Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Antonio Gramsci 1924

Leader


Unsigned, L'Ordine Nuovo, March 1924; republished with the title Lenin, revolutionary leader, signed Antonio Gramsci, L'Unità, 6 November 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.


Every State is a dictatorship. Every State cannot avoid having a government, made up of a small number of men, who in their turn organize themselves around one who is endowed with greater ability and greater perspicacity. So long as a State is necessary, so long as it is historically necessary to govern men, whichever the ruling class may be, the problem will arise of having leaders, of having a "leader". The fact that socialists, even ones who call themselves Marxists and revolutionaries, say they want the dictatorship of the proletariat but not the dictatorship of leaders; say they do not want command to be individualized and personalized; in other words, say they want dictatorship, but not in the form in which it is historically possible - merely reveals a whole political stance, a whole "revolutionary" theoretical formation.

In the question of proletarian dictatorship, the key problem is not the physical personification of the function of command. The key problem consists in the nature of the relations which the leaders or leader have with the party of the working class, in the relations which exist between this party and the working class. Are these purely hierarchical, of a military type, or are they of a historical and organic nature? Are the leader and the party elements of the working class, are they a part of the working class, do they represent its deepest and most vital interests and aspirations, or are they an excrescence or simply a violent superimposition? How was this party formed, how did it develop, through what process did the selection of the men who lead it take place? Why did it become the party of the working class? Did this occur by chance?

The problem becomes that of the whole historical development of the working class, which is gradually formed in struggle against the bourgeoisie, winning a few victories and suffering many defeats: the historical development, moreover, not just of the working class of a single country, but of the entire working class of the world - with its superficial differentiations, which are nevertheless so important at any single moment in time, and with its basic unity and homogeneity. The problem also becomes that of the vitality of Marxism; of whether it is or is not the most certain and profound interpretation of nature and of history; of whether it can complement the politician's inspired intuition by an infallible method, an instrument of the greatest precision for exploring the future, foreseeing mass events, leading them and hence controlling them.

The international proletariat has had, and still has, the living example of a revolutionary party exercising workingclass dictatorship. It has had, and unfortunately no longer has, the most typical and expressive living example of what a revolutionary leader is - comrade Lenin."[118]

Comrade Lenin was the initiator of a new process of development of history. But he was this, because he was also the exponent and the last, most individualized moment of a whole process of development of past history, not just of Russia but of the whole world. Did he become the leader of the Bolshevik Party by chance? Did the Bolshevik Party become the leading party of the Russian proletariat, and hence of the Russian nation, by chance? The selection process lasted thirty years; it was extremely arduous; it often assumed what appeared to be the strangest and most absurd forms. It took place, in the international field, in contact with the most advanced capitalist civilizations of central and western Europe, in the struggle of the parties and factions Which made up the Second International before the War. It continued within the minority of international socialism which remained at least partially immune from the social-patriotic contagion. It was renewed in Russia in the struggle to win the majority of the proletariat; in the struggle to understand and interpret the needs and aspirations of a numberless peasant class, scattered over an immense territory. It still continues, every day, because every day it is necessary to understand, to foresee, to take measures.

This selection process was a struggle of factions and small groups; it was also an individual struggle; it meant splits and fusions, arrest, exile, prison, assassination attempts; it meant resistance to discouragement, and to pride; it meant suffering hunger while having millions in gold available; it meant preserving the spirit of a simple worker on the throne of the Tsars; it meant not despairing even when all seemed lost, but starting again, patiently and tenaciously; it meant keeping a cool head and a smile when others lost their heads. The Russian Communist Party, with its leader Lenin, bound itself up so tightly with the entire development of its Russian proletariat, with the whole development therefore of the entire Russian nation, that it is not possible even to imagine one without the other: the proletariat as a ruling class without the Communist Party being the governing party; hence without the Central Committee of the party being the inspirer of government policy; and hence without Lenin being the leader of the State.

The very attitude of the great majority of Russian bourgeois, who used to say "our ideal too would be a republic headed by Lenin without the Communist Party", had great historical significance. It was the proof that the proletariat no longer merely exercised physical domination, but dominated spiritually as well. At bottom, in a confused way, the Russian bourgeoisie too understood that Lenin could not have become and could not have remained leader of the State without the domination of the proletariat, without the Communist Party being the government party. Its class consciousness prevented it as yet from acknowledging, beyond its physical, immediate defeat, also its ideological and historical defeat. But already the doubt was there, expressed in that typical sentiment.

Another question arises. Is it possible, today, in the period of the world revolution, for there to exist "leaders" outside the working class; for there to exist non-Marxist leaders, who are not linked closely to the class which embodies the progressive development of all mankind? In Italy we have the fascist régime, we have Benito Mussolini as fascism's leader, we have an official ideology in which the "leader" is deified, declared to be infallible, prophesied as the organizer and inspirer of a reborn Holy Roman Empire. We see printed in the newspapers, every day, scores and hundreds of telegrams of homage from the vast local tribes to the "leader". We see the photographs: the hardened mask of a face which we have already seen at socialist meetings. We know that face: we know that rolling of the eyes in their sockets, eyes which in the past sought with their ferocious movements to bring shudders to the bourgeoisie, and today seek to do the same to the proletariat. We know that fist always clenched in a threat. We know the whole mechanism, the whole paraphernalia, and we understand that it may impress and tug at the heartstrings of bourgeois school-children. It is really impressive, even when seen close to, and has an awesome effect. But "leader"?

We saw the Red Week of June 1914.[119] More than three million workers were on the streets, called out by Benito Mussolini, who for about a year since the Roccagorga massacre had been preparing them for the great day, with all the oratorical and journalistic means at the disposal of the then "leader" of the Socialist Party, of Benito Mussolini - from Scalarini's lampoon to his great trial at the Milan Assizes.[120] Three million workers were on the streets: but the "leader", Benito Mussolini, was missing. He was missing as a "leader", not as an individual; for people say that as an individual he was courageous, and defied the cordons and the muskets of the carabinieri in Milan. He was missing as a "leader", because he was not one. Because, by his own admission, within the leadership of the Socialist Party he could not even manage to get the better of the wretched intrigues of Arturo Vella or Angelica Balabanoff.

He was then, as today, the quintessential model of the Italian petty bourgeois: a rabid, ferocious mixture of all the detritus left on the national soil by the centuries of domination by foreigners and priests. He could not be the leader of the proletariat; he became the dictator of the bourgeoisie, which loves ferocious faces when it becomes Bourbon again, and which hoped to see the same terror in the working class which it itself had felt before those rolling eyes and that clenched fist raised in menace.

The dictatorship of the proletariat is expansive, not repressive. A continuous movement takes place from the base upwards, a continuous replacement through all the capillaries of society, a continuous circulation of men. The leader whom we mourn today found a decomposing society, a human dust, without order or discipline. For in the course of five years of war, production - the source of all social life - had dried up. Everything was re-ordered and reconstructed, from the factory to the government, with the instruments and under the leadership and control of the proletariat, i.e. of a class new to government and to history.

Benito Mussolini has seized governmental power and is holding onto it by means of the most violent and arbitrary repression. He has not had to organize a class, but merely the personnel of an administration. He has dismantled a few of the State's mechanisms more to see how it is done and to learn the trade than from any primary necessity. His ideas are all contained in the physical mask, the eyes rolling in their sockets, the clenched fist ever raised in menace.

Rome has seen these dusty scenarios before. It saw Romulus, it saw Augustus Caesar, and at its twilight it saw Romulus Augustulus.[121]


(notes from Antonio Gramsci "Selections from political writings (1921-1926)")

118 Lenin had died on 21 January 1924.

119 On 7 June 1914, an anti-militarist demonstration at Ancona, organized by Malatesta and Nenni (then a republican), was fired on by the police, resulting in three deaths. The PSI called a general strike, and there were insurrectionary outbreaks throughout the country. Ancona was held by the insurgents for ten days, and it took 10,000 troops to subdue it.

120 Mussolini became editor of Avanti! in December 1912, and gained immediate wide publicity with his fiery editorials on the occasion of a police massacre of agricultural labourers at Roccagorga in January 1913. (In the Prison Notebooks, Gramsci was to cite Roccagorga as the real origin of the train of events culminating in the Red Week, see QC II, pp. 10 10- 11). As a result of the Avanti! campaign, Mussolini and a number of other journalists and contributors to the paper were put on trial in Milan between 26 March and 1 April 1914; some of the braccianti who had escaped the massacre testified as defence witnesses. One of Mussolini's co-defenders was Giuseppe Scalarini, who was to continue as one of the principal contributors to Avanti! until its suppression in the mid-twenties.

121 Romulus Augustulus, last of the Western Emperors of Rome, was overthrown in A.D. 476 by the Heruli under Odoacer.