Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Gramsci's intervention at the Como conference

Lo Stato Operaio, 29 May 1924; L'Unità, 5 June 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 have observed that the mood of comrades has above all been expressed against the so-called "Centre" of the party, and find it strange that a question of nomenclature should have such importance within the Communist Party. It is necessary to study the problems from a more serious and more concrete point of view.

Comrade Bordiga states that he has not even tried to constitute a real faction inside the party. But it is undeniable that when a comrade with a personality like that of Bordiga stands apart, and no longer takes any active part in the work of the party, this fact alone is enough to create a factional mentality among the comrades. It is necessary to take account of this fact in judging our attitude in the present debate. Moreover, we do not have to make any very great efforts to find what our origins were.

In 1919-20, there were three tendencies which later united to form the Communist Party: that represented by L'Ordine Nuovo of Turin, the abstentionists, and finally a third, which is only now tending to clarify its positions, and which included all those comrades who entered the party at the time of the Livorno split without having belonged to either of the two tendencies I have already mentioned. We of the Ordine Nuovo tendency have always believed it necessary - even before the party was established - to ally ourselves with the left rather than with the right. Any other course, in our view, would have led to promoting tendencies from which we feel very distant.

In this connection, I recall that in Turin, immediately before and after the general strike of April 1920, we were led to break with the group headed by comrade Tasca. 146 Seeing the opportunist danger of the Right, we preferred to ally ourselves with the abstentionists and, at a certain moment, even leave the whole leadership of the section in their hands.

According to many comrades, the occupation of the factories represented the highest point in the revolutionary development of the Italian proletariat. For us, that event initiated the period of decline of the working-class movement. Well, making an estimate at that time of which forces in the socialist movement were most capable of limiting the defeat, we were once again with the Left. And we thought that without the abstentionists, the Communist Party could not be established.

We still maintain that point of view today. But on the other hand, we cannot ignore the errors which the Left has made. In this respect, it is as well to remember that the vote on the Rome Theses had a purely generic and consultative character, and that those Theses should have been represented to the party - with certain modifications, perhaps - after the Fourth Congress of the Third International. Unfortunately, this could not be done because of the deterioration of the overall situation. But today the situation is no longer the same as that which existed in 1921 and 1922. There are the first signs of a recovery of the workers' movement. How will this develop? It is certain that it cannot fail to undergo the influence of the experience which all classes and political parties have acquired in the last few years. This experience has given every group its own physiognomy.

In 1919 and 1920, the whole working population - from the whitecollar workers of the North and the capital to the peasants of the South - was following, albeit unconsciously, the general movement of the industrial proletariat. Today the situation has changed, and only through a long, slow process of political reorganization will the proletariat be able to return to being the dominant factor in the situation. We consider that this work cannot be carried out, if we continue to follow the orientation which- comrade Bordiga would like the party to continue to follow. The recent electoral performance of our party certainly has great significance, but it is undeniable that our movement lacks the support of the majority of the proletariat.

Bordiga. We would have it, if we had not changed our tactics towards the Socialist Party! In any case, we are in no hurry.

Gramsci. Well. we are in a hurry! There are situations in which "not being in a hurry" leads to defeat. In 1920, for instance, it was necessary to be in a hurry. I recall that in July of that year, I attended the Abstentionist conference in Florence to propose the creation and establishment of a national communist faction. 141 Comrade Bordiga then too "was in no hurry" and rejected our proposal, so that the occupation of the factories took place without there existing an organized communist faction in Italy, capable of giving the masses who followed the Socialist Party a national slogan. The 'time" factor is also important. Sometimes it is of capital importance.

I have the impression that the comrades who have so far expressed their opinions have forgotten what the fundamental problem which faces our party today is: its relations with the Communist International. Comrade Bordiga's attitude too can be useful, in a certain sense; but his error lies in not taking account of the party's need to resolve the problem of relations with the International. Bordiga's attitude besides can only result in the emergence of a group of heterogeneous elements who will be able to find a measure of unity and consistency in the fact of declaring themselves 'for the International'. This result, which we have already had to lament once, serves to prove how intrinsically incorrect Bordiga's attitude is. The origin of the 'minority' should be ascribed to it.

With respect to the comrades of the minority, the situation has been partly altered as a result of the statement they have produced; but not all the differences have disappeared. On the present political programme, the minority asserts that no disagreement exists. In reality, I recall that in Moscow, for example, comrade Tasca opposed the formula of replacing the unions within the factory. Today, this problem is one of the most important which confront our party. It is posed in the following terms: how must the Communist Party - effective centre of the revolutionary vanguard lead the trade-union struggles of the working class? Create factory cells, very well: but what work must these carry out? We are convinced that now the Internal Commissions have disappeared, if not formally at least in a functioning sense, the workers will turn to the Communist cells not just for questions of a political character, but also for their trade-union defence; and that it is therefore necessary that comrades should be prepared to carry out this work too. It will be necessary for these problems to be fully studied and thought through, all the more because we are at a decisive turning-point in the history of the Italian workers' movement.

The comrades of the Left protest their disciplined attitude to the International. We say to them: "It is not enough to say that one is disciplined. It is necessary to situate oneself on the terrain of activity indicated by the International." If the International, for reasons known to all, has up to now made concessions, this cannot continue in the future, since this would lead to the fragmentation of the International itself. What has occurred recently inside the Russian party must serve as valuable experience for US. Trotsky's attitude, initially, can be compared to comrade Bordiga's at present. Trotsky, although taking part "in a disciplined manner" in the work of the party, had through his attitude of passive opposition - similar to Bordiga's - created a state of unease throughout the party, which could not fail to get a whiff of this situation. The result was a crisis which lasted several months, and which only today can be said to have been overcome. This shows that opposition - even kept within the limits of a formal discipline - on the part of exceptional personalities in the workers' movement can not merely hamper the development of the revolutionary situation, but can put in danger the very conquests of the revolution.

A few words more on the workers' government. At the June 1923 Enlarged Executive meeting, comrade Trotsky predicted the creation of the Cartel des Gauches in France, and posed the problem of the attitude which the French communists should adopt in such a situation. 141 At the time, not much importance was given to this problem. Well, today we can see that the French workers have only given 850 thousand votes to the communists, while they have given millions to the Cartel des Gauches. And if the communists at least won these 850 thousand votes, it was due to the fact that they presented the communist slate as the slate of a Workers' and Peasants' Bloc.

Bordiga. Yet a good third of the communist votes were won in Paris, where there are no peasants.

Gramsci. That is true, but one must not forget that all the revolutions of the Paris proletariat have been defeated because of the isolation in which it found itself, and that therefore the Paris workers understand perfectly the need to unite with the peasantry.

Bordiga. But why call it a "bloc" and not simply Communist Party? Does the Communist Party not have the alliance between workers and peasants in its programme?

Gramsci. Let us not quarrel about words. It is necessary to present things in the way one considers most effective to move even the most backward sections of the masses. Not all the workers can understand the whole development of the revolution. Today, for example, the Italian workers of the South are undoubtedly revolutionaries, yet they continue to swear by Di Cesarò and De Nicola.We must take account of such states of mind, and seek means to overcome them. If the communists go among the peasants of the South and speak of their programme, they are not understood. If one of us went to my village to talk about " struggle against the capitalists", he would be told that "capitalists" do not exist in Sardinia. Yet even these masses must be won over. We have the possibility, given precisely the conditions created by fascism, to initiate a mass anti-reactionary movement in the South. But it is necessary to win over these masses, and this can be done only by participating in the struggles which they launch for partial victories and partial demands. The "workers' and peasants' government" slogan must serve to bring together and synthesize the content of these partial struggles, in a programme which can be understood even by the most backward masses.

These are our ideas on the problems of today. I repeat that the comrades must not make an issue of nomenclature: in 1919 Buozzi rebuked us for carrying out activity - through the Factory Councils - that was too reformist. We laughed at the time, and the facts have shown who was reformist and who was revolutionary. Let comrades pose concrete questions, and let them remember that at the present time the most important question is that of our party's relations with the Communist International.