Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Antonio Gramsci 1922

One year

Unsigned, L'Ordine Nuovo, 15 January 1922.

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 whole history of Italy since 1900 (i.e. since the assassination of Umberto I and the failure of the idiotic doctrinaire attempts to create a constitutional State with a rigid corpus of written laws), and perhaps even the whole of our country's modern history since the achievement of national unity, would be an enigma if one neglected to take as the central focus of one's historical vision the ceaseless endeavours of certain governmental strata to incorporate into the ruling class the most eminent personalities from the working-class organizations. Italian democracy, as created after 1870, lacked a solid class structure because of the failure of either of the two propertied classes - the capitalists and the landowners - to become predominant. In other countries, the struggle between these two classes represented the terrain on which the modern liberal, parliamentary State was organized. In Italy, this struggle was almost entirely missing, or to be more accurate it took place in an equivocal manner as a bureaucratic and plutocratic subjugation of the central and southern regions of the country, inhabited by the rural classes, to the northern regions, where industrial and finance capital had developed.

The need to maintain a democratic régime, which was at once rule by bourgeois minorities and domination by a small part of the nation of the greater part of its territory, ceaselessly drove the representatives of northern industrialism and plutocracy to seek to broaden their own cadres as a ruling class, by integrating the working-class masses and eliminating the class struggle in their own area. Up to 1900, the northern capitalists in alliance with the big southern landowners sought to extinguish simultaneously the class struggle of the industrial proletariat and the violent eruptions of the poor peasant classes in the south. But it became clear that this alliance in the long run would have reversed the situation, giving State power to the big landowners and causing the North to lose the privileged position it had won with national unity.

The attempt by Umberto and Sonnino to give the State a rigid constitutional structure, removing from parliament the de facto prerogatives which it had succeeded in winning, was the decisive watershed in these struggles. With the assassination of Umberto, capitalism definitively got the upper hand. It sought to replace the alliance on a national scale of the propertied classes by a system of alliance with the urban proletariat, on the basis of which it could develop a true parliamentary democracy as in other capitalist countries. Giolitti is the typical representative of this tendency, and the whole history of the socialist movement from 1900 till today has simply been a result of the successive combinations thought up by Giolittism to secure the support of the working classes. In no country have the emergence and articulation of trade-union and cooperative organizations been encouraged as they have in Italy. Through the consolidation of these established interests, a whole stratification of petty-bourgeois officials was to emerge from within the working class, ready to lend a favourable ear to the seductive words of bourgeois statesmen. This twenty-year plan of the most intelligent part of the Italian bourgeoisie has today reached full maturity. In his extreme old age, Giolitti sees himself at last on the point of reaping the fruits of his long and patient labours. And this conclusion is being reached precisely in the days which mark the anniversary of the Livorno Congress.

One year ago, it was clear to the communists what the real line of development of Italian political life was. Despite the extreme difficulty of the moment, and despite the fact that their action might seem reckless and premature to 4 great part of the working class, the communists did not hesitate to adopt a clear position, separating off their own responsibility - and thus in the last analysis that of the entire Italian proletariat - from the political actions which were inevitably going to be carried out by the petty-bourgeois stratum which, for twenty years of history, had been forming and organizing powerfully within the working class.

The so-called unitary maximalists, with that ignorance of the social history of their country which has always distinguished them, believed instead that holding the class-collaborationist tendencies imprisoned in a verbally revolutionary party formation was sufficient to prevent the historical act from being accomplished. The maximalists maintained that the predetermined and daily preached collaboration was simply a question of will. They always refused, with the obstinacy of blinkered mules, to recognize that the whole of Italian history, because of its particular premisses and because of the way in which the unitary State was founded, necessarily had to lead to collaboration.

But Giolitti knew the history of the Italian socialist movement better than the maximalists. He knew (because to a great extent he was its creator) that the system of cooperatives and all the other organizations of resistance, insurance and production of the Italian working class were not born out of some original and revolutionary creative impulse, but depended on a whole series of compromises in which the strength of the government represented the dominant element. What the government had created, the government could destroy. What the government had created without officially compromising the authority of the State, could be destroyed by the government by the same method.

Thus fascism became the instrument for blackmailing the Socialist Party; for producing a split between the petty-bourgeois elements, encrusted like barnacles upon the established interests of the working class, and the rest of the Socialist Party - which limited itself to feeding on ideological formulae, since it had shown itself incapable of leading the revolutionary upsurge of the proletariat to a conclusion. Once again, economics prevailed over ideology. Today, the representatives of established interests - i.e. of the cooperatives, the employment agencies, the shared land-tenancies, the municipalities and the providential societies - although they are in a minority in the party, have the upper hand over the orators, the journalists, the teachers and the lawyers, who pursue unattainable and vacuous ideological projects.

In one year, intensifying to the point of absurdity the policy of compromise which is traditional for the Italian ruling classes, the bourgeoisie has succeeded in obtaining what it had patiently been preparing for twenty years. The great Socialist Party, which in 1919 seemed to have become the unifier of all the tendencies to revolt that were smouldering even among the lowest strata of the Italian population, has completely disintegrated. Two political forces have thereby resulted, neither of which is capable of dominating the situation: on the one hand, the reformist tendency, which will swiftly be incorporated within the bourgeoisie; and on the other, the Communist Party.

But these objective results of the Livorno Congress are not such as to discourage the communists. Indeed, the latter are strong precisely because they do not refuse to look the situation in the face and assess the real relationship of forces. For the proletariat to become an independent class, it was necessary for the edifice of false economic might that had been built up in twenty years of compromise to disintegrate. A collapse of such a kind could not fail to have very serious consequences that would weaken the proletariat itself. The communists had the courage to face up to the situation and bring it on. However, if this courage had been lacking, the collapse would have occurred just the same; but then not even the present strength preserved by the proletariat would have been saved from the catastrophe.

It is a necessary precondition for revolution that the complete dissolution of parliamentary democracy should occur in Italy too. The proletariat will become a dominant class and put itself at the head of all the revolutionary forces of the country only when experimentally, as a fresh proof of historical reality, the collaborationist tendencies show that they are incapable of resolving the economic and political crisis. At Livorno, the maximalists did not want to be convinced of this truth, which flows from the whole of Marxist doctrine. They believed that by the ideological coercion of an empty party discipline, they could prevent the historical process from being realized integrally in all its moments, and that a link in the chain could be leaped over. They were punished for their pride and belief in miracles. As a result of their lack of all political capability or understanding of the real history of the Italian people, they only achieved the wretched success of artificially postponing an experiment which, by now, would already have been liquidated by its own results. Thus to the pain and suffering imposed on the working class by capitalist oppression, they added new pains and new sufferings which could have been avoided.