Speech to the Italian parliament
Delivered: 16 May 1925;
Source: Gramsci Antonio, Contro la legge sulle associazioni segrete, 1997, Manifestolibri;
Translated: by Michael Carley for marxists.org 2006.
SPEAKER: The honourable Gramsci may speak.
GRAMSCI: The proposed law against secret societies has been
presented to the House as a proposed law against freemasonry; this is
the first real act of fascism to assert what the Fascist Party calls
its revolution. We, as a communist party, want to seek out not only
the reason for the presentation of this bill against organizations in
general, but also the meaning of why the Fascist Party has presented
this law as directed primarily against freemasonry.
We are among the few who have taken fascism seriously, even when
fascism seemed nothing more than a blood-stained farce, when fascism
was discussed in the common terms of "war psychosis,” when all
parties sought to soothe the working population presenting fascism as
a superficial phenomenon, of very short duration.
In November 1920 we predicted that fascism would take power – a thing
then inconceivable to the Fascists themselves – if the working class
did not take up arms in time to block its blood-stained advance.
Fascism, then, today declares itself to have practically "conquered
the State.” What does this expression, now become a cliché, mean?
And what meaning, in this sense, has the struggle against freemasonry?
Since we think this phase of the "Fascist conquest” to be one of the
most important undergone by the Italian state, and as we represent the
interests of the majority of the Italian people, the workers and
peasants, we believe that an analysis of the question, even if rushed,
What is freemasonry? You have spoken at length on the spiritual
significance, the ideological currents which it represents, etc; but
all of these are forms of expression which you use only to convince
Freemasonry, given the manner in which Italy was united, given the
initial weakness of the Italian capitalist bourgeousie, freemasonry
was the the only real and effective party which the bourgeouis class
had for a long time. It must not be forgotten that little less than twenty years after the entry of the
Piedmontese into Rome, parliament was dissolved and the electoral body
of about three million was reduced to 800 thousand.
This was an open confession by the bourgeouis of being a very weak
minority of the population, if after twenty years of unity it was
forced to adopt the most extreme dictatorial measures to maintain
power, to crush its class enemies, which were the enemies of the
Who were these enemies? They were mainly the Vatican, the Jesuits, and
the Honourable Martire must be reminded how, as well as the
Jesuits who wear the habit, there exist lay Jesuits,
who have no special symbol which indicates their religious order.
In the early years after the foundation of the kingdom the Jesuits
stated in a series of articles published in Civiltà
cattolica the political programme of the Vatican and of the
classes which were represented by the Vatican, that is the old
semifedual classes, Bourbon by tendency in the South, or Austrian by
tendency in Lombardy-Veneto, numerous social forces which the
capitalist bourgeouisie has never managed to contain, even though in
the period of the Risorgimento it represented progress, and a
revolutionary beginning. The Jesuits of Civiltà
cattolica, and thus the Vatican, made the first point of their
political programme the sabotage of the unitary state, through
parliamentary abstention, the obstruction of the liberal state in all
of its activities which could corrupt and destroy the old order; the
second point, the creation of a rural reserve army to place against
the advance of the proletariat, as since '71 the Jesuits foresaw that
on the field of liberal democracy the proletarian movement would be
born, which would develop into a revolutionary movement.
The Honourable Martire has today declared that the spiritual unity of
the Italian nation, at the expense of freemasonry, has finally been
Since freemasonry in Italy has represented the ideology and the real
organisation of the capitalist bourgeouis class, whoever is against
freemasonry is against liberalism, is against the political tradition
of the Italian bourgeouisie. The rural classes which were represented
in the past by the Vatican, are today mainly represented by fascism;
it is logical that fascism has replaced the Vatican and the Jesuits in
the historical task, by which the most backward classes of the
population bring under their control the class which has been
progressive in the development of civilization; this is the
significance of the achievement of the spiritual unity of the Italian
nation, which would have been a phenomenon of advancement fifty years
ago; and today it is instead the largest phenomenon of regression
The industrial bourgeouisie has not been capable of slowing down the
workers' movement, it has not been capable of controlling the workers'
movement, or the revolutionary rural movement. Thus the first
instinctive and spontaneous watchword of fascism, after the occupation
of the factories was this: "The rural will control the urban
bourgeousie, who do not know how to be strong against the workers.”
If I have not deluded myself, then, Honourable Mussolini, was that not
your thesis, and between rural fascism and urban fascism you said you
preferred urban fascism ...
MUSSOLINI: I must interrupt you to remind you of an article
of mine in praise of rural fascism in 1921-22.
GRAMSCI: But that is not a purely Italian phenomenon, however
much in Italy, with its weaker capitalism, it had the greatest
development; it is a European and world phenomenon, of great
importance in understanding the general postwar crisis in the domain
of practical activity and in the domain of ideas and culture.
The election of Hindenburg in Germany, the victory of the
conservatives in England, with the liquidation of the respective
liberal democratic parties, are the equivalent of the Italian fascist
movement; the old social forces, though not completely absorbed by it,
have taken control of the organisation of the states, bringing into
their reactionary activity all of the depth of ferocity and ruthless
decision which has always been theirs; but in substance we have a
phenomenon of historical regression which is not and will not be
without implications for the development of the proletarian
revolution. Examined on this ground, will the present law against the
associations will be enforced or is it instead destined to be futile?
Will it correspond to reality, will it be a means to stabilize the
capitalist regime or will it only be a new instrument given to the
police to arrest Tom, Dick and Harry? ... The problem then is this:
has the situation of capitalism in Italy been strengthened or weakened
since the war, by fascism? What were the weaknesses of the Italian
capitalist bourgeoisie before the war, weaknesses which brought about
the creation of this masonic political system which existed in Italy,
which had its greatest development in Giolittismo? The greatest
weaknesses in Italian national life were in the first place the lack
of raw materials, that is the impossibility of the bourgeoisie
creating in Italy industry which would have deep roots in the country
and which could develop progressively, absorbing the surplus
workforce. Secondly, the lack of colonies tied to the mother country,
thus the impossibility for the bourgeouisie of creating a labour
aristocracy which could be permanently allied to the bourgeouisie
itself. Thirdly, the Southern question, that is the question of the
peasants, closely tied to the problem of emigration, which is the
proof of the inability of the Italian bourgeouisie to maintain
MUSSOLINI: Germans have also emigrated by the million.
GRAMSCI: The significance of mass emigration of workers is
this: the capitalist system, which is the dominant system, is not
capable of giving food, housing and clothing to the population, to a
not insignificant part of this population which is forced to
ROSSONI: So the nation must expand in the interests of the
GRAMSCI: We have our own conception of imperialism and
colonialism, according to which these are above all an export of
finance capital. Until now Italian "imperialism” has consisted only
of this: the Italian emigrant worker works for the profit of the
capitalists of other countries, that is until now Italy has only been
a means of expansion for non-Italian finance capital. You rinse your
mouths with declarations of a claimed demographic superiority of Italy
over other countries; you always say, for example, that Italy is
demographically superior to France. This is a question which only
statistics can finally resolve, and I sometimes deal with statistics;
now a statistic published after the war, and never denied, and which
can not be denied, states that pre-war Italy from the demographic
point of view, was already in the same situation as France after the
war; this is determined by the fact that emigration removes from the
national territory such a mass of the male, economically active,
population, that the demographic relations become catastrophic. In the
national territory there remain the old, women, children, invalids,
that is the inactive part of the population, which weighs on the
population to a greater degree than in any other country, even France.
And this is the fundamental weakness of the Italian capitalist system,
for which Italian capitalism is destined to disappear even more
rapidly as the world capitalist system no longer manages to absorb
Italian emigration, to exploit Italian labour, which our capitalism is
incapable of organizing.
The bourgeouis parties, freemasonry, how have they tried to resolve
In Italian history we know about the last two political plans of the
bourgeouisie to resolve the question of the governance of the Italian
people. We have had the Giolitti programme, the collaboration of
Italian socialism with Giolittismo, that is the attempt to establish
an alliance of the industrial bourgeouisie with a certain northern
labour aristocracy to oppress, to subject to this
bourgeouis-proletarian grouping the mass of the Italian peasantry,
especially in the Mezzogiorno. The programme did not succeed. In
southern Italy a bourgeouis-proletarian coalition was established
through parliamentary collaboration and the politics of public works;
in southern Italy the leading class is corrupted and dominates the
masses with goons...[Interruptions of Deputy Greco] You
fascists have been the major authors of the failure of this political
programme, as you have impoverished eqully the labour aristocracy and
the poor peasantry of all of Italy.
We have had a programme which we might call that of Corriere
della sera, a newspaper which represents no mean force in national
politics: 800,000 readers are also a party.
VOICES: Fewer ...
MUSSOLINI: Half! And the readers of newspapers don't count.
They have never made a revolution. The readers of newspapers are
GRAMSCI: The Corriere della sera does not want to
make a revolution.
FARINACCI: Nor does l'Unità
GRAMSCI: The Corriere della sera has
systematically supported all of the politicians of the Mezzogiorno,
from Salandra to Orlando, to Nitti, to Amendola; in the face of the
Giolitti solution, oppressive not only of classes, but even of whole
territories, such as the Mezzogiorno and the islands, and thus just as
dangerous as the current fascism for the same material unity of the
Italian state, the Corriere della sera has always supported
an alliance between the industrialists of the North and a certain
vague mainly Southern rural democracy on the ground of free trade. One
solution and the other tended essentially to give the Italian state a
larger base than it had originally, and tended to develop the
"conquests” of the Risorgimento.
What do fascists propose against these solutions? They propose a law
supposedly against freemasonry; they claim to want to so conquer the
State. In reality fascism struggles against the only effectively
organized force which the bourgeouisie have in Italy, to supplant it
in occupying the posts which the state gives its civil servants. The
fascist "revolution” is only the replacement of one administrative
personnel by another.
MUSSOLINI: Of one class by another, as happened in Russia,
as normally happens in all revolutions, as we will methodically do!
GRAMSCI: It is only revolution that which is based on a new
class. Fascism is not based on any class that was not already in power
MUSSOLINI: But if a large part of the capitalists are
against, but if I list for you the major capitalists who vote against
us, who are in the opposition: the Mottas, the Contis ...
FARINACCI: And they subsidize subversive newspapers!
MUSSOLINI: The directors are not Fascist, and you know it!
GRAMSCI: The reality then is that the law against
freemasonry is not principally against freemasonry; in the end fascism
will easily come to a compromise with freemasonry.
MUSSOLINI: The fascists have burnt the masonic lodges before
making the law! So there is no need for an accomodation.
GRAMSCI: Fascism uses against freemasonry, in a more intense
form, the same tactic as it used against all the non-fascist
bourgeouis parties: first it created a fascist cell in those parties;
then it tried to extract from other parties the forces most useful to
it, not managing to take them over as it intended ...
FARINACCI: And you call us fools?
GRAMSCI: You would not be fools only if you knew how to
solve the problems of the Italian situation ...
MUSSOLINI: We will solve them. We have already solved many
GRAMSCI: Fascism has not managed to completely absorb all the
parties into its organization. With freemasonry it has employed the
political tactic of noyautage, then the terrorist system of
burning lodges, and finally it employs legislative action, through
which certain persons of the company boards and the high bureaucracy
will end up giving in to the masters so as not to lose their jobs, but
the fascist government will have to come to a compromise with
freemasonry. What do you do when your enemy is strong? First, you
break his legs, then you make a compromise from a condition of obvious
MUSSOLINI: First you break his ribs, then you imprison him,
as you have done in Russia! You have taken your prisoners and you hold
them, and you need to! [Noises]
GRAMSCI: Taking prisoners means exactly making compromises:
thus we say that in reality the law is especially made against
workers' organizations. We ask why for many months without the
Communist Party being declared illegal, the carabinieri have arrested
our comrades every time they find them in a meeting of at least three
MUSSOLINI: We are doing what you do in Russia.
GRAMSCI: In Russia there are laws which are obeyed: you have
your own laws ...
MUSSOLINI: You have big round-ups? You do well to!
GRAMSCI: In reality the police apparatus of the state
already considers the Communist Party a secret organization.
MUSSOLINI: That is not true!
GRAMSCI: In so far as anyone, accused of no specific
offence, found in a meeting of three persons, is jailed, just because
they are communist.
MUSSOLINI: But they are soon released. How many are in jail?
We pick them up just to find out who they are!
GRAMSCI: It is a form of systematic persecution which
precedes and will justify the application of the new law. Fascism is
adopting the same systems as the government of Giolotti. You are doing
as the Giolotti goons did in the Mezzogiorno when they arrested
opposition voters ...to find out who they were.
A VOICE: There was only one case of it. You do not know the
GRAMSCI: I am from the South!
MUSSOLINI: With respect to electoral violence I remind you
of an article by Bordiga which fully justifies it!
GRECO PAOLO: You, Honourable Gramsci, have not read this
GRAMSCI: Not fascist violence, ours. We are sure of
representing the majority of the population, of representing the most
essential interests of the majority of the Italian people; proletarian
violence is thus progressive and cannot be systematic. Your violence
is systematic and systematically arbitrary because you represent a
minority destined to disappear. We must say to the working population
what your government is, how your government conducts itself, to
organize against you, to make it ready to defeat you. It is most
probable that we too will find ourselves forced to use the same
systems as you, but as a transition, occasionally. [Noises,
interruptions]. Certainly: use the same systems as you, with the
difference that you represent the minority of the population, while we
represent the majority. [Interruptions, noises].
FARINACCI: But then, why do you not make the revolution? You
are destined for the same end as Bombacci! They will throw you out of
GRAMSCI: The Italian bourgeouisie when they made the
unification were a minority of the population, but since they
represented the interests of the majority even if it did not follow
them, were able to maintain themselves in power. You have won by arms,
but you have no programme, you represent nothing new or
progressive. You have only taught the revolutionary vanguard that only
arms, in the final analysis, determine the success of programmes and
non-programmes ... [Interruptions, comments].
SPEAKER: Do not interrupt!
GRAMSCI: This law will not manage to slow down the movement
which you yourselves are preparing in the country. Since freemasonry
will enter the fascist party en masse and will form a
tendency within it, it is clear that with this law you hope to impede
the development of large worker and peasant organizations. That is the
real value, the real meaning of the law.
Some fascists still hazily remember the teachings of their old
masters, from when they were revolutionary and socialist, and believe
that a class cannot permanently remain so and develop itself up to the
conquest of power without it having a party and an organization of the
best and most conscious part of itself. There is something true in
this sinister reactionary perversion of Marxist teachings. It is
certainly very difficult for a class to reach the solution of its
problems and to reach those ends which are built into its existence
and into the general strength of society, without a vanguard
constituting itself and carrying this class to the attainment of these
But it is not said that this statement is always true, such dogmatism
is foreign to reactionary purposes! This is a law which serves for
Italy, which must be applied in Italy, where the bourgeouisie has not
managed in any way and will never manage to resolve in the first place
the question of the Italian peasantry, to resolve the question of
Southern Italy. Not for nothing is this law presented at the same time
as some projects concerning the reclamation of the Mezzogiorno.
A VOICE: Talk about freemasonry.
GRAMSCI: You want me to talk about freemasonry. But in the
title of the law there is not even a hint of freemasonry, it speaks
only of organizations in general. In Italy capitalism has been able to
develop insofar as the state has pressed on the peasant populations,
especially in the South. Today you feel the urgency of this problem,
so you promise a billion for Sardinia, you promise public works and
hundreds of millions for the whole Mezzogiorno; but to do serious
concrete work you should start by restoring to Sardinia the 100-150
million in taxes that you extort from the Sardinian population every
year! You should restore to the Mezzogiorno the hundreds of millions
in taxes which every year you extort from the Southern population.
MUSSOLINI: You don't impose taxes in Russia! ...
A VOICE: They steal in Russia, they don't pay taxes!
GRAMSCI: That is not the question, honourable colleague, who
should at least know the parliamentary reports on these questions
which exist in the library. It does not deal with the normal
bourgeouis mechanism of taxation: it deals with the fact that every
year the state extorts from the Southern regions sums in taxes which
it does not restore in any way, neither through services of any kind
MUSSOLINI: It is not true.
GRAMSCI: ...sums which the state extorts from the
Southern peasant populations to give a base to the capitalism of
northern Italy. [Interruptions, comments]. On this field of
the contradictions of the Italian capitalist system there will
necessarily form, notwithstanding the difficulty of building large
organizations, the union of workers and peasants against the common
You fascists, you fascist government, notwithstanding your demagogic
speeches, have not overcome this contradiction which was already
fundamental; you have instead made it more strongly felt by the
popular classes and the masses. You have worked in this situation, for
the neccessities of this situation. You have added new dust to that
already accumulated by the development of the capitalist society and
you believe you have suppressed with a law the most lethal effects of
your own activity. [Interruptions]. This is the most
important question in the discussion of this law!
You can "conquer the state,” you can change the laws, you can seek
to stop organizations existing in the form in which they have existed
up to now; you cannot prevail against the objective conditions under
which you are constrained to move. You will do no more than force the
proletariat to find a direction different from that up to now most
commonly followed in the field of mass organization. We want to say
this to the proletariat and to the Italian peasant masses from this
platform: that the Italian revolutionary forces will not allow
themselves to be broken, that your sinister dream will not succeed.
[Interruptions]. It is very difficult to apply to a
population of 40 million inhabitants the systems of government of
Cankof. In Bulgaria there are a few million inhabitants and in any
case, despite the aid from outside, the government cannot manage to
defeat the coalition of the Communist Party and the peasant
revolutionary forces, and in Italy there are 40 million inhabitants.
MUSSOLINI: The Communist Party has fewer members than has
the Italian Fascist Party!
GRAMSCI: But it represents the working the class.
MUSSOLINI: It does not represent it!
FARINACCI: It betrays it, it does not represent it.
GRAMSCI: Yours is a consent obtained with the stick.
FARINACCI: You are talking about Miglioli.
GRAMSCI: Exactly. The Miglioli phenomenon has great
importance in exactly the sense of what I said earlier: that even the
Catholic peasant masses are turning to the revolutionary struggle.
Nor would the fascist newspapers have protested against Miglioli if
the Miglioli phenomenon had not had great importance in showing the
new orientation of the revolutionary forms as a function of your
pressures on the working classes.
In conclusion: freemasonry tips the scales in favour of the
reactionary anti-proletarian measures! It is not freemasonry which
matters! Freemasonry will become a wing of fascism. The law is
intended for the workers and peasants, who will understand so very
well from the use that will be made of it. To these masses we want to
say that you will not succeed in suffocating the organisational forms
of their class life, because against you stands the whole development
of Italian society.
SPEAKER: But do not interrupt! Let him speak. You, however,
Honourable Gramsci, have not spoken of the law!
ROSSONI: The law is not against organizations!
GRAMSCI: Honourable Rossoni, it is itself a section of the
law against the organizations. The workers and peasants must know that
you will not succeed in stopping the revolutionary movement
strengthening and radicalizing itself. [Interruptions,
noises]. Because I am only stating today the situation of our
country ... [Interruptions].
SPEAKER: Honourable Gramsci, you have repeated this idea
three or four times. Please! We are not jurors, who need to be told
the same thing many times!
GRAMSCI: It must be repeated, however, you must hear it
until you are sick of it. The revolutionary movement will defeat