Pietro Tresso (pseudonym, Blasco) was one of the early leaders of the Italian Communist Party. He was forced into exile by the fascist régime in 1929, and then expelled from the party on 1930 on account of his critique of the Stalinist claim that social democrats should be treated as fascists. Tresso helped create the Nuova Opposizione Italiana but also joined the Trotskyists in France, where he was exiled.
In August 1938 Tresso wrote this article in Quatrième Internationale, explaining that the Stalinists were not anti-fascists, but rather manoeuvred to curry favour with the black-shirts to suit the USSR’s diplomatic interests. The dark warnings in Tresso’s article did indeed play out. In August 1939 Stalin signed a pact with Hitler, abandoning his previous anti-fascism. In 1944, liberated from the Puy-en-Velay prison camp in German-occupied France, Tresso was himself murdered by Stalinists.
Stalinism and fascism
Across the world Stalinism presents itself as the only force fighting against fascism with determination and real effect. Whoever refuses to attribute it this title; whoever does not submit to its claims; whoever has the audacity to tear off its mask and present it to the masses as it really is, with its repugnant duplicity and depravation; whoever dares to do this will inevitably be attacked with unbridled hatred and shameless calumnies: they will come under threat of being shot on a street corner or taken and ‘disappeared’ by one of the countless GPU gangs.
However, facts are a stubborn thing, and it is increasingly clear that Stalinism, together with its “ideology”, its policies, its gangsterism in all fields, its ethics, its provocations, its murders, far from representing a barrier to fascism, in fact help allow it to take a hold over the masses, and is becoming an auxiliary to its victory.
It is barely worth mentioning the help Stalinism gave fascism with its policies which led to the crushing of the Chinese revolution in 1927. Nor is it worthwhile to recall the role played by the criminal Stalinist policy in the rise and triumph of fascism in Germany. Today it is clear to everyone that the shameful collapse of German fascism to Hitlerism – without a fight – was part of Stalin’s political “plan”. His distinct genius thought that this would allow him to have a stronger Germany as an ally against Anglo-French imperialism. Much as he offered Chiang-Kai-Shek the head of the Chinese revolution in 1927 to cement his alliance, Stalin in 1932 sacrificed the German revolution to buy an alliance with Hitler.
Fascism represents a mortal danger to all countries today essentially as a consequence of the policies followed by the Stalinists in China and Germany. No less clear is the real meaning of the Popular Front strategy pursued by the Stalinists in France, Spain and other countries. The struggle against fascism was not, and still is not, anything more than a pretext. The real goal of this policy is something else, the Soviet bureaucracy’s attempt to find new allies: little difference whether these allies are “democrats” or fascists or incorrigible reactionaries. Indeed, the demarcation line the Stalinists have laid down between “friends” and “enemies” is in fact not at all about fascists and anti-fascists. This demarcation is still less a question of class. No, the “friends” are those who accept – in the broadest sense of the word – the policies of the Moscow government; “enemies” are those who do not accept. The former are treated as “friends of peace”, “upstanding” and “honest” men and all this tra-la-la, even if they are reactionaries or fascists; the latter are characterised as “bandits”, “spies” and “fascists” even if, in all their actions in life – and sometimes by their own death – they have shown themselves to be the most committed enemies of fascism.
Lord Cecil, for example, who preemptorily declared to an eminent French personality that he favoured Franco’s victory in Spain, but that he was in agreement in terms of opposing Germany and Japan, remains for the Stalinists a “great friend”, an “illustrious representative” of “the English people and its political life”. The French reactionaries who support the maintenance of the French-Soviet pact are let off the hook and congratulated in all manner of ways. Marshal Rydz-Smigly, on the occasion of his visit to Paris, was greeted by Thorez with extraordinary platitudes, even as the blood of the shot-down Polish striking workers and peasants was still fresh on his hands. On the other hand, the revolutionary workers who, for example, during the events in Spain were the first to the barricades and the trenches in the struggle against Franco and for the triumph of socialism (not fighting for socialism, like the Stalinists, in fact serves Franco’s cause); those who want to struggle against capitalist exploitation, those who have no intention of putting their neck on the line in the next imperialist bloodbath for the “democratic” camp; they are just scum, spies, “Gestapo agents” who have to be destroyed like wild dogs.
This policy, which has nothing “anti-fascist” about it except its name (and sometimes, as we shall see, even the name is abandoned) but whose content renders the greatest of services to fascism, is particularly glaring in the case of the Italian Stalinists. For the purposes of demonstrating this, we shall limit ourselves to presenting some typical facts and attitudes which concisely express Italian Stalinism’s policy.
The Ethiopian war
This war, given its blatantly imperialist character, the particularly vile means with which it was prepared and fought, the shady deals which it gave rise to before, during and after the “sanctions”, and finally by the consequences it would have on all the working masses of Italy, offered a unique opportunity to the Italian proletariat to overthrow the fascist régime and open the way to the triumph of proletarian revolution on the peninsula: an opportunity unrivalled since the “Matteotti crisis” of 1924 . A party whose leaders were not bureaucrats rotten to the core, cowards and traitors, and who had not trampled on the basic teachings of Bolshevism with a truly sadistic spirit: such a party would have been able to become the determining factor in the Italian situation without great difficulties; it would have been able to win over the millions of workers and the masses of the countryside and towns, as to launch them in poweful waves against the bourgeois fascist régime, as to dismantle and destroy it.
Two conditions were necessary for this. Firstly, demonstrating to the Italian people, with a fiercely internationalist attitude, that the struggle against the war in Ethiopia had nothing in common with the attempt to cover up for the colonial pillage by Anglo-French imperialism; that on the contrary, the struggle against ferocious fascist imperialism was at the same time also the surest means to cut the ground from underneath Anglo-French imperialism. And secondly, simultaneously to develop the class struggle within the country by all means at hand. The realisation of this latter condition was evidently part of the fulfilment of the former.
But not only did the Italian Stalinists do nothing to this end, but they did everything they could to prevent these two conditions being realised.
In terms of foreign policy, all of their activity developed following, and under the patronage of, the League of Nations, meaning following and under the patronage of the interests of Anglo-French imperialism. The sinister charades of the “Anti-fascist Congresses”; the delegations to Geneva – all organised with Stalinist money – the press campaigns; all this was done as to give Anglo-French imperialism assurance that only the victory of “anti-fascism” could guarantee it peaceful exploitation of their dominions and colonies.
Fascist Italy – or to be precise, Italy led by Mussolini – represents a danger to Anglo-French imperialist conquests, while an Italy freed of Mussolini would be a safeguard for the hard work of the magnates of London and Paris. Such is the view – even if sometimes hidden, sometimes open, but always real – of the Stalinists and official Italian “anti-fascism”.
This was just the argument Mussolini needed from them in order to be able to sweep away all the international “anti-fascism” with the stroke of a pen, and rally the Italian masses around himself. ‘Look’, the fascist press wrote, ‘these gentlemen of anti-fascism who live abroad and boast about being ‘Italians’, look at how they oppose our conquest of Empire, but they say nothing against the Empires of those who give them five meals a day and rule over hundreds of millions of colonial subjects. And not only this: but furthermore they place themselves at the service of the wealthy imperialisms, pressuring them to act against we who are poor, who have nothing but desert colonies and who want a place in the sun for ourselves as well.’
The influence of “anti-fascism” was destroyed.
Mussolini secured an enormous victory. The Stalinist policy resulted in rallying the masses around him, when it ought to have been a question of mobilising them to overthrow him.
On the domestic front, the “clever” policy of the Stalinists and of all official “anti-fascism” was even more idiotic, if that is even possible. Indeed, it was nothing but the inevitable outgrowth of the policies led on the international terrain. This policy found its ultimate expression in the “Anti-fascist Congress” convened in Brussels in 1936 and the Geneva “sanctions”, and can be summarised in the two slogans “Mussolini out of the Government” and “Do nothing which might scare the Italian (and English and French) bourgeoisie”. With the first slogan the Stalinists and official “anti-fascism” openly declared that their immediate goal was not the overthrow of the fascist régime, but only the removal of Mussolini. With the second, they said to the masses: “Careful, demand Mussolini is removed from office; but… do not move into action, because otherwise you will oblige the bourgeoisie to continue using him to protect itself”.
Plainly speaking, these two slogans mean this: ‘You, the Monarchy, you, the Vatican, you, the bourgeoisie, you, landowners, if you remain tied to this adventurer Mussolini, you will lose your way. So distance yourselves from him, and in exchange we promise you the “tranquility” of the masses: we have committed to this already. So the Stalinists’ “clever” slogan, which seeks “to mobilise all sections” of the Italian population “against the adventurer” Mussolini, is nothing but a straitjacket round the necks of the working masses of Italy to stop them from acting.
This was, in the last analysis, a word for word repetition of the policy followed by the Aventine  in 1924, during the Matteotti crisis. But without splitting from parliament, without shaking up the masses, and organised not from Rome but in Brussels. Aventine’s policies served to consolidate fascism. That of the Stalinists following the Ethiopian war served and consolidated it twice over. It is not too much of a risk to imagine that when Mussolini reads the speeches and resolutions from Brussels, he must double up with great bursts of laughter. “The masses will demand… while remaining calm”. So no strikes, no defeatism, no sabotage, no land occupations, no refusal to pay taxes. In a word, no civil war in Italy. All this is just silly-season chatter, to justify bureaucratic appointments. But if the masses remain tranquil, if they do not bend their ears to the “demagogy of Trotskyist provocateurs” (and that’s what they call it and the Brussels “Anti-fascist Congress”) then the bourgeoisie, the wealthy landowners, and so on, will be not be able to provoke a class war even if they wanted to (which, besides, is far from the case).
Mussolini rubs his hands with glee. He has won a second battle.
The “honest” interests of Italian imperialism
The assurances the Stalinists give to all sections and clans of the Italian bourgeoisie regarding the maintenance of social “calm” in Italy, were considered insufficient even by the Stalinists themselves. All the more so since none of these layers they appealed to answered their call. All the more so because the assurances given to Anglo-French imperialism on the integrity of their colonial domains diminished the Italian bourgeoisie’s imperialist perspective: this was clearly unbearable to them. So with the blink of an eye they discovered the “honest interests” of (fascist, imperialist) Italy in central Europea and the Balkans. “Our government” – meaning, the government at whose head stands Mussolini – the Stalinist bureaucrats wrote in their press, instead of waging war on the Ethiopians or seeking adventures in the Mediterranean, ought to organise and “defend the just and honest (sic) interests of Italy in central Europe and the Balkans. In doing so it will work for peace, for Civilisation, for the Honour of our beloved country: Italy.”
As we see, the plan the Italian Stalinists offered – and offer – fascist Italian imperialism is a proper alternative. Yes, it is true, a dam against African and the Mediterranean expansion, but only as to offer – and only on paper – infinitely more “advantageous” compensation across the Adriatic. Of course, Italian imperialism has to do business somewhere.
But “our government” – the fascist government at whose head stands Mussolini – is not entirely in agreement with the Stalinists. It thinks that at the current moment, all things considered expansion in Africa and the Mediterranean carries less risks than the “defence” of the “honest” inerests indicated by these enterprising collaborators. It might be that this is mistaken and – as we will with all our strength – that it will end up with a broken neck. But what matters is that the Stalinists, with their plan, have erased any divergence in principle between them and fascism as regards the imperialist expansion of Italian capitalism. The Stalinist plan does not seek to defeat Italian imperialism, but to try and offer it better means to emerge from its impasse. The “struggle” between the Stalinists and Mussolini is now fought over the question as to which of the two will be the wisest servant of Italian imperialism. Thanks to the Stalinists the proletariat and working masses of Italy are not called to choose between their slavery under the blows of imperialism and their liberation, like other peoples, but between two different directions for imperialist policy: expansion to the south-east or expansion to the north-east.
If the struggle is again confined to these terms, the victory of fascism is certain. Firstly because fascism simultaneously combines both directions for Italian expansionism. For fascism, steps towards the south-east and the north-east do not cancel each other out, but complement each other. It snatches to the left and to right, supporting or blackmailing the “democracies” and “Hitlerism” one after the other. And it must be said that up till now it has played this game rather successfully. Moreover, because the “Stalinist” plan ties the proletariat and working masses of Italy materially, politically and morally to the fate of Italian imperialism. Indeed, if “our government” (the fascist government at whose head stands Mussolini) is called to defend Italy’s “just and honest” interests in this or that place, it must be supported and not challenged.
Besides, if expansion across the Adriatic is “just” and “honest” because it is opposed to the interests of Germany (which has no colonies), for what reason is expansion towards the Mediterranean and Africa considered dishonest and unjust? Perhaps because it is opposed to the interests of England and France? But what Italian lout would be as naive as to accept that? Ultimately, cut down to these limits, the “struggle” will always end with the victory of fascism, because it precludes any real mobilisation of the masses. In reality the masses will never understand the necessity of an insurrection whose objective is not to crush those who exploit them, but rather to force them to eat from the left side of the trough rather than the right. They understand its necessity still less if the “bonus” of the insurrection will be the strengthening of the imperialist yoke which weighs on their backs.
The only person who wins from all this is, once again, Mussolini.
“The brothers in black shirts”
With the end of the war in Ethiopia, as the philosophy arrived from Moscow (as one “democratic” country among many) that it was better to let the building in the desert keep burning (and this building was Ethiopia) rather than risk the fire coming back to Europe, the Italian Stalinists, always conscious of the way the wind is blowing, understood that the time for half-formulas was now over. Finally they could speak loudly and clearly. The former rats for the censorship (meaning, the service for espionage against revolutionary soldiers and dissenters) during the Great War; the former traffickers of religious superstition; the former butterflies of Mussolini in his treachery and interventionism; all the band of cowards and servants who currently “lead” the so-called Communist Party, could finally breathe freely. The insurmountable contradiction between the remnants of the Bolshevik ideas which still had some weight in the party, and their own nature, the gluttons at every table, was now overcome. It was the latter which triumped.
Of course, it was always a question of Peace and Democracy and Freedom. Any hestitation before these three goddesses would have been criminal. True enough, before the Monarchy, the Vatican, the wealthy bourgeoisie of town and country had shown a deaf ear. But Mussolini: he certainly understood. Well, Mussolini, his former comrades in treachery said, is no fossil. Yes, perhaps he’s a bit of an adventurer, but he’s a politician. He has a realist approach. So nothing ruled out taking a step forward together and, who knows, with this Mussolini, no longer did anything rule out marching with him to the end of the line. Such was the “plan”.
It was necessary to tear (fascist) Italy from its affair with Hitler, and rally it to the fight for “democracy”. For this purpose “our brothers in black shirts” could give us the greatest of support. The enemy is no longer fascism, but Hitlerism. So enough of anti-fascism. In Italy there are no longer either fascists or anti-fascists, much like for a long time there has been no mention in the Stalinist “newspapers” of proletarians and bourgeois, nor rich peasants and poor ones, nor exploited and exploiters. In Italy there is now nothing but Italians and anti-Italians. But the latter category go far beyond the fascist ranks. So, gentlemen, abandonment. They abandon the “proletarian anti-fascist committees”; they abandon “anti-fascist demagogy”; they abandon the word “anti-fascist”. The unfortunate grassroots militants, who no longer know what is happening and who continue to call themselves anti-fascists, get pulled by the ears; if they do not understand, they are quickly denounced as anti-Italians, agents of Hitler, Gestapo spies etc., etc. “All Italians are brothers”, the Stalinists declare, except the “Trotskyists” who want to fight the “brothers in black shirts”, who play Hitler’s game, who are his agents.
The Stalinist press discovers new wonders in Italy every day. Italy has again become “the world’s most beautiful garden”. The fascist unions are no longer a hell within which the proletariat is bound and muzzled. That would be “Trotskyist calumny”. The fascist unions are the “unions of the Italian workers”. The fascist institutions have been transformed, by the wave of a magic wand, into the institutions of the Italian people. Between the children of the same fatherland there are, sadly, misunderstandings and disagreements. Some are called fascists, the others “anti-fascists”. There is a general lack of understanding, but particularly among the anti-fascists, who have not appreciated as they should the great love our “brothers in black shirts” have for Italy. If the “brothers in black shirts” have erred too, it was only through an excess of such love. So, it must be excused. In any case, all this is nothing but a nasty nightmare of the past. Now, everywhere a party, everywhere embraces. No more anti-fascist insignia which would be a provocation against “our brothers”. “Our brothers”, moreover, will quickly understand that their insignia are also no longer necessary. All children of the same Fatherland, we will all want nothing except our tricolore flag. And so forward, against Hitler…
Shaking their head, the rank-and-file militant demands: ‘What? What? The members of the fascist squads who murdered, raped, mutilated my own family?’. “A black-shirted brother”, the bureaucrats reply. ‘The little thugs who still practice beatings and terror in the towns and villages?’. “A black shirted brother”. ‘The fascist bureaucrats who, in the factories, in the unions and everywhere else watch the workers and deliver them to the vengeance of the bosses and the police?’. “Brothers in black shirts”. ‘The big shots of the Fascist Corporations, Rossoni, Ciardi and the like?’. “Brothers in black shirts”. But finally, the poor rank-and-file militant asks, entirely overwhelmed by the surprise of having so many unsuspected brothers, asks: ‘And Mussolini?’. “A brother, a black-shirted brother”, the Stalinist bureaucrats insist, unperturbed. We are not anti-fascists, so Mussolini is a brother too.
And such that this should be nice and clear, the Stalinist press published an official Party declaration in which the Stalinists declared themselves ready to march “hand in hand with all fascists, whatever post they occupy in the Party and State hierarchy.” The invistation to the “black-shirted brother”, Mussolini, could have been no clearer. All this debauchery, this orgy of Stalinist fraternisation with the fascists – including Mussolini – took place during the conclusion and aftermath of the war in Ethopia, while its disastrous consequences were being most harshly felt and while it was still possible to set the masses against the régime. Once again, the Stalinists “honourably” served their fascist brothers.
On the Trotskyists
In response to these repeated advances, Mussolini answered with intervention in Spain and the consolidation of the Rome-Berlin axis. These two facts considerably cooled the fascistophile ardour of the Stalinist bureaucrats. Cooled – but not finished. One example is enough to demonstrate this. At the moment of the Nazi occupation of Austria, the Stalinist press ran an unbridled campaign against Mussolini, responsible for having brought “our dear Italy to its knees before Hitler”. So Mussolini was again in the spotlight. From a “brother” he transformed into a “bad guy”. But the hand was no less held out to the fascists. We can even say that the resumption of a certain “anti-fascist” phraseology did nothing but cover for a policy towards the fascists more “fraternal” than ever before.
In reality, if until yesterday the Rome-Berlin axis was nothing but a possibility that had to be avoided at all cost, today it has become an established fact. The conclusion the Stalinists draw is that this again poses the question of the “struggle” for the national independence of Italy. And this national independence can be secured not through the unleashing of civil war against those who directly exploit the Italian people, but with the union of all classes against the ‘Krauts’. That is why the leitmotif of the whole Stalinist press is: The Italian People is in the claws of Hitler and the ‘Krauts’. Our journalists (meaning, the fascist journalists) are forced to write what is dictated by ‘Kraut’ agents. Italy is invaded by ‘Krauts’ who, in the factories, in the offices, in the editing rooms, everywhere, exert terror over the Italian people. It is not the fascists and Italian capitalists who oppress the workers of Italy, but the ‘Krauts’. Mussolini, a few other fascist leaders, as well as half a dozen wealthy trust owners are clearly dirty servants of Germany. They must be chased out. But Italian fascism, as such, is not at issue. It is against the Germans, against the ‘Krauts’, that we must turn our fire. So, war on the ‘Krauts’. Bastone tedesco l’Italia non doma (The Kraut truncheon will not rule over Italy) is the Stalinists’ dearest refrain. And their fascist chauvinism goes even further. It probably even surpasses everything the Hitler press has thrown out against the “Jews”.
To show this, we need only look at correspondence “coming from Italy” published in the Italian-language publication that the Italian Stalinists publish in Paris. In this correspondence, coming “from a great personality of Italian literature and anti-fascism”, the paper writes, the German people (not the Hitlerites, but the whole German people) is abused in an outrageous manner. All its content aims at this goal: demonstrating that the ‘Krauts’ are nothing but a bunch of pigs, and for the well-being of humanity we must take a knife to their throats, like pigs. This truly shameful publication raised general protests among Italian émigrés: this forced the paper to express – after pressure and uproarious publicity – some hypocritical reservations in the space of three lines.
It was however against the “Trotskyists” that the Stalinist hatred was most unbridled. The fascists could become “brothers”, Hitlerites can become “comrades”, but for the Stalinist bureaucrats the “Trotskyists” always remain enemy number one. In no press in the world, that of the USSR excepted, are the “anti-Trotskyist” tales so widespread and varied as in that of the Italian bureaucrats. It was not that the Italians racked their brains any more than their comrades in other countries to finds something original. Far from it. But they copy the Russian press more than the others do. These poor fellows have to do something to justifiy their piece of silver.
After some time, however, it was something more than making up stories. A whole series of events and symptoms demonstrated the Italian Stalinists were thinking of going further still. Already the elimination of the anarchist leader Berneri (he also was a “Trotskyist”) and his comrade Barbieri in Barcelona bore its stamp of origin. It is among the Italian Stalinists that the orderers and executors of these cowardly murders can be found. The reaction of the Stalinist press to a note in the socialist paper Nuovo Avanti on the death of Berneri is proof enough. And there is more still. Day and night, the “Trotskyists” found in Mussolini’s prisons or exiled on the islands are increasing falling victim to the Stalinist mafia which is being built up in these places. Those still at liberty are openly identified to the fascist OVRA [secret police] in the Stalinist press, communicating their names and meeting-places. The “Trotskyist” Damen (he is in reality a Bordigist), a veteran of Italy’s prisons because of his anti-fascist activity, was a few months ago again arrested in Milan following detailed reports by Italian spies. Among the émigré community, each time the opportunity presents itself the “Trotskyists” are denounced with their first names, surnames and pseudonyms with the aim of helping the police wipe them out. Just recently, following a political argument in the Italian section of the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme in Paris, the Stalinist press distinguished itself in this spies’ dirty work. Complete lists of the surnames and first names of militants returning from the Spanish trenches were published in the Stalinist press. The militants were mostly without papers, and the police tracked them down in order to kick them out of France. So the publication of their names has the intention of forcing them to “keep quiet” and not to denounce the crimes of the Stalinist bureaucrats against the revolutionaries in Spain. More still: the “Trotskyists” receive anonymous letters full of threats, with a dead person’s head drawn in the middle. It is the same tactic the “black-shirted brothers” once used in Italy to terrorise working-class militants, and above all their families. Others are “charitably” warned not to come home later at night if they want to avoid any surprises. Others still are spied on by suspect individuals. All this demonstrates that the Stalinist OVRA also exists on Italian soil, is working and preparing for redoubled attacks.
But why? Beyond the base, but very real, concerns of getting their piece of silver and the general tasks assigned by the GPU, beyond the personal demands – meaning the biographies full of treachery and cowardice – of the few big wigs who hold the reins of the Italian Stalinist Party (or give the appearance of doing so), the deeper causes of the Italian bureaucrats’ particular hatred against the “Trotskyists” have been exposed in this article. The fight to the death against the “Trotskyists” is the necessary complement of the policy of fraternisation with the fascists and the varied sections and clans of the Italian bourgeoisie led by the Stalinists.
Our Italian comrades, within the extremely limited space open to them, are denouncing this treacherous, all-over-the-place policy. The Italian workers, espectially those returning from the Spanish trenches and the USSR, turn their backs on the miserable charlatans who juggle with the “fascist brothers” and who, on all important issues, have played and are playing Mussolini’s game. In Italy, in the prisons and the islands, excepting a few functionaries only interested in continuing to support their families and filling their stomachs, there is a general revolt against those who shamelessly profit from the workers’ sacrifices. That is enough for these fly-by-night bureaucrats, with such servient souls, to have an eternal hatred for the “Trotskyists”. This will not stop our Italian comrades from fulfilling their revolutionary work with dedication and success.
 Giacomo Matteotti was a socialist MP murdered by fascists in 1924. This provoked a crisis of confidence in the régime, but the King refused to sack Mussolini. The régime was galvanised by this, and moved to ban all opposition.
 Following Matteotti’s murder, 150 MPs refused to continue attending parliament, in order to demonstrate their rejection of the régime. The group retreated to the Aventine Mount, following the tradition of the ancient Roman plebeians under Gaius Gracchus who convened there.