Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Antonio Gramsci 1921

War is War


Unsigned, L'Ordine Nuovo, 31 January 1921

Text from Antonio Gramsci "Selections from political writings (1921-1926)", translated and edited by Quintin Hoare (Lawrence and Wishart, London 1978), transcribed to the www with the kind permission of Quintin Hoare.


Understanding and knowing how to assess accurately one's enemy means that one already possesses a necessary condition for victory. Understanding and knowing how to assess one's own forces and their position in the field of struggle means that one possesses another extremely important condition for victory.

In Turin too, the fascists clearly want to carry through the general plan of action which has secured easy triumphs in other cities. Contingents have been called in from outside - units from Bologna, picked troops, well-trained. Demonstrative parades have been stepped up, with the fascist forces organized and drawn up into columns in military fashion. Their supporters are continually assembled without warning, under orders to come to the meetings armed. This serves to create an expectation of mysterious events, and thus to create a war psychology. Alarmist rumours are spread in great profusion ("the first to be killed will be a socialist student, we will burn L'Ordine Nuovo, we will burn the Chamber of Labour, we will burn the Cooperative Alliance bookshop"). This expedient has two aims: to disintegrate the proletarian forces through panic and the unnerving uncertainty of the wait, and to familiarize the fascists with the objective to be achieved. Will the fascists have the easy triumph in Turin which they have had in other cities?

Let us first observe that to have asked for help from outside is a proof of the organic weakness of Turin fascism. In Turin the fascists base themselves upon - and can base themselves upon - only one category of the petty-bourgeois class: the category of shopkeepers, certainly not famous for its sublime martial qualities. The Turin working class is certainly morally superior to the fascists and knows that it is morally superior. The counter-revolutionaries of the General Confederation of Labour (in order to dishearten the masses and strip them of all capacity for attack or defence) are saying that the workers, since they did not fight in the war, cannot combat and defeat fascism on the terrain of armed violence. As far as Turin is concerned, this defeatist and counterrevolutionary assertion is objectively untrue. The Turin workers have had the following "war" experiences: general strike of May 1915, armed insurrection lasting five days in August 1917, manoeuvres involving broad masses on 2-3 December 1919, general strike with episodic use of Irish tactics and development of a unitary strategic plan in April 1920, occupation of the factories last September with the accumulation of a wealth of experience in the military sphere. Another incontestable fact: after August 1917, the workers most suspect of revolutionarism had their exemption lifted and were sent to the front in the most exposed positions. The Turin proletariat gave more soldiers to the trenches than any other, and from this point of view too has accumulated military experience which has already borne fruit, precisely during the occupation of the factories. The accusation of "peace-mongering" is ridiculous and absurd if addressed to the Turin workers, who have shown, especially in August 1917, that they are not afraid of bullets or blood. The same cannot be said of the Turin fascists: despairingly called upon for help by D'Annunzio, they were characteristically stingy with their heroism - despite their claim to have organized themselves to save Italy from the dishonour of the "thicklipped executioner." They limited themselves to letting off a bomb under the windows of La Stampa. The fascists (especially those from Turin, who only fought the war in newspapers and offices) are aware of this inferiority of theirs, just as the workers are perfectly aware of their superiority.

These conditions of a psychological and moral nature are supplemented by others of a practical, organizational kind. What has been most painfully surprising, in the cities that have fallen prey to the fascists, has been the absence of any spirit of initiative among the mass of workers. In these cities, all revolutionary energy was concentrated in the offices of the Chamber of Labour. Once the Chamber of Labour was hit, the working class was decapitated and became incapable of any action. But in Turin, the very great centralization of the movement does not deprive the working class of its energy and capacity for action. Even during the War, the Internal Commissions had become the centre around which the revolutionary forces crystallized. They kept the class struggle going and preserved an unbroken spirit of autonomy and initiative even in the darkest periods of capitalist and state oppression, when the trade union organizations joined committees of industrial mobilization and abdicated all freedom and independence. This meant that it was possible for the workers in August 1917, although the Chamber of Labour had been occupied by the police and the centres were all widely scattered, to maintain for five days a bitter struggle with arms in hand and more than once threaten conquest of the city's central points. It also made possible the admirable manoeuvres of 2-3 December 1919, when the working-class forces left the factories in order and under discipline, and like an immense converging rake swept the city from the outskirts to the centre. Again, during the occupation of the factories, it made possible the autonomous, yet unitary and naturally centralized development of a whole range of revolutionary actions and initiatives of incalculable and unpredictable scope.

The movement of factory councils and communist groups has perfected this articulation of the working class movement in Turin, which can no longer be decapitated and paralysed by any reactionary gale. One may say this: while in the other industrial cities the working class has not yet gone beyond the stage of mass frontal attacks - the tactics of General Cadorna which led to Caporetto - in Turin this stage has been definitively left behind. In the campaign for the factory councils, the communists always reminded the Turin workers of what had happened in Barcelona.' They always spoke to the workers in the rough, sincere language which must be that of the revolutionary proletariat. They never hid the fact that perhaps Italy would pass through a period of reaction and that, as in Barcelona, the possibility was not excluded that the Chamber of Labour and trade unions would be dissolved or placed in conditions where they could not function. So it was necessary to multiply the revolutionary centres and organizations. So it was necessary to stimulate among the masses the spirit of initiative and autonomy; necessary to replace the bureaucratic and bestial centralization which characterized the trade unions by a democratic centralization, an agile and flexible articulation, that would allow the proletarian body to continue to live whatever blows might be inflicted either on it as a whole or on its individual members. This realistic propaganda was begun as early as 1919. At that time, the present repentant Magdalenes of maximalism called the Turin council movement "reformist", because it proposed to "qualify" and "instruct" the workers, while the maximalists merely preached great frontal actions and inserted the noun "violence" after every third word in their speeches. Today, one can see how necessary that propaganda was and how only through that work of preparation could the future of the proletariat truly be defended.

This objective presentation of the conditions in which the struggle will take place is in no way aimed at diminishing the gravity of the danger. The Turin working class certainly finds itself in a good war position; but no good position can, in itself, save an army from defeat. The good position must be exploited in all its possibilities. Woe to the working class if it even for a single instant permits the fascists to put their plan into execution in Turin, as they have done in other cities. The least weakness, the least hesitancy could be fatal. The first fascist attempt must be followed by a swift, decisive, pitiless response from the workers, and this response must be such that the memory of it will be handed down to the great-grandchildren of the capitalist gentlemen. When fighting a war one must act accordingly, and in war blows are not given by agreement. However, the Turin working class has already stated, in a resolution from its political party, that it considers the fascists to be merely the instruments of an action whose instigators and main principals are to be found in very different circles. La Stampa too wrote (on 27 January, just five days ago): "The present powerful organization [of the fascists] is encouraged by businessmen, industrialists, farmers." In war and revolution, to take pity on ten means to be pitiless with a thousand. The Hungarian working class wanted to be gentle with its oppressors: today it is paying, and the women of the working class are paying and the children of the working class are paying, for its gentleness: pity for a few thousand has brought misery, grief, despair to millions of Hungarian proletarians.

Blows are not given by agreement. All the more implacable must the workers be, in that there is no comparison between the damage which the working class suffers and the damage which the capitalists suffer. The Chamber of Labour is the product of the efforts of many working class generations. It cost hundreds and hundreds of thousands of workers sacrifice and privation, it is the sole property of a hundred thousand proletarian families. If it is destroyed, those efforts, those sacrifices, those privations, that property are annihilated. They want to destroy it in order to destroy organization, in order to take away from the worker the security of his bread, his roof, his clothes, to take away this security from the worker's wife and his child. Mortal danger to whoever touches the Chamber of Labour, mortal danger to whoever encourages and promotes the work of destruction! A hundred for one. All the houses of the industrialists and businessmen cannot save the casa del popolo, [house of the people], because the people loses everything if it loses its house.

Mortal danger to whoever touches the worker's bread, or the bread of the worker's son. War is war: whoever seeks adventure must feel the iron jaws of the beast which he has let loose. All that the worker has created at the cost of his sacrifices, all that generations of workers have slowly and painfully wrought with blood and with sorrow, must be respected as something sacred. The tempest and the hurricane break when sacrilege is committed, and carry away the guilty like straws. Mortal danger to whoever touches the property of the worker, of the man condemned to have no property. War is war. Woe betide whoever unleashes it. A militant of the working class who has to pass into the next world, must have a first-class accompaniment on his journey. If fire dyes red the patch of sky over one street, the city must be provided with many braziers to warm the women and children of the workers who have gone to war. Woe betide whoever unleashes war. If Italy is not used to seriousness and responsibility, if Italy is not used to taking anyone seriously, if bourgeois Italy happens to have acquired the sweet and facile conviction that the Italian revolutionaries are not to be taken seriously either, let the die be cast: we are convinced that more than one fox will leave his tail and his cunning in the snare.