Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Antonio Gramsci 1926

The Party's First Five Years

Unsigned, L'Unita, 24 February 1926

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.

Given the difficulty of publishing at once a journalistic account of the proceedings of our party's Third Congress, we nevertheless think it proper to provide comrades and the readership as a whole with a general report and general information on the results of the Congress itself. But we hasten to announce that the proceedings of the Congress will be published in our paper in the very near future, and that the discussion and theses in their definitive form will subsequently be assembled in a volume.

The numerical results of the voting at the congress were as follows:

Absent and not voting 18.9 per cent.
Of those attending the Congress:
votes for the Central Committee 90.8 per cent.
votes for the far left 9.2 per cent.

Our party was born in January 1921, i.e. at the most critical moment of the general crisis of the Italian bourgeoisie and of the crisis of the workers' movement. The split, even though it was historically necessary and inevitable, nevertheless found the broad masses unprepared and reluctant. In such a situation, the material organization of our party encountered the most difficult conditions. The result was, therefore, that purely organizational work, given the difficulty of the conditions in which it had to be carried out, absorbed the creative energies of the party almost completely. The political problems which confronted us, on the one hand due to the decomposition of the old bourgeois leading groups, on the other hand due to an analogous process in the workers' movement, could not be adequately analysed. The whole political line of the party in the years immediately following the split was primarily conditioned by this necessity: to keep the ranks of the party closed, as it was assaulted from one side physically by the fascist offensive, and from the other by the corpse-like stench of the Socialist decomposition. It was natural that, in such conditions, there should have developed within our party attitudes and outlooks of a corporate and sectarian character. The general political problem inherent in the presence and development of our party was not seen in terms of an activity through which the party should have aimed to win over the broadest masses and organize the social forces necessary to defeat the bourgeois and win power. Instead, it was seen in terms of the party's existence itself.

The Livorno Split

The fact of the split was seen in terms of its immediate and mechanical value, and we were guilty, even if in another direction, of the same error as Serrati. Comrade Lenin had given the lapidary formula for the significance of the split in Italy, when he had told comrade Serrati: "Separate yourselves from Turati, and then make an alliance with him." This formula should have been adapted by us to the split, which occurred in a different form from that foreseen by Lenin. In other words, we should - as our indispensable and historically necessary task - have separated ourselves not just from reformism, but also from the maximalism which in reality represented and still represents the typical Italian opportunism in the workers' movement. But after that, and though continuing the ideological and organizational struggle against them, we should have sought to make an alliance against reaction. But for leading elements in our party, every action of the International designed to obtain a reorientation along these lines appeared as if it were an implicit disavowal of the Livorno split - a sign of repentance. They said that if such an approach to the political struggle were accepted, this would mean admitting that our party was nothing but a vague nebula; whereas it was correct and necessary to assert that our party, by its birth, had definitively resolved the problem of the historical formation of the party of the Italian proletariat. This view was reinforced by the not-so-distant experiences of the Soviet revolution in Hungary, where the fusion between communists and social-democrats had certainly been one of the elements which contributed to the defeat.

The Significance of the Hungarian Experience

In reality, the way in which this problem was viewed by our party was false, and increasingly appeared as such to the mass of party members. Precisely the Hungarian experience should have convinced us that the line followed by the International in the formation of the communist parties was not that which we attributed to it. It is in fact well known that comrade Lenin sought strenuously to prevent the fusion between communists and social -democrats in Hungary, in spite of the fact that the latter declared themselves in favour of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Can one, therefore, say that comrade Lenin was generally opposed to fusions? Certainly not. The problem was seen by comrade Lenin and by the International as a dialectical process, through which the communist element, i.e. the most advanced and conscious part of the proletariat, both in the organization of the party of the working class and in the task of leading the broad masses, puts itself at the head of everything healthy and active that has been created and that exists in the class.

In Hungary, it was an error to destroy the independent communist organization at the moment of the seizure of power; it was an error to dissolve and dilute the regroupment that had been achieved, into the vaster and more amorphous social-democratic organization which could not fail to regain predominance. In the case of Hungary too, comrade Lenin had formulated the line of our former party as an alliance with social-democracy, not as a fusion. Fusion would have been achieved at a later stage, when the process of predominance of the communist regroupment had developed on the broadest scale in the fields of party organization, trade-union organization and the State apparatus - in other words, with the organic and political separation of the revolutionary workers from the opportunist leaders.

For Italy, the problem was posed in even simpler terms than in Hungary, because not only the proletariat had not won power, but also, precisely at the moment of the party's formation, a great movement of retreat began. To pose in Italy the question of the party's formation in the way which comrade Lenin indicated, in the formula he gave to Serrati, meant - in the conditions of proletarian retreat which were then emerging - giving our party the possibility of regrouping around itself those elements of the proletariat which wanted to resist, but which under Maximalist leadership were caught up in the general rout and falling progressively into passivity. This meant that the tactic proposed by Lenin and by the International was the only one capable of reinforcing and developing the results of the Livorno split, and of making our party genuinely, from that moment on, not just abstractly and as a historical affirmation, but in an effective form, into the leading party of the working class. As a result of this false approach to the problem, we maintained our advanced positions, alone and with the fraction of the masses immediately closest to the party. But we did not do what was necessary to hold the proletariat as a whole on our Positions, though the latter was still imbued with a strong will to fight, as is shown by the numerous heroic episodes of the resistance that was opposed to the enemy advance.

The Party in the Years 1921-2

Another of the elements of weakness of our organization consisted in the fact that such problems - given the difficulty of the situation and given that the forces of the party were absorbed by the immediate struggle for its own physical defence - did not become the object of discussion at the base, and hence an element in developing the ideological and political capacity of the party.

As a result, the First Congress of the party, the one held in the San Marco theatre at Livorno immediately after the split, merely carried out tasks of a directly organizational nature: formation of the central organs and overall structuring of the party. The Second Congress could, and perhaps should, have examined and confronted the problems outlined above; but the following factors prevented this.

1. The fact that not only the rank and file, but also a great part of the most responsible elements in the party and those nearest to the leadership, literally did not know that there were deep and fundamental differences between the line being followed by our party and that advocated by the International.

2. The fact that the party was absorbed in the direct physical struggle led to an underestimation of ideological and political questions, as opposed to purely organizational ones. It was thus natural for there to appear within the party a state of mind that was a priori opposed to going deeply into any question that might hold the danger of serious conflicts within the leading group constituted at Livorno.

3. The fact that the opposition which emerged at the Rome Congress, and which claimed to be the sole representative of the International's directives, was - in the given situation - an expression of the state of mind of weariness and passivity that existed in certain areas of the party.

The crisis which both the ruling class and the proletariat passed through in the period before fascism came to power once again placed our party face to face with problems which the Rome Congress had not had the possibility of resolving. In what did this crisis consist? The left groups of the bourgeoisie, favourable in words to a democratic government that would aim to stem the fascist movement with real energy, had left it to the free choice of the Socialist Party whether or not to accept this solution, in order to liquidate the party politically under the weight of responsibility for the failure to reach an anti-fascist agreement. In this very way in which the democrats posed the question, there was implicit their previous capitulation before the fascist movement - a phenomenon which was then reproduced during the Matteotti crisis.

However, such an approach, although it could at first have brought about a clarification within the Socialist Party, since the split between Maximalists and Reformists had already taken place at the base, nevertheless made the situation of the proletariat worse. In fact, the split made the tactic proposed by the democrats fruitless, insofar as the left government proposed by them was supposed to include the united Socialist Party, in other words was supposed to signify the capture of the majority of the organized proletarian class within the machinery of the bourgeois State, anticipating fascist legislation and making the directly fascist experiment politically unnecessary. Moreover, the split (as appeared more clearly subsequently) had only led in a mechanical sense to a leftward leap on the part of the Maximalists. For the latter, although they claimed they wanted to join the Communist International and thus to recognize the mistake they had made at Livorno, nevertheless proceeded with so many unspoken mental reservations as to neutralize the revolutionary reawakening which the split had stimulated among the masses, and thus led those masses to fresh disappointments and a new relapse into passivity, which fascism exploited to carry out the March on Rome.

The Party's New Course

This new situation was reflected at the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, where the formation of a fusion committee was achieved after uncertainties and resistance that were related to the conviction, rooted in the majority of our party's delegates, that the change of position on the part of the Maximalists merely represented a transitory oscillation leading nowhere. In any case, it was from that moment that there began within our party a process of differentiation within the Livorno leading group: a process which steadily continued, and which left the phase of a group phenomenon to become a feature of the party as a whole when the elements of the crisis of fascism which began with the Turin Congress of the Popular Party first started to appear and develop.

It seemed increasingly clear that it was necessary to move the party away from the position that had been maintained in 1921-2, if the communist movement was to develop pari passu with the crisis through which the ruling class was passing. The premise which had been so important in the past, according to which the first essential was to maintain the organizational unity of the party, ceased to operate now. For in the situation of conflict between our party and the International, a state of latent faction was being created in our ranks, which found its expression in groups that were clearly rightwing and often liquidationist in character. To delay any longer in posing to their fullest extent the fundamental tactical questions, on which hitherto we had hesitated to open up a discussion, would have meant bringing about a general crisis of the party, with no way out.

New regroupments thus occurred and developed further and further, up to the eve of our Third Congress, when it was possible to ascertain that not only the great majority of the party base (which had never openly been appealed to), but also the majority of the old leading group had detached itself clearly from the political conceptions and positions of the far left, and had moved over completely on to the terrain of the International and Leninism.

The Importance of the Third Congress

What has been said hitherto makes it clear how great the importance and the tasks of our Third Congress were. It had to close a whole epoch in the life of our party, putting an end to the internal crisis and achieving a stable combination of forces capable of allowing a normal development of the party's capacity to provide political leadership for the masses, and hence of its capacity for action.

Has the Congress really fulfilled these tasks? Undoubtedly, all the proceedings of the Congress have shown how, notwithstanding the difficulties of the situation, our party has succeeded in resolving its crisis of development, achieving a remarkable level of homogeneity, cohesion and stabilization - and one that is certainly higher than that in many other sections of the International. The intervention of delegates from the base in the Congress debates, delegates who in some cases had come from those regions where party activity encounters most difficulty, showed the way in which the fundamental elements of the debate between the International and the Central Committee on the one hand, and the opposition on the other, had not simply been absorbed mechanically by the party, but had brought about a conscious and widespread conviction, so that they contributed to raising the tone of the intellectual life of the mass of comrades and their capacity for political leadership and initiative to a degree that was not foreseen even by the most optimistic comrades.

This seems to me to have been the key significance of the Congress. The result is that our party can call itself a mass party, not simply because of the influence it exercises on broad strata of the working class and the peasant masses, but because it has acquired in the single elements of which it is composed a capacity for analysing situations, for political initiative and for strong leadership which in the past it lacked, and which is the basis for its capacity for collective leadership.

Moreover, the whole way in which the work was carried on at the base to organize the congress, both ideologically and practically, in those regions and provinces where police repression keeps the most intensive watch over every movement on the part of our comrades, and the fact that we succeeded for seven days in keeping more than sixty comrades assembled for the party congress, and almost as many again for the youth congress, are in themselves a proof of the development referred to above. It is clear to everyone that all this activity of comrades and units of the organization is not just a purely organizational fact, but constitutes in itself a very striking demonstration of political ability.

A few figures in this respect. In the first phase of the Congress preparations, between two and three thousand meetings were held at the base; these culminated in more than one hundred provincial congresses where, after thorough discussion, the Congress delegates were chosen.

Political Significance and Results Achieved

Every worker is able to appreciate the full significance of these few figures which can be published, at five years distance from the epoch of the occupation of the factories, and after three years of fascist government which has intensified its general control over every mass activity and accomplished an organization of the police which is far superior to the police organizations which existed previously.

The greatest weakness of the traditional working-class organization lay essentially in the permanent imbalance - which became catastrophic at the climactic moments of mass activity - between the capacity of the organizing cadres of the party and the spontaneous upsurge from the base. It is thus clear that our party has succeeded, in spite of the extremely unfavourable conditions of the present period, in overcoming this weakness to a notable degree, and in predisposing coordinated and centralized organizational forces which can insure the working class against the errors and inadequacies which appeared in the past. This is another of the most important ways in which our congress was significant. The working class is capable of action, and shows that it is historically capable of accomplishing its mission of leadership in the anti-capitalist struggle, to the extent that it succeeds in producing from within itself all the technical elements which in modern society have proved to be indispensable for the concrete organization of the institutions in which the proletarian programme will be realized.

It is from this point of view that the entire activity of the fascist movement from 1921 up to the most recent ultra-fascist laws must be analysed: it has been systematically directed towards destroying the cadres which the proletarian and revolutionary movement has painstakingly formed over almost fifty years of history. In this way, fascism has succeeded in an immediate, practical sense in depriving the working class of its political autonomy and independence, and in reducing it either to a state of passivity, i.e. to an inert subordination to the State apparatus, or else, at moments of political crisis like the Matteotti period, to seeking cadres for its struggle in other classes that have been less exposed to the repression. Our party has remained the sole mechanism which the working class has at its disposal for selecting new leading cadres for the class: in other words, for winning back its political independence and autonomy. The Congress has shown that our party has succeeded brilliantly in fulfilling this essential task.

There were two fundamental objectives which the congress had to achieve.

1. After the debates and the new alignment of forces which took place in the way we have already described, it was necessary to unite the party, both on the terrain of organizational principles and practice and on the more narrowly political terrain.

2. The congress had the task of establishing the political line of the party for the immediate future, and of working out a programme of practical work in all fields of mass activity.

The problems which faced us if various concrete objectives were to be achieved were, of course, not mutually independent one from another, but coordinated in the framework of the overall conception of Leninism. The Congress discussion, therefore, even when it revolved around the technical aspects of each particular practical question, posed the general question of the acceptance or non-acceptance of Leninism. Thus the Congress served to show to what degree our party had become a Bolshevik party.

The Fundamental Objectives

Starting off from a historical and directly political assessment of the function of the working class in our country, the congress gave a solution to a whole series of problems which can be grouped as follows.

1. Relations between the Central Committee of the party and the membership.

(a) This group of problems includes the general discussion on the nature, of the party; on the need for it to be a class party, not just abstractly, i.e. insofar as the programme accepted by its members expresses the aspirations of the proletariat, but so to speak physiologically, i.e. insofar as the great majority of its members is made up of proletarians and it reflects and focuses only the needs and ideology of a single class: the proletariat.

(b) The complete subordination of all the party's energies, socially unified in this way, to the leadership of the Central Committee. The loyalty of all the elements of the party towards the Central Committee must become not just a purely organizational and disciplinary fact, but a real principle of revolutionary ethics. It is necessary to infuse in the membership as a whole so rooted a conviction of this necessity that factional initiatives and, in general, any attempt to disrupt the cohesion of the party will meet with a spontaneous and immediate reaction at the base that will stifle them at birth. The authority of the Central Committee, between one congress and the next, must never be put in question, and the party must become a homogeneous bloc. Only on these conditions will the party be capable of conquering its class enemies. How could the masses who are outside any party have confidence that the instrument of revolutionary struggle, the party, will succeed in waging an implacable struggle to win and keep power, without hesitation or wavering, if the party's Central Committee does not have the capacity and energy necessary to eliminate all the weaknesses which can crack its solidarity?

The two preceding points would be impossible to realize if, within the party, the social homogeneity and monolithic solidity of the organization were not accompanied by the widespread consciousness of an ideological and political homogeneity.

Concretely, the line which the party must follow can be expressed in the following formula: the nucleus of the party organization consists in a strong Central Committee, closely linked to the proletarian base of the party itself, on the terrain of the ideology and tactics of Marxism-Leninism.

On this series of problems, the overwhelming majority of the congress clearly declared itself in favour of the Central Committee's positions, and rejected - not only without the least concession, but indeed insisting on the need for theoretical intransigence and inflexibility in practice - the conceptions of the opposition, which could maintain the party in a state of deliquescence and of political and social amorphism.

2. Relations between the party and the proletarian class (i.e. the class of which the party is the direct representative; the class which has the task of leading the anti-capitalist struggle and organizing the new society). This group of problems includes the assessment of the proletariat's function in Italian society: in other words of the degree to which that society is ripe for a transformation from capitalism to socialism, and hence of the possibility for the proletariat to become an independent and dominant class. The Congress, therefore, discussed: (a) the trade-union question, which for us is essentially a question of the organization of the broadest masses, as a class apart, on the basis of immediate economic interests and as a terrain for revolutionary political education; (b) the question of the united front, i.e. of the relations of political leadership between the most advanced part of the proletariat and the less advanced fractions of it.

3. Relations between the proletarian class as a whole and the other social forces which are objectively on the anti-capitalist terrain, though led by parties and political groups linked to the bourgeoisie: hence, in the first place, the relations between the proletariat and the peasants. On this whole series of problems too, the overwhelming majority of the congress rejected the incorrect conceptions of the opposition and pronounced itself in favour of the solutions given by the Central Committee.

The Alignment of Forces at the Congress

We referred earlier to the attitude which the overwhelming majority at the Congress took up with respect to the solutions to be given to the key problems of the present period. It is, therefore, worth analysing in greater detail the attitude taken up by the opposition; and referring, however briefly, to other positions which were presented to the Congress as individual ones, but which could in the future coincide with specific transitory moments in the development of the Italian situation, and which therefore must be denounced and combated at once. We have already referred in the first paragraphs of this report to the modes and forms which characterized the crisis of development of our party in the years from 1921 to 1924. Let us briefly recall how at the Fifth World Congress the crisis itself met with a provisional organizational solution, with the constitution of a Central Committee which as a whole placed itself totally on the terrain of Leninism and the tactics of the Communist International, but which was composed of three parts. One of these, which had a majority plus one on the committee, represented the elements of the left which had detached themselves from the old Livorno leading group after the Fourth World Congress. A second represented the opposition which had formed at our Second Congress against the Rome Theses. The third represented the "IIIrd Internationalists." who had entered the party after the fusion. Despite its intrinsic weaknesses, since the leading role within it was clearly played by the so-called "centre" group, i.e. by the left elements who had detached themselves from the Livorno leading group, the Central Committee succeeded in confronting and forcefully resolving the problem of Bolshevizing the party and securing its complete agreement with the directives of the Communist International.

Positions of the Far Left

Certainly there was some resistance, and the culminating episode in this, which all comrades will recall, was the creation of the Comitato d'Intesa; i.e. the attempt to create an organized faction which would counterpose itself to the Central Committee in the leadership of the party. In reality, the creation of the Comitato d'Intesa was the most striking symptom of the disintegration of the far left, which, since it felt itself progressively losing ground in the ranks of the party, sought by a dramatic act of rebellion to galvanize the few forces remaining to it. It is noteworthy that, after the ideological and political defeat suffered by the far left in the pre-congress period, its hard nucleus began to adopt Positions that were increasingly sectarian and hostile to the party, from which each day it felt more distant and detached. These comrades not only continued to remain on the terrain of the most determined opposition to certain concrete points of the ideology and politics of the party and the International; they systematically sought motives for opposition on every point, in such a way as to present themselves en bloc almost like a party within the party. It is easy to imagine how, starting off from such a position, they should have arrived during the course of the congress at theoretical and practical positions in which the drama which was a reflection of the general situation in which the party has to operate could only with difficulty be distinguished from a certain histrionicism, which appeared affected to anybody who had really struggled and sacrificed themselves for the proletarian class.

In this category should be included, for example, the procedural motion presented by the opposition, right at the start of the congress, contesting its deliberative validity and in this way seeking to create in advance an alibi for a possible renewal of factional activity and for a possible refusal to recognize the authority of the new party leadership. To the mass of congress delegates, who knew what sacrifices and what organizational efforts the preparation of the congress had cost, this procedural motion appeared as an out and out provocation; and it is not without significance that the only applause (the congress regulations for understandable reasons prohibited any noisy demonstration of agreement or condemnation) was that bestowed on the speaker who stigmatized the attitude adopted by the opposition, and argued for the need to demonstratively reinforce the new committee which was to be elected, by giving it a specific mandate for implacable sternness against any initiative that in practice cast doubt on the authority of the congress and the validity of its deliberations.

In this same category, and in a way that was aggravated by its mannered and theatrical form, must be included also the attitude taken up by the opposition, before the congress ended, when we were about to draw the political-organizational conclusions of the proceedings of the congress itself. But the elements of the opposition themselves could see clear proof of the general state of mind in the ranks of the party. The party does not intend to allow any more playing at factionalism and indiscipline. The party wishes to achieve the maximum degree of collective leadership, and will not allow any individual - whatever his personal merits - to counterpose himself to the party.

First Signs of Right Deviations

In the plenary sessions of the congress, the far left opposition was the only official and declared opposition. The position of opposition on the trade-union question that was taken up by two members of the old Central Committee, because of its improvised and impulsive character, should be considered more as an individual phenomenon of political hysteria than as one of opposition in a systematic sense. During the work of the political commission, however, there was a demonstration which, if for now it can be regarded as being of a purely individual character, must - given the ideological elements which formed the basis for it - be seen as an out and out right-wing platform, which could be presented to the party in a given situation and, therefore, must be (as it was) rejected without hesitation, especially in view of the fact that a member of the old Central Committee made himself the spokesman for it.

The ideological elements involved are: 1. the assertion that the workers' and peasants' government can be constituted on the basis of the bourgeois parliament; 2. the assertion that social-democracy should not be seen as the left wing of the bourgeoisie, but as the right wing of the proletariat; 3. the assertion that, in assessing the bourgeois State, it is necessary to distinguish the function of oppression by one class or another from the function of production of certain satisfactions for certain general requirements of society. The first and second of these elements are contrary to the decisions of the Third Congress; the third is outside the Marxist conception of the State. All three together reveal an orientation towards conceiving of the solution to the crisis of bourgeois society outside revolution.

The Political Line Defined by the Party

Since the forces represented at the Congress aligned themselves in this way, i.e. as a most inflexible opposition on the part of the relics of "ultra-leftism" to the theoretical and practical positions of the majority of the party, we will refer rapidly only to a few points concerning the line established by the congress.

Ideological Question. On this question, the congress declared that it was necessary for the party to develop a whole process of education which would reinforce knowledge of our Marxist doctrine in the ranks of the party, and develop the capacity of the broadest leading stratum. The opposition sought to create a skilful diversion here: it exhumed some old articles and extracts from articles by comrades of the majority in the party, in order to show that they have only relatively recently accepted integrally the conception of historical materialism as derived from the works of Marx and Engels, and that they were previously supporting the interpretation of historical materialism given by Benedetto Croce. Since it is well known that the Rome Theses too have been judged to be essentially inspired by Crocean philosophy, this line of argument by the opposition appeared animated by the purest congress demagogy. In any case, since the question is not one of single individuals but of the mass of members, the line fixed by the congress, concerning the need for specific educational work to raise the level of general Marxist culture in the party, reduces the opposition's polemic to an erudite exercise in research on more or less interesting biographical details in the intellectual development of individual comrades.

Party Tactics. The congress approved and forcefully defended against the opposition's attacks the tactic followed by the party in the last period of Italian history, characterized by the Matteotti crisis. It should be said that the opposition did not attempt to counterpose to the analysis of the Italian situation made by the Central Committee for the congress, either another analysis which would lead to the establishment of a different tactical line, or partial corrections sufficient to justify a position of principle. Indeed, the fact that its observations and criticisms were based neither on a deep study, nor even on a superficial one, of the relation of forces and general conditions existing in Italian society was characteristic of the far left's false position. It was thus clear to all that the method of the far left, which the latter declares to be dialectical, is not the method of Marx's materialist dialectics, but the old method of conceptual dialectics which characterized pre-Marxist and even pre-Hegelian philosophy.

In place of an objective analysis of the forces in conflict and the direction which these take - in contradictory fashion - in relation to the development of the material forces of society, the opposition substituted a claim that they possessed a special and mysterious 'nose' according to which the party should be led. A strange aberration, which authorized the congress to judge as extremely dangerous and damaging for the party such a method, which would lead only to a policy of improvisation and adventures.

The fact that the opposition never possessed a real method capable of developing the forces of the party and the revolutionary energies of the proletariat, which could be counterposed to the Marxist and Leninist method, was shown by the activity carried out by the party in 1921 and 1922, when it was led politically by some of the present irreducible oppositionists. In this connection, two moments of the Italian situation were analysed by the Congress: the first was the attitude assumed by the party leadership in February 1921, when fascism launched its frontal offensive in Tuscany and Apulia; and the other was the attitude of the same leadership towards the arditi del popolo movement. From an analysis of these two moments, it clearly emerged that the method advocated by the opposition only leads to passivity and inaction; it consists in the last resort simply in drawing lessons of a purely pedagogic and propagandistic kind from events that have already taken place without the intervention of the party as a whole.

The Trade-union Question. In the trade-union field, the difficult task of the party consists in finding a harmonious balance between the following two lines of practical activity.

1. Defending the class unions, by seeking to maintain the maximum degree of trade-union cohesion and organization among the masses who have traditionally participated in the union organization itself. This is a task of exceptional importance, since the revolutionary party must always, even in the worst objective situations, aim to preserve all the accumulated experience and technical and political skill which have been formed through the developments of past history in the proletarian masses. For our party, the C.G.L. constitutes in Italy the organization which historically expresses, in the most organic manner, this accumulated experience and skill, and hence represents the terrain upon which this defence must be conducted.

2. Taking account of the fact that the present dispersal of the great working masses is essentially due to motives which are not internal to the working class, and that therefore there exist immediate organizational possibilities of a not strictly trade-union character, the party must aim to encourage and promote these possibilities in an active way. This task can be carried out only if the mass organizational work is transferred from the corporate terrain onto the industrial terrain of the factory, and if the links of mass organization become elective and representative as well as by individual membership through the union card.

It is clear, moreover, that this tactic of the party corresponds to the normal development of proletarian mass organization, as was shown during and after the War, i.e. in the period when the proletariat began to confront the problem of an all-out struggle against the bourgeoisie for the conquest of power. In this period, the traditional organizational form of the craft union was completed by a whole system of elective representation in the factory; in other words, by the internal commissions. It is also well known that, especially during the War, when the trade-union federations joined the committees of industrial mobilization and thus brought about a situation of "industrial peace" in some aspects analogous to the present one, the working-class masses in all countries (Italy, France, Russia, England and even the United States) rediscovered the paths of resistance and struggle under the guidance of the elected representatives of the workers in the factories.

The trade-union tactic of the party consists essentially in developing all the organizational experience of the broad masses, but stressing those possibilities that can most immediately be realized - given the objective difficulties which are created for the trade-union movement by the bourgeois régime on the one hand, and by the reformism of the national union leaders on the other.

This line was approved in toto by the overwhelming majority of the congress. However, the most passionate debates took place around it, and the opposition was represented not only by the far left but also by two members of the Central Committee, as we have already mentioned. One speaker argued that the trade union is historically superseded, since the only mass action of the party should be that which is carried on in the factories. This thesis, linked to the most absurd positions of infantile leftism, was clearly and forcefully rejected by the congress.

For another speaker, on the other hand, the sole activity of the party in this field should be organizational activity of a traditional trade-union type. This thesis is closely related to a right-wing conception, i.e. to the desire not to clash too sharply with the reformist trade-union bureaucracy, which strenuously opposes all mass organization.

The far left opposition developed two basic lines of argument. The first, designed essentially for debating purposes at the congress, aimed to show that the tactic of factory organizations supported by the Central Committee and the majority of delegates was linked to the views of the weekly Ordine Nuovo, which according to the far left used to be Proudhonian and not Marxist. The second was related to the question of principle whereby the far left clearly counterposes itself to Leninism: Leninism says that the party leads the class through mass organizations, and hence says that one of the key tasks of the party is to develop mass organization; for the far left, by contrast, this problem does not exist, and the party is given functions which can lead either to the worst disasters or to the most dangerous forms of adventurism.

The congress rejected all these distortions of communist trade-union tactics, while considering it necessary to stress with particular force the need for a greater and more active participation by communists in work in the traditional union organization.

The Agrarian Question. The party has sought, so far as its activity among the peasants is concerned, to leave the sphere of simple ideological propaganda aimed at disseminating in a purely abstract sense the general terms of the Leninist solution to the problem itself, and to enter the practical terrain of real political organization and action. It is obvious that this was easier to achieve in Italy than in other countries, because in our country the process of differentiation of the broad masses of the population is in certain aspects more advanced than elsewhere, as a result of the present political situation. Moreover, in view of the fact that the industrial proletariat in Italy is only a minority of the working population, this question is posed more sharply than elsewhere. The problems on the one hand of what the motor forces of the revolution are, and on the other of the leading role of the proletariat, present themselves in Italy in forms such as to require particular attention from our party, and a search for concrete solutions to the general problems which can be summed up in the expression: agrarian question.

The overwhelming majority of the congress approved the approach of the party to these problems, and asserted the need for an intensification of the work according to the general line that is already partially being applied. In what does this activity consist in practice? The party must aim to create, in every region, regional unions of the Peasants' Defence Association. However, within this broader organizational framework, it is necessary to distinguish four basic groupings of the peasant masses, for each of which it is necessary to find a precise and complete political position and solution.

One of these groupings consists in the mass of Slav peasants in Istria and Friuli, the organization of whom is closely linked to the national question. A second consists in the particular peasant movement which can be classified under the heading of the Peasant Party, and which has its base especially in Piedmont; for this grouping, of a non-confessional and more strictly economic character, it is enough to apply the general terms of the agrarian tactics of Leninism - especially since it exists in the region where there is to be found one of the most effective proletarian centres in Italy. The two other groupings are far more important, and require most attention from the party: 1. the mass of Catholic peasants, grouped in central and northern Italy, who are directly organized by Catholic Action and the Church apparatus in general, in other words by the Vatican; 2. the mass of peasants in southern Italy and the Islands.

So far as the catholic peasants are concerned, the congress decided that the party must continue and develop the line which consists in encouraging the left-wing groupings which emerge in this field, which are closely linked to the general agrarian crisis that began even before the War in central and northern Italy. The congress declared that the position taken up by the party towards the catholic peasants, although it contains within it some of the essential elements for a solution to the politico-religious problem in Italy, must in no way lead us to encourage any ideological movements of a strictly religious nature that may emerge. The party's task consists in explaining the conflicts that arise on the terrain of religion as deriving from class conflicts; and in aiming to bring out with increasing clarity the class features of these conflicts. It does not, by contrast, consist in encouraging religious solutions to class conflicts, even if such solutions appear left-wing insofar as they call into question the authority of the official religious organization.

The question of the southern peasants was examined by the congress with particular attention. The congress recognized as correct the assertion contained in the theses of the Central Committee, according to which the function of the southern peasant masses in the evolution of the anti-capitalist struggle in Italy must be examined independently, and must lead to the conclusion that the southern peasants are after the industrial and agricultural proletariat of northern Italy - the most revolutionary social element of Italian society.

What is the material and political basis for this function of the peasant masses in the South? The relations which link Italian capitalism and the southern peasants do not consist solely in the normal historical relations between city and countryside, as they were created by the development of capitalism in all countries in the world. In the context of this national society, these relations are aggravated and radicalized by the fact that, economically and politically, the whole zone of the South and the Islands functions as an immense countryside in relation to northern Italy, which functions as an immense city. This situation leads to the formation and development in southern Italy of specific aspects of a national question, even though in the immediate these do not assume an explicit form of such a question as a whole, but only that of an extremely powerful struggle of a regionalistic kind, and of deep currents in favour of decentralization and local autonomy.

What makes the situation of the southern peasants a specific one is the fact that, unlike the three groupings described previously, they do not - taken as a whole - have any autonomous organizational experience. They are incorporated within the traditional structures of bourgeois society, so that the landowners, an integral part of the agrarian/capitalist bloc, control the peasant masses and direct them in accordance with their own aims.

As a result of the War and the working-class upheavals of the postwar period, which profoundly weakened the State apparatus and almost destroyed the social prestige of the above-mentioned upper classes, the peasant masses of the South awoke to a life of their own and painfully sought their own structures. Thus we saw movements of war-veterans, and the various so-called parties of "renewal". which attempted to exploit this reawakening of the peasant masses: at times supporting it, as in the period of the land occupations; more often seeking to sidetrack it, and thus stabilize it on a position of struggle for so-called democracy - as has been the case most recently with the establishment of the National Union.

The most recent events of Italian life, which have caused the southern petty bourgeoisie to go over en masse to fascism, have made the necessity to give the southern peasantry an orientation of its own, for removing itself definitively from the influence of the rural bourgeoisie, still more urgent. The only possible organizer of the mass of peasants in the South is the industrial worker, represented by our party. But for this work of organization to be possible and effective, it is necessary for our party to draw close to the southern peasant: for it to destroy in the industrial worker the prejudice instilled by bourgeois propaganda, that the South is a ball and chain which hinders the greatest developments of the national economy; and for it to destroy in the southern peasant the yet more dangerous prejudice, whereby he sees in the North of Italy a single bloc of class enemies.

To obtain these results, it is necessary for our party to carry out an intensive propaganda activity, including within its own organization, to give all comrades a precise awareness of the terms of this question - which, if it is not resolved in a farsighted, revolutionary and wise manner by us, will make it possible for the bourgeoisie, defeated in its own area, to concentrate its forces in the South and make this part of Italy into the marshalling-ground of counter-revolution.

On this whole series of problems, the far left opposition had nothing to contribute except jokes and clichés. Its basic position consisted in denying a priori that these concrete problems exist as such, without any analysis or evidence even of a potential nature. Indeed, one can say that it was precisely with respect to the agrarian question that the true essence of the far left's conception was revealed. This conception consists in a kind of corporatism, which mechanically awaits the realization of revolutionary aims from the mere development of the general objective conditions. Such a conception was, as we have said, clearly rejected by the overwhelming majority of the congress.

Other Problems Dealt With

So far as the question of the concrete organization of the party in the present period is concerned, the congress ratified without discussion the deliberations of the recent organizational conference, already published in L'Unità

The Congress was not able - in view of the conditions under which it was held and the aims it set itself, which concerned in particular the internal organization of the party and the healing of the crisis - to deal amply with certain questions which are nonetheless crucial ones for a revolutionary proletarian party. Thus only in the Congress Theses was the international situation examined, in relation to the political line of the Communist International. In the discussion at the Congress, this question was only touched upon; and the only aspect of international problems that was dealt with was that related to the organizational forms and relations of the Comintern, since this was an element of the party's internal crisis. The Congress did, however, have a very full and exhaustive report on the proceedings of the recent congress of the Russian party, and on the significance of the discussions which took place at it.

Similarly, the Congress did not deal with the problem of organization in the women's field, nor with the organization of the press - key questions for our movement which should have merited a separate discussion. The question of drawing up the party's programme, which had been placed on the agenda, was also not dealt with by the congress. We think it is necessary to remedy these defects by party conferences, specially convened for the purpose.


In spite of these partial deficiencies, one may say, in conclusion, that the quantity of work which the congress accomplished was really impressive. The congress drew up a series of resolutions, and a programme of concrete work, which will enable the proletarian class to develop its energies and its capacity for political leadership in the present situation.

One condition is especially necessary, if the congress resolutions are not just to be applied, but are to bear all their possible fruits. It is necessary for the party to remain closely united; for no germ of disintegration, of pessimism, of passivity to be allowed to develop within it. All comrades in the party are called upon to realize this condition. No one can doubt that the achievement of this will be greeted with the most intense disappointment by all the enemies of the working class.