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The War and
Coming Revolutions

The Germs of Workers’ Uprisings
Infect All Warring Nations

(4 January 1941)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 5 No. 1, 4 January 1941, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The first symptoms of a new wave of workers’ revolutions are appearing in Europe and, in the first instance, in Italy. Churchill and the “democratic” ruling class have been quick to label it the “Italian disease” – as if this penetrating germ can be exorcised by incantation and prevented from spreading.

The hasty reassurances exchanged among the “democratic” capitalists concerning the peculiarly Italian character of the coming revolution remind one of nothing so much as what happened in Europe when, in the 14th and 15th centuries, the ravages of syphilis spread. The French termed it the “Italian disease”; the Spanish, the “French disease”; while the Italians were absolutely certain that it was the “Spanish disease.” No country would claim it!

The capitalists in each country today likewise label the “disease” of proletarian revolution as one which can strike elsewhere but not in their own country. But in their hearts they know differently. Proletarian revolution was no “Russian disease” in 1917 – it spread across Europe, even though it was drowned in blood.

The first military defeats sustained by Mussolini have sufficed to expose the basic weakness of the fascist grip on Italy.

While no direct manifestations of the crumbling fascist, rule have as yet been able to seep through the totalitarian prison walls of Italy, the admissions and protestations of the official Italian press and spokesmen are revelatory.

It is quite clear that the Italian masses who, since the last war, have suffered a standard of living as low as any in Europe, are now launching an irreconcilable struggle against conditions which the present war has brought to the intolerable stage.

Fascists Try to Appease Masses

Mussolini’s regime, unable to gloss over the appalling living conditions, makes haste to lament with the masses. A campaign suddenly blossoms forth against the “hoarders and profiteers.” Not the fascist regime and the capitalists it serves, but anonymous hoarders and profiteers, whose presence had up to this time eluded the all-seeing eyes of the secret police, are held responsible for the plight of the Italian people. Regime Fascista, newspaper edited by Roberto Farinacci, former secretary of the Fascist party, declares – but without naming names – that these profiteers should be shot.

”We do not live by bread alone,” says La Vita Italiana. “There are many other things of prime necessity. With, things increasing at this rate, are wages and salaries to remain unaltered?” La Vita of course offers no answer to its own question, but hopes to mollify the masses by echoing their feelings.

But most of all, it is the increasing spirit of defeatism which preoccupies the ruling regime. On December 10 the leading fascist newspaper. Il Popolo di Roma, admitting heavy Italian losses, increasing vicissitudes and hard days ahead, stated:

“These gentlemen who smell of defeatism are those who read our war bulletins with the air of being fed up, those who know everything, incorrigible rumor-mongers who always have something to add when a communique is read. It seems to us the hour has come to beat them up so it will leave a mark that will not soon be forgotten.”

The violence of this campaign against defeatism is in itself an admission of the discontent with the war so wide-spread among the Italian masses. The same Il Popolo di Roma on December 13 cries against the defeatists:

“We know them. We have identified them for some time now. Soon we shall catch them and make them swallow all their sinister prophecies, all stupid anticipations of their idiotic defeatism which has not and never will have any hold on the granite mass of the Italian people gathered close around their Duce.”

The Worker-Soldier Will Not Fight

This defeatism, and it grows with each new military set-back, is the reflection of a much more serious condition in the Italian armed forces.

It is the custom of the “democratic” capitalist press to attribute the defeats of the Italian army in Greece and Albania to the “brave fighting qualities” of the Greek and British forces and the “cowardice” of the Italian fighters. A few commentators, however, know better. Thus Hanson W. Baldwin, writing about the Italo-Greek war in the New York Times on November 26, says, “And the heart of the Italians is not in it – except for officers and a few picked Fascist troops, the Italian army seems to have no illusions of the glory.”

Not courage but morale, is the decisive factor in the Italian military defeats. The Italian soldier – the direct descendant of the magnificent fighters under Garibaldi – doesn’t want to fight in this war. He does not believe in the cause which his arms are supposed to uphold.

Leland Stowe, in a dispatch to the New York Post of December 26 describing an interview with Italian prisoners of war in Greece, writes:

“There is an enormous difference between the attitude of officers and common soldiers. Virtually all the officers profess confidence in and loyalty to Mussolini. and most of them attempt to justify the invasion of Greece. The higher ranking professional militarists show obedience to the regime and unquestioned patriotism. Young lieutenants, aggressively fascist, are frequently defiant and arrogant, sometimes sneering and discourteous.

“On the other hand, the Italian soldiers are mostly a spiritless, pitiful assortment. They are ragged and miserable, and only a few have a vestige of self-assurance left. Again and again, they say frankly, ‘We’ve had enough.’

“They seem to have no shame over having thrown down their weapons. They want nothing except food and for the war to end and to get back to Italy.”

But it is mere wish-thinking, when the Churchills brand it an “Italian disease.”

It is precisely the knowledge that this is not an exclusively “Italian disease” which brought forth Churchill’s recent incitement of the Italians against Mussolini – against Mussolini and not against the entire ruling class of Italy. Churchill calls for the spread in Italy of a “mild” “non-infectious” form of the revolutionary “disease,” one which would leave intact the Italian Royal family, the army generals, the police apparatus, the fascist machine, the profiteers and capitalists – and the hunger and misery of the Italian masses. Above all, a “disease” which would contain no danger of spreading beyond the Italian borders into the British Empire.

For while Italy at the present moment appears most susceptible to revolution, conditions in England also indicate no great immunity to this contagion. The British ruling class fears this more than a thousand military defeats.

Strike Struggles in Britain

One of the indicative symptoms that the workers of England are not too ready to “sacrifice” in the interests of British imperialism, is the persistence of strikes in vital British industries. The news of these strikes has managed to trickle through the rigid British censorship. And they are particularly significant because they are waged in defiance of the dictatorial law against strikes.

The New York Times, December 20, inconspicuously carries the following tiny item:

“LONDON, Dec. 19 (UP) – Minister of Labor Ernest Bevin told the House of Commons today that there had been stoppages of work in British munitions factories contrary to the legal procedure of settling disputes. Some of these, he indicated, were due to a ‘settled policy’ of the Communists.”

Bevin, on December 17, reported 844,000 workdays lost in the first ten months of 1940 due to strikes, – in a nation in which Sir Walter Citrine, speaking before the AFL convention last month, declared the workers had “voluntarily” given up the right to strike.

The New York Post, December 17, in a London dispatch quotes the London Daily Express as alleging that the “Liverpool docks were working at two-thirds capacity due to labor agitation and lassitude.”

This same dispatch reveals that the English workers are not so willing to “sacrifice” as Citrine states. Two of the largest British trade unions, the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, with 450,000 members, and the Amalgamated Engineering Union, with 400,000 members, are both making insistent demands for wage increases to offset the enormous price increases.

A six-day strike of 5,000 garment workers in Lancashire, England, ended on December 27. The strike was ostensibly over the employment of a non-union worker; but the fact that it was conducted in defiance of a law exacting penal sentences, shows that the source of the strike was much more deep-rooted.

British “Democracy” Puts the Squeeze On

We can expect that Churchill, like Mussolini, will shortly be forced to denounce the “hoarders and profiteers.” On December 26, the British press announced that Lord Woolton, Food Minister, is expected to introduce a further reduction in the food rations in January 1941. Even the cheapest, poorest meat scraps are to be rationed, under the new regulations, and the present allowance of one shilling ten pence (about 35 cents) worth of meat per person per week, is to be reduced to one shilling six pence (about 25 cents) worth. This, for the first time, will also affect the soldiers, sailors and airmen, who up to now have been permitted a much larger allowance than civilians.

More and more, the British ruling class is introducing those extremes of exploitation which they have hitherto condemned on the part of the Nazi and fascist regimes.

The following item appeared in the N.Y. Post, December 19:

“LONDON, Dec. 19 (AP) – Between 30,000 and 40,000 British women will have to work in the fields next year to keep agricultural production up to present standards, Minister of Agriculture Hudson said today. There are now 9,000 British women land workers.”

The compulsory toil in the fields invoked against the working women of Nazi Germany is here forecast for “democratic” England.

A Columbia Broadcast correspondent, Larry Lesueur, in a broadcast from London, December 12, stated that Liverpool shipowners “complain that the young dockworkers have been drafted into the army and they are asking that the workers return in the form of flying squads of soldiers to unload ships under military discipline.

“Ship owners also would like to have about 3,000 more workers around the ports to create a reserve of men and competition for fobs, but naturally the unions are against this.”

These representatives of the British ruling class are asking, in other words, for slave workers, toiling at the point of a bayonet; and for permanent unemployed reserves to hold as a threat against the employed workers. In this is revealed the real “war aims” of the British capitalists, – aims which differ not a whit in kind from those of the German capitalists.

Glaring Extremes Between Rich and Poor

While the Lancashire garment strikers were whipped back to work with prison threats, the New York Times on December 22, published the following:

“MANCHESTER, England, Dec. 22 (UP) – Corporate profits of Lancashire’s cotton spinners this year will be the largest since 1921, a United Press survey disclosed today.”

Milo M. Thompson, chief of the Associated Press London Bureau, who has just returned from England, describes the luxury and comforts of the bomb shelters for the rich in London, such as that of the Savoy Hotel, and contrasts it with those for the ordinary people. The rich sleep in “the beds of luxury you read about, in the mattress advertisements.” They have dance floors, orchestras and bars. There is no crowding; all the comforts of home and aristocratic club are there.

“The ever present nurses and physicians in such places add to the feeling of security. It is easy there to forget the hundreds of thousands cramped in their chill Anderson shelters, the millions who sleep in ordinary basements, and the great army of those who are glad to have concrete subway platforms or the cobblestones under the arches below them if only they are safe from the death and dismemberment rained from above.” (New York Post, Dec. 23)

Poverty for Now; Promises for Later

It is a sign of the complete degeneration and incapacity of the British ruling class that it permits this fantastic spectacle to go on. Future historians will record that not all the previous contrasts between rich and poor drove the British masses toward revolution as much as did the luxurious underground playground shelters of the rich.

Nor is it that the British ruling class is unaware of the danger. Every week Harold J. Laski, Raymond Postgate and other “labor” supporters of the war wail in The Tribune: “We wonder if Mr. Churchill is aware that, in spite of all the talk, there is no ... evacuation scheme ... no-improvements of shelters ... The outcome of the war may well depend on the speed and efficiency of adequate sheltering ...” But to no purpose. The ruling class continues to rhumba at the Savoy.

However, the ruling class is perfectly willing to make promises.

Churchill, on December 18, speaking at Harrow, exclusive school for the British upper classes, declared that “the advantages and privileges which hitherto have been enjoyed only by the few shall be far more widely shared” – when the war is over.

Hitler, a few weeks ago, stated that he will introduce the “perfect socialist state” – when the war is over.

Thus it is, that each in turn, offers the benefits of a mild inoculation of “socialism,” to offset the dread “plague,” the workers’ revolution.

But the inoculation will not work. The “Italian disease” will spread.

War and revolution – they were inextricably connected in 1917.

It took three years, the last time, for the first rumblings of revolt. It will not take that long this time!

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