Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Antonio Gramsci 1925

The internal situation in our party and the tasks of the forthcoming congress


L'Unita, 3 July 1925.

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.


At its last meeting, the Enlarged Executive of the Communist International did not have to resolve any question of principle or of tactics that had arisen between the Italian party as a whole and the International. 116 This was the first time that such a thing had occurred, in the whole series of meetings of the International. For this reason, the most authoritative comrades of the Executive of the Communist international would have preferred there not even to have been any question of an Italian Commission: since there was no general crisis of the Italian party, there was no "Italian problem" either.

Indeed, it should be said at once that our party, although even before the World Congress and especially afterwards it had modified its tactical positions in order to draw close to the Leninist line of the Communist International, nevertheless suffered no crisis in the ranks of its members or in relation to the masses: quite the contrary. Having defined its new tactical positions with respect to the general situation created in the country after the 6 April elections, and especially after the assassination of Giacomo Matteotti, the party succeeded in growing as an organization and in extending its influence notably among the working-class and peasant masses. Our party is one of the few, if not the only, party in the International which can claim such a success in a situation as difficult as that which has been being created in all countries (especially in Europe) in relation to the relative stabilization of capitalism and the relative reinforcement of the bourgeois governments and of social-democracy - which has become an increasingly essential part of the bourgeois system. It is necessary to say, at least in parenthesis, that it is precisely because of the emergence of this situation, and in relation to the consequences it has had not only among the broad working masses but also within the communist parties, that the problem of Bolshevization must be confronted.

The Present Stage of Development of the Parties of the International

The crises which all the parties of the International have passed through since 1921, i.e. since the beginning of the period characterized by a slowing down of the rhythm of revolution, have shown that the overall composition of these parties was not ideologically very solid. The parties themselves oscillated, with often very violent shifts from right to far left; this produced the most serious repercussions on the entire organization, and general crises in relations between the parties and the masses. The phase which the parties of the International are passing through at present, on the other hand, is characterized by the fact that, in each of them, there has been being formed through the political experience of the last years - and there has been consolidated - a basic nucleus which is bringing about a Leninist stabilization of their ideological composition, thus ensuring that they will no longer be shaken by crises of too deep or oscillations of too wide a nature. By posing in this way the general problem of Bolshevization, both in the sphere of organization and in that of ideological formation, the Enlarged Executive has declared that our forces are on the point of resolving the crisis. In this sense, the Enlarged Executive meeting is a point of arrival. But at the same time its recognition of the very great progress achieved in consolidating the organizational and ideological bases of the parties is a point of departure, insofar as this progress must be coordinated and systematized, in other words must become the effective, generalized consciousness of the masses as a whole.

In some ways, the revolutionary parties of Western Europe find themselves today in the same conditions in which the Russian Bolsheviks found themselves from the moment of their party's foundation. In Russia before the War, there did not exist great workers' organizations such as those which by contrast characterized the entire period of the pre-War Second International in Europe. In Russia the party, not just as a general theoretical assertion but also as a practical necessity for organization and struggle, embodied within itself all the vital interests of the working class. Its factory and street cells guided the masses both in struggle around trade-union demands and in political struggle for the overthrow of Tsarism. In Western Europe, by contrast, an increasing division of labour grew up between the trade-union organization and the political organization of the working class. In the trade-union field, the reformist and pacifist tendency developed at an ever-increasing pace; in other words, the influence of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat grew steadily stronger. For the same reason, in the political parties, activity shifted increasingly towards the parliamentary sphere: in other words, towards forms which were in no way distinguished from those of bourgeois democracy. During the War, and in the period which followed it and which immediately preceded the creation of the Communist International and the splits in the socialist camp that led to the formation of our parties, the syndicalist-reformist tendency became increasingly consolidated as the organizational leadership of the trade unions. Thus a general situation came to be created, which precisely places the Communist Parties of Western Europe in the same conditions as those in which the Bolshevik Party found itself in Russia before the War.

Let us look at what happened in Italy. Through the repressive activity of fascism, the trade unions in our country came to lose all effectiveness, in terms alike of numbers and combativity. Taking advantage of this situation, the reformists gained complete mastery of their central machinery, and devised every conceivable measure and arrangement to prevent any minority from forming, organizing, developing or becoming a majority capable of taking over the central leadership. But the broad masses - rightly want unity, and reflect this unitary sentiment in the traditional Italian trade-union organization: the General Confederation of Labour. The masses want to struggle and become organized, but they want to struggle with the General Confederation of Labour and to become organized in the General Confederation of Labour. The reformists oppose the organization of the masses. Recall D'Aragona's speech at the recent Confederation congress, in which he asserted that there should not be more than a million organized workers in the Confederation. If one bears in mind that the Confederation itself claims to be the unitary organism of all Italian toilers, i.e. not only of the industrial and agricultural workers but also of the peasants, and that there are at least fifteen million nonorganized toilers in Italy, then it seems that the Confederation wishes, as a programme., to unionize one fifteenth, i.e. 7 - 5 per cent of Italian toilers, while we would like 100 per cent to be organized into unions and peasants' organizations.

But if the Confederation, for reasons of its own internal politics, i.e. in order to keep the leadership of the Confederation in the hands of the reformists, wants only 7.5 per cent of Italian toilers to be unionized, it also wants - for reasons of general politics, i.e. so that the reformist party can collaborate effectively in a bourgeois-democratic government - the Confederation as a whole to have an influence over the disorganized mass of industrial and agricultural workers; it wants, by preventing the unionization of the peasantry, to ensure that the democratic parties with which it intends to collaborate preserve their social base. It therefore manoeuvres especially in the field of the internal commissions, which are elected by the entire mass of unionized and non-unionized workers.

In other words, the Confederation would like to prevent the organized workers, apart from those in the reformist tendency, from presenting lists of candidates for the internal commissions. They would like the communists, even where they are in a majority in the local tradeunion organization and among the unionized workers in individual factories, to vote for the lists of the reformist minorities as a matter of discipline. If this organizational programme were to be accepted by us, we would arrive de facto at the absorption of our party by the reformist party, and our sole activity would remain that in parliament.

The Task of the "Cells"

Moreover, how can we struggle against the application and organization of such a programme, without bringing about a split which we absolutely do not want to bring about? The only way to do so is through the organization of cells, and their development in the same way that they developed in Russia before the War. As a trade-union fraction, the reformists, holding the pistol of discipline at our throats, prevent us from centralizing the revolutionary masses either through trade-union or through political struggle.

It is, hence, obvious that our cells must work directly in the factories to centralize the masses around the party: pushing them to reinforce the internal commissions where these exist, and to create agitation committees in the factories where no internal commissions exist or where they do not carry out their tasks; pushing them to seek centralization of the factory institutions, as mass organisms not simply of a trade-union kind, but for general struggle against capitalism and its political régime. It is certain that the situation in which we find ourselves is much more difficult than that in which the Bolsheviks found themselves, since we have to struggle not just against reaction as represented by the fascist State, but also against reaction as represented by the reformists in the unions. Precisely because the situation is more difficult., our cells must be organizationally and ideologically stronger. In any case, Bolshevization as it is reflected in the organizational sphere is an imperative necessity. No one will dare to claim that the Leninist criteria for party organization are peculiar to the Russian situation, and that their application to Western Europe is purely mechanical. To oppose the organization of the party by cells means to still be tied to old social -democratic conceptions. It means to be situated objectively on right-wing terrain, i.e. on terrain where there is no desire to fight against social democracy.

Bordiga's Failure to Intervene in Moscow

On all these issues, there is no disagreement today between our party as a whole and the International. They were therefore able to have no repercussions on the work of the Italian Commission, which concerned itself solely with the problem of Bolshevization from the ideological and political point of view, with particular respect to the situation created within our party. Comrade Bordiga was insistently invited to participate in the work of the Enlarged Executive. To have done so would have been his strict duty, insofar as he had accepted at the Fifth World Congress to become a member of the Executive of the International. It was all the more incumbent upon comrade Bordiga to participate in the proceedings in that in an article (whose publication he had himself, however, made subject to the approval of the International Executive), he had taken up a position on the Trotsky question that was radically opposed not only to that of the International Executive, but also to that adopted in practice by comrade Trotsky himself. It is absurd and deplorable from every point of view that comrade Bordiga should not have been willing to take part personally in the discussion of the Trotsky question. That he should not have been willing to take sight directly of all the relevant material. That he should not have been willing to submit his opinions and information to the test of an international debate.

It is certainly not with such attitudes that one can show one has the necessary qualities and talents to embark upon a struggle which should have as its practical result a change, not only of policies, but also of personnel, in the leadership of the Communist International.

Lenin's Five Points for a Good Bolshevik Party

The Commission, which should have discussed specially with comrade Bordiga, in his absence fixed the line which the party should follow in order to resolve the question of tendencies, and of the possible factions which may emerge from these: in other words, to ensure that the Bolshevik conception prevails in our party. Let us examine the general situation of our party by the yardstick of the five basic qualities which comrade Lenin posed as necessary conditions for the effectiveness of the revolutionary party of the proletariat in the period of revolutionary preparation, that is to say: 1. every communist must be a Marxist (today we would say: every communist must be a Marxist-Leninist); 2. every communist must be in the first line in the struggles of the proletariat; 3. every communist must abhor revolutionary poses and superficially scarlet phrases, in other words must be not only a revolutionary, but also a realistic politician; 4. every communist must feel that he is always subject to the will of his party, and must judge everything from the point of view of his party, i.e. must be sectarian in the best sense which that word can have; 5. every communist must be an internationalist.

If we examine the general situation in our party by the yardstick of these five points, we can see that, although one may say of our party that the second quality constitutes one of its characteristic features, one cannot say the same so far as the other four are concerned. Our party lacks any deep knowledge of the doctrine of Marxism, and hence also of Leninism. We know that this is related to the traditions of the Italian socialist movement, which have not contained any theoretical discussion that has deeply interested the masses and contributed to their ideological formation. It is also true, however, that our party up till now has not helped to destroy this state of affairs. Indeed comrade Bordiga - confusing on the one hand, the reformist tendency to substitute a generic cultural activity for the revolutionary political action of the masses with, on the other, inner-party activity designed to raise the level of all party members to a total awareness of the immediate and long-term aims of the revolutionary movement - has helped to preserve it.

The Phenomenon of Extremism

Our party has sufficiently developed the sense of discipline. In other words, every member acknowledges his subordination to the party as a whole. But one cannot say the same so far as relations with the Communist International are concerned; i.e. so far as the consciousness of belonging to a world party is concerned. In this sense, it is only necessary to say that the internationalist spirit is not very much practised, certainly not in the general sense of international solidarity. This was a situation which existed in the Socialist Party, and which was reflected to our disadvantage at the Livorno Congress. It continued to subsist partially, in other forms, due to the tendency which comrade Bordiga encouraged of considering it a particular badge of honour to call oneself the adherents of a so-called "Italian Left". In this sphere, comrade Bordiga has re-created a situation resembling that created by comrade Serrati after the Second World Congress, which led to the exclusion of the Maximalists from the Communist International. In other words, he has created a kind of party patriotism which shrinks from becoming integrated into a world organization. 118

But the greatest weakness of our party is that characterized by Lenin under point three. The love for revolutionary poses and for superficial scarlet phrases is the most striking feature not of Bordiga himself, but of the elements who claim to follow him. Naturally, the phenomenon of Bordigan extremism is not suspended in mid air. It has a double justification. On the one hand, it is related to the general situation of the class struggle in our country; in other words, to the fact that the working class is the minority of the working population and is concentrated mainly in one area of the country. In such a situation, the party of the working class can be corrupted by infiltration from the petty-bourgeois classes which, although they have interests which as a whole run counter to the interests of capital, nevertheless are not willing to take the struggle to its ultimate consequences.

On the other hand, what also helped to consolidate Bordiga's ideology was the situation in which the Socialist Party found itself prior to Livorno, which Lenin characterized as follows in his book "Leftwing" Communism -An Infantile Disorder: "In a party where there is a Turati, and a Serrati who does not fight against Turati, it is natural that there should be a Bordiga." However, it is not natural that comrade Bordiga should have become ideologically crystallized even when Turati was no longer in the party, when even Serrati was not there, and when Bordiga was in personal charge of the struggle against both of them. Obviously, the element of the national situation was preponderant in the political formation of comrade Bordiga, and had crystallized in him a permanent state of pessimism on the possibility for the proletariat and its party to remain immune from infiltrations of petty-bourgeois ideologies, without the application of extremely sectarian political tactics which made impossible the application and realization of the two political principles which characterize Bolshevism: the alliance between workers and peasants., and the hegemony of the proletariat in the anti-capitalist revolutionary movement. The line to be adopted in order to combat these weakness of our party is that of the struggle for Bolshevization. The campaign to be waged must be a mainly ideological one. However, it must become a political one so far as the far left is concerned, i.e. the tendency represented by comrade Bordiga, which from latent factionalism will necessarily pass over to open factionalism, and at the congress will seek to change the political line of the International.

The Question of Tendencies

Do there exist other tendencies in our party? What is their character and what danger can they represent? If we examine the internal situation of our party from this point of view, we must recognize that it not only has not achieved the level of revolutionary political maturity which we sum up in the term 'Bolshevization' but has not even achieved a total unification of the various parts which came together at the moment of its formation. This has been helped by the absence of any broad debate which has unfortunately characterized the party since its foundation. If we take account of the elements which came out for the Communist International at the Livorno Congress, we can say that of the three currents which constituted the Communist Party - i.e. 1. the abstentionists of the Bordiga faction; 2. the elements grouped around L'Ordine Nuovo and the Turin Avanti!; 3. the mass elements who followed what we can call the Gennari-Marabini group, i.e. the followers of the most typical figures of the leading stratum of the Socialist Party who had come with us - only two, i.e. the abstentionist current and that of L'Ordine Nuovo/Turin Avanti!, had prior to the Livorno Congress carried on a certain autonomous political work, discussed among themselves the key problems of the Communist International, and thus acquired a certain communist political ability and experience. But these currents, although they succeeded in getting the upper hand in the leadership of the new Communist Party, did not constitute the majority of its base. Furthermore, of these two currents only one, the abstentionists, had since 1919 - i.e. for two years before Livorno - had a national organization and formed among its adherents a certain organizational party experience. But in the preparatory period it had exclusively concerned itself with internal party questions and the specific factional struggle, without having as a whole passed through political experiences of a mass nature, other than on the purely parliamentary question.

The current which had formed around L'Ordine Nuovo and the Piedmont edition of Avanti! had created neither a national faction, nor even a real faction within the confines of the Piedmont region where it had arisen and developed. Its activity was prevalently of a mass nature. Internal party problems were systematically related by it to the needs and aspirations of the general class struggle: general to the working population of Piedmont, and especially to the Turin proletariat. This fact, though it gave the members of the current a better political preparation and, as individuals, even at the base, a greater ability to lead real movements, nevertheless placed it in a condition of inferiority in the general organization of the party. If one excepts Piedmont, the great majority of our party was made up of the elements who came out for the Communist International at Livorno. For a whole series of comrades of the old leading stratum of the Socialist Party remained with the Communist International: comrades like Gennari, Marabini, Bombacci, Misiano, Salvadori, Graziadei, etc. The local abstentionist groups were grafted onto this mass which in its conceptions in no way differed from the maximalists - and gave it the form of organization of the new Communist Party.

If one were not to take account of this real formation of our party, one would understand neither the crises through which it has passed nor the present situation. The origins of our party coincided with the most ferocious unleashing of fascist reaction, so that one can say that each part of the organization was baptized with the blood of our best comrades. As a result of exigencies of a struggle without quarter which were thus imposed on our party from its very beginnings, the experience of the Communist International - i.e. not just of the Russian party, but also of the other fraternal parties - did not reach us, and was not assimilated by the mass of the party, other than in an irregular and episodic fashion. In reality, our party came to be detached from the international whole. It came to develop its own incoherent, chaotic ideology on the sole basis of our immediate national experience. In other words, there came to be created in Italy a new form of maximalism.

This general situation was aggravated last year by the entry into our ranks of the IIIrd-internationalist faction. 180 The weaknesses which were characteristic of us existed in a still more serious and dangerous form in this faction, which for two and a half years had existed in an autonomous form within the Maximalist Party, thus creating internal bonds among its adherent which were to persist even after the fusion. Moreover, the Illrd-internationalist faction too, for two and a half years, was completely absorbed by the internal struggle against the leadership of the Maximalist Party: a struggle which was mainly of a personal and sectarian nature, and only occasionally dealt with fundamental questions, whether political or organizational.

Bolshevization

It is thus obvious that the Bolshevization of the party in the ideological field cannot solely take account of the situation which we can sum up in the existence of a far left current and in the personal attitude of comrade Bordiga. It must tackle the general situation of the party; in other words, it must confront the problem of raising the theoretical and political level of all our comrades. It is certain, for example, that there is also a Graziadei question, in the sense that we must utilize his most recent publications to improve the Marxist education of our comrades, by combating the so-called scientific deviations defended in them. 18 1 No one, however, can think that comrade Graziadei represents a political danger; i.e. that on the basis of his revisionist conceptions of Marxism there can emerge a vast current and hence a faction which endangers the organizational unity of the party. On the other hand, it should not be forgotten either that Graziadei's revisionism leads to support for the right-wing currents which exist in our party, even if only in a latent state.

The entry into the party of the Illrd-internationalist faction, i.e. of a political element which has not lost many of its maximalist features and which, as has already been said, automatically tends to prolong - beyond its existence as a faction within the Maximalist party - the bonds created in the previous period, can undoubtedly give this potential right-wing current a certain organizational base, thus posing problems which must absolutely not be neglected. At all events, no violent differences can arise on the following series of opinions. The above-mentioned difficulties created by the original composition of our party face us mainly with ideological problems closely related to the following two necessities: 1. that the old guard of the party should absorb the mass of new members who have come into the party since the Matteotti affair, and who have tripled its numbers ; 2. that we create party organizational cadres who are able to resolve not just the daily problems of party life, both as an organization in itself and in its relations with the unions and other mass organizations, but also the more complex problems related to our preparation for winning power and exercising that power once won.

The Right-wing Danger

One may say that a right-wing danger potentially exists in our party. It is linked to the general situation in the country. The constitutional opposition forces, however much they may have failed in their historical function since they rejected our proposal to create an anti-parliament, nevertheless continue to subsist politically side by side with a consolidated fascism. The losses suffered by the opposition, though they have reinforced our party, have done so to the same extent to which fascism, which holds the entire State apparatus in its hands, has been consolidated. It is therefore evident that within our party a rightwing tendency could emerge, if it does not already exist, in counterposition to a far-left tendency which believes at every moment that the time has come to go over to a frontal attack on the régime, which cannot be disintegrated by the manoeuvres of the opposition. The elements of this rightwing tendency, demoralized by the apparently overwhelming power of the dominant party and despairing of the possibility that the proletariat may be able speedily to overthrow the régime as a whole, will begin to think that the best tactic is that which leads, if not straight to a bourgeois-proletarian bloc for the constitutional elimination of fascism, at least to a tactic of real passivity, with no active intervention by our party, thus allowing the bourgeoisie to use the proletariat as electoral cannon-fodder against fascism.

The party must take account of all these possibilities and probabilities, so that its correct revolutionary line is not affected by deviations. It should consider the right-wing danger as a possibility, to be combated by means of ideological propaganda and normal disciplinary means whenever this proves necessary. But it should consider the farleft danger as an immediate reality: as an obstacle not merely to the ideological but to the political development of the party; as a danger which must be combated not just by means of propaganda, but also by means of political action - since it leads directly to the disintegration even of the formal unity of our organization, and since it tends to create a party within the party, a discipline against the discipline of the party.

Does this mean that we want to break with comrade Bordiga and those who say they are his friends? Does it mean that we want to modify the fundamental basis of the party, such as it was constituted at the Livorno Congress and preserved at the Rome Congress? Certainly and absolutely not. But the fundamental basis of the party was not a purely mechanical fact: it was founded on unconditional acceptance of the principles and discipline of the Communist International. It is not we who have brought these principles and this discipline into question. It is not in us, therefore, that a desire to modify the fundamental basis of the party should be sought. Moreover, it is necessary to say that 90 per cent or more of the party members are ignorant of the questions which have arisen between our organization and the Communist International. If, especially after the Rome Congress, the party as a whole had been enabled to know the situation of our international relations, it would probably not now be in the conditions of confusion in which it finds itself. In any case, we wish to assert most forcefully, in order to thwart the wretched schemes of certain irresponsible elements who seem to find their political satisfaction through exacerbating the wounds of our organization, that we believe it is possible to reach an agreement with comrade Bordiga, and we think that this is also the opinion of comrade Bordiga himself.

The Framework of the Discussion

We consider that the framework for our congress discussion should be defined in accordance with this general approach. In the period which we have passed through since the last parliamentary elections, the party has carried out a real political activity which has been agreed to by the great majority of our comrades. On the basis of this activity, the party has tripled its membership and notably developed its influence in the proletariat - to such an extent that one may say that our party is the strongest of those with a base in the General Confederation of Labour.

We have succeeded in this last period in posing concretely the fundamental problem of our revolution: that of the alliance between workers and peasants. Our party, in a word, has become an essential factor of the Italian situation. On this terrain of real political activity, a certain homogeneity has been created among our comrades. This element must continue to be developed in the congress discussion, and must be one of the essential determinants of Bolshevization. This means that the congress must not be conceived of solely as a moment of our general politics: of the process through which we bind ourselves to the masses and arouse new forces for the revolution. The main nucleus of the congress activity must, therefore, be seen in the discussions which will take place to establish through which phase of Italian and international life we are passing: in other words, what the present relation of social forces is in Italy; which are the motor forces of the situation; what the present phase of the class struggle represents.

From this examination, two fundamental problems arise. 1. How we can develop our party so that it becomes a unity capable of leading the proletariat into struggle; capable of winning and winning permanently. This is the problem of Bolshevization. 2. What real political activity our party should continue to carry out, in order to bring about a coalition of all the anti-capitalist forces led by the (revolutionary) proletariat in the given situation: so as to overthrow the capitalist order in the first stage, and constitute the basis of the revolutionary workers' State in a second stage. In other words, we must examine what the essential problems of Italian life are; and which solution to them will encourage and bring about the revolutionary alliance of the proletariat with the peasants, and accomplish the hegemony of the proletariat. The congress must, therefore, at least prepare the general outline of our government programme.

This is an essential phase of our party life. To perfect the instrument necessary for the proletarian revolution in Italy - that is the major task of our congress. That is the work to which we invite all comrades of good will, who put the unitary interests of their class before petty and sterile factional struggles.


12-Nov-00
rolf@marxists.org