in Italy, Austria was defeated at Sadowa by Prussia, and Napoleon intervened as a mediator. On July 7, 1866, Marx wrote: “Beside a great Prussian defeat, which perhaps (oh but those Berliners!) might have led to a revolution, there could have been no better outcome than their stupendous victory.” Marx thought that the best interest of Bonaparte would have been served by an alternation of victories and defeats between the Austrians and Prussians, so that a strong Germany should not be formed with an overwhelming central hegemony, so that Bonaparte with his military force intact would become the arbiter of Europe. Marx also thought that Italy’s position was very dangerous and that Russia stood to gain no matter what happened. As everyone knows, Austria, accepting the mediation of France, surrendered Venice to France: in order to obtain Venice, the King of Savoy had to once again engage in a rapprochement with his former ally of 1859, who defiantly proclaimed his famous “jamais” [never] to the occupation of Rome.

With this panorama the position of the International is precise: the war will be unleashed by Bonaparte, who was equipping his infantry with needle-guns, when he saw the opportunity to strike (Marx in a letter dated July 7 considered the technological development of weaponry as an application of economic determinism—“Is there any sphere in which our theory that the organisation of labour is determined by the means of production is more dazzlingly vindicated than in the industry for human slaughter?”—and suggested to Engels that he should write a study on the topic; today it seems that everything is reduced to the following question: who has the atomic bomb?). The second point is that it is necessary for the France of Napoleon to be defeated in this war.

We have continually insisted concerning the proletarian policy with respect to a domestic and revolutionary war for national independence, such as the Polish insurrection of 1863 (or the Italian uprisings of 1848 and 1860), in which case the position to take was unambiguous and total. We shall not repeat everything that has been said about the war of 1870 between France and Prussia. The proclamations of the International totally ruled out any support for either the government of Bismarck or that of Bonaparte: concerning this question there is no doubt. But the International openly desired the defeat of the Second Empire (just as in 1815 it would have preferred the victory of the First Empire).

In the Address of the General Council dated July 23, 1870, the valiant opposition to the war demonstrated by the French sections is applauded, but then this oft-used phrase appears: for the Germans the war is a “war of defense” (which would later be the object of a historically indomitable commentary by Lenin). This phrase was followed by an open attack on Prussian policy and the invitation to the German workers to fraternize with the French: the victory of Germany would be a disaster and would reproduce “all the miseries that befell Germany after her [so-called] wars of independence [against Napoleon]”. It was necessary to wait for someone like Lenin to come along and say: the philistine petty-bourgeois cannot understand how one can desire the defeat of both belligerents! Beginning in 1870, the general theory of proletarian defeatism was already in effect.

With the next quotation we shall see the historical evaluation of Marxism concerning this phase of 1866 and 1870 and the role played by the feudal powers of the East and by the bourgeois dictatorships of the West (without forgetting that we have to discourage the use of the word “if” in the story for all those cretins who seek to be published): “If the battle of Sadowa had been lost instead of being won, French battalions would have overrun Germany as the allies of Prussia.”

A defensive war means a war in the historically progressive sense, and this was the case, as Lenin has maintained, between 1789 and 1871, but never after that (we shall never tire of throwing this in the faces of the just war advocates of 1939-1945). This means that if Moltke had departed one day before Bazaine, and if the war cry had been: “To Paris, To Paris!” Instead of “To Berlin, To Berlin!—the Marxist assessment would have been the same.

The Commune and the New Cycle


The frustrated revolution of 1848 in Germany did not break out again in 1866 or in 1871 due to the overwhelming victories of Prussian militarism. But the tremendous defeat of French militarism stimulated the uprising of the proletariat of Paris, not only against the fallen regime but against the entire republican bourgeois class that had capitulated to the reactionary Prussian forces, and also against the Prussian forces themselves. The fall of the revolutionary government of the Commune in no way diminished the historical importance of the new cycle which from that moment forward imposed on the European communists only one historical goal: the proletarian dictatorship.

The Second Address of the International dated September 9, 1870 appeared after the victory at Sedan and the surrender of the French army, the expulsion of Napoleon and the proclamation of the Republic. This Address is a firm exhortation against the proposals to annex Alsace and Lorraine, and against the claim that this annexation was necessary to create a military security corridor; it scornfully noted the lack of any similar Prussian concern for the Russian borders and foresaw “a war with the Slavonic and Roman races”. In this text it is also said that the German working class “have resolutely supported the war, which it was not in their power to prevent”, but was now calling for peace and for the recognition of the Republic proclaimed in Paris. This claim aroused some serious doubts; the Parisian proletariat, however, was advised not to revolt against this republic. The Third Address, however, the personal work of Marx, not only constitutes an expression of the politics of the proletariat, but is also a historical pillar of the revolutionary theory and program. Marx read it on May 30, 1871—as Engels recalls in his Postscript to the 1891 edition—only two days after the last combatants of the Commune fell in Belleville.

This classic source of revolutionary communism to which we must incessantly refer, dispenses with the kinds of concerns that six months before had led the General Council to advise the Paris proletariat not to plunge into such an impossible enterprise because the resulting catastrophe would favor more Prussian invasions and annexations, causing the reemergence of another major problem of national independence in the very heart of the most advanced part of Europe. The International of the workers of the whole world united with all its forces with the first revolutionary government of the working class and took note of the lessons that the ferocious repression had transmitted to the future history of the proletarian revolution.

These lessons have been betrayed twice on a world scale, in 1914 and 1939, but the goal of our patient reconstructions and of our tireless repetitions is to show that, despite these betrayals, these lessons will be taken up again in a future historical period, just as they were set forth in that memorable text.

The alliance of Versailles and the Prussians to crush the red Commune, meaning that the former had assumed, under the pressure of the latter and the orders of Bismarck, the role of executioner of the revolution, leads to the historical conclusion that “the highest heroic effort of which old society is still capable is national war [which up until then we had to support—Bordiga’s note]; and this is now proved to be a mere governmental humbug, intended to defer the struggle of classes, and to be thrown aside as soon as that class struggle bursts out into civil war”.

Lenin did not invent the rule: transform the war between nations into a civil war; he found it already written. Lenin did not say that this slogan he proclaimed to the European proletarian parties in 1914 and 1915 should be modified in later situations, that the phase of alliances in favor of national wars would return, the phase of “peace … between the working men of France and the appropriators of their produce”, as the text quoted above puts it. Marx and Lenin revealed the historical law according to which, from 1871 until the destruction of capitalism, there are two alternatives in Europe: either the proletarians pursue defeatism in all wars, or, as Engels prophetically wrote in the 1891 Postscript, and as we can see this prediction in effect today, “… is there not every day hanging over our heads the Damocles’ sword of war, on the first day of which all the chartered covenants of princes will be scattered like chaff; (…) a race war which will subject the whole of Europe to devastation by 15 or 20 million armed men….” (Postscript by Engels to the 1891 edition of Marx’s The Civil War in France).

First: Marxism has always foreseen war between bourgeois states; second: it has always admitted that in particular historical phases it is not pacifism but war that accelerates general social development, as was the case with the wars that enabled the bourgeoisie to form national states; third: since 1871 Marxism has established that there is only one way that the revolutionary proletariat can put an end to war: with civil war and the destruction of capitalism.

The Imperialist Epoch and Irredentist Residues


The survival, in the epoch of wars of independence and national formation of a bourgeois revolutionary character, of a great number of cases in which lesser nationalities are subjected to states of another nationality in Europe itself, does not obviate the fact that the proletarian International must reject any justification for war between states for reasons of irredentism, unmasking the imperialist purposes of every bourgeois war, and calling upon the workers to sabotage such wars from both sides. The inability to put this into practice has determined the destruction of revolutionary energies under the opportunist waves of the two wars, and will also determine the same outcome in a future war if the masses do not abandon the opportunist leadership in time (social democratic or kominformist), thus allowing capitalism to survive its violent and bloody crises.

It was Lenin who showed, with reference to the war of 1914, that the war broke out due to the economic rivalry between the major capitalist states for the appropriation of shares of the productive resources of the world and especially those of the colonies in the underdeveloped continents. He never overlooked the existence of serious national problems in various metropolitan states; the perfect example is the Austrian monarchy which ruled over various Slavic, Latin and Magyar regions, not to forget some Ottoman groups. Another example was Russia, whose feudal state straddled the border between Europe and Asia. This is why, when considering Russian national questions, one cannot even reach a conclusion without keeping in mind the purpose of this work and others that will follow, in which the dynamic of the class and national struggles on the non-European continents and between races of color will be addressed (the eastern question; the colonial question).

The socialists of the Second International based their betrayal on three sophisms. The first was to support the nation in case of defensive war; the second was to support a war against a “less developed” country; and the third was that the war of 1914 would resolve the problems of irredentism. The difficulty posed by the irredentist issues of the time was formidable: France, for example, wanted to recover Alsace and Lorraine, but had no intention of surrendering Corsica or Nice. England contributed its support, but did not declare the independence of Gibraltar, Malta and Cyprus. Three countries wanted to liberate Poland, each in order to exercise its exclusive rule over that country.

Furthermore, everyone knows that the best example of resistance to the seduction of irredentism was provided by the Italian party; an even more classical example was that of the Serbian party, which was active in a nation that was surrounded by fellow Serbians who were subjects of other national powers, attacked by a much more powerful Austria, but which mounted a furious campaign against the militarism of Belgrade and the patriotic fever. Concerning the importance of these national questions, we have set forth the basic theses in a series of “Threads of Time” published in 1950-1951, and here we shall restrict ourselves to providing a brief summary.

1. The radical Marxists correctly combat the social democratic thesis of simple linguistic “cultural” autonomy within the unified state in multi-national countries, advocating total autonomy for the minority nationalities, but not as a bourgeois result or one made possible by the bourgeoisie, but as the result of the overthrow of the central state power, on the part of the proletarians of its nationality.
2. Those formulas are bourgeois and counterrevolutionary which advocate the liberation and equality of all nationalities, since this is impossible under the capitalist regime. However, resistance mounted against the state colossi of capitalism by the oppressed nationalities and the small “semi-colonial” powers or small states under protectorates, are forces that contribute to the downfall of capitalism.
3. Within the confines of the cycle in which the proletarian International denies any support or contribution on the part of its own organized political forces for wars between states, refusing to accept that the involvement in such a war of an alliance of despotic feudal states, or states that are less democratically organized than the others, should be a reason to fail to comply with this historic international position, and everywhere adopts defeatism for its own country, which does not obviate the fact that in its historical analysis it can and must foresee the different effects that can be expected from the events of a war.

In other texts we have offered numerous examples: in the Russo-Turkish war of 1877 in which the Franco-British democracies supported the Russians, Marx openly sympathized with the Turks. In the Greco-Turkish war of independence of 1899, without going so far as to volunteer to fight like the anarchists and republicans, the left socialists supported Greece, just as they sympathized with the revolution of the Young Turks, and with the Greek, Serbian and Bulgarian liberation struggle against Ottoman rule in the Balkan wars of 1912. And the same thing could be said of the Boer War against the English, a war—like the Spanish-American War of 1898—that had extra-European impacts and was fought for imperialist purposes.

But these were only episodes that punctuated the great period of calm that lasted from 1871 to 1914. Next came the world wars: every proletarian party that has supported its state at war or its allies is a traitor, and everywhere the tactic of revolutionary defeatism must be applied. From this crystal-clear conclusion, however, one must not deduce that the victory of one or another side will not make any difference with respect to a more advantageous development of events from a revolutionary perspective.

Our position on this question is well-known. The victory of the Western democracies and of America in the first and second world wars has caused the chances for the communist revolution to recede into the distant future, while a different outcome would have made it more likely to take place sooner. The same thing must be said about the American capitalist monster in a third world war, which could very well take place within one or two decades.

The precondition for the triumph of the communist revolution is the victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie: more than just a precondition, it is the revolution itself. But in the domain of war between states, which, until it can be proven to be otherwise, has up until now mobilized greater physical energies than the social war, revolutionary preconditions can also be perceived: the two principal preconditions are catastrophes for Great Britain and the United States of America, the gargantuan engines of the terrible historical inertia of the capitalist system and mode of production.

A Formula for Trieste Offered to the “Contingentists”


The position of the communists on the current conflict over Trieste can be summarized in these basic points: since 1911 the position of the Italian proletariat against the demands for national unity has been clearly expressed; in the war for Trieste and Trentino in 1915 the socialists denied their support, and the groups that later formed the communist party in Livorno in 1921 advocated sabotage of the national war; after 1918 the proletariat of the region of Giulia of both races and languages united firmly around revolutionary socialism and the party of Livorno; the communist proletariat must show the same resolute disdain for the nationalist policies of the governments of Rome and Belgrade, and even more for the disingenuous and deceitful policies of the kominformists.

Due to a strange coincidence this work is being written while an unforeseen series of events has placed Trieste under the spotlight of international politics. What do the communists have to say about the Trieste Crisis?

The Communist Party of Italy formed in Livorno in 1921 clearly demanded the most resolute opposition to the war that liberated Trieste and the Giulian and Trentine territories, because that party was the heir of the groups that, rejecting the sacred union in the war and the slogan of “neither support nor sabotage”, advocated Leninist defeatism, proclaiming in May 1915 the (indefinite) general strike as a last-ditch attempt to stop the mobilization, and spurring the old party into action during the whole course of the war and in the period after the defeat at Caporetto.

Therefore, we do not want Trieste. But the proletarian and revolutionary Trieste was ours, and the majority of its political sections, the trade unions, and the cooperatives, including people who spoke both Italian and Slovenian—it did not matter!—were members of the communist party, which featured the glorious Lavoratore that was published in the two languages with the same articles on theory, propaganda and political and organization agitation. And in the communist ranks, red Trieste was in the front line in the battle against fascism, which was victorious only thanks to the help of the tricolor carabineros.

All of this has nothing in common with the positions of today’s so-called Italian communists, who yesterday advocated that Trieste should pass into the hands of Tito because it would thus become part of a socialist fatherland, and today proudly display a contemptible nationalism by calling Tito “the executioner” par excellence.

The rivalry between the state of Belgrade and that of Rome, in the context of the repugnant world diplomatic struggle, as is also the case with the rivalry between the Italian parties with respect to the question of how to resolve the problem of Trieste, proceeds in accordance with the most superannuated nationalist formulas, and those who are most prone to make a crude use of the ethno-linguistic and historical sophisms are not the authentic bourgeoisie, but the “Marxists”, Tito and Togliatti.

We are not concerned, and not only because of our slight numerical force, with the usual question: what do you advocate in terms of practice, just what do you propose? But for those Marxists with a concrete and positivist bent to their politics, we shall treat them to a formula that they have never really thought about. The problem of dual nationality and dual languages is unfathomable, and is not resolved by writing speeches for Venetians and Slovenes in English or Serbo-Croatian.

In substance, the situation is that in the cities, organized in a bourgeois way, the Latins prevail, while the Slavs, on the other hand, live in isolated villages in the interior of the country and especially all along the coast. The merchants, industrialists, industrial workers and professionals are Italian; the rural landowners and peasants are Slavs. A social difference that is presented as a national difference, and which will disappear if the workers take over the industries and the peasants expropriate their landlords, but which cannot be eliminated by drawing lines on a map.

In the constitution of the USSR, gentlemen of the Botteghe Oscure [a reference to the headquarters of the Italian Communist Party—Note of the Spanish Translator], and in its imitation version in the People’s Republic of Yugoslavia, Marxist gentlemen of Belgrade, the foundation of the alliance between workers and peasants was the following formula: one representative for every one hundred workers, one for every one thousand peasants.

Hold any plebiscite on any question you please (you took this formula from Mussolini, your common enemy) with the rule that the vote of the inhabitant of the city and small cities (those, for example, with more than ten thousand inhabitants) will equal ten, and that of the inhabitant of the small town and the countryside will equal one. Then you will be able to extend the democratic vote to the entire area situated between the borders of 1866 and those of 1918: then you can grab Gorizia, Pola, Fiume and Zara.

But on all sides they have gulped down so much disgusting bourgeois democracy that they bow down before the sacred dogma, which makes the wealthy class laugh shamelessly, to see the sacred dogma repeated everywhere that each person’s vote has the same weight.

With an arithmetic like ours most people would be in favor of the thesis that says, to hell with both of them!

The European Revolution


Within the historical development of the social productive forces, Trieste is a point of convergence of economic factors that extend beyond the frontiers of the states in question, and a crucial point of the modern industrial and communications apparatus: in any event, any interruption that takes place has a very negative impact on the operations of exchange, which is the infrastructure of that great movement for the formation of national units, which came to an end in the 19th century. In the middle of the 20th century, there is only an international future for Trieste, one that cannot be effectively found by way of political and commercial agreements between bourgeois forces, but only in the European communist revolution, in which the workers of Trieste and the surrounding region will be one of the leading assault forces.

At the high point of the first emergence of capitalism in Italy, one of whose first political states was the Most Serene Republic of Venice, it is indisputable that Venetian dependence on Trieste, an advanced port and emporium of the Adriatic in the middle of a feudal and semi-barbarous Europe, was historically very progressive.

When the opening up of the great maritime trade routes of the Atlantic caused the downfall of Mediterranean capitalism, and the world market was being created thanks to Spain, Portugal, Holland, France and England, by way of the Atlantic trade routes, in Trieste there was always the chance, due to geographical factors, that the new mode of production would penetrate the interior of Central and Eastern Europe, where the landed anti-industrial reactionaries seemed to be so well entrenched, and had erected age-old obstacles to the new human organization.

The policy of the far-flung Austrian Empire which connected the Adriatic port with the nascent industrial centers of Germany, Hungary and Bohemia, was nonetheless progressive compared to the barriers erected by the Russians and the Turks, and enabled capitalism to gradually spread.

For the return of full-scale industrialism to the Italian peninsula and for its establishment in the Balkans, a positive factor was the one that was being forged by its connection with the powerful German economy, in the latter’s attempt to undermine Anglo-Saxon predominance in the Mediterranean basin.

Since the defeat of the Axis, Trieste has always remained a leading issue, and in order to more effectively arrange America’s colonization of Europe and its other repugnant schemes, America has subjected the city and its territory to a state of emergency.

All communist revolutionaries salute the proletariat of Trieste because over the whole period spanning various phases they have been occupied and obscenely represented by the worst kinds of capitalism and the most ferocious militarist nationalisms, celebrating their orgies of cruelty, corruption and exploitation.

Because so many rapacious claws and so many representatives of a shameless and brazen colonialism have concentrated in such a small area, Trieste will not find a national solution from any side, regardless of the language that is utilized to invoke it.

The solution can only be international: but just as it will not come from summit meetings or conflicts between states, it will not come from their democratic fornications, from the sordid unity of European servitude, either.

We do not forecast a national flag over the Castle of San Giusto, but the coming of the European proletarian dictatorship, which will not fail to find among a proletariat that has endured such painful experiences, when the time comes, the most resolute combatants.

Amadeo Bordiga

Originally published under the title, “I fattori di razza e nazione nella teoria marxista”, in issues nos. 16-20 of Il Programma Comunista, September-November 1953.

Translated in December 2013-January 2014 from the Spanish translation of the Partido Comunista Internacional.

Source of Spanish translation:

  • 1 This passage and those that follow are taken from the Manifesto. In the English edition of 1888, where it speaks of the education of the proletariat, it specifies: political and general education [the translation available online at the website has “Combination of education with industrial production”—American Translator’s Note], while where it says that the proletariat will attain the level of a national class it says: “the leading class of the nation”. The German word, Bildung, means, in a more general sense, training.