Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Antonio Gramsci 1921

Caporetto and Vittorio Veneto

Unsigned, L'Ordine Nuovo, 28 January 1921

Text from Antonio Gramsci "Selections from political writings (1921-1926)", translated and edited by Quintin Hoare (Lawrence and Wishart, London 1978), transcribed to the www with the kind permission of Quintin Hoare.

The period we are passing through can be defined the Caporetto of Italian maximalism. The Communist Party, which is born and has to organize itself in the travails and among the perils of this exceptionally difficult moment, must express the working class's precise, cold determination to have its battle on the Piave and its Vittorio Veneto. So our slogan can be this alone: organization, maximum effort of organization, maximum speed in ordering and organizing the fabric of the new party. Certainly, the existence of a strong political organism of the working class would have been necessary today. Certainly, it would have been necessary to be able already to speak of action, and no longer of preparation. But the birth of the Communist Party is precisely linked to the conviction which has taken root in the proletariat's most intelligent vanguard, that we would have arrived at the present situation inevitably, given the incapacity of the Socialist Party to carry out its historical task. And that it was therefore indispensable to change course, and to begin the positive and definitive work of preparation. The present situation thus causes no surprise or demoralization among the Communists. It does not cast them down, or make them regret the tactics they followed at the Livorno Congress.

Maximalism, which is today in full flight, indeed decomposing, applied in the civil war the same tactics which General Cadorna applied in the national war. It wasted the proletarian forces in a multiplicity of disorganized and chaotic actions; wore the masses out; deluded them about the ease and speed with which victory would come. Italian maximalism and General Cadorna had precursors: the Chinese Boxers, who thought they could dislodge the English and Germans from their forts by advancing against the machine-guns in a turbulent mob, preceded by paper banners on which horrible, frightening monsters were painted.

The central idea of maximalism was not that of the Communist International: i.e. that all the activity and effort of the proletariat should be turned and directed towards the conquest of political power and the foundation of the workers' State; that all the specific problems of the working class can be effectively solved through the solution of the first and most important problem - that of winning political power and having armed force in its own hands. The central idea of maximalism was given it by the reformists: to govern without having direct responsibility for government; to be the éminence grise of the bourgeois government; to compel the bourgeois government - through terror (the monsters of the Chinese Boxers) and through the strength of the unions and the parliamentary group - to implement that limited degree of socialism which can be implemented in Italy, given the country's economic condition and the danger of a blockade. This vulgar Machiavellianism has been the effective programme of Italian Maximalism, and has produced the present situation, the Caporetto of the working class. The hasty organization of a few thousand fascists was enough to knock down the castle that had been built with the revolutionary phraseology of the Bologna Congress. And thus something recurred in twentieth-century Italy, after the cruel experiences of the War and the Russian, Hungarian, Bavarian and German revolutions, which had seemed only conceivable in the ... eighteenth century, when 45 Hungarian knights succeeded in dominating all of Flanders for six months, simply because the population did not succeed in arming itself and counterposing a defensive and offensive organization to that organization of 45 men.

It is in such conditions of chaos and collapse that the Communist Party is born. Its militants must show that they are truly capable of dominating events; that they are truly capable of filling every hour and every minute with the activity which that hour and that minute require; that they are truly capable of welding together the links in the historical chain which must end with the victory of the proletariat. We are in the midst of the Caporetto of verbal, verbose revolutionism. The first link to be forged is the Communist Party. If our will is strongly dedicated to this patient work of organization, then we shall succeed also in forging and welding together the other links. And the working class will have its battle on the Piave; it will have its Vittorio Veneto.