Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Antonio Gramsci 1917

The Russian Maximalists


Initialled A.G., Il Grido del Popolo, 28 July 1917.


The Russian maximalists are the Russian revolution itself.

Kerensky, Tseretelli, Chernov - these men are the present expression of the revolution, they have brought about an initial social balance, a resultant of forces in which the moderates still have an important part to play. The maximalists are the continuity of the revolution - they are its rhythm, and hence they are the revolution itself.

The maximalists embody the idea of socialism taken to its limits: they want socialism in its entirety. And they have this task before them: they must prevent any final compromise being reached between the age-old past and this idea; they must be the living symbol of the goal to be achieved; they must prevent the immediate problem that has to be resolved today from growing to the point where it becomes the revolution's sole preoccupation, a spasmodic frenzy erecting insurmountable barriers to later possible achievements.

For this is the supreme danger in all revolutions: people become more and more convinced that a particular instant in the new life is definitive, and that they must halt to look behind them, to consolidate what has been achieved, to rejoice at last in their own success. To have a moment of rest. A revolutionary crisis rapidly wears men out. They tire rapidly. And one can understand their state of mind. Russia, however, has had this good fortune - it has been free of Jacobinism. Hence the lightning dissemination of all ideas has been possible, and numerous political groups have formed as a result, each one more audacious than the last, not wanting to call a halt, believing that the definitive stage to be reached is not yet at hand, is still far off. The maximalists, the extremists, are the last logical link in this revolutionary chain of development. Hence the struggle continues, advances are made; the whole society advances because there is always at least one group that wants to advance and is working among the masses, tapping new sources of proletarian energy and organizing new social forces, which threaten the weary and oversee them and show them that they can be replaced and eliminated if they do not renew themselves and pluck up the courage to go forward. Thus the revolution never pauses, and never completes the circle. It devours its men, it replaces one group by another more audacious group and, by virtue of this instability, this never-achieved perfection is truly and solely revolution.

The maximalists in Russia are the enemies of the laggards. They spur on the lazy. Up to this point, they have frustrated all attempts to stem the revolutionary tide, and have prevented stagnant pools and backwaters from forming. This is why they are hated by the western bourgeoisies, and why the newspapers in Italy, France and England defame and seek to discredit them, to suffocate them under a mountain of calumnies. The Western bourgeoisies were hoping that the enormous effort of thought and action that the achievement of the new life demanded would be followed by a crisis of mental laziness, by a decline in the revolutionaries' dynamic activity, and that this would become the basis for a definitive stabilization of the new state of affairs.

But in Russia there are no Jacobins. The group of moderate socialists who have held power have not sought to destroy the vanguard elements, to suffocate them in blood. In the socialist revolution, Lenin has not met the fate of Babeuf. He has been able to convert his thought into a meaningful historical force. He has released energies that will never die. He and his Bolshevik comrades are convinced that socialism can be achieved at any time. They are nourished on Marxist thought. They are revolutionaries, not evolutionists. And revolutionary thought does not see time as a progressive factor. It denies that all intermediate stages between the conception of socialism and its achievement must have absolute and complete confirmation in time and place. It holds that it is enough that these stages be realized in thought for the revolution to be able to proceed beyond them. On the other hand, consciousness must be cured of its laziness, it must be conquered. And this is what Lenin and his comrades have been able to do. Their conviction has not remained audacious in thought alone. It has been embodied in individuals, in many individuals; it has borne fruit in activities. It has created the very group that was necessary to oppose any final compromises, any settlement which could have become definitive. And the revolution is continuing. Every aspect of life has become truly revolutionary: it is an ever-present activity, a continual exchange, a continuous excavation into the amorphous block of the people. New energies are released, new ideas which become historical forces are propagated. At last men - all men - are the makers of their own destinies. It would be impossible for a despotic minority to form. The people are ever alert to such tendencies. The revolution by this stage is a ferment ceaselessly dissolving and reforming social groupings and preventing crystallizations, preventing life from basking in momentary success.

Lenin and his most prominent comrades could be swept away by the onset of the storms they have themselves stirred up. But not all their followers would disappear. By now there are too many of them. And the revolutionary fire is spreading, scorching new hearts and minds, turning them into glowing torches of new light, new flames, devouring all laziness and fatigue. The revolution will move forward until its consolidation is total. The time is still far off when there can be a period of relative calm. And life is always revolution.