Camillo Berneri

Camillo Berneri, anarchico
Biography

Born 1897, Camillo Berneri spent his childhood at Reggio Emilia and was active in a Socialist youth group.

In 1917 he was drafted.

After the war he finished his studies while very actively involved in the anarchist press. He became a humanities teacher in a high school. The coming of the Fascist regime and his refusal to give any loyalty as a civil servant to this regime meant that he had to go into exile.

Thus began a long series of arrests and expulsions from France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland.

Despite these physical and moral obstacles, Berneri was intellectually fully active. He wrote numerous articles and anti-religious leaflets on the emancipation of women. He also put forward a theory which was published as The Anti-Semitic Jew in which he studied the compulsory or voluntary assimilation of the Jews. His most important writings were Fascist Espionage Abroad and Mussolini and the Conquest of the Balearic Islands.

At the news of the uprising in Spain, Berneri and the majority of the Italian antifascists made their way there immediately. They formed a column which was to be integrated in the Ascaso Column on the Aragon Front, organised by Berneri and Carlo Rosselli (a left-wing Socialist). Berneri took part in the battle of Monte Pelado (1936).

He ended up devoting himself mainly to propaganda. He ran the magazine Guerra di Classe. Berneri’s last two works were Us and the POUM and a Speech of 3rd May 1937 on the CNT/FAI radio to Italy on the occasion of the death of Gramsci.

Camillo Berneri Bibliography

Neo-malthusianesimo ed anarchismo

Religione e critica

Bolscevismo e sovietismo

Guerra di classe

Pietro Kropotkin

L’emancipazione della donna

Reading

Camillo Berneri: The Wisdom of a Proverb

The Swiss Federal Council was the first to inaugurate in the name of ‘neutrality’ a regime of persecution against the friends of Free Spain, desiring by this servile and reactionary attitude to pay homage to the ogres of Berlin and Rome.

An outcry of scandal then arose from the synagogues of Social-Democracy. And Stalin’s admirers protested vehemently.

Soon after, the Belgian government, which is composed of Social Democratic ministers, expelled Canon Gallegos and Father Lobo, Catholic priests guilty merely of having declared at private meetings their solidarity with the legal government of Spain.

Then there was the British government dragging out from the dust of centuries a law of 1870 which punishes the enrolment of British citizens in foreign militias.

The United States in their turn brought up for discussion a law of 1811 forbidding North American citizens enrolling abroad.

Finally, the French government obtained from the Chamber of Deputies full powers to surround Republican Spain with a ‘cordon sanitaire’ against the influx of foreign volunteers. And these powers, it received them from the Communist and Socialist groups in parliament. There is nothing surprising in the attitude of the Socialists. It coincides with that of ‘Populaire’ and only serves to confirm it. But the attitude of the Communists constitutes a scandalous change of policy. The English Communists had protested at the blockade of volunteers. Ted Barnales, head of the London section of the English Communist Party had declared in one of his speeches on 11th November last, “For or each German soldier in Spain, we will send a seasoned English fighter. This is our reply to the decision taken by the government to prevent volunteers departing for Spain.”

And ‘Humanite’ at the news that the French government intended to forbid the enrolment of volunteers burst out in repeated protests. A platonic gesture on the part of the French Social Democrat and Stalinist leaders, bound up to the very end with the wet-blanket government and the human ostrich.

The ‘Petit Parisien’ of 15th December announced a ‘strengthening of control’ on the part of France, and Gabriel Peri wrote in ‘Humanite’

“Petit Parisien is the unofficial monitor of the Quai d’Orsay. We would like to know whether the plan which it is announcing has, as the Petit Petit Parisien indicates, the approval of M. Delbos. We would like to know if it has the approval of the President of the Council. If not we would like to read a denial as soon as possible.”

Instead of a prompt denial, the ‘Populaire’ of 8th January wrote, “We believe that there would be no difficulty in adopting the advice of the German government which is proposing, in its reply, to remove from Spain, all foreigners taking part in the fighting including the political agitators and propagandists. with the aim of re-establishing the state of affairs existing in August 1936.”

And it concluded,

“We must not lose any time in useless investigation of their intentions by trying to discover the ‘traps’ which there may be in the replies of Berlin and Rome. There is a certain way of overcoming all difficulties. It is by applying and making all others apply a policy of non-intervention in Spain; by eliminating from Spain all combatants who are not Spanish. We must do it at and do it quickly.”

With Peri, Cachin, Vaillant – Couturier and company protested. But Moscow took the helm. And who would associate themselves directly in the name of the Communist group in parliament with the Blumist ‘faction?’ Peri was the very man, he who had maintained with the greatest obstinacy and vehemence that France should have a policy overtly in favour of the Spanish Republic. The buffoons and idiots of Bolshevism are as bad as the buffoons and idiots of Social Democracy. The Socialist parliamentary group trampled on the last resolution of the executive committees of the IOS and the FSI which declares, “that the maintenance of peace, which is the supreme asset of the workers of ail countries and, consequently, the primary concern of governments under Socialist control or with Socialist participation, can only be assured on the condition that Democracy opposes an attitude bent on blackmail or fascist menaces.”

The Communist parliamentary group, for its part, completely denied an infinite number of explicit declarations against French ‘neutrality’ declarations made at its meetings and published in its papers, mainly in ‘Humanite.’

Non-intervention plays into the hands of Hitler and Mussolini, arid thus of Franco. The English Memorandum and the French moratorium proposing to the German and Italian governments that they stop sending volunteers to Spain go back to 3rd December 1936. The Italo – German reply came on 7th January. Thirty-five days of . . . meditation, thirty-five days of massive dispatch of men and military equipment to Franco.

The Italian government recruited ‘volunteers’ by means of orders sent through the military districts; it directed towards Spain by means of force, men recruited to work in Ethiopia, it concentrated volunteers for Spain in the barracks. it even used common law convicts to swell the ranks of the volunteers: it created concentrations of expeditionary forces in la Speziz, Eboli, Salerno and Cagliari: and it transported them in the State ships as far as Spanish Morocco.

After the bombings carried out over Spanish territory by Italian planes, using for their base the airfield of Elmas after the occupation of Majorca, we have all the elements of proof to show that Italy has intervened militarily in the Spanish Civil War. Mussolini has no intention of renouncing Spain. ‘Roma Fascista’ does not hesitate to declare. “We are fighting and we shall win in Spain.” ‘Il Giornale d’ltalia’ implies that French control of access routes to Spain on land will be virtual. Hitler and Mussolini are demanding the impossible of the English and French governments: like, for example, suppressing propaganda in favour of Spain and removing from Spain all foreign anti-fascists.

The bad faith of Mussolini and Hitler appears with as much clarity as the over careful stupidity of Blum. Mussolini, in contempt for all international law, has sent at least 20,000 men to Spain, and there are besides (according to ‘Ami du Peuple’) at least 30,000 German soldiers in Spain. The Italian government and the German government will continue to send men, arms and ammunition whatever promises they make.

The Anglo – French neutrality has been is and will always be a hypocritical intervention in favour of Spanish, German and Italian Fascism.

To accept the supervisory blockade, is the same as putting on the same place the loyal government and an army of rebels, it is the same as putting Europe in the dilemma: war or the triumph of fascism. And the triumph of fascism is the inevitable war of the very near future.

The Blumist policy has never had a clear and coherent line of action because it is dominated by fear and a tendency to compromise. It is a Social Democratic policy.

The French Communist Party, by adhering to this policy, has erased one of the few fine pages in its history, The international repercussions will have profound consequences. As will the repercussions on French internal politics. But the most important thing for us is, for the moment, to examine the needs of our struggle in Spain in relation to the new situation. We will deal with that elsewhere. Today we are experiencing an agonising and troubling emotion as we see the wisdom of the popular proverb being confirmed: “May God guard me from my friends. I can take care of my enemies.”

Spain, surrounded by declared enemies and false friends will not continue on its own path any less because of them. We wish with all our filial love for this magnificent people that this path will lead to the shining heights of triumph. But even if it leads us to the deepest abyss of defeat, we would always have the consolation of having wanted to be with the innocent victims and not with the murderers of unarmed people; of having defended the sacred cause of liberty and justice and not the return to tyranny and feudal privilege; of having taken part in the melee, choosing our side decisively, and having rejected the degrading share of cowardly and stupid compromises.

Camillo Berneri: State and Revolution : The Abolition and Extinction of the State

Whereas we anarchists desire the extinction of the state through the social revolution and the constitution of an autonomist federal order, the Leninists desire the destruction of the bourgeois state and moreover the conquest of the state by the ‘proletariat.’ The ‘proletarian’ state. they say, is a semi-state since the complete state is the bourgeois one destroyed by the social revolution. And even this semi-state would die, according to the Marxists, a natural death.

This theory of the extinction of the state which is the basis of Lenin’s book State and Revolution has been derived by him from Engels who in Anti-Duhring says,

“The proletariat seizes the power of the state and first of all transforms the means of production into the property of the state. But by achieving this it does away with itself as proletariat, it does away with all class differences and all class antagonisms and consequently also with the state as the state. Society as it was and as it is at present which is actuated by the antagonisms between the classes, needed the state, that is to say an organisation of the exploiting class with a view to maintaining the outward conditions of production, more particularly with a view to maintaining by force the exploited class in the oppressive conditions demanded by the existing mode of production (slavery, serfdom, wage labour). The state was the official representative of the entire society, its synthesis in visible form, but it was only this to the extent that it was the state of the class which itself represented in its time the entire society: the state of citizens who owned slaves in antiquity, the state of the feudal nobility in the Middle Ages, the state of the bourgeoisie in our time. But by becoming at last the true representative of the whole society, it renders itself superfluous. As soon as there is no longer a social class to maintain in oppression; as soon as the clashes of interest and the excesses are abolished at the same time as class domination and the struggle for individual existence which is founded in the old anarchy of production from which they result, there is nothing more to repress, and a special force for repression, the state, ceases to be necessary. The first act by which the state confirms itself in reality as the representative of the entire society – taking possession of the means of production in the name of society – is at the same time the last proper act of the state. The intervention of the power of the state in social relations becomes superfluous in one area after another, and eventually dies away of its own accord. Government of people is replaced by administration of things and control of the process of production. The state is not ‘abolished’; it withers away. It is from this point of view that one must appraise the expression: ‘a free popular state’ as much for its short-lived interest for discussion as for its definitive scientific inadequacy; from this point of view also must the claims of those who are called anarchists and who desire that the state should be abolished overnight be appraised.”

Between the State – Today and the Anarchy – Tomorrow there would be the semi-state. The state which dies is the ‘state as the state’ that is to say, the bourgeois state. It is in this sense that one must take the phrase which at first sight seems to contradict the proposition of the socialist state. “The first act by which the state confirms itself in reality as the representative of the entire society – taking possession of the means of production in the name of society – is at the same time the last proper act of the state.” Taken literally and out of context, this phrase would signify the temporal simultaneity of economic socialisation and the extinction of the state. In the same way also, taken literally and out of context, the phrases relating to the proletariat destroying itself as proletariat in the act of seizing the power of the state would indicate the lack of need for the ‘Proletarian State.’ In reality, Engels under the influence of ‘didactic style’ expresses himself in an unfortunate manner. Between the bourgeois state today and the socialist-anarchist tomorrow, Engels recognises a chain of successive eras during which the state and the proletariat remain. It is to throw some light on the dialectical obscurity that he adds the final allusion to the anarchists “who desire that the state should be abolished overnight” that is to say, who do not allow the transitory period as regards the state, whose intervention according to Engels becomes superfluous, “in one area after another” that is to say, gradually.

It seems to me that the Leninist position on the problem of the state coincides exactly with that taken by Marx and Engels when one interprets the spirit of the writings of these latter without letting oneself be deceived by the ambiguity of certain turns of phrase.

The state is, in Marxist – Leninist political thought, the temporary political instrument of socialisation, temporary in the very essence of the state, which is that of an organism for the domination of one class by another. The socialist state, by abolishing classes, commits suicide. Marx and Engels were metaphysicians who frequently came to schematise historical processes from love of system.

‘The Proletariat’ which seizes the state, bestowing on it the complete ownership of the means of production and destroying itself as proletariat and the state ‘as the state’ is a metaphysical fantasy, a political hypothesis of social abstractions.

It is not the Russian proletariat that has seized the power of the state, but rather the Bolshevik Party which has not destroyed the proletariat at all and which has on the other hand created a State Capitalism, a new bourgeois class, a set of interests bound to the Bolshevik state which tend to preserve themselves by preserving the state.

The extinction of the state is further away than ever in the USSR where static interventionism is ever more immense and oppressive, and where classes are not disappearing.

The Leninist programme for 1917 included these points: the discontinuance of the police and the standing army, abolition of the professional bureaucracy, elections for all public positions and offices, revocability of all officials, equality of bureaucratic wages with workers’ wages, the maximum of democracy, peaceful competition among the parties within the soviets, abolition of the death penalty. Not a single one of the points in this programme has been achieved.

We have the USSR a government, a dictatorial oligarchy. The Central Committee (19 members) dominates the Russian Communist Party which in turn dominates the USSR.

All those who are not ‘loyal subjects’ are charged with being counter-revolutionaries. The Bolshevik revolution has engendered a saturnal government, which deports Riazano founder of the Marx Engels institute, at the time when he is preparing the complete and original edition of Das Kapital; which condemns to death Zinoviev, president of the Communist International, Kamenev and many others among the best propagators of Leninism, which excludes from the party, then exiles, then expels from the USSR a ‘duce’ like Trotsky, which in short is dead set against 80% of the supporters of Leninism.

In 1920 Lenin was speaking very highly of self-criticism within the lap of the Communist Party and spoke of ‘mistakes’ recognised by the ‘Party’ and not of the right of the citizen to denounce these mistakes, or those things which seemed to him to be such of the party in government. When Lenin was dictator, whoever caused a stir in denouncing the same mistakes which Lenin himself recognised in retrospect risked or underwent ostracism, prison or death. Bolshevik Sovietism was an atrocious joke even for Lenin who vaunted the god-like power of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party over all the USSR in saying: “No important question be it one of political discipline or relating to organisation, is decided on by a state institution in our Republic without a directive emanating from the Central Committee of the Party.”

Whoever says ‘proletarian State’ says ‘State Capitalism’ whoever says ‘dictatorship of the Proletariat’ says ‘Dictatorship of the Communist Party;’ whoever says ‘strong government’ says ‘Tsarist oligarchy of politicians.’

Leninists, Trotskyists, Bordighists, Centrists are only divided by different tactical ideas. All Bolsheviks, to whatever stream or faction they belong are supporters of political dictatorship and State Socialism. All are united by the formula: ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ an ambiguous phrase which corresponds to ‘The People Sovereign’ of Jacobinism. Whatever Jacobinism is, it is certain to cause the Social Revolution to deviate. And when it deviates, ‘the shadow of a Bonaparte’ is cast across it.

One would have to be blind not to see that the Bonapartism of Stalin is merely the horrible and living shadow of Leninist Dictatorialism.

Compiled by Romano Krauth
First published by anarchy-movement.org, which went offline in 2006

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