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Symposium: The New Europe

New International, July 1949


Ignazio Silone

Europe Rejects War

“It Is the Turn of Life”

(April 1949)


From The New International, Vol. XV No. 5, Jul 1949, pp. 135–137.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The International Day Conference Against War and Dictatorship held in Paris this summer was disappointing in many respects, particularly its self-appointed American delegation. But among the authentic speeches representing the true sentiments of Europe’s people was that of the famous novelist, Ignazio Silone, now a left-wing leader of the Italian Socialist Party. In this sense, while not accepting all the remarks of Comrade Silone, we are pleased to present this translation of the speech as printed in Révolution Prolétarienne.Ed.


The importance of our international gathering this evening lies precisely in the fact that it expresses an autonomous, democratic, socialist and European position with regard to one of the most serious problems of today: the relations between states and peoples. This independent position is perfectly legitimate since it corresponds to the interests and will of millions of human beings who are, and who intend to remain, apart from this interplay of the great powers; who refuse to identify their fate with any one state or group of states.

This is a position which refuses to be treated as if it were only a matter of a competitor to other gatherings which have preceded it. But those among us who at a certain moment in their lives have been forced to break definitively with communism are aware of having taken not an action of renegacy or betrayal, but an act of fidelity to the working class and to the profound reasons which had first led us into the ranks of the revolutionary movement.

The theme posed before us – war and peace – is actually a matter too serious to be left in the hands of diplomats and militarists. For if barely four years after the end of the Second World War we are threatened with a new and more terrible conflict, it is obviously the result of the way in which these diplomats and militarists concluded their war. It may at one time have seemed that the Yalta and Potsdam agreements were a passing necessity, but they are now a misfortune which has already lasted too long. But the Communists dare not criticize Yalta and Potsdam because these agreements bear the signature of Russia. It is the first and most serious reservation in their position on the problem of peace.

The only moral action possible is for us to attempt to understand; to measure our reflections with those of others who may not be in agreement with us. The only honest way to act is by publicly indicating those concrete factors which today threaten peace, to seek a peaceful solution and to judge political forces by their acceptance or their refusal.

The question is too serious. We cannot forget the lessons of the past, nor all the failings of traditional pacifism. We must reject all efforts to stuff up our heads, all hollow verbiage. We must reject inertia, passivity, fatalism and skepticism. We must struggle as if peace depended on each one of us.

To avoid vagueness and the indeterminate, I would like to outline a necessarily summary estimate of present aspects of the problem of peace.

  1. Before all else, among the political causes continually threatening peace must be listed the division of the world into zones of influence and particularly the division of Europe into two parts, each always more opposed and hostile to the other.
  2. Secret armaments and atomic research, in line with the widespread opinion that peace could not survive the end of the present monopoly of atomic energy held by the American army.
  3. The chaos of national economies; costly, irrational and parasitic economic autarchies.
  4. Open or concealed dictatorial regimes.
  5. Obstacles of all kinds preventing free circulation of men and ideas.
  6. Finally the perspective of an economic crisis in the United States more serious than that of 1929; a crisis provoking an unemployment affecting one day perhaps 20 to 30 million proletarians, bringing with it the danger of social revolution and which, according to some, would leave no other solution to the American capitalists than an external war so as to crush the internal enemy.

The Threat to Peace

In my opinion, these are the major aspects of the problem of peace at this moment. These are the themes upon Which should be concentrated the reflections of all those truly concerned with the future of the human race. But what is the first observation stemming from this simple and summary enumeration? It is very important.

The threat to peace does not come, as some would like us to think, from a single country. The enemies to peace are not all those ranged on one side. This annoys and wounds all those who have once and for all identified the cause of human liberty and social justice with a particular state, but all that we have suffered during the last thirty years cries out against such a pretense. Today more than ever we must say and repeat that the cause of human liberty can be identified only and uniquely with that of the oppressed and exploited of the entire world. It is not identified with any state; not with Russia, not with America, not with Israel, not with the City of the Vatican.

This does not mean that in a given historic conjuncture – as, for example, during the Second World War – it is not possible to have an occasional and passing coincidence between the cause of liberty and that of some democratic states, but even then it is only a matter of coincidence, I repeat, and never an identification.

Pacifist gatherings do not dare to proclaim aloud the true origins of the danger of war. In my opinion, such gatherings closely resemble religious processions and services formerly organized to battle pestilence. The epidemic was greatly encouraged by them! Thus we have pacifist campaigns which, by their reticence or lies, are really war campaigns.

The first duty, the most important duty we can render to the cause of peace is therefore to eliminate from within the labor movement any disturbing factor tending to place the workers in the wake of any state whatever. This factor has nothing in common with socialism. The historic importance of socialism, its cultural and revolutionary content, lies precisely in the fact that it has created in the modern world a line of differentiation having no frontiers, customs or armies; a social line passing through countries, cities and countrysides. Let us recall, in this sense, the avenging words of the Inaugural Address to the International Workers Association, written by Marx:

“The emancipation of labor, being neither a local nor a national problem, but a social problem, embraces all countries in which modern society exists and necessitates the theoretical and practical cooperation of the most advanced countries.”


I would like to express my opinion briefly on three particular questions: the present struggle for a European federation; our relations with Eastern Europe and the present state of the labor movement as it faces its fundamental historic tasks.

There has been too much talk during recent years of a European federation, and deeds have been inferior to words. The political objective of a federated Europe has gained wide acceptance and support, even on the part of state heads and governments, but we may again see verification of the fact that the most effective way to juggle with the solution of serious questions is to pretend to accept them so as to remove them from the agenda, or to divert popular interest toward purely fictitious solutions. This is the case with economic or simply customs unions, conferences for combining resources and labor power, etc., all of which will remain illusory so long as national states retain their present sovereignty and their traditional structure.

The period of economic nationalism has been superseded. This is the most important cause of our present misery. The well-being of peoples requires broader scope. In what has been reported about the Franco-Italian economic agreement, for example, there is a large measure of illusion, if not real mystification. The ministerial functionaries, the industrialists and agriculturists of both our countries who are to bring about this union do not wish to and cannot sacrifice the established interests they must serve for a higher interest.

Europe cannot be federated without being democratized. We must liberate Europe from the leadership of antique classes which have outlived their historic function. We must awaken a more timely consciousness of its historic tasks in the labor movement. In my opinion, this is the only way to save Europe, for democracy’s best defense is its complete realization. A democracy that places itself under the tutelage of its military leaders so as better to defend itself, accomplishes its own suicide. For us and for many Europeans it is obvious that the defense of the alleged spiritual values of our tradition and those of the West cannot be confused with the preservation of outmoded political and economic forms.

A European Federation

A federation of European democratic countries, an open European society, ready to collaborate with all, can be of enormous importance for world peace. What should have and could have taken place in 1918 and in 1945 must be undertaken today without further loss of time.

The present situation of the countries of Eastern Europe poses a truly anguishing problem to those among us who are socialists and intend to remain so. In these countries, profound social transformations by methods which are not ours, but which are facts nonetheless, have taken place. Our critical position toward the lands of Eastern Europe cannot be the same as that of the financiers, industrialists and landlords who have been ousted. Among these former capitalists and expropriated landlords we now find zealous advocates of a Third World War who try to confound their cause of regaining possession of their lost properties with the values of Western civilization. It is time for us to say that when we strive for a reintegration of the countries of Eastern Europe within the European community, we obviously desire a political democratization of these lands but, under no circumstances, a social restoration. Under no circumstances a return of those justly expropriated.

What is the main force upon which we must depend in this struggle against dictatorship and war. It is obviously the working class.

But, accepting what a militant socialist confesses to you, an abyss exists today between the historic task of the workers’ movement and its political consciousness. To eliminate suspicion of any demagogy, I must add that it is a matter of a more serious unpreparedness than one might think. This applies to socialist cadres, as well as the masses. Leading parties of the working class are so linked up with the autarchic, national structure of capitalism that very often they support immediate corporative interests and sacrifice the permanent interests of the working class, socialism and even democracy.

A European federation would certainly require transitory sacrifices on the part of those working class parties most bound to parasitic and autarchic capitalist parties, but instead of the present sacrifices imposed by national disorganization, these would be revolutionary sacrifices, creative sacrifices of a more just and rational order.

At the same time we thus see the need for clear and concrete views on the present situation, and for reorganizing our forces and means so as to lead an effective struggle. The problem is to reverse the trajectory of decadence imposed upon us since the period of liberation, of giving our thoughts, our projects and action, a new impulse.

But it may be asked: Are there not forces capable of unleashing war despite popular will? Obviously, yes, there are, but at great risk and it depends upon us to increase this risk. For, in the final analysis, the main problem today for the defense of no matter what country is still the answer that simple people – workers, peasants – will give to this question: “For whom and for what must we fight?” No regime can scorn the answer its people will give to this question at the moment of the declaration of war. We must thus combat all skepticism as to the effectiveness of our struggle. It will not be useless.

But I would not have told you all that I think (and perhaps even the most important thought of mine), if, in finishing, I did not add something else. They are words addressed to perhaps only a small group among you; unknown people to whom I would like to say these fraternal words. It may be that, against our will, we shall soon enter upon very difficult trials to survive which it will be of no use to be astute or skillful or tactically shrewd. To survive, rather, we will have to be integrally of good conscience. There is indeed something more terrible than disintegration of the atom: disintegration of conscience.

The atomic era, the era of absolute physical force, urgently requires as a counterforce that we take our stand with a pure and irreducible conscience. This must also be absolute. Come what may, this will be for us the only means of conquering madness and despair. Come what may (no matter what invasion or terror), those who keep intact in the depth of their soul their faith in life’s sacred principles will be the strongest. Their voice will be stifled, they will be cast into prison, they will appear as useless and vanquished human beings but, in reality, even under those conditions they will be invincible, for they will be in harmony with the immortal forces governing life. And, in the end, they will be the conquerors. The world, if it continues, will be reconstructed on their credo. Once more will come the turn of Athens and Jerusalem; the turn of the mind subduing the empire ; the turn of life over brute force and death.

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