Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Antonio Gramsci 1921

Reactionary subversiveness

Unsigned, L'Ordine Nuovo, 22 June 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 largely irrelevant interplay of combinations between the various parliamentary groups, favourite subject-matter for the astrological predictions of the Rome correspondents, was followed in the Chamber yesterday by the debut of the man who likes to present himself and to be presented as the leader of Italian reaction: Mussolini. And Mussolini in his debut thought good to recall, almost as a badge of merit, his subversive origins. Is this a pose or is it a desire thereby the better to win the favours of his new master? Both motives no doubt play their part, and it is indeed true that the past subversiveness of the newest reactionary is an element which contributes not a little to delineating his image. It is, however, necessary to discuss it impartially, and to strip a little of the foliage away from this Mussolinian myth, so dear to the leader of the former revolutionary wing of the Socialist Party.

Is it a merit of the greater maturity of consciousness which the concrete revolutionary experience of the past years has brought if, reconsidering the attitudes and events of that time, we cannot but see them reduced to proportions very different from those which appeared to us then? When speaking in the Chamber, Mussolini perhaps said just one true thing, when with reference to his way of conceiving political conflicts and acting he spoke of Blanquism. This admission provides us with the best vantagepoint from which to grasp and precisely define what we instinctively perceive today as illogical, clumsy, grotesque in the figure of Mussolini. Blanquism is the social theory of the coup de main; but, if one really thinks about it, Mussolinian subversiveness only took over its material aspect. It has also been said that the tactics of the IIIrd International have points of contact with Blanquism; but the theory of proletarian revolt that is disseminated from Moscow and that was realized by the Bolsheviks is simply the Marxist theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Mussolini took over only the superficial aspects of Blanquism. Or rather, he himself made it into something superficial, reducing it to the materiality of the dominant minority and the use of arms in a violent attack. The incorporation of the minority's actions within the mass movement, and the process which makes insurrection the means for transforming social relations - all this disappeared. The Red Week in Romagna, the typical Mussolinian movement, was thus most accurately defined by those who called it a revolution without a programme.

But this is not all: one may say that for the leader of the fascists things have not changed from that time to this. His position, at bottom, is still what it was formerly. Even today he is nothing but a theorist, if that is the word, and a stage-manager of coups de main. Blanquism, in its materiality, can be subversive today, reactionary tomorrow. However, it is always revolutionary and renovatory only in appearance, condemned to lack continuity and development, fated to be incapable of welding one coup de main to the next in a linear historical process. Today the bourgeois, half terrified and half stupefied, regard this man who has placed himself at their service as a kind of new monster, a revolutionizer of real situations and a creator of history. Nothing is further from the truth. The inability to weld together the links of a historical construction is as great in the Blanquism of this epileptic as it is in the Malthusian subversiveness of people like D'Aragona and Serrati. They are all members of the same family. They represent, the former and the latter alike, a common impotence.

If Italian reaction today appears to have consistency and pontinuity, this derives from other elements, from other factors, of a character which is not just national but common to all countries and of a very different nature from what this bombastic self-praiser would like people to believe, The struggle against working-class demands and resistance to working-class resurgence have a very much more concrete basis. But it is no doubt significant, for the seriousness of Italian political life, that at the apex of a construction that is held together by a massive system of real forces, there should be found this man who amuses himself with trials of strength and verbal masturbation.

The politicians of the bourgeoisie, who judge by their own impotence and their own fear, speak of Mussolini's reactionary subversiveness. But we - like all those who understand anything about the trial of strength constituted by politics - only see a coach-fly.