One of the disastrous effects of the Stalinist counterrevolution has been that of destroying the working class’s historical memory, either by simply erasing it or by hiding it under a mountain of manipulations. The Communist Left’s unflinching battle against Stalinism is thus little known or amply misrepresented. But our roots are there, in that struggle to keep the thread of Communism intact. Let us unearth it for the interested reader. The political lessons to be drawn from it are of key importance to anyone who clearly feels the need and the urgency to start all over again.
1892 – The Italian Socialist Party is born. It originates from and contains several different groups, which do not always have a clearly revolutionary and internationalist program, and it is led by reformists (yet rather more decorous than those who followed after WWII, in the so-called «Left»!). The turn-of-the-century years are a period of vigorous class struggles, both in Italy and in Europe and in America, and the reformist leadership of the Italian SP and of the big unions often clashes with the masses fighting attitude.
1910 – At the Milan Congress of the SP, a Left clearly emerges, which is firm and resolute in its opposition to the reformist leadership. It has already led several class struggles and by fighting against the Libyan War (1911) it not only proclaims but also takes a vigorous internationalist stance. In 1912, this Left organises itself in the Intransigent Revolutionary Fraction of the SP. In these same years, it also fights within the Young Socialist Fraction those elements who would want to turn it (and the Party) into a purely cultural organism. According to the Left, the Youth Fraction (and the Party itself) must be a fighting organisation: the revolutionary oxygen must flow to each young militant from the whole life of the Party conceived as the guide of the working class along the route to the revolution, and not from a trite… «Sunday School». A key role within the Intransigent Revolutionary Fraction is now being played by Amadeo Bordiga (1890–1970).
1914 – WWI begins, and the SP’s Left stands for «revolutionary defeatism» in full accord with Lenin’s theses, still practically unknown in Italy. In the face of the failure of all European Socialist parties (who support their own bourgeoisie’s intervention by voting in favour of the war credits), and notwithstanding the Left’s efforts the SP will adopt the ambiguous formula: «neither support nor sabotage» (which Gramsci and Togliatti too agree with). The «interventionists», led by Mussolini, leave the Party.
1917 – At the outbreak of the October Revolution, the Left immediately sides with Lenin and Trotsky and sees the event as the opening of an international revolutionary era. «Bolshevism, plant of all climates» is the title of the article with which Bordiga immediately salutes the Revolution. Gramsci and Togliatti (the Turin group of «L’Ordine Nuovo», with large idealist and thus non-marxist influences) are much more muddled and ambiguous. In his article «The revolution against the Capital», Gramsci for instance argues that the October Revolution denies the Marxist perspectives! In Italy, the Left is the only group within the SP to have a nationally organised network, with its central organ «Il Soviet» and numerous local newspapers. From 1918 on, while social tension mounts in the country, strikes multiply, discontent grows for the consequences of the war, the Left fights in order that the SP unflinchingly backs revolutionary Russia and openly acknowledges the international meaning of the Leninist strategy.
1919 – It is the crucial year for all Europe: the year of the great strikes in Italy and of the revolutionary efforts in Germany and Hungary, the year in which Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht are massacred, the year in which the Third International is born as the party of the world revolution. In Italy, a polemic bursts out between the Left and the Ordine Nuovo group. The Left presses for the foundation of a real Communist Party able to apply the Russian revolutionary experience to the advanced Western world and reaffirms the social and political break effected by the soviets as the organs of a dualism of power within a current revolutionary process. «L’Ordine Nuovo» thinks that factory councils are the soviets’ equivalents and thus considers such local organisms – wholly internal to the capitalist social and political structure – as a «foreshadowing of the future society»! Again in 1919, it is thanks to the Left’s theoretical and practical action that the «Communist Abstentionist Fraction» is formed within the SP – the core of the future Communist Party of Italy. One of the elements which characterise it is the statement that, in the countries of old democracy (Western and Central Europe, the United States), parliament, beside not being the place where the real economical and political decision are taken (as all the classics of Marxism always taught), isn’t even anymore a useful tribune from which to make the communist voice heard. On the contrary, it has long turned into an instrument to scatter and waste revolutionary energies, and as such it must be fought. Another element which characterises the Left’s strategy is its conception of the «united front from below»: not the dubious and confused convergence of parties and organisations with different political programs, but the drawing up of workers of all political and religious beliefs, along a common front of battle and around concrete objects of defence of the working and living conditions.
1920 – At the Second Congress of the Third International, the Left’s role is of key importance. Its contribution is decisive in making the «Conditions of Admission» to the International more severe, in order to avoid that it be joined by groups and parties which, propelled by a wave of still vigorous struggles, might claim to accept its revolutionary discipline and program, but then, in their everyday activity, sabotage them (especially if the international revolutionary wave should ebb). The Left is the European communist group which with greater lucidity takes up an internationalist perspective. It conceives the International as the true, veritable world party, not as a formal, arithmetical sum of national parties free to follow the paths they deem best. And within the International, the Left (which is battling in Italy in order to arrive at the foundation of a real Communist Party) stands for an integral reaffirmation of Marxism; for an internationalist program, strategy and tactics that link together workers of the advanced West and peoples of the East; for the need of a violent break with the bourgeois order followed by the establishment of a class dictatorship as a bridge towards the classless society; for a discipline within the national and international bodies that be based upon the full and conscious acceptance and understanding of the revolutionary program on part of all militants.
1921 – At the Leghorn Congress of the SP, the Communist Left breaks with the old reformist party and founds the Communist Party of Italy, Section of the Communist International. The leadership is completely in the hands of the Bordiga Left and Gramsci, Togliatti & Co. are in this period completely aligned with it. For two years, within a Western Europe which tries to take the road to revolution and thus to help Soviet Union in a decisive way, the CP of Italy led by the Left is the spearhead of «bolshevism, plant of all climates». On the trade-union level, it acts with the aim to build a true fighting front of workers independently of their political affiliation (not a congregation of parties!); it leads a strenuous battle against socialdemocratic reformism with its pacifist and legalitarian deceptions; it fights fascism in the open and considers it not a feudal reaction (as stalinism will theorise some years later!) but the political expression of big capital facing a world economic crisis and a militant working class; and, in all tactical and strategical issues tackled in years already of revolutionary ebb, it always takes an international and internationalist viewpoint; and from the beginning, it denounces all centrifugal and individualistic trends and above all the growing subordination of the International itself to the Russian national needs.
1923 – Bordiga and most leaders of the CP of Italy are arrested by Fascists (a year later, the process will end with the defendants’ famous self-defence and release) and the leadership of the party passes to the Center of Gramsci and Togliatti, more and more obedient to an International which already shows grave signs of involution. In the two following years, the process of dismantling of the Left’s influence within the party more and more takes on the features which will be typical of Stalinist policy: the locals where the Left is dominant are broken up, the Left comrades with leading responsibilities are removed, their articles and documents censored or not published, and an internal regime of suspect, intimidation and bossy, bureaucratic discipline becomes ruling.
1926 – At the Lyons Congress, the new Center’s manoeuvres (well documented: the votes of the absent Left delegates are automatically given to the Center!) attain the aim of completely marginalising the Left, put in the impossibility to act and to make its own voice heard. In the same year, at the IV Enlarged Congress of the International, Bordiga will openly confront Stalinism, denouncing its bastard and anti-Marxist theory of «socialism in one country» and declaring already then, on the basis of the Marxist classics, that to take that road would mean «to build capitalism». Bordiga will also fight «bolshevisation», i.e. the reorganisation of the party upon factory locals, which – with the demagogical pretext of enhancing the party’s «labour» character – ends up, on the contrary, with shutting the rank and file within the single factory’s narrow horizon and to make inevitable the figure of the «functionary-bureaucrat». Between 1926 and 1930, the comrades of the Left are expelled one by one and thus either handed over to Fascist repression or obliged to emigrate. The anti-Left campaign in Italy is parallel to the one against Trotsky in USSR, although points of dissent exist between the two currents – a dissent which does not prevent the Left from defending the Russian Opposition. Bordiga himself is expelled in 1930, with the charge of «Trotskyism». Meanwhile, first by betraying the 1926 British General Strike and then by subordinating the Chinese Communist Party to the nationalist Kuomintang during the 1927 Chinese Revolution (the end effect being the massacre of the Canton Commune by the nationalists!), Stalinism – the expression of rising capitalist forces within a USSR isolated after the failure of revolution in the West – completes the overturning of the Communist principles and program.
1930–40 – With Bordiga isolated in Naples and subjected to police surveillance and the Left persecuted by Fascism and Stalinism and scattered abroad, a phase begins of our history which can truly be considered heroical. The Left reorganises itself in France and Belgium as the «Fraction Abroad» and publishes the journals «Prometeo» and «Bilan», through which it carries on its political battle. The situation is extremely difficult. The few, scattered comrades must fight on three fronts: against Fascism, against Stalinism and against bourgeois democracy. And yet they denounce Moscow policy (the «popular fronts», the hand held out to democracy, the continuous political somersaults, the Hitler-Stalin Pact, Togliatti’s «appeals to the brown-shirted brothers», etc.). During the Spanish Civil War, they vainly try to act so that the uncertain Leftist organisations follow a class line. They criticise all the democratic myths which more and more pollute the international labour movement, and at the outbreak of WWII they denounce its imperialist character. It is by now clear that Stalinism is the most severe counterrevolutionary wave and the comrades of the «Fraction Abroad», with all the weaknesses due to their extreme isolation, begin to analyse «what happened in USSR». It is this stubborn resistance of theirs, this obdurate will not to let the «red thread» be broken, that will make the rebirth of the party in 1943 possible.
1943–1952 – With the return from emigration of several comrades, the job of weaving again a veritable organisation starts over again. Contacts are resumed with Bordiga, a class propaganda is done among workers disillusioned by the Resistance movement, and finally the Internationalist Communist Party is born, with its newspaper «Battaglia Comunista». The clash with the Stalinists is open. Just while Togliatti, as Minister of Justice, grants a general amnesty and sets free fascist ringleaders and mob, his party denounces as «Fascists» the Internationalists and calls for their physical elimination. And so, at the climax of a real campaign of slander and instigation to kill them, our comrades Acquaviva and Atti are massacred by Stalinists (there were other cases too, of which we never managed to know more). This early phase of life of the Party is still marked by the theoretical weaknesses of the «Fraction Abroad» and in 1952 a split occurs, the result of the need to reestablish in a clear and monolithical manner the whole Marxist corpus, distorted and destroyed by Stalinism. The journal «Il Programma Comunista» is born and on its pages, till his death in 1970, Amadeo Bordiga will develop the enormous work of theoretical and political reconstruction of the Party, which in the mid-60s will become «international» by name and in reality.