Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Antonio Gramsci 1921

Those mainly responsible

Unsigned, L'Ordine Nuovo, 20 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.

If in September 1920 the Turin communists had been anarchists instead of communists, the factory occupation movement would have had a very different outcome from the one it actually did have: this is the essence of an article from Turin in Urnanità Nova, which reasserts our heavy responsibility for the failure to make a revolution. What a pity! The Turin communists, in September 1920, were in fact communists and not anarchists. Even then, they believed that "proletarian revolution" means and can only mean creation of a revolutionary government. Even then, they believed that a revolutionary government can only be created if there exists a revolutionary party, nationally organized, which is capable of leading a mass action towards this historically concrete objective.

The Turin communists belonged to the Italian Socialist Party, and were members of its Turin section; the reformist leaders of the General Confederation of Labour also belonged to that party and that section. The movement had been launched by the reformists. The weekly L'Ordine Nuovo of 15 August 1920 clearly shows that the Turin communists were opposed to the action initiatied by ROM - because of the way in which it had been initiated; because of the fact that it had not been preceded by any preparation; and because of the fact that it had no concrete aim. Given these concrete conditions, the movement could only culminate in a revolution on condition that the reformists continued to lead it. If the reformists, once the action had begun and taken on the dimensions and the character which it did, had led it forward to its logical conclusion, certainly the great majority of the proletariat, and broad layers of the petty bourgeoisie and peasantry as well, would have followed their slogans.

If, on the other hand, the Turin communists had begun the insurrection on their own initiative, Turin would have been isolated, proletarian Turin would have been pitilessly crushed by the armed forces of the State. In September 1920, Turin would not even have had the solidarity of the Piedmont region, as it had had in the previous April. The evil campaign which the trade-union officials and Serratian opportunists had waged against the Turin communists after the April strike had had its effect, especially in Piedmont. The comrades from Turin could not even approach those from the region. Not a word of what they said was believed; they were always asked if they had an express mandate from the party leadership. The whole regional organization built up from Turin had completely fallen to pieces. The Turin correspondent of Umanità Nova, who perhaps knows the organizational efforts that were made in that period, certainly does not know many other things. The communists sought to put the Turin proletariat in the best conditions from the point of view of a probable insurrection. They knew, however, that elsewhere nothing was being done, nor any slogan being circulated. They knew that the union leaders responsible for the movement had no warlike intentions.

For a very brief period of time, three or four days, the union leaders were extremely favourable to an insurrection, they called wildly for an insurrection. Why? Apparently Giolitti, under pressure from the industrialists, who were openly threatening to overthrow the government by a military pronunciamento, wanted to go over from "homeopathy" to "surgery". He evidently made certain threats. The union leaders lost their heads. They wanted an "outrage", a local massacre which would justify their reaching an agreement at national level in accordance with reformist traditions. Were we right or wrong to refuse to take part in this infamous game, which was to be played with the blood of the Turin proletariat? By dint of repeating from April onwards that the Turin communists were irresponsible hotheads, "localists" and adventurers, the reformists had actually ended up by believing this - and by believing that we would lend ourselves to their game. They were not easy, those days of September 1920. In those days we acquired, perhaps belatedly, a precise and resolute conviction of the need for a split. How could men who mistrusted each other, who precisely at the moment of action saw that it was necessary to protect their backs from their own fellow-members, possibly remain together in the same party?

This was the situation, and we were not anarchists but communists, i.e. convinced of the need for a national party if the proletarian revolution was to have the least chance of a successful outcome. But even if we had been anarchists, would we have acted differently? There is a point of reference for answering this question: in September 1920 there did indeed exist anarchists in Italy, there existed a national anarchist movement. What did the anarchists do? Nothing. If we had been anarchists, we would not even have done what was done in Turin in September 1920 - i.e. carried out preparations that were certainly very considerable, seeing that they were accomplished by purely local effort, without assistance, without advice and without any national coordination.

If the anarchists reflect well upon the events of September 1920, they cannot fail to reach a single conclusion: the need for a strongly organized and centralized political party. Certainly the Socialist Party, with its incapacity and its subordination to the trade-union officials, was responsible for the failed revolution. But precisely for that reason, there must exist a party which puts its national organization at the service of the proletarian revolution, and which - through discussion and through an iron discipline - prepares capable men who can see ahead, and who do not know hesitation or wavering.