Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Antonio Gramsci 1924

Gramsci to Togliatti, Scoccimarro, Leonetti, etc.

(Vienna, 21 March 1924)

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.

Dearest Friends,

I have not yet received any reply from! you to my last letter, indicating at least in general terms the practical steps you have decided to take. So in this letter too I shall have to concern myself solely with general questions, about which I do not know whether you have already discussed, or in what terms.

Among others, I have received two letters which have greatly moved me, and which seem to me to be the sign of a general situation about which we must think very seriously. Sraffa has written to me - you will read part of his letter, appropriately commented on, in the third issue of O.N. - and so has Zino Zini. 121 Both write that they are still with us, but both are extremely pessimistic. Sraffa is moving towards a position which seems to be precisely that of the maximalists. Zini remains in principle with the communists, but writes that he is old, tired, no longer has faith in anything or anybody, and has completely devoted himself - outside his academic work - to arranging his thoughts into a book which, to judge by the allusions contained in his letter, will be a pure reflection of this state of political passivity. Sraffa will collaborate with the Journal, and from things he has written I think his collaboration will be very interesting. 121 In his case, I do not think the problem is very difficult. He has remained isolated since the contacts he had with us in Turin, he has never worked among workers, but he is certainly still a Marxist. It will only be necessary to keep in contact once again in order to resuscitate him and make him an active element of our party, to which he will be able to render much useful service today and in the future.

In his letter, there is a passage which will not be published that is extremely interesting. A propos the trade-union question, he asks me how it is that our party has never thought of creating unions of the same type as the American IWW, which was precisely suited to the situation of lawlessness and violent repression on the part of the State and the private capitalist organizations. He has promised me an article on trade-union bureaucracy in which, I think, he will also develop this argument, which seems to me to merit our closest attention. It is certain that we have not yet in practice considered the question of whether it is possible to create a clandestine, centralized trade-union movement that could work to bring about a new situation in the working class. Our local groups and trade-union committee have retained a purely party character, as party fractions within the CGL - which must exist, but which do not resolve the question entirely. Nor could it be resolved by taking as a model the IWW, which was in effect the organization of the so-called "migratory" workers. But the IWW's organization may, nevertheless, give some indication and clarify the nature of the question.

After the June Executive meeting, I had proposed - and Negri and Urbani were in agreement (Tasca was totally against) - to try to organize clandestinely a little conference of representatives from the biggest Italian factories: twenty or thirty workers from Turin, Milan, Genoa, Pisa, Livorno, Bologna, Trieste, Brescia, Bari, Naples, Messina. The idea was that these, as representatives of their factories and not in the name of the party, would study the general situation, pass resolutions on various problems, and before they dispersed nominate a Central Committee of Italian factories. The conference would naturally have a purely agitational and propagandistic value. Our party, which organizes it, will prepare the necessary ideological material, and make certain that the decisions taken have the maximum impact on the masses. The CC elected will be a useful transmission-belt for industrial action, and if we can sustain it will become the embryo of a future organization of Factory Councils and Internal Commissions, which will become a rival to the CGL in a changed overall situation.

I think that on this basis an excellent work of reorganization and agitation can be carried out. The party must systematically avoid appearing the inspirer and leader of the movement, in the present situation. The organization must be clandestine, both in its national and its local centres. The national conference, once its decisions have been made known through posters and through our press, should be followed by local conferences, at city, provincial and regional level. In this way, the activity of our party groups will be revitalized. We shall have to study the question of whether it is not possible to get some small dues paid, for the national CC, for general propaganda, etc. Naturally, the problem will arise that we shall be accused of trying to create a rival organization. So it will be essential: 1. simultaneously to intensify the campaign for a return to the Confederation unions; 2. to stress the fact that what is involved is not new unions, but a factory movement like the Councils or Internal Commissions.

This, broadly speaking, was my plan, which was accepted by Negri and Urbani, but which has remained in the realm of good intentions so far. I do not think that it has now become out of date, quite the contrary. A letter from Losa (Turin), which will appear in the third issue of O.N., shows that since the take-over of the land workers' federation, the masses are even more resistant to joining unions, fearing that the union lists may become black lists. The situation, already favourable for a clandestine trade-union movement, has thus become yet more favourable. The important thing is to be able to find an organizational solution which fits the circumstances and gives the masses the impression of an overall enterprise, a centralization. The question, in my view, is extremely important; I would therefore like you to discuss it in detail among yourselves and send me your opinions, your impressions, the perspectives which you consider to be probable or possible.

That is what Sraffa's letter made me think about. Zini's made me think about a different problem. Why, among the intellectuals who were actively with us in 1919-20, has this passive and pessimistic state of mind become widespread today? I think it is at least in part because our party does not have an immediate programme, based on perspectives of the likely solutions which the present situation may have. We are for the workers' and peasants' government, but what does that mean concretely in Italy? Today? No one would be able to say, because no one has bothered to say. The broad masses, whose spokesmen the intellectuals automatically become, do not have any precise orientation, they do not know how to get out of their present straits, so they accept the path of least resistance: the solution provided by the constitutional-reformist opposition. Sraffa's letter is clear on this point. Zini is more of an old militant, he certainly does not believe in the possibility of fascism being displaced by Amendola or

Giolitti or Turati or Bonomi: he does not believe in anything. For Sraffa, we are in the same situation as in 191517; for Zini, we are barely in 1915, when the War had just broken out (this is literal), when everything was confusion and thick darkness. So I think a great deal of work needs to be done in this direction: involving political propaganda, and study of the economic basis of the situation. We must explore all the likely solutions which the present situation may have, and for each of these likely solutions we must work out a line.

For example, I have read Amendola's speech, which I consider very important; there is a remark in it which could have consequences. Amendola says that the constitutional reforms ventilated by the fascists pose the problem of whether in Italy, too, it is not necessary to separate constituent activity from normal legislative activity. It is probable that this remark contains the germ of the opposition's political line in the next Parliament. Parliament, already discredited and deprived of any authority by the electoral mechanism which produced it, cannot discuss constitutional reforms, which could only be done by a Constituent Assembly. Is it likely that the demand for a Constituent Assembly will once again become relevant? If so, what will our position be on it? In short: the present situation must have a political resolution; what is the most likely form for this resolution to take? Is it possible to believe that we will pass directly from fascism to the dictatorship of the proletariat? What intermediate phases are possible and likely? We must carry out this task of political study, both for our own sake and for the mass of party members and for the masses in general. I think that in the crisis which the country will undergo, that party will gain the upper hand which has best understood this necessary transition process, and thus impressed its seriousness on the broad masses. From this point of view, we are very weak, undoubtedly weaker than the socialists - who, well or badly, do carry out some agitational work, and what is more have a whole popular tradition to sustain them.

It is in the light of this general problem that the question of fusion too is posed today. Do we think it possible to arrive at the eve of revolution with a situation like the present one? With three socialist parties? How do we think this situation can be eliminated? By the maximalists fusing with the reformists? It is possible that may happen, but I do not think it very probable. Maximalism will want to remain independent, in order to exploit the situation on its own account. Well then? Will we make an alliance with the maximalists for a Soviet government, as the Bolsheviks did with the Left Social-Revolutionaries? I think that if the situation arises, it will not be so favourable to us as it was to the Bolsheviks. It is necessary to bear in mind the tradition of the SP, the thirty-year links it has had with the masses. Those cannot be resolved either with machineguns or with petty manoeuvres on the eve of the revolution. This is a great historical problem, which can only be resolved if we begin studying it today in its full dimensions, and initiating a solution to it.

I think that if we establish our group solidly, and if we accomplish a political and organizational work that succeeds in keeping the present majority of our party compact, neutralizing the unshakeable leftists and the liquidatory rightists, we can accept and automatically develop the Comintern's tactics for winning the majority of the SP. This is an ultimate objective, an orientation, certainly not something which can be achieved in immediate practical terms. The question is to extend our influence over the majority of the masses influenced today by the SP. The question is to ensure that if there is a new revolutionary workingclass upsurge, it will organize itself around the CP and not around the SP. How can we achieve this? It is necessary to press the SP until its majority either comes over to us or goes over to the reformists. This involves a whole process, which must be directed by us and must give us all the profitable results; it is not a mechanical thing. So I think your latest positions are very dangerous. We are falling back into the same situation as existed from the Fourth Congress up till June. The episode of the circular letter is very instructive. 130 Circular letters of such a kind should only be sent to a few extremely trustworthy comrades, not to organizations as such. In the present situation, to organizations one should only send "political". "diplomatic" circulars.

Did the Rome trial teach us nothing? And have you not considered the fact that in many centres the Illrd-internationalists have become the true leaders of our movement? 13 1 And have you not considered the fact that Vella and Nenni may have tried to introduce some of their own agents among the IIIrd-internationalists who have left the SP? I am convinced of it, sure of it. Nenni used to be in the Republican Party, where they have some experience of intrigue, and in addition he has learnt the organizational methods of the Comintern for his own ends. In 1921-2, 1 visited many of our party organizations: in Como, for example, the centre of a fairly industrial region, we did not have a single organizing element; the federation had to be run from Sondrio. In Como, because of the position which Roncoroni had taken up at Livorno, the mass of communists had remained with the SP and they subsequently became IIlrd -internationalist. I would swear that in Como, just as an example, our party is in the hands of the IIIrd-internationalists, more or less directly, and that among those IIIrd-internationalists there are agents of Momigliano. That this is happening, I have proof. The section of Tortona has been reorganized. Who has been put in charge of the reorganization? A Illrd-internationalist, believed to be a communist, who enjoys no sympathy among the rank and file members. At least, that is what a well-informed friend has written to me. In practice, the Illrd-internationalist has had to turn. to a communist for the reorganization, but the episode shows: 1. that the party has an organizational apparatus that is very defective; 2. that the entry into the party of socialist agents who may leak documents is possible.

I hope that the mail will bring me some communication from you, to which I will reply at once.

Affectionate greetings,

If you have the chance, send me a copy of this letter and another to Urbani. In the new apartment where I am now, I cannot use the typewriter very much, which causes a lot of complications.