Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Antonio Gramsci 1924

Gramsci to Zino Zini

(Vienna, 2 April 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.

I too received your reply only after a long delay, and it gave me great pleasure to get news of you directly. I had the most varied and contradictory reports about you, as about so many other friends, so that I could not get any idea of how you are thinking and how you see the future. I think our disagreement today depends a lot on the fact that in 1920 1 was very pessimistic about how the events then taking place would be resolved. Fascism's rise to power, and the destruction which preceded and followed this, only surprised me moderately. Another thing which has certainly contributed to creating my present state of mind is the fact that I did not remain in Italy during this last period, so that I escaped the terrible spiritual pressure exerted on many comrades and friends by the torturing daily drip of violence and abasement. The daily spectacle which 1, by contrast, had in Russia - of a people which is creating a new life, new customs, new relationships, new ways of thinking and confronting all problems - makes me today more optimistic about our country and its future. Something new exists in the world, and is working in a subterranean, one might say molecular fashion, but irresistibly. Why should our country be left out of this process of general renewal?

The attitude of many of the Italian workers who have emigrated to Russia shows that in 1920 we would not have held on to power, even if we had won it. They do not understand how the Russian workers, after six years of revolution, are able to suffer in good spirit the many travails to which they are still condemned. They, the Italians, want to avoid these, and try to ward them off by every means. Fascism, from this point of view, has transformed our people, and we have proof of this every day. It has given it a more robust temper, a healthier morality, a resistance to ill fortune which was previously unsuspected, a depth of feeling that had never existed before. Fascism has truly created a situation that is permanently revolutionary, as Tsarism once did in Russia. The pessimism which dominated me in 1920, especially during the occupation of the factories, has vanished today. Naturally, this does not mean that I see the Italian situation in rosy colours. Indeed, I think that much pain and struggle still awaits our proletariat, of a yet more bloody kind than those it has already experienced. But today there is a sure line of development, and this seems to me to be a highly significant thing to say of our country. Today, predictions can be made with some confidence, and it is possible to work with greater stamina than in 1919-20. There, you see, is my optimism, which I would like to communicate to all the friends and comrades with whom I am making contact again, and who appear to me to be crushed by the spiritual pressure of fascism.

I see that the masses are less pessimistic than the intellectuals. But they are looking for a point of reference, a centre. The most important question in our country today is to give the masses their point of reference. The intellectuals of the old generation, who have so much historical experience, who have seen the whole tormented development of our people over these last decades, would fail in their duty and mission if, precisely in this culminating phase, they stood aside and were unwilling to contribute to clarifying, organizing and centralizing the ideal forces which already exist - which, in other words, do not need to be brought into existence (that would be utopian), but merely to be centralized and given a direction. See what is happening with the periodical. It is printing double the number of copies today that it was in 1920. This is documentary evidence of what I am saying. In 1920, the situation appeared enormously propitious, but it was a quartan fever. Today, there is more depth, more solidity, even if the landscape is one of cataclysm.

I would be very happy to be able to recreate the community of work which was formed around the periodical in 1919-20. 1 think that your collaboration would be precious for that. Naturally, you would have to sign with a pseudonym, because we have already too often made the mistake of throwing our forces into the fray unarmed or virtually so against a well-equipped and implacable enemy. The idea too of your collaboration with Russian journals could be taken up again, and I could help to arrange it. In Russia, a whole number of great literary, artistic and philosophical journals are published, which would like to have regular contributions from Italy on all our cultural and intellectual movements. The articles or reports would also be very well paid, because the Russians value literary activity very highly (perhaps even too highly). This would in any case allow you to get hold of Russian books and periodicals, which are being produced in gigantic quantities in all fields, but especially in the natural sciences and the philosophy of Marxism.

I wanted to reply at once to your letter, so I have only touched on many of the things I should have liked to write about. I would be grateful if you would write to me again, at the same address as last time, and also tell me something about Prof. Cosmo, with whom I had an interesting conversation in Berlin in May 1922.

Please accept my most cordial and affectionate greetings,