Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Antonio Gramsci 1926

The peasants and the dictatorship of the proletariat

(Notes for Il Mondo)

Unsigned, L'Unità, 17 September 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.

So we have a new article in Il Mondo, entitled - in accordance with the technique beloved of the old Barzinism and the new Calzinism - "Looking for Communism" Naturally, it is in workers' and peasants' Russia that Il Mondo looks for communism. If we wanted to imitate the dialectical technique beloved of Il Mondo, we might write a whole series of articles entitled 'Looking for democracy', and demonstrate that democracy has never existed. And indeed, if democracy meant, as it cannot but mean, rule of the popular masses, expressed through a Parliament elected by universal suffrage, then in which country has the government ever existed which meets such criteria? In England itself, homeland and cradle of the parliamentary régime and of democracy, Parliament is flanked in government by the House of Lords and the Monarchy. The powers of democracy are in reality null. It does not exist. Before the War, in other words when the social-democrats and all the "friends of the people" could not yet accuse Bolshevism of having "provoked" the bourgeoisie and induced it (poor thing!) to abandon legality and resort to dictatorial means, Lord Carson was already able to arm and raise an army against the parliamentary bill on Irish freedom.

And does democracy perhaps exist in France? Alongside Parliament there exists in France the Senate, which is elected not by universal' suffrage, but by two levels of electors who in their turn are only partially an expression of universal suffrage; and there also exists the institution of the President of the Republic. The different terms of power fixed for the three basic institutions of the French Republic are intended to serve, according to official statements, to temper the possible excesses of the Parliament elected by universal suffrage. In reality, they are the mechanism through which the ruling class prepares to organize civil war in the best conditions for agitation and propaganda.

In Germany, there does not exist any institution of an aristocratic or oligarchic nature alongside Parliament. Yet we have recently been able to see the formidable braking power exerted on the so-called national will by the fact that the President of the Republic has an electoral base that is temporally different from the one which forms the national assembly. The votes obtained in the referendum for expropriating the former princes without indemnity were more numerous than those won by Marshal Hindenburg for his nomination as President of the Republic Nevertheless, Hindenburg did not resign. Having issued the blackmailing threat of a grave political crisis during the referendum campaign, after the referendum he continued to exert pressure to render the will of the popular masses null and void.

Certainly, we do not propose to convince the writers of Il Mondo. We know them, as we know their various bosses, from the Perrone brothers to Max Bondi, Count Matarazzo, Commander Pecoraino and the Banca Commerciale - in whose service they write the most contradictory articles, but always designed to deceive the toiling masses. It is only for the masses' sake that we are writing to inquire: "Is it fair to ask of the new working-class régime that emerged in Russia in 1917, during the World War, after the greatest social and economic disaster that history has known, a one hundred per cent application of the maximum programme of the party which is in power in Russia, if one oneself represents and supports a régime which - in some centuries of existence - has not succeeded in realizing any of its programmatic promises, but has failed shamefully, capitulating before the most reactionary currents only to merge with them forthwith?"

Our paper must publish a whole series of documents which reply exhaustively to the questions raised by the writers -of Il Mondo, questions which are essential for the international workers' movement, even if Il Mondo raises them in the most contorted and unintelligent way one could imagine. One confession which is implicit in a whole series of articles and in Il Mondo's prose must be taken up at once: for what exactly does Il Mondo mean by seeking to demonstrate that in Russia there does not exist the least element of social life, and by systematically keeping silent about the working-class character of the Russian State institutions, including cooperatives, banks and factory managements? Il Mondo means only to maintain the illusion among the broad mass of the people, that it is at least possible to obtain what exists today in Russia without a revolution, and without the total conquest of Stat power by the working class and peasants.

All Il Mondo's arguments - from the one about the historical judgment to be made on Italian fascism, to this genuinely wretched critique on principle of the Russian economic and social structure - aim at this single goal. For us communists, the fascist régime is the expression of the most advanced stage of development of capitalist society. It precisely serves to demonstrate how all the conquests and all the institutions which the toiling classes succeed in realizing in the relatively peaceful period of development of the capitalist order are destined for annihilation, if at a given moment the working class does not seize State power with revolutionary means. So one can understand how the writers of Il Mondo have an interest in maintaining that fascism is a pre-democratic régime; that fascism is related to an incipient and still backward phase of capitalism.

So one can understand how the writers of Il Mondo - by presenting the readership of their paper (a readership unfortunately made up in large measure of workers and peasants) with a model of Russian society in which the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois elements are permeating the structure of the workers' State, over which they are destined inevitably to triumph through a restoration of the old régime - are seeking to represent, in an updated form, the old utopian schema of democracy and reformism. According to this, the socialist elements - such as trade unions, cooperatives, socialist local councils, etc., etc. - which exist under the capitalist order could permeate the structure of the latter to the point where they would modify it completely, so leading to the bloodless victory of socialism. But, precisely, fascism has implacably destroyed such schemas, by destroying all the socialist (insofar as linked to the working class) elements which had been being formed in the period of development of the capitalist class.

There exist today in Russia socialist elements which are preponderant, and elements of petty-bourgeois economy which theoretically can develop, just as theoretically the socialist elements which existed in Italy before fascism could develop. But in Italy the proletariat has not conquered State power. The old capitalist organization, at a certain moment, put an end to the concessions it had made to the cooperatives, the unions, the socialist local councils: i.e. to the working class. In Russia, the working class in power - the working class which regulates and manages the essential parts of the national economy, the control-levers of the whole economic structure of Russian society - has made and does make concessions: not to the old society of the capitalists and big landowners, which was overthrown arms in hand and has been stripped of all property and all political rights, but to the peasant masses from whom theoretically the new capitalism could emerge.

There is, however, a little question which the gentlemen of R Mondo seem to want to ignore, which is the following. Capitalism, as it emerges and develops, creates proletarians in numbers which far exceed that of the capitalists themselves. So the question - which the writers of Il Mondo think can be ignored of establishing which class holds State power in its hands becomes a key question. In Russia today, the working class which has the State in its hands has an interest, if it wants to create an internal market capable of absorbing industrial production, in promoting and encouraging the development of agriculture. Since agriculture in Russia is still backward and can only be organized on an individual basis, the economic development of the Russian agricultural classes necessarily leads to a certain enrichment of an upper layer in the countryside. Every worker understands that if one carries out a policy to ensure that one hundred peasants will move from a yearly income of one thousand lire to one of two thousand lire. so that they will become able to buy more objects from socialized industry than they were able to with their original thousand lire, it is impossible to prevent certain of those one hundred peasants from moving not just from one to two thousand lire, but as a result of specific highly favourable circumstances reaching five or six thousand. While, at the other extreme, five or six peasants not only do not succeed in moving from an income of one to an income of two thousand lire, but as a result of extremely unfavourable circumstances (death of stock, hurricanes, etc.) will see their income of a thousand lire reduced to zero.

What is essential for the policies of the working class in Russia is that the central mass of peasants, through legislative provision, should achieve the results which the workers' State proposes: i.e. should become the basis for the formation of national savings which will serve to sustain the general apparatus of production in the hands of the working class, allowing this apparatus not just to maintain itself, but to develop. There does, however, exist this 4 or 5 per cent which develops beyond the limits foreseen by the legislation of the workers' State. And in a country like Russia, where the peasant masses represent a population of 100 million inhabitants, this 4 or 5 per cent becomes a social force - which can appear quite massive - of 4 or 5 million inhabitants. But if the working class, which in Russia today numbers at least 20 million inhabitants, retains its links to the great mass of peasants, which numbers scores of millions, the figure represented by the enemies of socialism is reduced to its just proportions in the overall picture, and the relatively peaceful victory of the socialist forces over the capitalist forces is ensured. We say relatively peaceful, because in fact in Russia the prisons are in the hands of the workers, the courts are in the hands of the workers, the police is in the hands of the workers, the army is in the hands of the workers. In other words, in Russia there exists a dictatorship of the proletariat, a socialist element which we are so foolish as to judge just a tiny bit more important than it is judged to be by the friends of the Perrone brothers, of Max Bondi, of Count Matarazzo and of Commander Pecoraino!