The Italian Communist Left

Visit the website section Introductions to Our Positions, where we will periodically insert articles on the history and political positions of the Internationalist Communist Tendency.

Inside the Italian Socialist Party (PSI)

The earliest sign of an organised left-wing Marxist movement, in opposition to the reformists, came at the Congress of Milan (1910) of the Italian Socialist Party. A bitter clash took place later around the Socialist Youth Federation, considered a "cultural" organ by the Right and a school of revolutionary struggle by the Left.

In 1912, at the Congress of Reggio Emilia of the Socialist Party, the Left organised itself as an Intransigent Revolutionary Fraction. At the next Congress of Ancona the Communist Left defended the revolutionary programme against the Right, while in Naples the Marxist socialists, which included the young Amadeo Bordiga, founded the "Karl Marx Revolutionary Socialist Circle".

In 1912 the Youth Congress was held in Bologna in which the left-wing of the Socialist Youth Federation was consolidated (with L'Avanguardia, as its publication); in particular a group of uncompromising young people, with Amadeo Bordiga in the forefront, with a vision of the party as an organ of revolutionary action. Bordiga filed a left-wing motion that won a majority against the Tasca current which intended to make L'Avanguardia an "essentially cultural organ" for young socialists in reading and study circles.

The imperialist war of 1914 saw the parties of the Second International vote for war credits. The Left was the only one to support revolutionary defeatism in the face of the interventionists who left the socialist party with Mussolini, and the centrists who supported the ambiguous formula: "neither support nor sabotage". The Italian Left totally agreed with the positions of the International Left (at the Zimmerwald and Kienthal Conferences): "fierce intransigence in the defence of the ideological frontiers of Marxism" against the betrayal of social democracy, and for "transforming the imperialist war into a proletarian revolution”. (Lenin)

The October Revolution, in 1917, was hailed by the Italian Left as the first act of the "international socialist revolution", and Bolshevism as "the plant for every climate". Against the Right and Centre tendencies that predominated in the Socialist Party, the Left supported all of Lenin's theses, and in December 1917 founded its own newspaper, il Soviet. On the question of the Factory Councils it entered into direct conflict with L'Ordine Nuovo of Gramsci’s Turin group which propagated somewhat gradualist positions, which were based on the identification of local trade union bodies as a "prefiguration of the future society".

In 1919 at the PSI Congress in Bologna, the Serrati maximalists obtained a clear majority, but the new Left, which was gathering especially around Bordiga as a Communist Abstentionist Fraction against electoral illusions and for the organisation of the revolutionary conquest of power, took shape more and more clearly. All within a substantially "gradualist" party, divided as regards the moment, as well as on the means, to take power. The Left had created the Abstentionist Communist Fraction, proclaiming its theoretical base in Marxism, in complete agreement with the tactical line and strategic objectives of the Third International. The only dissent concerned participation in political elections and revolutionary parliamentarism supported by the Bolsheviks.

At the Second Congress of the Communist International (1920), the Left made its contribution to ensure a rigorous selection procedure was applied against opportunistic elements (the 21 Conditions of Admission to the Communist International).

The Italian Left at the head of the Communist Party of Italy

On 28 November 1920, the Imola Convention was held. Around the nucleus of the Abstensionist Fraction, which included the communist current of Bordiga, which was joined by the L'Ordine Nuovo group from Turin in the decision to propose, at the next Congress of the PSI at Livorno, a motion to accept and apply all the decisions taken by the Second Congress of the Third International.

In January 1921, at the Congress of Livorno, the Communist Left broke with the old and reformist PSI: on the basis of the "21 Conditions" of Moscow it founded The Communist Party of Italy, section of the Third International, and took over the leadership.

By engaging in battles on all fronts — trade union, political and international — the Left openly fought social democratic reformism and insurgent fascism. While centrism considered fascism a feudal reaction, for the Left fascism was identified as a political manifestation of capital in an attempt to deal with its serious economic and social crisis.

However, the isolation of the Soviet experience in Russia was by now progressively evident. In the International, from the Third Congress onwards, there were the first slips towards increasingly opportunistic positions. It is the beginning of a series of gimmicks and tactical elasticities ranging from the United Front with other political forces to the equivocal formula of the "Workers’ Government" and ultimately to the counter-revolutionary idea of "building socialism in one country".

With its Thesis on Tactics (written by Bordiga and Terracini) approved at the Congress of Rome (1922) of the Communist Party of Italy, the Left made a contribution, unique in the international field, to the solution of the most burning problems: from the definition of the nature of the Party to the consistent practical application of communist strategy in dealing with the evolution of bourgeois politics.

In the Enlarged Executives of the International (right down to the Sixth, in 1926), the Italian Left, represented by A. Bordiga, was the only voice courageously denouncing the seriousness of the situation created in the Bolshevik Party and in the International.

In June 1923, the Italian Left was ousted from the Executive Committee and then removed from the leadership of the Communist Party of Italy. It must be remembered that between the end of January and the beginning of February, following the establishment of the Mussolini Government, the fascist police arrested most of the central and peripheral leaders of the Communist Party of Italy, including Bordiga himself, rendering the Executive's functioning impossible. They were tried for "conspiracy against the state" and the occasion was promptly exploited by the International to "advise" the formation of a new leadership, provisionally entrusted to Togliatti and later directly to Gramsci. The Comintern's control over the Italian Party was growing.

A campaign of intimidation and censorship was being put in place, by the new Gramscian Centre imposed by Moscow, against the members of the Left: from the suppression of the journal Prometeo to the dissolution of sections controlled by the Left. The latter responded with the establishment, in 1925, of the Committee of Intesa (1) as the first wake-up call against the class distortion of the Party. Around the Committee, the most traditional and efficient cadres of the Italian Left gathered to defend, as the majority current, their political line against the leadership of the Party and to support its platform of opposition to the new course imposed by the International. The Committee of Intesa was formed by the comrades of the Left (with Damen, Fortichiari, Repossi, Vercesi, Lanfranchi and Venegoni) to coordinate the action of the current — still the majority as demonstrated by the Como Conference in May 1924, where the Left had 41 votes, the Centre 8 and the Right 10 — in the face of "Bolshevisation" taking place in the Party according to Moscow’s dictates. Bordiga initially disagreed with the initiative; later he joined the action of his comrades who, threatened with expulsion, however, had to dissolve the Committee and face the Congress of Lyon politically and organisationally marginalised. The Committee of Intesa can be considered as the birth certificate of the Italian Left in opposition not only nationally but also internationally to the first obvious signs of the counter-revolution taking place in Russia and in the world.

As already mentioned, at the Como National Conference in May 1924, the Left carried the majority of the Party with it. The results of the clandestine conference of the leaders of the party were, by a large majority, in favour of the Left: out of 45 federation secretaries, 35 plus the secretary of the Youth Federation voted for Bordiga’s Left, 4 for Gramsci’s Centre and 5 for Tasca’s Right.

It was only at the Congress of Lyon (1926), where the Left presented its theses of opposition to centrism, and thanks to the manoeuvres of the new leadership which gave itself all the votes of the absent delegates, that the marginalisation of the Left become official. The Congress of Lyon therefore sanctioned the dismissal of the Left current by each governing body. The leadership headed by Gramsci "made sure that at Lyon the extreme Bordigan left was not adequately represented by the forces that still counted in the party" (Berti, The First Ten Years of the PCI's Life, p. 188). Thus Bordiga would comment (History of the Communist Left - Communist Programme, n.12, 1961): "... Because all activity had to be clandestine, the trick of the centrist leaders of the party was very elegant: it was established that all the members' ballot papers which did not vote either for the leadership or for the leftist opposition would be counted as in favour of the leadership’s theses." Gramsci’s Centre obtained 90.1% of the congressional votes in the absence of most of the delegates of the Left, controlled in Italy by the fascist police, their passports suspended by order of the Italian Ministry of the Interior. The Left was thus marginalised and the Party led in all respects by the new ruling group aligned with the political dictates of Moscow, which introduced the omnipotent office of Secretary General into all the Parties of the International.

From the Fraction to the Internationalist Communist Party

The Italian Left, which opposed the Party's "Bolshevisation", sympathised with Trotsky's opposition within the Russian party. From this moment, fascism and Stalinism unleashed their repression on the militants of the Left, forcing most of the survivors into emigration to France and Belgium.

In 1927 the Italian Left abroad united as a Fraction, and in 1928, in Pantin, it officially formed the Left Fraction of the Communist International (from 1935 the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left) and published the magazines Prometeo and Bilan. Among the leading advocates of the Fraction were: Perrone (Vercesi), Verdaro (Gatto Mammone), Bianco (Bibbi), Bottaioli (Butta), Danielis, Gabassi, Lecci (Tullio), Ricceri Otello), Russo (Candiani), Stefanini and others.

Via this red thread, which involved the interpretation, application and defence of revolutionary Marxism against various denials and betrayals, the Italian Communist Left in 1943 formed the Internationalist Communist Party, with the return from emigration of the comrades of the Fraction abroad. Its publications were, originally, the clandestine Prometeo, then Battaglia Comunista.

The beginning of the formation of the Internationalist Communist Party in Italy dates back to the end of 1942 and was formally concretized in 1943 when a good part of the comrades from the Fraction joined together with Onorato Damen and Bruno Maffi. During the 45 days of the Badoglio government (from 25 July to 8 September) the organisation of internationalist communists had expanded and strengthened especially in the areas of Turin, Casale, Asti, Milan, Sesto San Giovanni, Parma and Florence. It was attended by comrades then resident in Italy, who left prison after 25th July 1943, and those who began to return from abroad (France, Belgium, Switzerland). They were the comrades of the old communist guard, militants forged by organisational, theoretical and political battles of all kinds: against the degeneration of the parties of the Third International, for the construction of the Fraction abroad or to keep alive ties on the national territory and the possibility of rebuilding an active Party in the darkest underground period. We remember some of them, the comrades Onorato Damen and Bruno Maffi, Mario Acquaviva and Fausto Atti (both slaughtered by the thugs of Togliatti), Bruno Bibbi, Giovanni Bottaioli, Secondo Comune, Gigi Danielis, Vittorio Faggioni, Rosolino Ferragni, Attilio Formenti, Antonio Gabassi , Guido Gasperini, Luigi Gilodi, Aldo (Tullio) Lecci, Ciccio Maruca, Carlo Mazzucchelli, Renato Pace, Ottorino Perrone (Vercesi), GianCarlo Porrone, Vasco Rivolti, Luciano (Mauro) Stefanini, Guido Torricelli, Gino Voltolina and many others. All comrades who having placed their lives in the service of the revolution and its organisation in the purest communist tradition, facing prison and exile, had kept up their revolutionary militancy and the communist style of work.

“Against the imperialist war the proletariat must oppose the firm will to achieve its historical objectives" was how Prometeo appealed to the working class. The internationalist communists were the only ones to fight the hard and difficult class battle against both a fascism that had now become National Socialist and against the six parties of the democratic coalition. Hand in hand with the fight against war, the work of ideological clarification within the working class proceeded. The Russian problem, the essence and the forms of the imperialist war, the nature of the mass organs and communist tactics were among many problems debated and published in the Party's clandestine papers.

In addition to the fascist attacks, the internationalist communists suffered attacks from the PCI (Italian Communist Party): not only verbal, with defamatory accusations ("Gestapo spies") and continuous provocations, but also with physical violence that was to result, in 1945, in the murder of two comrades, Mario Acquaviva and Fausto Atti. The Stalinists defined the clandestine Prometeo as "a filthy rag spread by the police and in which counter-revolutionary rottenness blends and is confused with espionage and provocation, with the Ovra and the Gestapo of which this sheet has become an instrument" (from La Nostra Lotta, organ of the PCI). The PCI then instigated workers to “smash the faces" (from the PCI newspaper La Fabbrica) of the militant internationalist workers who were active in the 1943 strikes in Asti, Casale Monferrato, Turin, Milan and Sesto San Giovanni, suffering, in some cases, deportation to Germany.

In line with the hard work carried out by the Left in following (and experiencing) the counter-revolutionary course in Russia and in the International, the Internationalist Communist Party was distinguished from the start by:

  • its unmasking of anti-fascism, which both the liberal-democratic bourgeoisie and the national-communists saw not as a struggle against capitalism but as an alliance with the national forces of capitalism;
  • the refusal and criticism of the inter-class politics of the "Popular Fronts" and of the "United Fronts" supported by the social democratic parties, with Stalinists in the lead;
  • the refusal of any support for the forces of war and imperialism, both in Washington and Moscow;
  • the fight against Stalinism and national paths to socialism.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Notes

Picture: Congress of Livorno (1921) at which the Communist Left broke with the old and reformist PSI.

(1) With a substantial explanatory introduction this pamphlet outlines the fight of the Italian Left within the Communist Party of Italy against the dictates and impositions of Moscow. Today we recognise it as one of the founding documents of the entire Italian Left tradition in its fight against the degeneration of the Comintern. leftcom.org

46 pages A5 £3.00/€4/$4 plus £1/€2/$2 postage from the group address.

Monday, February 3, 2020