«‹Left-Wing› Communism, an Infantile Disorder» – Condemnation of the renegades to come
VII. Appendix on the Italian issues
Subject of the present final note
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We don’t believe it right to give some space to the Italian issues, which were debated within the Communist International in the first post-war period, just because they (and the way the International settled them) were at the centre of the discussion that, after Lenin and after 1920, became always more deep. The most important point, then and today, is that of the international communist tactics and, within a wider historical setting, of the revolutionary strategy in Europe and outside; this is the point on which, after forty years, we can and must draw conclusions. The complete revolutionary bankruptcy in the western capitalist countries demonstrates how the usage of Lenin’s watchword about «flexibility» degenerated in abuse, similar to that ascribed by Lenin to the traitors of his time, like Kautsky and partners. We explained the historical motives according to which Lenin believed urgent in that moment to insist more against the danger of rigidism than against that of too much flexibilism. We, when daring to give more importance to the latter danger, and to too many concessions to it, we were for the safety [of the party; Lenin was concerned about the safety] of the European revolution, without which he knew that the Russian one was lost. We can say that his view was great, but those who blather about a today’s revolutionary Russia cannot dare to say so.
It would be a poor thing to boast of the disastrous historical situation, after the sacrifice of both European and Russian revolutions, and the destruction of the world communist party. Cassandras were not sufficient for such a salvation.
The aim of our study on Lenin is to establish where the boundary is between the flexibility he proposed – which we do not hesitate to define too broad for the countries of modern, whorish democracy – and the filthy flexibility of 1920 traitors, who have been surpassed only by the present-day scoundrelish wave, which Lenin was fortunate enough not to know.
Here is another passage from the text:
«Only one thing is lacking to enable us to march forward more confidently and firmly to victory,» (here is the magnificent optimism of Lenin we were afraid of!) «namely, the thoroughly meditated awareness of all Communists in all countries, of the necessity to achieve the utmost «flexibility» in their tactics… That which happened to such leaders of the Second International, such highly erudite Marxists devoted to socialism as Kautsky, Otto Bauer and others, could (and should) provide a useful lesson. They fully appreciated the need for flexible tactics; they themselves learned Marxist dialectic and taught it to others…; however, in the application of this dialectic they committed such an error, or proved to be such undialectical in practice, so incapable of taking into account the rapid change of forms and the rapid acquisition of new content by the old forms, that their fate is not more enviable than that of Hyndman, Guesde and Plekhanov.» (From the French translation; see also op. cit., p. 575).
The latter three passed to the defence of the country, the ultimate infamy for Lenin; but the fate of the former ones, of centrists, was no less disgusting (the reader can read again the preceding and following pages): to applaud, in the name of an alleged socialist orthodoxy, not only the insults, but even the bourgeois punitive expeditions of the time against the Russian soviets.
Is the fate of the drafters of the recent Moscow’s manifesto a better one? They, too, with infinite shamelessness, start with Lenin’s flexibility and Marx’s dialectics. Where have they come to?
While Lenin wanted to teach that audacious tactical evolutions may be of help, provided that dialectics enables us not to forget the cornerstones, out of which to name him has no meaning whatsoever (and they are, according to every page of the text, for all countries proletarian dictatorship, destruction of the parliament), today an assembly of eighty seven swines write, invoking him: «The working class has the chance of turning the parliament, from an instrument of bourgeoisie’s class interests, into an instrument at the service of the working people».
Flexibility of «acquisition of new content by the old forms»? Lenin-style flexibility, then?! Or rather a triple putrid content filling the new scoundreldom?
These are the terms, historical rather than doctrinarian, of the tactical matter the way we countryless communists call it.
And if Italy requires a mention, it is due to a secondary motive. First of all, Lenin writes about it, and secondly we are interested in demonstrating that the master-line of the communists of the Italian Left, even before knowing his works, was already the right one, the same he used to condemn both right- and left-wing doctrinairism; i.e., the scoundreldom of all times and the stammering petty-bourgeois immediatism which we had at that time already defeated within the national sphere.
Class party, centralisation, discipline are the cornerstones of the Russian victory, and Lenin calls them in as a theme before all the world’s countries. It means a fight without quarter against the disorders (whether they come from right or left) of economism, labourism, workerism, syndicalism, non-politicalism, localism, autononism, individualism and libertarianism. It was easy to say that the Italian leftists, by advocating electoral abstentionism in 1919, were deviating from the marxist line; but it’s true the contrary, and the demonstration does not lie in the theory, it is also in the not counterfeit practical facts.
There’s no shortage of histories of the Italian proletarian movement, although their consultation is made unsafe by the ideological position of the various writers, and the texts based only on documents are too ponderous. The present ones are just brief notes to get to 1920.
Anarchists (at that time called libertarian communists and united to marxists in the First International until 1871) cannot be denied the credit for having been the first to adopt the historical position according to which, once the struggles for national independence were over, no euphoria should spread among the Italian workers for the victory of the national, liberal bourgeoisie, their true social enemy, and yesterday’s ally. It is clear that such an historical marxist position, as well as the theses as to which the next social clash was to be aggressive rather than defensive, and take the shape of insurrectional struggle and civil war; it might be defined as an attempt, insufficient in both theory and organisation, to pass at once from the victory of the bourgeoisie – yesterday’s ally – to the struggle for power against it, as Marx wanted it in 1848, and as Lenin did it in 1917.
The struggles were local, regional, carried out by bands that weren’t able to achieve their generous aim of assaulting the police headquarters of big cities; they were stopped in the countryside by the pitiless repression of the class bourgeois state. But the tradition of left-wing marxists cannot be connected to such conspiratorial and, in a sense, blanquist extremism. The correct position goes back to the letter of Engels to the «Plebe» of Pavia («On authority», 1873). The revolution does not just need bold men and arms, it needs a nationally centralised party organisation, able to act like a disciplined army of the civil war, and to found a proletarian state when the bourgeois state is defeated. Since 1870 we have been correctly defined as authoritarian communists. It was a theoretical error (here’s another demonstration that not doctrinairism, but rather the correctness even with regard to terminology and formulae, is a vital oxygen for the movement, always) to substitute the expression authoritarian with that of legalitarian. The latter became, in the final decades of the XIXth century, the praxis of the socialist parties, which saw what the present day swines (as just mentioned) see: elections and parliament as class means for seizing the power.
In 1892 the socialists split from anarchists at Genoa Congress: the formula of that programme is the «conquest of public powers». When, as in 1919 at Bologna Congress, we upheld that it was to be changed in order to be able to join the IIIrd International of Moscow, the old Lazzari tried to demonstrate that it did not exclude the insurrectional seizure of power: Verdaro answered him that he cared about such a programme, of which he had been a drafter. Lazzari in his life had long fought against reformists; but during the war we accused him, in 1917 and before, just as Lenin did with Kautsky; a Lazzari was by the way far more «to the left» than today’s Kremlinians!
Between the two centuries, while the anarchists were reduced to the individualist school and to the attack method, the socialists of the whole of Europe were increasingly more, divided into the wings of reformists and revolutionaries. There’s no need to repeat that the first ones were evolutionists, who repeated the doctrine of social revolution as the only way to socialism; while the second ones, although not clearly advocating the watchword of dictatorship, saw the parliamentary activity as just a means of agitation based on the class struggle, and even excluded any coalition with left-wing parliamentary oppositions, let alone the possibility of participating in parliamentary governments.
The issue of electoral intransigence was a quite small test in such an idyllic time, when nothing made foreseeable the impending outbreak of World War I. But nevertheless in Italy an advancement of the marxist left took place until 1914. It had a more remarkable success in the struggle against the participation to Freemasonry, and for the liquidation of the trite petty-bourgeois anticlericalism of the time. But a better confirmation of the rightness of the theory followed, in the sense that Lenin himself gives to such a word, came from the position assumed towards the revolutionary syndicalism, just arrived in Italy from the French school of Sorel and on which the anarchist tendencies had moved.
As a «left-wing infantile» reaction to the parliamentary and collaborationist degenerations of the socialist parties of that time, the sorelians denied both party and elections. They advocated both class violence and insurrection, but saw with the latter the end of the state. Direct action meant for them the clash between the proletariat, organised in the trade unions and by means of the arm of general strike, and the bourgeois state; which in the struggle was to disappear, according to the anarchist idea, without making way for a clear-cut workers’ state.
The critique to such immediatist errors was thoroughly made by the left of the socialist party in the first decade of the century, when the syndicalists broke from both the party and the Confederazione del Lavoro. The right form, as suited to be filled in Lenin’s sense by the revolutionary content is not the trade union, but rather the political party. In the union is the category spirit to develop (worse still, in the syndicalism of factory councils, born later, it is the far more narrow factory spirit to develop): in the party alone the, unity of the struggle, not only national but also world-wide, can be achieved. To draw from the degeneration of the party and of its M.P.s the non-political and non-party conclusion, which more than the «non-electionist» one leads to renunciation of the revolutionary dynamics (that is political, because the armed struggle between classes is political par excellence): that’s «infantilism». The trade unions themselves had degenerated in the worst minimalism of small gains and caused the parliamentary degeneration, but it did not justify such a unionist split. These positions, appeared in the IIIrd International after the war, were already clear beforehand for us in Italy.
The party issue, as well as that of the state, was fully called into question. Syndicalists boasted to be anti-state; they were several times answered in the journals of the youth movement that we too, revolutionary socialists, were against the state, in the sense of overthrowing the present power and ending the state, provided that, in a new form, it had served the proletariat in the period of social transformation. As an example it might be mentioned a speech by Franco Ciarlantini, who developed such a theme at the Ancona Congress, although it did not yet appear as topical.
The story is well known, even to the youngest. The behaviour of the socialist party in Italy was quite different from what took place in France, Germany, Austria, England. It was due to the fact that Italy was involved only nine months later; but we can quite rightly say that, as for the Russian bolshevik party, the previous historical struggle of the marxist left wing against right and left doctrinarian errors (reformists and anarchists, that we always defined as two aspects of the petty- bourgeois error) had a useful effect. One of our articles in «Avanti!» of 13th July, 1913 fought with such an approach against the abstentionists from the then impending political elections, with the very title: «Against abstentionism».
The rising within the same party, which in its great majority was against the war, of a dangerous and centrist tendency was at once noticed; it is witnessed by articles in «Avanti!» (although it was under censure), and by contrasts in the meetings of Rome 1917, Florence 1917, etc., where the extreme wing was clearly differentiated. Whoever reads such articles can see how, even before the publication of the theses of Lenin-Zinoviev and of the international meetings of Zimmerwald and Kienthal, the theses of the international split were outlined, within the «non-traitor» Italian party itself.
The rightist formula of accepting, after May 1915, the fait accompli of the war intervention and of going into a work of «civil red cross», while the rightists were harshly hammered for their defencist attitudes after the Austrian invasion at Caporetto was not just condemned; the party leadership itself was disclaimed for its dubious formula: «neither support nor sabotage», while wartime revolutionary defeatism was advocated before Lenin himself gave such a watchword.
In an article of Nov. 1914 we were already speaking of «a new international with the maximum communist programme». In May 1917 the loft rose up against a motion of the leadership, according to which the situation had changed (the usual turning-points disorder!) owing to the war message of Wilson, which closely followed his peace message, and to the downfall of the tsar in Russia, which cleaned out the «democratic» content of the western imperialist side. Serrati was since then concerned about us wanting a «split», against which he fought in 1919 and 1921, that is in the crucial moment.
Very interesting materials, as proof of what we're going to say, can be found in the reports of the P.S.I. (Italian Socialist Party) congress of Bologna October1919, a very rare book at present. In all the speeches of the communist abstentionist fraction – which gathered a minority if compared to the maximalist fraction, by far prevailing, and to the reformists, who named their fraction with the usual words of unity or concentration – two points are thoroughly dealt with: that of party unity, now an obstacle for the eager to struggle proletariat, and that of the imminent general elections which, as we had warned, channelled all class energies on the legalitarian plane: a non-hybrid party would instead have been able to lead the class to immense achievements.
The split issue was rejected by the electionist maximalists, because they did not want to wreck the election campaign. It is now opportune to make a very important fact public. In the public session we acknowledged that the motion of the maximalist fraction (serratian, joined at that time by Bombacci, Gennari, Graziadei, Gramsci and by all those who at Leghorn in 1921 were to come on our side) had been made, in its programmatic and theoretical part, much closer to ours, which fully kept to the platform of the IIIrd International; the only remaining differences were on the participation to elections and on the exclusion from the party of those who rejected the new programme. Without referring to the decisions of 1920 congress , which ratified the split (although speaking in favour of the participation to the parliament), there’s a fact which is of course missing in the official report. Before the vote the leaders of the abstentionist fraction made a move to meet the maximalists, by proposing a united vote on condition that the split from the turatian right was decided. On such terms we would have given up, even before the international congress, the abstentionist condition. Well, this move was immediately rejected: not only they wanted the elections, they wanted also the biggest success, to be achieved together with the electoral forces of Turati & Co. It was clear that serratism did not see the parliamentary action, as Lenin did in 1920, with the purpose of demolition but, in a social-democratic style, it dreamed to achieve, after the war and the proletarian anger, a majority victory for the Lower House. Oh poor ghost of the good Serrati! Ho many sorts of things you heard, first from us and then from Gramsci and his men, until you sprinkled your head with ashes at Moscow-Canossa! Who would have said that in 1960’s swines international serratism would have triumphed?
The issue of the split between the followers of the communist programme and the followers of the socialdemocratic programme was more important than that of Italian election and parliamentarism; yet, the latter marked the defeat of the proletarian forces in Italy, and the fascist victory of the bourgeoisie.
We set the split issue by invoking the tragic examples of the revolutions in Germany, Bavaria, Hungary. The text of the speeches of Verdaro, Boero and of all our other speakers demonstrates that we pointed out that in those struggles – as well as in the victorious one in Russia – the opponents of the communist programme of proletarian dictatorship, at the moment of the clash that all agreed was incumbent in Italy, had gone over to the bourgeoisie’s side. We reminded of the telegram of Lenin, calling for the exclusion of socialdemocrats from the Hungarian communist government of Béla Kun, that the bourgeois press had published before the fatal ruin of Budapest soviets. We had not yet read at that time the text of «‹Left-wing› communism», which develops the same tragical example and the same diagnosis of the causes; but the two were nevertheless in tune.
After the vote of Bologna we did not leave the party, and disciplinedly participated in the elections, as we were to do later on, after the Moscow congress in 1920 and the constitution on that basis of the Communist Party of Italy at Leghorn, in 1921. All this demonstrates that our behaviour, far from being affected by doctrinarian rigourism, was indeed «flexible». But just because we're not doctrinarian, we can today rightfully wonder which were the final results of the manoeuvre of the proletarian party. What we upheld in Bologna, and then in Moscow in 1920, was the impossibility of a parliamentary participation without a relapse into the socialdemocratic conception of the parliamentary seizure of power, as opposed to the revolutionary one. Don’t real facts prove today that such an expectation was correct?
It is worth now going back to the text of Lenin. His conception of tactics shows us a party that is able to be non-rigid in two senses: when it is a matter of approaching a manoeuvre, the «form» of which is that of an apparent compromise with forces more or less distant from us, and when it is the matter of carrying out the opposed strategic move, going back with even more decision on the position of direct attack against all enemies. Whoever successfully carried out both manoeuvres can boast an understanding and dialectical enforcement of Lenin’s legacy. But what has been the outcome? Nobody has made a brief excursion into the method of parliamentary action, to later switch back, with a doubled vigour, to the method of revolutionary attack. The movement instead deeply immersed itself, and totally trapped, in the democratic idolatry and in the parliamentary practice. Lenin instead explained that the force of the bolsheviks lay in their ability of enforcing with the same energy the tactics of their presence in the Duma as well as that of the boycott of it. In Bologna Verdaro had already answered to such an objection by saying that the participation in a reactionary Duma, the members of which were sent to Siberia, was obvious. However, this is the instance in which Lenin justifies the «boycott».
When in August 1905 the tsar convoked a consultive parliament the bolsheviks, unlike all other opposition parties and the mensheviks, proclaimed the boycott of such a parliament, and the 1905 revolution actually wiped it out. At that time the boycott was right, not because it is in general right not to participate in reactionary parliaments, but because the objective situation had been correctly evaluated, and it was of such a nature, as to rapidly turn the wave of category strikes into a political general strike, then into a revolutionary strike, and finally into an insurrection.
On the basis of these words of Lenin, who also defines the boycott of 1906 and 1907 as an error because the situation had cooled down, we feel like making an accurate comparison with the Italian situation in the post-war 1919. Not doctrinairism then, but true exam of the situations, which they always accused us not to be able and willing to do; while our thesis is that situations can only be well evaluated when we follow a non-changeable theory.
The war ended in 1918 had been very hard for the proletariat, much more than that of 1940–45, although its outcome was a national victory rather than a defeat. After leaving on the Carso, in the course of twelve mad battles, six hundred thousand corpses, the Italian soldiers made a military strike at Caporetto; only foreign events, as is the tradition for the glories of the greedy and the faint-hearted Italian bourgeoisie, had reversed the final outcome of the war. The socialist party, which had been greatly opposed to it, was enormously popular within the masses – that popularity was however saved when we of the left prevented the parliamentarians from getting involved in socialpatriotism, towards which they leaned in 1917.
As far as elections were concerned, it was certain that the polls would have meant a defeat for the interventionist fascist groups, a filthy rabble of former pro-Austrian nationalists, freemasons, republicans, mussolinists and other dregs of the socialist movement. Against them was not only the hatred of workers, but even the bourgeoisie, which feared the class anger and tried to get rid of the responsibilities for the war, by boasting the opposition to it of Giolitti, Nitti (great organiser of the elections, called for autumn 1919), and of the Popular Party, today’s Christian Democrats. This fact laid the foundations of the bourgeois fascist revenge, which had to give itself an extraparliamentarian struggle programme. What we said at Bologna shows how we expected such an outcome for the Italian situation: fascism had a good chance and won out because we proletarians passed with all our forces on the legalitarian ground, while we were at that time the strongest in the streets. Nitti, Giolitti, Bonomi did the rest, as history tells.
We were the strongest, not only because a wave of category economic strikes had wonderfully started, but also because the workers’ masses felt that the results would have been meagre and precarious unless we moved to the political action (series of Lenin: general political strike, revolutionary strike, insurrection for the seizure of power). At Bologna we spoke of the new-born fascism to pose the leninist dilemma: proletarian dictatorship or bourgeois dictatorship: which was the same in the whole of Europe. But we yelled that the revolutionary party was necessary.
The situation was at that time as follows: fascists, exinterventionists, while running off in the streets, reacted with propaganda by saying that ours, the reds, booed the veterans and stripped the disabled ex-servicemen of their ribbons. To such an extent was the right proletarian resentment against the war: today, with the same hypocritical affectation, the decorated veterans of all wars – of the first one, of the second (the fascist one) and of the partisan war – are raised to great honour. Both industrialists and landowners, hit by the wave of economical strikes, were in clear cahoots with the first fascist provocations; and the police, although obeying Nitti – called Cagoia by D’Annunzio at Fiume –, was preparing to the easy evolutions as to which both cops and army let the fascist bands have it their way until August 1922, in spite of democracy, just master of its imbecile parliament.
Then the decision was to be taken; when the great waves of class movements, such as the occupation of factories in 1920, were still to come. It was soon after the end of the war that the party should have been purged, while summoning in the decisive turning-points of Party Leadership, Parliamentary Group and Confederazione del Lavoro, which most times castrated the strikes, should have been terminated.
To want the great ballots saturnalia in 1919 meant to remove the obstacles on the way of fascism which, while the astonished masses were waiting for the parliamentary test, was preparing to give those who had outraged the alleged heroes of the bourgeois war in the squares of Italy tit for tat.
The victory of the 150 socialists M.P.s was paid for with the ebb of the insurrectional wave, of the general political strike, of the economical conquests themselves, and the bourgeois class as a whole – including the middle and petty-bourgeois, real wormhole of fascism, yesterday and today, in Italy and elsewhere – won its game against us. At Leghorn it was late for the split, and even more tardy was, after the march on Rome, the hope to retrieve with Serrati the socialist party, the «Avanti!», etc., – but all this is off the present subject.
In a recent petty writing of «Unità», with a bowdlerised history of the Communist Party of Italy, it is mentioned that at a certain moment (after Bologna but before Leghorn), in the face of one of the many boycotts of a very well started movement of Turin’s proletariat which should have been supported throughout Italy, the Turin section of the abstentionist fraction (local majority) turned to the Central Committee of the fraction in order that the immediate split and the foundation of the communist party were decided. The Ordine Nuovo group was perhaps beginning to understand what an enormous error had it been to vote at Bologna for the unity for the elections.
We have been asked many times why we did not split at Bologna.
We mentioned that Lenin himself would not have been surprised by such a split. In his writing on «‹Left-wing› communism», he speaks twice (in a footnote and in the appendix) about the Italian abstentionists, and says that they are wrong in not wanting to go the parliament, but also that they are the only ones to be right when they demand the split from the reformists, from the Italian Kautskyites, and he confirms it with great force. If we say that he would have liked for us an anticipated split, it is because of a passage at the very beginning of the Appendix, titled: «The Split Among The German Communists». Here is the passage (translated from a text of 1920) with our brief remarks.
«The split among the Communists in Germany is an accomplished fact. The ‹Lefts› or the ‹opposition on principle›, have formed a separate Communist Workers’ Party, as distinct from the Communist Party. A split also seems imminent in Italy – I say ‹seems›, as I have only two additional issues (Nos. 7 and 8) of the Left newspaper, ‹Il Soviet›, in which the possibility of a split is openly discussed, and mention is also made of a congress of the ‹Abstentionist› group (i.e., opponents of participation in parliament), which group is still part of the Italian Socialist Party.» (op. cit., p. 577)
The date of this note is May 12, 1920, and the mentioned issues of «Il Soviet» are of March. The conference that Lenin calls congress took place in Florence in the spring, and took no decisions about the split but waiting for the International’s decisions. If it was right or wrong, means nothing; these were the facts.
«There is reason to fear that the split with «Lefts», the anti-parliamentarians (often anti-politicals too, who are opposed to any political party and to work in the trade unions)» – (Lenin learnt later that we Italian lefts were not against the political and trade unions work) – «will become an international phenomenon, like the split with the ‹Centrists› (Kautskyites, Longuetists, Independents, etc.). Let that be so. At all events, a split is better than confusion, which hampers the ideological, theoretical and revolutionary growth and maturing of the party, and its harmonious, really organised practical work paves the way for the dictatorship of the proletariat.» (op. cit., p. 577)
The text goes on prophesising that such a split would be followed by a fusion – as opposed to the split towards the right – into a single party (the formula is repeated twice in the same terms at the end of the paragraph) of all participants in the working-class movement who stand for soviet power and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
What do the swines of Moscow’s conference think today about the «split», after boasting of having faithfully followed the way of leninism?
«The main obstacle that opposes the struggle of the working class to achieve its aims» (dictatorship is no longer among them, violence is replaced by the peaceful way, or by with no civil war, and soviets by the conquest of parliaments) «keeps being the split within its ranks». («Unità», Dec. 6, 1960, p. 8)
Thence a very warm appeal for an alliance, not with the centrists, but with the open right-wing socialdemocrats follows. The above for the parties; as to classes, the appeal is extended, even internationally, to the middle bourgeoisie. That’s the 1961 usage of the classical Left-wing communism of Lenin!
The danger that Lenin in 1920 had to describe with the expressions, thence become classic, of infantilism and left-wing doctrinairism, culminates in not acknowledging that the revolutionary content must fill of itself two typically political and central forms: the class party and the class state. It is precisely infantile and anti-historical that position which, from the fact that the political parties (not just the bourgeois but even the workers’ ones) had in 1914 assumed an actually anti-revolutionary content, draws the conclusion of the rejection of the party: as it was the case for Germany’s extremists. A similar error would be that of inferring from the anti-revolutionary function of the bourgeois state the decision of rejecting the state form (a traditional mistake of libertarians). The same error would be made by whoever infers, after the demonstration of the Russian state degeneration, that Lenin (and Marx) was wrong in advocating the authoritarian form of the revolution.
What has always been called the real unity (more qualitative than quantitative) of the proletarian struggle «in time and space» can only be achieved by a party – which does not mean any party.
Only on a political basis one can go beyond the differences of situations and interests of the factory, category and industry groups, of the local, regional and national groups, although their statistical sum total constitutes, in a cold estimate, the class. Only on a political and party basis the momentary and transient interests of proletarian groups and of the whole class, both nationally and internationally, can be subordinated to the general historical progress of the movement, as to the classic definition of Engels.
The group called Ordine Nuovo, depicted by an organised propaganda as a genuinely marxist and leninist current, was born during WW 1 from such basic errors.
The detail of this political account explains why since 1920 the Communist International considered that group as orthodox. Owing to the polemics on the parliamentary action, at the IInd Congress they wondered if there was in Italy a trend in agreement with the International, which had also accepted its direction on the split. The Turin group (it wasn’t then nationally spread) wasn’t represented in Moscow; the representative of abstentionists himself impartially reported on it, and explained what the movement of factory councils and the review «Ordine Nuovo» were. The theses published by the review, which therefore took its name, had come from an agreement in Turin between the majority of abstentionist workers and the review’s group of young intellectual students. The parts on the defects of the Italian party and on the necessity of a split were a contribution of abstentionists, who had been maintaining them since 1919.
But this is no moment for chronicle. The development of that time and what followed enable us to see that the scheme, which we call of Gramsci for simplicity, had the non-marxist but rather immediatist nature of a left-wing petty-bourgeois position.
The Ordine Nuovo outlook rose from a tendency of young intellectuals who, until then alien to both the parties and the proletariat, looked at the efficient Turin workshops from the outside and, far from being able to see them as the prisons they were for Marx, considered them as a model to which the whole «backward» Italy of that time should have been referred. It is likewise labourism the outlook of the pure wage labourer who sees the workshop from the inside, and believes the conquest and management of it being his class end, unable to see the intermingling of connections with the whole world which make the final struggle between the world dictatorship of capital and the world dictatorship of the proletariat his class task. The labourism of those bright and studious youth was an «extroverted» and really immediatist one. They saw the worker as a zoological social species, fraught with particular metamorphoses; they did not yet think that within the class party – whatever deviations it may have had – the comrade, the militant has the same importance, irrespectively of his birth; and only such a party, as divined by Marx, represents the class, makes it a class, and leads it to rule in order to destroy all classes, and itself.
In Gramsci’s system – the starting point of which is not the excommunication of the imperialist war, as given by Lenin and by those who really were with him, but rather a position that had the same features of that of Mussolini, and supported the democratic war – the way to eliminate the defects of the trade unions’ confederation and of the socialists party didn’t lie in sorting out the latter and then in struggling to conquer the former. The two structures were to be emptied and abandoned, to be substituted by a new one, the new order, the system of factory councils.
The hierarchy of such an elegant utopia is thoroughly outlined: from the worker to the shop, to the shop steward, to the committee of factory stewards, to the local council of factories and so on to the top. This new structure assumes, in each factory, first the right to control, then that of management; a sort of expropriation of the capital through basic cells, an old pre-marxist idea that has nothing of historical or revolutionary.
The party doesn’t matter, and therefore its evolution, epuration or traumatic split, national and international, are given no importance.
The state doesn’t matter either, as the realistic view of the central struggle for the power is lacking, and the transformation of the society is imagined as made piece by piece; and the pieces are the productive enterprises. The outlook of the features of the communist society as opposed to those of capitalism are totally lacking. Only a dim «factoryism» is left.
All the exigencies shown with extreme urgency by «‹Left-wing› communism», which has been here our theme, were still to be fulfilled by the Ordine Nuovo movement. It has gone through an old historical path, since the day when Gramsci, at the clandestine meeting of Florence in November 1917, drunk in the debate without intervening but with the intense expression of his eyes, until the subsequent involution of the Russian and international movement, which perhaps surprised him no less in the last years of his life.
This cycle, far beyond the names and the persons, ended in a way that was easy to foretell, and it was indeed foretold; the false classical labourism totally failed – especially as to the dubious ententes during the twenty years of fascism and the Second World War – in the idea of fecundating with the culture of a bourgeois intelligentsia the proletarian force; the latter being an original one, immiscible with the vestiges of a philosophical, redeemer of spirits idealism; and such a sad course led to a ruinous submission to the impotent fashions of the middle class and to the most rancid and antiquated petty-bourgeois fetishisms, of the grandiose power of action and doctrine that forty years ago had in Moscow its vanguard and its bright banner.
The present-day surrogates of the great guiding principles of Marx and Lenin are not the result of a forty years long march forward, but rather the contemptible rehash of two centuries old superstitions, as well as of foolish parroting, if compared to their true greatness in their own historical moment.
Peace, democracy, nationality, an undefinable demo-economism! We allegedly had stood still for forty years while they enriched and updated the tables of Marx and Lenin?! No, for heaven’s sake, these scoundrels of today are the most diehard and reactionary collectors of past garbage history has ever seen. They are the most evident symptom of the degenerative and recoiling phase this infamous bourgeois world is going through; they are the main force that has indecently delayed its decline.
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For more information see «Storia della Sinistra Comunista», Vol. I [⤒]
We never upheld this, because are the democratic parliaments to horrify us. For example, when after the Matteotti affair the communist M.P.s went «on the Aventino» and participated in the boycott of the fascist parliament, it was the Left who demanded from the leadership of the communist party, already passed into the hands of Gramsci-Togliatti, to rectify that big error by allowing the communist M.P.s to go back to the parliament, from which they were physically defenestrated by the fascists. [⤒]
It is worth quoting from the original texts of 1920 (see also mentioned translation, p. 547 and 580–1) the two passages where Lenin speaks of the Italian abstentionist movement: while he disapproves of the proposal of boycotting both elections and the parliament, he expresses his solidarity with the only movement that advocated the split within the party. The first passage is in the note at the end of chapter VII: «Should we participate in bourgeois parliaments?». The text of the chapter is chiefly referring to Germany and to the undoubtedly false position of the secessionist labourist party, of the leftist Dutch and of the whole tendency that denies the work in reactionary trade unions, as well as the function of leaders and oven that of the party; all issues that, as we have shown, are totally opposed to the positions of the extreme left.
The text of Lenin’s footnote is as follows:
«I have had too little opportunity to acquaint myself with ‹Left-wing› communism in Italy. The communist fraction is certainly wrong in advocating non-participation in parliament. But on one point, it seems to me, they are right – as far as can be judged from two issues of their paper, ‹Il Soviet› (Nos. 3 and 4, January 18 and February 1, 1920), from four issues of comrade Serrati’s excellent periodical, ‹Comunismo› (Nos. 1–4, October 1–November 30, 1919) and from separate issues of Italian bourgeois papers which I have seen. ‹Il Soviet› and its faction are right in attacking Turati and his partisans, who remain in a party which has recognised Soviet power and the dictatorship of the proletariat, and yet continue their former pernicious and opportunist policy as members of parliament. Of course, in tolerating this, comrade Serrati and the entire Italian Socialist Party are making a mistake which threatens to do as much harm and give rise to the same dangers as it did in Hungary, where the Hungarian Turatis sabotaged both the party and the Soviet government from within. Such a mistaken, inconsistent, or spineless attitude towards the opportunist parliamentarians gives rise to ‹Left-wing› communism, on the one hand, and to a certain extent justifies its existence, on the other. Comrade Serrati is obviously wrong when he accuses Deputy Turati of being ‹inconsistent› (‹Comunismo› No. 3) for it is the Italian Socialist Party itself that is inconsistent in tolerating such opportunist parliamentarians as Turati and Co.»
The other passage is the third chapter of the appendix, dated by Lenin 12th May 1920, after reading the proofs of the text, dated 27th of April. Its title is «Turati and Co. in Italy». The text begins as follows:
«The issues of the Italian newspaper ‹Il Soviet› referred to above fully confirm what I have said in the pamphlet about the Italian Socialist Party’s error in tolerating such members and even such a group of parliamentarians in their ranks. It is still further confirmed by an outside observer like the Rome correspondent of ‹The Manchester Guardian›, organ of the British liberal bourgeoisie, whose interview with Turati is published in its issue of March 12, 1920.»
Then the interview is quoted: in it Turati expresses his opinion that the revolutionary peril is not to be feared, as the maximalists are playing with the fire of soviet theories only to keep the masses alert and excited. Turati says that the very men who stir up find themselves compelled to fight a battle for trifling economic advantages, thus causing strikes, in a way that makes the already hard conditions of the country still worse. The country being «still far from realising the necessity of adopting that discipline of work which alone can restore order and prosperity». Then comes the very lively comment of Lenin:
«It is clear as daylight that this British correspondent has blurted out the truth, which is probably being concealed and glossed over both by Turati himself, and his bourgeois defenders, accomplices and inspirers in Italy. That truth is that the ideas and political activities of Turati, Treves, Modigliani, Dugoni and Co. are really and precisely of the kind that the British correspondent has described. It is downright social treachery. Just look at this advocacy of order and discipline among the workers, who are wage-slaves toiling to enrich the capitalists! And how familiar to us Russians are these Menshevik speeches! What a valuable admission it is that the masses are in favour of Soviet government! How stupid and vulgarly bourgeois is the failure to understand the revolutionary role of strikes which are spreading spontaneously! Indeed, the correspondent of the British bourgeois-liberal newspaper has rendered Turati and Co. a disservice and has excellently confirmed the correctness of the demand by the comrades of ‹Il Soviet›, who are insisting that the Italian Socialist Party, if it really wants to be for the Third International, should drum Turati and Co. out of its ranks and become a Communist Party both in name and in deed.»
This resolute note, which is usually quoted only in part by today’s opportunists, who want to slander the glorious credits of the Italian left (the first and only one to put itself on the line of the bolsheviks and of Lenin) is followed by the final chapter IV of the appendix, called: «False conclusions from correct premises». In this chapter Lenin maintains that, although it is correct to ask the expulsion of the reformist deputies, it’s wrong to conclude that the new party should not participate to the elections. Lenin doesn’t see that the proposal of Bologna, as this text of ours recalls and documents, was referring to an election that would have brought to parliament an outstanding majority of turatian and serratian maximalists, the latter worthy of the judgement given by Turati himself in the above interview. This famous passage develops the same subject that will be at the bottom of the polemics at the IInd Congress of the International between him and the abstentionists. The mistake would be that of disregarding the parliamentary method owing to the fear of the difficulty to keep the communist and revolutionary character for the proletarian delegates in the bourgeois parliament, where they should operate to overthrow both the parliament and bourgeoisie. Difficulties, says Lenin, are waiting us everywhere; with his tremendous will-power he asks us not to be afraid to set foot in the quick, and infamous, sands of parliamentarism. The discussion at the IInd Congress will be dealt with in another text of our movement. Today Lenin is dead, but his direction of going into the parliaments has been put into effect, after the split from the socialdemocrats, also by the communist party that was founded in Leghorn in 1921. If Lenin were alive today, what differences could he find between the language of Turati and Co., at which he’s just lashed out, and that of the parliamentarians who still speak of marxism and leninism, but an inconsistency and indecency Turati hadn’t achieved? [⤒]