Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Antonio Gramsci 1921

Leaders and masses


Unsigned, L'Ordine Nuovo, 3 July 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 peace treaty which is about to be drawn up between socialist and fascist members of parliament will have considerable importance in Italian political life. It will mark the failure of fascism as a political movement; and it will reduce socialist collaborationism to its objective and real terms, in other words will mark the beginning of the political failure of the Socialist Party.

The treaty will only have any meaning in parliament: it will be binding on the leaders, but will have no value for the masses. Hon. Mussolini, who aspires to the role of a highly shrewd and skilful deputy, will appear in his true colours: a coach-fly, a sorcerer's apprentice who has learnt the formula to call up the devil but does not know the one to send him back to hell again. The fascists will be preached at and disavowed as "false fascists" from the benches of parliament and the columns of Il Popolo d'Italia. The workers who put up a resistance to reactionary violence will be massacred as "communist criminals". And the treaty will be effective insofar as it allows Armando Bussi to be friendly to Benito Mussolini and Tito Zaniboni to shake hands with Farinacci or De Vecchi.

The peace between fascists and socialists is the result of a state of mind to which the two political failures contribute. Fascist tactics, insofar as they corresponded to a predetermined political plan, aimed to oblige the socialist leaders to return to constitutional legality and to persuade them to collaborate. Hon. Giolitti encouraged the fascist movement in order to direct it towards this precise goal. The masses were massacred with impunity, the Chambers of Labour, the Case del popolo and the cooperatives were burnt and sacked with impunity, in order to persuade the socialist leaders to reflect. A pedagogic method formerly employed in the English royal family was applied on a large scale: the young prince was always accompanied by a boy of humble rank who took his thrashings for him; pity for the sufferings and cries of this wretched creature was supposed to induce the prince, subject to freaks, whims and indolence, to mend his ways. Thus to induce the trade-union leaders and socialist deputies to drop their "intransigence" and collaborate with the government and the capitalists, Hon. Giolitti allowed fascism to martyrize whole regions, to terrorize millions upon millions of citizens, to organize 400,000 armed men for civil war. Hon. Giolitti's plan was a Machiavellian one. But reality is full of contradictions: only too often, the loutish jeers of Stenterello screech out beside the cynically pensive face of Machiavelli .30 Fascist tactics and Giolittian political pedagogy have had the following result: Italian trade-union organization has fallen apart, and the masses no longer obey the leaders by whom they were basely abandoned at the moment of danger and carnage.

What purpose would socialist collaboration with the government still have? The socialists and union leaders are only of any use to capitalism when their slogans are accepted by the masses organized in the trade unions. The union leaders, as individuals, are considered worthless. Their ignorance is universally known; their administrative incapacity is proverbial. It is one thing to draw up industrial agreements, quite another to govern a country. The union leaders are only valued insofar as they are held to enjoy the confidence of the broad working masses; only insofar as they are able to prevent strikes and persuade the workers to accept with resignation the exploitation and oppression of capitalism "in order to save the nation from ruin". Today, the socialists and tradeunion leaders have lost all control over the working class. Even if they wanted to, they could do nothing. This is what the result of fascist tactics and Hon. Giovanni Giolitti's political pedagogy has been. Replacing Labriola by Bruno Buozzi today would only mean replacing one coach-fly by another coach-fly.

It is therefore natural that the fascists should become reconciled with the socialists: the intrinsic weakness of both will be less apparent. Both no longer have a function to fulfil in the country: they have therefore rightly become government parties, "practical" parties. Giovanni Giolitti is their representative figure: and we shall see, if the tutelary deities allow it because the masses have not yet found a revolutionary orientation and organization - we shall see Giovanni Giolitti head a government of Socialist, Fascist and Popular coach-flies.