Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Antonio Gramsci 1926

A study of the italian situation


Report to the 2-3 August 1926 meeting of the Party's Executive Commitee.
The first part was published in March 1928 in Stato Operaio, the second not untill 14 April 1967 (Rinascita).

Text from Antonio Gramsci "Selections from political writings (1921-1926)", translated and edited by Quintin Hoare (Lawrence and Wishart, London 1978). Transcribed to the www with the kind permission of Quintin Hoare.


I

It is necessary to study three basic elements of the Italian political situation.

1. The positive revolutionary element, i.e. the progress achieved by the united front tactic. The present situation in the organization of the Committees of Proletarian Unity, and the tasks of the communist factions in these committees.

2. The political element represented by the disintegration of the fascist landowner/bourgeois bloc. Internal situation in the ruling party, and significance of the crisis it is passing through.

3. The political element represented by the tendency to constitute a left democratic bloc, with its pivot in the Republican Party, in that a republican stance is supposed to provide the basis for this democratic coalition.

United Front Tactics

The study of the first point must have the aim of testing the correctness of the political line fixed by the Third Congress. The Third Congress of our party was characterized by the fact that it has not merely posed, in a generic sense, the problem of the need to realize the leadership of the Communist Party within the working class, and of the working class within the working population of Italy; but it has also sought to concretize, in a practical way, the political elements through which this leadership might be accomplished. In other words, it has sought to identify those parties and associations through which bourgeois or petty-bourgeois influence over the working classes is disseminated, and which are open to the possibility of an overturning, a reversal of class values. Thus it is necessary to test, by results, the correctness of the organizational terrain fixed by the party as that most appropriate for immediate regroupment of the forces set in motion by the united front tactic: i.e. the agitation committees.

On the positive side, one may say that our party has succeeded in winning a clear position of political initiative among the working masses. In this last period, all the journalistic organs of the parties which control the mass of the Italian people have been filled with polemics against the successful actions of our party. All these parties are on the defensive against our actions; in fact, they are indirectly led by us, since at least 60 per cent of their activity is devoted to repelling our offensives, or is devised to give their mass base some satisfaction that will free it from our influence.

It is clear that in the conditions of oppression and control represented by fascist politics, the results of our tactics cannot be statistically measurable at the level of the broad masses. However, it is undeniable that when specific elements of democratic and social-democratic parties shift over, even in a molecular fashion, towards the tactical terrain argued for by the communists, this shift cannot be ascribed to chance or have a purely individual significance. In practical terms, the question can be posed as follows: in every party, and especially in the democratic and social -democratic parties in which the organizational apparatus is very loose, there exist three strata. The very tiny top stratum, which is usually made up of parliamentary deputies and intellectuals often closely linked to the ruling class. The bottom stratum. made up of workers. peasants and urban petty-bourgeois. which provides the mass of party members or the mass of those influenced by the party. An intermediate stratum, which in the present situation has an even greater importance than it had in normal periods. insofar as it often represents the only active and politically alive stratum in these parties. It is this intermediate stratum which maintains the link between the leading group at the top. and the mass of members and those influenced by the party. It is on the solidity of this middle stratum that the leading groups are counting. for a future renewal of these various parties and their reconstruction on a broad basis.

Now, it is precisely on a significant part of these middle strata of the various popular parties that the influence of the movement in favour of a united front is making itself felt. It is in this middle stratum that there is occurring this molecular phenomenon of disintegration of the old ideologies and old political programmes, and that the beginnings of a new political formation on the terrain of the united front can be seen. Old reformist or maximalist workers who exercise a wide influence in certain factories or certain urban neighbourhoods. Peasant elements who in the villages or little provincial towns represent the most advanced individuals in the rural world, to whom the peasants of those villages or little towns regularly turn for advice and practical directives. Petty intellectuals in the cities, who as exponents of the left catholic movement radiate an influence in the surrounding areas which cannot and must not be measured by their modest stature, but must instead be measured by the fact that outside the city they appear as a tendency of the party which the peasants were accustomed to follow. These then are the elements on which our party exercises a constantly growing power of attraction, and whose political exponents are a sure index of movements at the base that are often even more radical than appears from these individual shifts.

Particular attention must be paid to the function fulfilled by our youth in the activity for the united front. It is, therefore, necessary to keep in mind the fact that a greater flexibility must be allowed in the actions of the youth organization than is allowed to the party. It is obvious that the party cannot go in for fusion with other political groups, or for recruitment of new members on the basis of the united front, whose purpose is to create unity of action of the working class and the alliance between workers and peasants, and which cannot be the basis for party formations. For the young communists, on the other hand, the question is posed differently. By their very nature, the young communists represent the party's elementary, formative stage. In order to join the "youth organization", candidates cannot be required already to be communists in the complete sense of the word, but simply to have the desire to struggle and to become a communist. Hence this factor must serve as a general point of reference, in order to define more clearly the tactics appropriate for the communist youth.

One element which must always be taken into account, because its historical significance is not negligible, is the following. The fact that a maximalist, a reformist, a republican, a member of the Popular party or the Sardinian movement, or a democrat from the South should support the programme of the proletarian united ;front and workers' and peasants' alliance is certainly important. But the fact that a member of Catholic Action as such should support such a programme is of far greater importance. In fact, the opposition, parties, albeit in inadequate and inchoate ways, tend to create and maintain a separation between the popular masses and fascism. Catholic Action, on the other hand, today represents an integral part of fascism. It tends through religious ideology to give fascism the agreement of broad masses of the people. And it is destined in a certain sense, in the minds of a very strong tendency within the Fascist Party (Federzoni, Rocco, etc.), to replace the Fascist Party itself in its function as a mass party and organism for political control of the population. Every success on our part, however limited, in the Catholic Action field therefore means that we are succeeding in preventing the accomplishment of fascist policy in a field which seemed shut off from any kind of proletarian initiative.

To conclude on this point, we may assert that the political line of the Third Congress has been verified as correct, and the balance-sheet of our actions for the united front is extremely positive.

It is necessary to include a special point on trade-union activity - both in the sense of the position which we occupy today in the class unions, and also in the sense of a real trade-union activity to be carried out and in that of our position with respect to the corporations.

The Two Tendencies of Fascism

On point 2, it is necessary to define with precision the internal situation of the fascist bourgeois/agrarian bloc, and of the fascist organization properly speaking. On the one hand, the Federzoni, Rocco, Volpi, etc., tendency wants to draw the conclusions from this whole period since the March on Rome. It wants to liquidate the Fascist Party as a political organism, and incorporate into the State apparatus the bourgeois position of strength created by fascism in its struggles against all the other parties. This tendency is working together with the Crown and the general staff. It wants to incorporate into the central forces of the State, on the one hand, Catholic Action, i.e. the Vatican, putting an end de facto and possibly even formally to the quarrel between the House of Savoy and the Vatican; and on the other hand, the more moderate elements of the former Aventine opposition. It is certain that while fascism in its nationalist wing, given the past and the traditions of old Italian nationalism, is working towards Catholic Action, on the other hand the House of Savoy is once again trying to exploit its traditions in order to draw into government spheres the members of the Di Cesarò and Amendola groups.

The other tendency is officially represented by Farinacci. it objectively represents two contradictions of fascism. 1. The contradiction between landowners and capitalists, whose interests clash in particular over tariffs. It is certain that the fascism of today typically represents the clear predominance of finance capital over the State: capital which seeks to enslave all the country's productive forces. 2. The second contradiction, which is far more important, is that between the petty bourgeoisie and capitalism. The fascist petty bourgeoisie sees in the party the instrument for its defence, its Parliament, its democracy, Through the party, it seeks to put pressure on the government to prevent it from being crushed by capitalism.

One element which must be kept in mind is the fact of the total enslavement to America to which Italy has been subjected by the fascist government. In the liquidation of its war debt to both America and England, the fascist government did not take the trouble to obtain any guarantee of the negotiability of Italian obligations. The Italian stockmarket and exchequer are at all times exposed to the political blackmail of the American and English governments, who can at any moment release enormous quantities of Italian currency onto the world market. Moreover, the Morgan debt was incurred under even worse conditions. 223 Of the hundred million dollars of this loan, the Italian government has only 33 million at its disposal. The other 67 million, the Italian government can only make use of with the generous personal consent of Morgan, which means that Morgan is the real head of the Italian government. These elements may cause the petty bourgeoisie, in defending its interests through the Fascist Party as such, to take on a nationalist intonation - against the old nationalism and the present leadership of the party, which has sacrificed the country's national sovereignty and political independence to the interests of a small group of plutocrats. In connection with this, one of our party's tasks must be that of putting especial stress on the slogan of the United Soviet States of Europe, as an instrument of political initiative among the fascist rank-and-file.

In general, it can be said that the Farinacci tendency in the Fascist Party lacks unity, organization, general principles. It is more a diffuse state of mind than a tendency properly speaking. It will not be very hard for the government to disintegrate its constitutent nuclei. What is important, from our point of view, is that this crisis, insofar as it represents the detachment of the petty bourgeoisie from the fascist bourgeois/landowner coalition, cannot fail to be an element of military weakness for fascism.

The general economic crisis is the fundamental element of the political crisis. It is necessary to study the elements of this crisis, because certain of them are inherent in the general Italian situation and will operate negatively in the period of proletarian dictatorship as well. These main elements can be defined as follows: of the three elements which traditionally make up the assets in the Italian balance of trade, two - remittances from emigrants and the tourist industry - have collapsed. The third element, exports, are going through a crisis. If to the two negative factors (emigrants' remittances and tourist industry) and to the third, partially negative factor (exports), one adds the need for heavy imports of grain due to the failure of the harvest, it is clear that the perspectives for the coming months look catastrophic.

It is necessary to keep these four elements in mind, in order to understand the impotence of the government and the ruling class. Certainly, if the government can do nothing, or next to nothing, to increase remittances from emigrants (take account of the initiative proposed by signor Giuseppe Zuccoli, expected successor to Volpi at the Ministry of Finance) or to make the tourist industry prosper, it can nevertheless do something to increase exports. At all events, a grand strategy is possible here, which even if it did not heal the wound would at least tend to cicatrize it. Some people are thinking in terms of the possibility of a labour policy based on inflationism. Naturally this possibility cannot be absolutely excluded, but: 1. even if it came to pass, its results in the economic field would be relatively minimal; 2. its results in the political field, on the other hand, would be catastrophic.

In reality, it is necessary to keep the following elements in mind. 1. Exports represent only a part of the credit side of the Italian balance of trade, at most two-thirds. 2. To wipe out the deficit, it would be necessary not only to obtain the maximum yield from the existing productive base, but to enlarge the productive base itself by buying new machinery abroad., which would increase the trade deficit even further. 3. The raw materials for Italian industry are imported from abroad, and must be paid for in a hard currency. An increase of production on a large scale would lead to the necessity for an enormous mass of circulating capital for the acquisition of raw materials. 4. It must be borne in mind that fascism as a general phenomenon has, in Italy, reduced the wages and salaries of the working class to a minimum. Inflation makes some sense in a country with high wages, as an alternative to fascism, in order to lower the standard of living of the working classes and thus restore freedom of manoeuvre to the bourgeoisie. It makes no sense in Italy, where the working class's standard of living is already at subsistence level.

Among the elements of the economic crisis: the new organization of joint-stock companies with preferential voting, which is one of the elements of rupture between petty bourgeoisie and capitalism; and the imbalance which has recently appeared between the gross capital of the joint-stock companies, which is becoming concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, and the gross national savings. This imbalance shows that the sources of savings are drying up, since current incomes are no longer sufficient for needs.

The Democratic Coalition

On the third political element. It is clear that a certain regroupment is taking place in the democratic field, of a more radical character than in the past. Republican ideology is becoming stronger, in the same sense as for the united front, i.e. among the middle strata of the democratic parties, and in this case also to a considerable degree among the higher strata.

Old former Aventine leaders have refused the invitation to resume contact with the monarchy. It is said that even Amendola himself had become totally republican in the last period of his life, and carried out personal propaganda along these lines. The popolari have apparently become disposed to republicanism too, etc. It is certain that great efforts are being made to bring about a neo-democratic regroupment on the terrain of republicanism: a regroupment designed to take power when fascism collapses, and to instal a dictatorship aimed both against the reactionary right and against the communist left. The most recent European events, like the Pilsudski adventure in Poland and the dying convulsions of the French cartel, have contributed to this democratic republican reawakening. Our party must confront the general problem of the country's political perspectives.

The elements can be established as follows. Though it is true that, politically, fascism may be succeeded by a dictatorship of the proletariat - since no intermediate party or coalition is capable of giving even the most minimal satisfaction to the economic requirements of the working classes, who will burst violently onto the political scene the moment existing relations are broken - it is nevertheless not certain, and not even probable, that the passage from fascism to the dictatorship of the proletariat will be a direct one. It is necessary to take account of the fact that the existing armed forces, given their composition, cannot at once be won over, and that they will be the determining element in the situation.

Hypotheses may be made with a continually increasing degree of verisimilitude. It is possible that the present government will give way to a coalition government, in which men like Giolitti, Orlando, Di Cesarò, De Gasperi will provide a greater immediate flexibility. The most recent parliamentary events in France show what flexibility bourgeois policy is capable of, in order to postpone the revolutionary crisis, dislodge adversaries, tire them out and disintegrate them. A sudden, unexpected economic crisis, not improbable in a situation like the Italian one, could bring the republican democratic coalition to power, since it would present itself to the officers of the army, to a part of the fascist militia itself, and to the state functionaries in general (an element which has to be taken great account of in situations such as the Italian one), as capable of checking the revolution.

These hypotheses only serve us as a general perspective. They serve to fix the following points. 1. We must, from today, reduce to a minimum the influence and organization of the parties which may constitute the left coalition, in order to make more and more probable a revolutionary collapse of fascism, insofar as the energetic and active elements of the population are on our ground at the moment of the crisis. 2. In any case, we must strive to make the democratic interlude as brief as possible, by beginning from today to arrange the greatest number of favourable conditions to our advantage.

It is from these elements that we must derive the guidelines for our immediate, practical activity.

Intensification of the general activity of the united front and the organization of more and more new agitation committees, in order to centralize them at least on a regional and provincial level. In the committees, our fractions must seek first of all to obtain the maximum representation of the various left political currents, systematically avoiding all party sectarianism. The questions must be posed objectively by our fractions as an expression of the interests of the working class and the peasants.

Tactic towards the Maximalist party.

Need to pose the Southern problem more energetically. If our party does not begin to work seriously in the South, the South will be the strongest base for the left coalition.

Tactic towards the Sardinian Action Party, in view of its forthcoming congress.

For Southern Italy and the Islands, creation of regional work groups in the rest of Italy.

II

So far as the international situation is concerned, it seems to me to be dominated especially by the question of the English general strike, and the conclusions to be drawn from it. The English strike has posed two fundamental problems for our movement.

The first of these is the problem of general perspectives; i.e. the problem of a precise assessment of the phase through which the capitalist order is currently passing. Is the period of so-called stabilization over? What point have we reached, with respect to the capacity of the bourgeois order for resistance? It is clear that not only from a theoretical and scientific point of view, but also from a practical and immediate point of view, it is interesting and necessary to verify precisely the exact point which the capitalist crisis has reached. But it is also clear that any new political orientation based on a different assessment of the precise level of the capitalist crisis would be stupid, if this different assessment is not immediately reflected in genuinely different political and organizational directives.

The problem to be posed, it seems to me, is the following. In the international field - and this, in practice, means two things: 1. in the field of the group of capitalist states which form the keystone of the bourgeois system; 2. in the field of those states which represent, as it were, the periphery of the capitalist world - are we about to pass from the phase of political organization of the proletarian forces, to the phase of technical organization of the revolution? Or, on the other hand, are we about to pass from the former of the phases mentioned to an intermediate phase, in which a particular form of technical organization can accelerate the political organization of the masses, and hence accelerate the passage to the concluding phase of the conquest of power? These problems in my view should be discussed. But it is obvious that it is not possible to solve them at a purely theoretical level. They can only be solved on the basis of concrete data, with respect to the real effectiveness both of the revolutionary and of the bourgeois forces.

A certain number of observations and criteria must form the basis for this study. The first of these concerns the fact that in the advanced capitalist countries, the ruling class possesses political and organizational reserves which it did not possess, for instance, in Russia. This means that even the most serious economic crises do not have immediate repercussions in the political sphere. Politics always lags behind economics, far behind. The state apparatus is far more resistant than is often possible to believe; and it succeeds, at moments of crisis, in organizing greater forces loyal to the régime than the depth of the crisis might lead one to suppose. This is especially true of the more important capitalist states.

In the typical peripheral states, like Italy, Poland, Spain or Portugal, the state forces are less efficient. But in these countries., one finds a phenomenon of which the greatest account must be taken. This phenomenon, in my view, consists in the following. In these countries, a broad stratum of intermediate classes stretches between the proletariat and capitalism: classes which seek to carry on, and to a certain sense succeed in carrying on, policies of their own, with ideologies which often influence broad strata of the proletariat, but which particularly affect the peasant masses. France too, although it occupies a prominent position in the first group of capitalist States, belongs by virtue of certain of its characteristics to the situation of the peripheral states.

What seems to me to be characteristic of the present phase of the capitalist crisis is the fact that, unlike in 1920-2, today the political and military formations of the middle classes have a left radical character, or at least they present themselves to the masses as left radicals. The development of the Italian situation, given its particular features, seems to me to be able, in a certain sense, to serve as a model for the various phases traversed by other countries. In 1919 and 1920, the military and political formations of the middle classes were represented in our country by primitive fascism and by D'Annunzio. It is well known that in those years, the fascist movement and DAnnunzio's movement alike were willing to ally themselves even with the revolutionary proletarian forces in order to overthrow the Nitti government, which appeared as American capital's go-between for the enslavement of Italy (Nitti was the precursor of Dawes in Europe). 226

The second phase of fascism - 1921 and 1922 - was clearly reactionary. From 1923 on,, a molecular process began through which the most active elements of the middle classes moved over from the reactionary fascist camp to the camp of the Aventine opposition. This process crystallized in a manner which might have proved fatal to fascism in the period of the Matteotti crisis. Because of the weakness of our movement, a weakness which moreover was itself significant, the phenomenon was interrupted by fascism and the middle classes were thrown back into a new state of political pulverization. Today, the molecular phenomenon has begun again, on a scale far greater than that which was started in 1923, and is accompanied by a parallel phenomenon of regroupment of the revolutionary forces around our party, which ensures that a new crisis of the Matteotti type could hardly culminate in a new 3 January. 227

These phases traversed by Italy, in a form which I would call classical and exemplary, we find in all those countries which we have called peripheral capitalist countries. The present phase in Italy, i.e. a regroupment of the middle classes on the left, we can find in Spain, Portugal, Poland and in the Balkans. Only in two countries, Czechoslovakia and France, do we find a continuity in the permanency of the left bloc - a fact which in my view should be particularly closely studied.

The conclusion to be drawn from these observations, which of course will have to be improved and set out in a systematic manner, it seems to me might be the following. In reality, we are entering a new phase in the development of the capitalist crisis. This phase takes different forms, on the one hand in the countries of the capitalist periphery, and on the other in the advanced capitalist countries. Between these two series of states, Czechoslovakia and France represent the two connecting links. In the peripheral countries, the problem arises of the phase which I have called intermediate between the political and the technical preparation of the revolution. In the other countries, including France and Czechoslovakia, it seems to me that the problem is still one of political preparation. For all the capitalist countries, a fundamental problem is posed - the problem of the transition from the united front tactic, understood in a general sense, to a specific tactic which confronts the concrete problems of national life and operates on the basis of the popular forces as they are historically determined.

From a technical point of view, the problem concerns the appropriate slogans and forms of organization. If I did not have a certain fear of hearing cries of Ordine Nuovo-ism, I would say that today one of the most important problems we face, especially in the major capitalist countries, is the problem of factory councils and workers' control - as the basis for a new regroupment of the proletarian class, which will permit a more effective struggle against the trade-union bureaucracy and will permit us to organize the immense masses of non-unionized workers, not just in France, but also in Germany and in England.

In the case of England, it seems to me that in any case the problem of regrouping the proletarian masses can even be posed on the trade-union terrain itself. Our British party must have a programme for the democratic reorganization of the Trade Unions. Only insofar as local trade-union branches in England begin to coordinate their activities like Our Chambers of Labour, and give these Chambers of Labour adequate powers, will it be possible: 1. to free the English workers from the influence of the tradeunion bureaucracy; 2. to reduce the influence exercised within the Labour Party by MacDonald's party (I.L.P.), which today functions precisely as a local centralizing force in a context of trade-union fragmentation; 3. to create a terrain upon which it is possible for the organized forces of our party to exercise a direct influence on the mass of English workers. 1 think that this kind of reorganization of the trade unions, stimulated by our party, would have the significance and importance of a veritable soviet germinationprocess. Moreover, it would be in the line of the historical traditions of the English working class, from Chartism to the Action Committees of 1919.

The second fundamental problem posed by the English general strike is . that of the Anglo-Russian Committee. 228 1 think that despite the indecision, weakness and if you like betrayal of the English left during the general strike, the Anglo-Russian Committee should be maintained, because it is the best terrain to revolutionize not only the English tradeunion world, but also the Amsterdam unions. In only one event should there be a break between the communists and the English left: if England was on the eve of the proletarian revolution, and our party was strong enough to lead the insurrection on its own.

Postscript. These notes have been written solely to prepare the work of the leading Committee. They are far from being definitive, but simply represent the draft for a first discussion.