Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Antonio Gramsci 1921

The elections and freedom

Unsigned, L'Ordine Nuovo, 21 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 real, concrete terms of bourgeois equality are progressively being laid bare in all their naked reality, and they cannot fail to be understood even by the most benighted and backward layers of the proletariat.

The industrial and landowning bourgeoisie possesses thousands and thousands of newspapers and printing-presses: all the paper-mills are at its disposal. The proletarians can only print very few newspapers with their own resources. The acts of destruction which have occurred, and the threats which rain down on printing works which accept orders from the working-class parties, make the inferiority of the propertyless class even more grotesque. Not one of the thousands upon thousands of bourgeois papers has yet been destroyed by the proletarians. Out of the small number of working-class papers, however, the destruction has already taken place of Il Lavoratore from Trieste, of Il Proletario, from Pula, of La Difesa from Florence, of La Giustizia from Reggio Emilia, and of Avanti! in both its Milanese and its Roman editions.

The industrial and landowning bourgeoisie possesses tens of thousands of meeting-halls, theatres and cinemas, where it can assemble its supporters peacefully and carry out all the propaganda it deems useful. But the premises of the working class, the Chambers of Labour and the Socialist and Communist sections, have been burned down in their tens and their hundreds. Even the streets are denied to the popular masses: the natural place where the proletariat can assemble without cost has become a field for surprise-attacks and ambushes. To keep its domination of the streets, the working class would have to remain mobilized day and night, neither going to the factory to work nor going home to rest. A hundred armed individuals - guaranteed impunity for any violent act they may commit and the unconditional assistance of the forces of public order in case of need; with no obligation to carry out productive work; and able to move about from one spot to another in the execution of an overall plan is sufficient to hold the proletariat in check and deprive it of its freedom to come and go, its freedom to meet and to discuss.

What value could a Parliament elected in such conditions have? How could it be seen as representing the "free" will of the nation? What could it reveal about the real political position of the social classes? If simply posing these questions were enough to produce a widespread conviction, a universal state of awareness and an impulse towards the foundation of a new order of things, the political struggle would already long since have concluded in the victory of the working people over the bourgeois class. The insurrection of the oppressed and exploited classes against their dominators, with their false and hypocritical liberty and equality, would long since have taken place.

The truth is that words and propaganda are not enough to cause the broad masses to rise up, or to determine the necessary and sufficient conditions for the foundation of a new order of things. The historical process is accomplished through a real dialectic: not through education or verbal polemics, but through the violent counter-position of incontestable states of affairs, which are manifest to the great popular masses with the utmost clarity. It is certain that the forced resignations of the socialist municipal councillors did more than two years of demagogic propaganda from the Socialist Party to render the notion of proletarian dictatorship comprehensible. It is certain that fascism, in a few months, has contributed more to illustrating the theses of the Communist International empirically in the proletarian consciousness than two years of Avanti! and the entire output of its publishing house have done. It is certain that these elections will definitively extirpate Parliament and all the other bourgeois institutions from the popular consciousness; and that they will make the emergence of a new representative system, in which the will of the people and the new ideals of liberty and equality are asserted and ensured protection, historically necessary and irresistible.

That is why the Communist Party is not abstaining from the elections. Because it wants the experiment to be carried out with full effectiveness and educative force. Because the Communist Party is the party not just of the proletarian vanguard, but of the great popular masses - even those who are most backward and benighted. It wants to reach and defeat the democratic socialist illusion even in its deepest lair. Will the elections, staged as they are in the environment of freedom and equality which is specific to bourgeois democracy, give the working class even just one deputy? This single one will then represent the whole oppressed class. His voice will be heard by the whole class. A slogan proclaimed by this single deputy, under the mandate of the proletarian party, will be accepted and put into practice by the whole class.

Such a situation will inexorably provoke the explosion of new representative institutions, which will counterpose themselves to Parliament and replace it: no popular layer will regret it or fight for it. This real process has already taken place in Russia. It is quite understandable why the Soviet government, even a few months after the November Revolution, should have convened the Constituent Assembly. If the Constituent Assembly had not been convened, many popular layers would have remained supporters of parliamentarism in Russia. Yet its dissolution provoked no discontent or rebellion. It had become obvious, even to the most backward peasant masses, that the Constituent Assembly, elected as it was on the basis of lists for parties which no longer occupied those specific positions, did not represent the people - did not represent the interests of the majority of the nation. The Bolsheviks wanted the experience to be gone through. They wanted the popular consciousness to be formed materialistically. They wanted no regret or vague illusion to persist among the broad masses.

Let us make the revolutionary hypothesis that a popular insurrection sweeps away the next Parliament and replaces it with a Congress of workers' and peasants' deputies. Certainly not even Filippo Turati will still dare to maintain then that bourgeois democracy is the "city" and the Soviets the "horde". . . .