Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Antonio Gramsci 1921

The communists and the Elections

Unsigned, L'Ordine Nuovo, 12 April 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 Communist Party is the historically determined political party of the revolutionary working class.

The working class was born and organized itself on the terrain of bourgeois democracy, in the framework of the constitutional and parliamentary régime. Tied to the fate of large-scale modern industry, with its great factories and immense cities, teeming with diverse, chaotic multitudes, the working class has only become aware of its own unity and class destiny slowly and by way of the cruellest experiences and most bitter disappointments.

This is why, in the various phases of its development, the working class has supported the most widely differing political parties. It began by supporting the liberal parties: in other words, it united with the urban bourgeoisie and struggled to annihilate the remnants of economic feudalism in the countryside. The industrial bourgeoisie thus succeeded in breaking the monopoly of food-supplies, in introducing into the countryside too a little economic liberalism, and in bringing down the cost of living. But this whole enterprise turned out disastrously for the working class, which saw its average wages cut. In a second period the working class supported the petty-bourgeois democratic parties and struggled to enlarge the framework of the bourgeois State: to introduce new institutions and develop the existing institutions. It was tricked a second time. The whole of the new ruling personnel which had been formed in this struggle went over with their weapons and equipment to the camp of the bourgeoisie, renovating the old ruling class and furnishing new ministers and high functionaries for the bureaucratic parliamentary State. The State was not even transformed. It continued to exist within the limits fixed by the Albertine Statute; no real freedom was won by the people. The Crown continued to remain the only real power in Italian society since, via the government, it continued to keep the magistrature, Parliament and the armed forces of the country subordinated to its every wish.

With the creation of the Communist Party, the working class has broken all its traditions and asserted its political maturity. The working class no longer wishes to collaborate with other classes in the development or transformation of the bureaucratic parliamentary State. It wishes to work positively for its own autonomous development as a class. It submits its candidature as a ruling class, and asserts that it can exercise this historical function only in an institutional context that is different from the existing one: in a new state system, and not within the framework of the bureaucratic parliamentary State.

With the creation of the Communist Party, the working class presents itself in the political struggle as an initiator, as a leader, and no longer as an inert mass of troops directed and led by the general staff of another social class. The working class wants to govern the country. It asserts that it is the only class capable, with its own means and with its national and international institutions, of solving the problems placed on the agenda by the general historical situation. What are the real forces of the working class? How many proletarians in Italy have gained a precise consciousness of the historical mission that belongs to their class? What following does the Communist Party have in Italian society? In the present confusion and chaos, do the main lines of the new historical configuration already exist? In this continuous process of disintegration and reintegration, decomposition and recomposition of the social forces, classes and strata of the Italian population, has there already been formed an initial nucleus, compact and solid, permanently loyal to the ideas and programmes of the Communist International and the world revolution, around which the new and definitive political, governmental, organization of the working class can take place?

These are the questions which will be answered by the elections. In order to obtain a positive, concrete answer which can be verified and documented historically, the Communist Party is contesting the elections. The Communist Party, in the process whereby social forces are drawn up into battle units by the electoral programmes, wants to identify its own units and to count its forces. This is a necessary phase of the historical process which must lead to the dictatorship of the proletariat and the foundation of the workers' State. The elections, for the communists, are one among the many forms of political organization characteristic of modern society. The party is the higher organizational form; the trade union and the factory council are intermediary organizational forms, in which the most conscious proletarians enrol for the daily struggle against capital, and in which the enrolment takes place on a trade-unionist platform. In elections, the masses declare themselves for the highest political goal, for the form of the State, for the assertion of the working class as a ruling class.

The Communist Party is essentially the party of the revolutionary proletariat, i.e. of the workers engaged in urban industry; but it cannot reach its goal without the support and consent of other layers, of the poor peasants and the intellectual proletariat. That is the statement of principle. What is the force of expansion today of the revolutionary proletariat? How many elements from the other toiling classes recognize in the proletariat the future ruling class and henceforward, notwithstanding the terrorism exercised by reaction, intend to support it in its labour of mobilization and organization? The Communist Party does not harbour any illusions about the results - especially since it has already shown that it is seeking to get away from the methods of fairground demagogy whereby the Socialist Party "drew a crowd" in the past. But the more the Italian population has plunged into chaos and disorientation, and the more the forces dissolving the past alignment of revolutionary forces have operated and continue to operate, the more evidently necessary it appears to bring about a new alignment of loyal and trusty soldiers of the world revolution and of communism. The murkier the situation, and the scantier the resources of the new party presenting itself in the field of general Italian politics, the greater will appear the dynamic and expansive value of this new alignment.