Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Antonio Gramsci 1921

The General Confederation of Labour

Unsigned, L'Ordine Nuovo, 25 February 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 communists will not have the majority at the Confederation's forthcoming congress at Livorno: indeed it is almost certain that in spite of all their efforts of propaganda and organization, the communists will not have a majority at future congresses either. The situation presents itself in the following terms: to win a majority at a congress, the communists would have to be able to carry out a radical revision of the rules; but to change the rules, it is necessary already to have the majority. If the communists were to let themselves become bogged down in this vicious circle, they would play into the hands of the trade-union bureaucracy. It is therefore necessary for the opposition to have a precise approach and method capable of breaking the present state of affairs.

The General Confederation of Labour (in other countries there exists an identical situation to the Italian one) is a mechanism of government which cannot even be compared to the bourgeois parliamentary State. Its models can only be found in the ancient Assyrian and Babylonian State organizations or in the martial associations which still emerge and develop today in Mongolia and China. The explanation for this is a historical one. The masses entered the trade-union movement for fear of being crushed by an adversary whom they know to be very powerful [phrase missing] and whose blows and initiatives they are not able to foresee. Disturbed by their condition of absolute inferiority, lacking any constitutional education, the masses abdicated completely all sovereignty and all power. The organization became identified for them with the organizer as an individual, just as for an army in the field the individual commander becomes the protector of the safety of all, the guarantor of success and victory.

It should have been the task of the Socialist Party to give the proletarian masses the political preparation and constitutional education which they lacked. It should have been the task of the Socialist Party gradually to renew the organizational forms and transfer as much power as possible into the hands of the masses. The Party did nothing in this direction. The organization was left entirely at the mercy of a small group of officials, who carefully built up the machine which today gives them absolute power. Seven years without a congress have allowed even more: a whole swarm of officials has been echeloned in the most important positions, and a fortress has been constructed that cannot be taken or penetrated even by the most tenacious and willing. The Socialist Congress at Livorno can only be explained by this state of affairs which exists in the trade-union field. The Socialist Party has entirely fallen into the hands of the trade-union bureaucracy, whose human and organizational resources secured a majority for the unitary tendency. The Socialist Party has been reduced to the role of a janissary for the mandarins and condottieri who are at the head of the union federations and Confederation.

The Communists must recognize this state of affairs and act in consequence. The communists must consider the Confederation in the same light as the parliamentary State, i.e. as an organism whose conquest cannot take place by constitutional means. Moreover, in considering the question of the Confederation, the following postulates must also be borne in mind: that we want to achieve proletarian unity, and that we want to pose the problem of control of production in a revolutionary way. The field of activity of the Communist Party is the whole mass of workers and peasants. The Confederation is the scene of the greatest degree of propaganda and activity only because numerically it embraces most of the organized workers and peasants in Italy, i.e. of those who are most conscious and experienced.

We believe the struggle for the creation and development of factory and enterprise Councils to be the specific struggle of the Communist Party. It must enable the party to graft itself directly on to a centralized organization of the working-class masses, an organization which must be above all the other existing ones and which must be recognized by the masses as the only one competent and authorized to issue slogans for general action. Through the struggle for the Councils, it will be possible to win the majority of the Confederation in a stable and permanent fashion; thereafter, if not in the prerevolutionary period then certainly in the post-revolutionary period, it will be possible also to win the leading positions. This process has already been seen in Russia; in the revolutionary days of November 1917, the proclamations and manifestoes of the Bolshevik Party did not carry the signature of the All-Russian Federation of Trade Unions, but that of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Factory Councils.

It is certainly important to have a strong communist minority, organized and centralized, within the Confederation. All our efforts of propaganda and activity must be directed to this end. But both historically and tactically it is more important that no effort should be spared to ensure that, immediately after the Congress at Livorno, it is possible to convene a congress of the Councils and Internal Commissions of all Italian factories and firms, and that a Centre is nominated by this congress that will embrace the entire proletarian mass within its organizational framework.