Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Antonio Gramsci 1924

Problems of today and tomorrow

Unsigned, L'Ordine Nuovo, 1 and 15 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.

From an old subscriber and friend of L'Ordine Nuovo, we have received the following letter :

"It seems to me that our disagreement is especially of a chronological order. I accept a great deal of what you write to me, but as solutions to problems which will arise after the fall of fascism. It is very useful to study them and prepare oneself to confront them; but the problems of today are very different. Let us discuss this. I stand by my opinion that the working class is totally absent from political life. And I can only conclude that the Communist Party, today, can do nothing or almost nothing positive. The situation is strikingly similar to that of 1916-17; and so too is my state of mind, which you say is shared by other friends who write to you. My political opinions are unchanged - or worse still, I have become fixed in them; just as up till 1917, 1 was fixed in the pacifist socialism of 1914-15 - which I was shaken out of by the discovery, made after Caporetto and the Russian Revolution of November, that guns were precisely in the hands of the worker-soldiers. Unfortunately, the analogy does not extend so far. But just as at that time, although we knew rationally that the War would have to end one day, we all "felt" that it would never end and could not see how peace could come - so it is today with fascism. It is quite easy for me to accept your opinion that this state of affairs cannot last, and that major events are imminent: it is perfectly logical, but one cannot "feel" it or "see" it.

There will be no possibility of working-class political action, so long as the concrete problems which present themselves to each worker have to be resolved individually and privately, as is the case today. He has to preserve his job, his pay, his house and his family. The union and the party cannot help in any way, indeed the reverse is true. A little peace can only be won if one makes oneself as small as possible, if one scatters. One can only increase one's pay a bit by working a lot or looking for supplementary jobs, competing with the other workers, etc. The very negation of the party and the union. The economic crisis has now diminished, so that if there was even a minimum of trade-union freedom and public order, union organization, industrial action, etc., could start up again (as in England, for example). The urgent question, which conditions all others, is that of "freedom" and "order": the others will come later, but for now they cannot even interest the workers.

Now, I do not think that a relaxation of fascist pressure can be secured by the Communist Party; today is the hour of the democratic opposition, and I think it is necessary to let them proceed and even help them. What is necessary, first of all, is a "bourgeois revolution", which will then allow the development of a working-class politics. Basically, it seems to me that -just like during the War - there is nothing to be done except to wait for it to pass. I would like to know your opinion on this subject. I do not feel that my own is incompatible with being a Communist (though a non-active one). For the function -which I attribute to the "lefts" will be accomplished very quickly, I believe. And it would certainly not be right for the Communist Party to compromise itself with them, since in any case it could not make any real contribution to a campaign of such a kind. But I also think that it is an error to set oneself openly against them, and to spend too much time (as L'Unitá does, for example) deriding bourgeois "freedom". Fair or foul, it is what the workers feel most keenly the need for today, and it is the precondition for any further advance. Just as during the War neutralism was certainly not a socialist policy, but it was certainly the best policy for the Socialist Party out of those which were possible, because it meant most to the masses.

The Communist Party cannot - because of the contradiction it would involve - wage a campaign for freedom and against dictatorship in general. But it commits a grave error when it gives the impression it is sabotaging an alliance of the opposition forces - as it did with its sudden declaration that it would participate in the electoral struggle, when the other parties pretended to threaten abstention. Its function, for now, is that of a coach-fly, since afterwards it will be necessary for a mass party to have distinguished itself in the struggle against fascism: again, just as in the War. Meanwhile, it would be a good thing to take advantage of this experience to prepare a concrete programme for afterwards: then, certainly, the Southern question and that of unity will be in the foreground. But not today. I do not think that the fascists' fight to have Orlando and Co. on their slate has the significance you attribute to it. It can be explained more simply as an obvious electoral expedient, necessary to avoid a fiasco. This explanation is also more worthy of the prefect of Naples and of Mussolini. You say that fascism is precisely destroying the unity of the State, hence the question is urgent and relevant today; but I do not think it is of the kind you say. It seems to me to be more of a police question than a social one. The fact is that fascism pays its supporters not so much with money as with crumbs of State authority; with permission to swagger and strut, for amusement and for private interest. The remedy will lie in an efficient police-force independent of the local chieftains, no matter whether it is centralized or local. In short, it comes back to a question of public order, not to a territorial one.

I was really moved at the sight of the first issue of L'Ordine Nuovo. I hope that, as in 1919, it will succeed in finding the slogan which is lacking today and which is needed. I hope too that it will be able to draw a balance-sheet of the past: not to determine the blame or merit of individuals or parties; not to repeat "I told you so"; above all, not to draw a balance-sheet of your enemies, but rather -of yourselves and your own comrades - which is more useful, and alone can make experience useful. You certainly need great courage to carry out an autopsy on yourselves, but the old Ordine Nuovo will perhaps have that courage." S.

Liquidatory Elements

This letter contains all the necessary and sufficient elements to liquidate a revolutionary organization such as our party is and must be. And yet, this is not the intention of our friend S., who even though he is not a member, even though he is only on the fringes of our movement and our propaganda, has faith in our party and considers it the only one capable of permanently resolving the problems posed and the situation created by fascism. Is the position adopted in the letter purely personal? We do not think so. It cannot but be the position of a large circle of intellectuals who, in the years 1919-20, sympathized with the proletarian revolution, and who subsequently refused to prostitute themselves to triumphant fascism. It is also, unconsciously, the position of a part of the proletariat itself, even of members of our party, who have not succeeded in resisting the torturing daily drip of reactionary events, in the state of isolation and dispersal created for them by fascist terror. This is clear from a whole series of facts, and is openly confessed in private correspondence. Our friend S. does not adopt the viewpoint of an organized party. So he does not perceive the consequences of his views or the numerous contradictions into which he falls, but arrives at an absurd position and thus himself highlights the weakness and falsity of his argument.

S. believes that the future will belong to our party. But how could the Communist Party continue to exist, how could it develop, how in other words could it become capable of dominating and guiding events after the fall of fascism, if it annihilated itself today in the attitude of total passivity proposed by S. himself?. Predestination does not exist for individuals, and even less does it do so for parties. All that exists is the concrete activity, the ceaseless work, the continuous contact with developing historical reality that give individuals and parties a position of preeminence, a role of guide and vanguard. Our party is an organized fraction of the proletariat and of the peasant masses, i.e. of the classes which are today oppressed and crushed by fascism. If our party did not find for today independent solutions of its own to the overall, Italian problems, the classes which are its natural base would turn en masse towards those political currents which give some solution to these problems that is not the fascist one.

If that occurred, the fact would have an immense historical significance. It would mean that the present is not a revolutionary socialist period, but we are still living in an epoch of bourgeois capitalist development. It would mean that not only the subjective conditions of organization and political preparation are lacking, but also the objective material conditions for the proletariat to attain power. Then, indeed, we too would face the problem of taking up not an independent revolutionary position, but that of a mere radical fraction of the constitutional opposition, called by history to realize the "bourgeois revolution" - in other words, an indispensable and inevitable stage in the process which will culminate in socialism. Does the Italian situation perhaps authorize one to believe this? S. himself does not believe it, because he writes that the task of the constitutional opposition will be chronologically very brief, without any direct development other than towards a proletarian revolution.

S. refers to the period of the War, and presents the stance of the Socialist Party during the War as exemplary. How absurd this reference is, and how much it proves its author wrong, is at once clear from even the briefest and most hasty analysis. Socialist neutralism was an essentially opportunist tactic, dictated by the tradititional need to balance the three tendencies making up the party (which we will indicate simply with the three names of Turati, Lazzari and Bordiga). It was not a political line established after an examination of the situation and of the relationship of forces which existed in Italy in 1914-15. Instead, it was a result of the conception of "party unity above all else, even above the revolution" which still characterizes maximalism. The fact that our friend S. only discovered that arms were in the hands of the workersoldiers after the November revolution and the defeat at Caporetto, merely demonstrates the way in which this opportunist tactic had left the Socialist masses in the dark about the discussions which had already taken place on this subject at the international level. The Zimmerwald Left had made this "discovery" back in 1915, and it had determined the tactics of the Russian Bolshevik Party. For that reason, the defeat of the Russian armies, after the offensives imposed on the Kerensky government by the Entente, was followed by proletarian revolution and transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war. The defeat at Caporetto, however, was only followed by a resolution which confined itself to reasserting parliamentary opposition to the government and the rejection of war credits.

The attitude which the Socialist Party maintained during the War also illuminates subsequent events up to the Livorno Congress, the Socialists' Rome Congress and the formation of the Unitary Socialist Party. It is the same tactic, basically, taking on 'a new aspect for each new situation: the same tactic of passivity; "neutralism"; unity for unity's sake; the party for the party's sake; faith in the predestination of the Socialist Party to be the party of the Italian workers. The results which this attitude has today, when there exist the Unitary Socialist Party to the right and the Communist Party to the left, are clear even to our friend S.: permanent internal crises and split after split, none of which ever resolve the situation, because the communist tendency continually re-emerges and the right (favourable to fusion with the Unitary Socialists) is continually reinforced.

Residues of Old Ideologies

Our friend S. has not yet succeeded in destroying in himself all the ideological traces of his democratic-liberal intellectual formation, normative and Kantian rather than dialectical and Marxist. What meaning do his statements have that the working class is "absent"; that the situation is against unions and parties; that fascist violence is a problem of "order", i.e of "police", and not a "social" problem?

The Italian situation is certainly complicated and contradictory, but not so much so that one cannot grasp definite unitary lines of development in it. The proletariat, i.e. the revolutionary class par excellence is a minority of the toiling population oppressed and exploited by capitalism, and is mainly concentrated in a single zone - that of the North. In the years 1919-20, the proletariat's political strength consisted in finding itself automatically at the head of all the working population; and in centralizing objectively - by its direct and immediate action against capitalism - all the revolts of the other popular strata, amorphous and directionless. Its weakness was revealed in its failure to organize these revolutionary relations; and in the fact that it did not even consider the problem of the need to organize these relations into a concrete political system and a government programme. Fascist repression, following the line of least resistance, began with these other social strata and came to the proletariat last.

Today, systematic and legal repression is kept up against the proletariat. But it has by contrast diminished at the periphery, against those strata who in 1920 were only objectively the proletariat's allies - and which are becoming reorganized; entering partially into struggle again; revealing the softer features of a constitutional opposition, i.e. their most markedly petty-bourgeois features. What then does it mean that the working class is 'absent'? The 'presence' of the working class, in the sense our friend S. understands this, would mean revolution; because it would mean that once more, as in 1919-20, not democratic petty bourgeois are standing at the head of the working population, but the most revolutionary class of the nation. But fascism is precisely the negation of such a state of affairs; fascism was born and developed precisely in order to destroy such a state of affairs, and to prevent it from reappearing.

How then is the problem posed today? It seems to us that it is posed in the following terms: the working class is, and will remain, "absent" to the extent that the Communist Party allows the constitutional opposition to monopolize the reawakening to struggle of the. social strata which are historically the proletariat's allies. The emergence and consolidation of the constitutional opposition is infusing the proletariat with new strength, so that it is once again flocking into the party and the unions. If the Communist Party intervenes actively in the process whereby the opposition is formed, works to bring about a class differentiation in the social base of the opposition, and ensures that the peasant masses orient themselves towards the programme of a workers' and peasants' government, then the proletariat is no longer "absent" as before. Then there is a line of political work in which both the problems of today and those of tomorrow are resolved, and in which tomorrow is prepared and organized, not just awaited from the lap of fate.

This line of political work is thus opposed as much to the constitutional opposition as it is to fascism - even if the constitutional opposition upholds a programme of freedom and order which would be preferable to fascism's one of violence and arbitrary power. The truth is that the constitutional opposition will never realize its programme, which is a pure instrument of anti-fascist agitation. It will not realize it, because to do so would mean that so great a "catastrophe" would occur so soon; and because the entire development of the situation in Italy is controlled by the armed force of the national militia. Nevertheless, the development of the opposition and the features which it assumes are extremely important phenomena. They are the proof of fascism's powerlessness to resolve the vital problems of the nation. They are a daily reminder of the objective reality which no volley of insults can annihilate. For us, they represent the environment in which we must move and work, if we wish to remain in contact with historical reality, and not become a meditational sect; the environment in which we must seek the concreteness of our slogans and our immediate programmes for action and agitation.

Three Points to Summarize

We can sum up the main features of our conception of the present needs and tasks of the proletarian movement, in counter-position to that of our friend S., as follows: 1. to give our party a sharper awareness of the concrete problems which the situation created by fascism has posed for the working class, in such a way that organization becomes not an end in itself, but an instrument for spreading revolutionary slogans among the broadest masses; 2. to work for the political unity of the proletariat under the banner of the Communist International, hastening the process of decomposition and recomposition that was begun at the Livorno Congress; 3. to establish concretely the meaning in Italy of the workers' and peasants' government slogan, and to give this slogan a national political substance - which can only happen if we study the most crucial and pressing problems of the peasant masses, and therefore first and foremost those specific problems which are summed up in the general term "the Southern question".

Intellectuals like our friend S. who have not allowed themselves to be carried away by fascism, and who in one way or another have not been prepared to disavow their attitudes in the years 1919 and 1920, can once again find in L'Ordine Nuovo a centre of discussion and regroupment.