Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Antonio Gramsci 1921

The Italian Parliament

Unsigned, L'Ordine Nuovo, 24 March 1921

ext 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.

It now seems certain that Hon. Giolitti intends to renew the Chamber of Deputies, and the poor representatives of the people's will are in great distress and great anguish. The deputies who represent the socialist will of the Italian people are the most disturbed and anguished. How will they succeed in convincing the electoral masses yet again that Parliament must be taken seriously, and that social progress and the emancipation of the oppressed can only be expressed through parliamentary action? Today, the Italian people has experimentally gained its own political education. Today, even the most agile mountebanks of parliamentary cretinism, such as Hon. Treves, if asked by a worker: What power and real influence does Parliament exercise over the State? what importance and what political function does the Italian Parliament have at the present moment? - would not know what to reply, since demagogic charlatanry can too easily be refuted by the data of direct experience.

But what is happening today is not a novelty. In Italy, even before the War, Parliament never exercised a constitutional function and power. In Italy, there has never existed a parliamentary régime, only a despotic régime, somewhat tempered before the War by periodic consultation of popular opinion. From the point of view of constitutional law, the Italian political régime is characterized by the absence of an independent judiciary power, with its personnel recruited strictly, to which the armed forces of the country are subordinated. In Italy, judiciary power does not exist, but merely a judiciary order; the armed forces depend directly on the government, which can use them at will against the people and against Parliament itself. Since no judiciary power exists, Parliament legislates for the archives. No guarantee exists that its laws will be applied and respected. The people has no means of control over the government, or of defence against the arbitrary acts of the government, other than armed insurrection.

The present situation of impunity for massacres and a magistrature in headlong flight is not a novelty. Even before the War, there existed no legal guarantee in Italy of the liberty and personal safety of the citizens. Even before the War, it was possible to hold citizens in custody for an unlimited period by a simple administrative decision. Even before the War, massacres of those in custody occurred. Even before the War, every agent of the police force, every armed functionary of the government, felt that he was invested not merely with the executive role of executioner, but also with the roles of legislator and judge: he could restore the death penalty, pronounce the verdict and carry out the sentence on the spot. Even before the War, the situation had got so bad in Italy that to prevent massacres, which had become an everyday occurrence, the Italian people in June 1914 rose against the government in an armed insurrection, seeing the impotence of parliamentary action.

The cast of the Italian political régime can also be easily explained from the historical point of view. Parliamentarism, characterized by the separation of powers and the subordination of the police forces to the judiciary power, is a product of the struggle between the capitalist class and the landowning class, with the industrialists prevailing over the landowners. In Italy, this class struggle has not been decisive: Italian history is nothing but a compromise between the State and the landowners. The landowners have continued to hold the power of life and death over the poor peasants, and the magistrature is to a great extent recruited from the petty bourgeoisie of peasant origin, especially in southern Italy. In such conditions, it was impossible for a strong and independent judiciary power to arise and impose itself through parliamentary struggle, hence parliamentarism could not emerge. Thus Parliament in Italy has always been a mere consultative body, without any real influence on the governmental machine, without power of initiative or control. Even elections have never had any significance or value, other than that of allowing a despotic and paternalist government to sample opinion, and reassuring it that its arbitrary acts and its abuses would not provoke irreparable ruptures in the established order.

The new elections too, if Hon. Giolitti decides to call them, can have no other significance. Hon. Giolitti wants a Parliament that will appear as the popular expression of a reactionary will turned against the industrial workers and poor peasants. His desire will be abundantly satisfied. The petty bourgeoisie, which in November 1919 was convinced of the inevitability of a socialist government, has today aligned itself openly against the proletariat and against socialism. It is the petty bourgeoisie, especially in the country areas, which provides the forces for fascism. It is the petty bourgeoisie which has armed itself and organized itself militarily, before the proletariat and against the proletariat. The new Parliament will mark a violent recovery of the landowning classes over the industrial classes: the definitive subjugation of the cities - in the throes of economic crisis and incapable of supplying the national market with the products it desperately needs - to the countryside, which has a near monopoly of food-supplies and hence, in the present period, an unquestioned superiority. Military dictatorship and a new war of plunder will be the necessary consequences of this new equilibrium of the social classes, if the proletariat is not able to organize itself politically and win its battle.

It is certain that the Socialist Party, as it is composed today, will be smashed by the new popular consultation. To save itself politically, it would have to accept a programme of collaboration with the bourgeois government and repression against the working class. The right wing of the party, stimulated by the need for self-preservation, will end up by accepting this point of view, dragging the majority behind it. The Socialist Party will be smashed, because it is not capable of understanding Italian reality and the complicated play of the class struggle. It is unable to say a single concrete word to the industrial workers, the majority of whom have in fact abandoned it and gone over to the Communist Party. It is unable to orient the poor peasants who are hit hardest and most directly by fascism.

The present situation can be understood and politically exploited only by the anti-parliamentary and anti-democratic forces. By the bourgeois government, which knows what elections amount to, since it manipulates them and seeks to make use of them only in order to bring about a state of demoralization in the revolutionary proletariat, by putting it into a minority. And by the communists, who can make use of them as an agitational instrument to educate the working-class masses in a precise understanding of what proletarian dictatorship means, and to organize the sole popular institution capable of controlling and reducing to impotence the industrial and agrarian bourgeoisie: the people itself in arms, united in its system of Councils, which has incorporated in its revolutionary Councils the three powers of the State in order to use them as an axe to cut down its enemies.