Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Antonio Gramsci 1921

Parties and masses

Unsigned, L'Ordine Nuovo, 25 September 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 constitutional crisis in which the Italian Socialist Party is floundering interests the communists, insofar as it is a reflection of the deeper constitutional crisis in which the broad mass of the Italian people is floundering. From this point of view, the crisis of the Socialist Party cannot and should not be viewed in isolation: it is part of a more comprehensive picture which embraces the Popular Party and fascism.

Politically, the broad masses only exist insofar as they are organized within political parties. The changes of opinion which occur among the masses under pressure from the determinant economic forces are interpreted by the parties, which first split into tendencies and then into a multiplicity of new organic parties. Through this process of disarticulation, neo-association, and fusion of homogeneous entities, a more profound and intimate process of decomposition of democratic society is revealed. This leads to a definitive alignment of conflicting classes, for preservation or for conquest of power over the State and productive apparatus.

In the period which lasted from the armistice to the occupation of the factories, the Socialist Party represented a majority of the Italian working people, made up of three basic classes: the proletariat, the petty bourgeoisie and the poor peasants. Of these three classes, only the proletariat was essentially and therefore permanently revolutionary. The other two classes were "occasionally" revolutionary: they were 11 war socialists", who accepted the idea of revolution in general because of the sentiments of anti-governmental rebellion which germinated during the War. Since the Socialist Party was predominantly made up of petty-bourgeois and peasant elements, it could have made the revolution only in the first period after the armistice, when those sentiments of anti-governmental revolt were still alive and active. Furthermore, since the Socialist Party was predominantly made up of petty-bourgeois and peasant elements (whose mentality is not very different from that of urban petty bourgeois), it could not fail to waver and hesitate, without any clear or precise programme, without a line of march, and especially without an internationalist consciousness.

The occupation of the factories, basically proletarian, found the Socialist Party - only partially proletarian and already, under the first blows of fascism, undergoing a crisis of consciousness in its other constitutive parts - unprepared. The end of the occupation of the factories threw the Socialist Party into total confusion. Its infantile and sentimental revolutionary beliefs were utterly confounded. The pains of war had been partly deadened (a revolution is not made because of memories of the past!). Bourgeois rule still appeared strong in the person of Giolitti and in the activity of the fascists. The reformist leaders asserted that to think of communist revolution at all was insane. Serrati asserted that it was insane to think of communist revolution in Italy, in that period. Only a minority of the party, made up of the most advanced and educated part of the industrial proletariat, did not change its communist and internationalist viewpoint; was not demoralized by what was occurring daily; and did not allow itself to be taken in by the bourgeois State's apparent strength and energy. Thus the Communist Party was born, first autonomous and independent organization of the industrial proletariat - the only class of the people that is essentially and permanently revolutionary.

The Communist Party did not at once become a party of the broadest masses. This proves only one thing: the conditions of great demoralization and dejection into which the masses had been plunged after the political failure of the occupation of the factories. In a great many leaders, faith was extinguished. What had previously been vaunted was now derided. The most intimate and sensitive feelings of the proletarian consciousness were vilely trampled on by these junior officers of the leadership, who had become sceptical, corrupted by repentance and remorse for their past of maximalist demagogy. The popular masses, who immediately after the armistice had aligned themselves around the Socialist Party, became dismembered, fluid, dispersed. The petty bourgeois who had sympathized with socialism now sympathized with fascism. The peasants, now without support in the Socialist Party, tended to give their sympathies to the Popular Party.

This confusion of the former forces of the Socialist Party with the fascists on the one hand and the popolari on the other was not without its consequences. The Popular Party drew closer to the Socialist Party. In the parliamentary elections, Popular "open" slates in every constituency were filled with hundreds and thousands of names of socialist candidates. In the municipal elections which have taken place in some country districts since the political elections, the socialists have often not put forward a minority slate but advised their supporters to vote for the Popular one. In Bergamo, this phenomenon took a sensational form: the popolare left-wingers split away from the white organization and fused with the socialists, founding a Chamber of Labour and a weekly respectively led and written by socialists and popolari together.

Objectively, this process of Popular-Socialist rapprochement represents an advance. The peasant class is becoming united; acquiring consciousness and the idea of overall solidarity; breaking the religious carapace in the Popular camp; and breaking the carapace of pettybourgeois anti-clerical culture in the Socialist camp. As a result of this tendency among its rural members, the Socialist Party is becoming further and further detached from the industrial proletariat, making it seem that the strong unitary bond which the Socialist Party appeared to have created between city and countryside is being broken. However, since this bond did not really exist, no real damage has derived from the new situation. On the contrary, a real advantage is becoming clear: the Popular Party is undergoing an extremely powerful swing to the left and becoming increasingly secular. The final result will be that its right wing, made up of big and medium landowners, will split off. In other words, it will decisively enter the field of the class struggle, with a consequent tremendous weakening of bourgeois rule.

The same phenomenon is beginning to appear in the fascist camp. The urban petty bourgeoisie, politically strengthened by all the defectors from the Socialist Party, had sought after the armistice to put to advantage the skill in military organization and action which it had acquired during the War. The Italian war was led, in the absence of an effective general staff, by the junior officers, i.e. by the petty bourgeoisie. The disappointments suffered during the War aroused extremely powerful sentiments of anti-governmental rebellion in this class which, having lost the military unity of its cadres after the armistice, became fragmented among the various mass parties and infused them with the ferment of rebellion - but also with uncertainty, wavering and demagogy.

When the strength of the Socialist Party declined after the occupation of the factories, this class, with lightning speed, under pressure from that same general staff which had exploited it during the War, reconstructed its cadres militarily and organized itself on a national scale. Extremely swift evolution; extremely swift appearance of a constitutional crisis. The urban petty bourgeoisie, a toy in the hands of the general staff and the most retrograde forces in the government, allied itself with the landowners and broke the peasant organizations on their behalf. The Rome pact between fascists and socialists marked the halting-point of this blind and politically disastrous policy of the urban petty bourgeoisie, which came to understand that it was selling its "birthright" for a mess of pottage. If fascism had gone on with punitive expeditions of the Treviso, Sarzana or Roccastrada type, the population would have risen en masse. Moreover, even in the event of a popular defeat, it is certainly not the petty bourgeoisie who would have captured power, but rather the general staff and the big landowners. The fascists are once again drawing closer to the socialists; the petty bourgeoisie is seeking to break its links with largescale landed property, and to have a political programme which ends up by strangely resembling that of Turati and D'Aragona.

This is the present situation of the Italian popular masses - great confusion, replacing the artificial unity created by the War and personified by the Socialist Party. A great confusion which has found its points of dialectical polarization in the Communist Party, independent organization of the industrial proletariat; in the Popular Party, organization of the peasantry; and in fascism, organization of the petty bourgeoisie. The Socialist Party, which from the armistice to the occupation of the factories represented the demagogic confusion of these three classes of the working people, is today the major exponent and the most notable victim of the process of disarticulation (towards a new, definitive order) which the popular masses of Italy are undergoing as a consequence of the decomposition of democracy.