The Work of Comrade Damen in the Communist Movement

Text of the report made on the occasion of a public demonstration on October 16, 1979, immediately after the death of comrade Damen


We have convened this meeting with a statement in which we communicate the loss of comrade Damen on behalf of the Internationalist Communist Party and on behalf of the International Communist Left.

This is not rhetoric, because the figure of Onorato Damen is included in the history of the political struggle of the international communist movement. The testimonies given from abroad added to that of the presence of other groups and currents, are a testament to the value and stature of the work of comrade Damen.

It is in reference to the workers movement and the international communist movement that faithful to the teaching and to the example of Onorato that we outline the profile of this great figure.

Our address takes up discussing the shameful end of the Second International in the face of the First Imperialist World War.

The illusions of the possibility of an indefinite reformist growth of capital swelled the ranks of opportunism and revisionism within the workers' movement and of the Socialist Parties at that time, this very same opportunism corroded its framework. Those very same parties, which capitulated in the face of the imperialist war, thus drained the Second International of any revolutionary or class content.

The struggle of Lenin in Russia within the Second International additionally was set in one party, the Bolshevik RSDLP, the only one capable as subsequent history would demonstrate, coming together victoriously for the first and only the first phase in the revolutionary process of the working class - a victorious proletarian revolution. The destruction of the bourgeois state and the creation of the first workers' state founded on their own councils, hold claim to the power of the class.

As in other parties, in other European and international experiences, endeavored to acquire for themselves the force that should have existed for a revolutionary opposition to the war. In a like manner that the consequent capitulation of the parties was all the more complete, the Italian Socialist Party on the other hand adopted the mystificatory and opportunist tactic to "neither adhere nor sabotage" the imperialist war. Why? Not because the socialist Lazzari was a genius of deception, but because within the PSI there moved a force, acting currents faithful to fundamental direction that originated in a correct application of method and Marxist principles and revolutionary as well. The proletariat not participating in the war of their national bourgeoisie but rather against it in order to overthrow the power and the system of the very same bourgeoisie.

Well comrades, in this current, immersed with all his youthful spirit, we encounter comrades Onorato Damen, adherent of the left fraction of the PSI, the abstentionist fraction, although yet undivided into certain forms of aprioristic abstentionism. It is characteristic of his activity as a militant, that for distributing leaflets against the war and inciting to insubordination, he ended up in jail in 1919.

At the outbreak of 1919 the Third International was constituted, almost by an act of force on the part of comrade Lenin. It was in its formation that helped furnish the decisive impulse for a definitive rupture of the revolutionaries with social democracy. In Italy different than elsewhere, this stimulus found a terrain favorable to exercise it. Why did things turn out this way? Because it was this lack of autonomy and maturation within the communist forces in the other countries to facilitate it, much less than from their own incomprehension which began in the first years of the twenties.

The forces of the left of the PSI, accordingly, were already at work on their own ideological and political demarcation of social-democratic opportunism. In 1919, in the Congress of Bologna the rupture was already in the air.

It will be this same Damen, who was actively present and able to record it in a document for us, a precious font of revolutionary teaching, on the Congress of Bologna, out of fear of not saying no to the possibilistic policies of the International.

In this article it is discussed as if not already having been in error in making the final break already in Bologna on the basis of the evidence that this postponement would undoubtably have negative results on the prospects of action for the PCd'Italia. Was it a true error? The dispute over this specific history is still open, but it is of primary necessity for revolutionaries to draw out the lessons for the future. Damen dealt with these questions and has given these lessons. We read the final passage of the article, in reflection of those that we call the revolutionaries:

We broke with the Socialist Party, wisely draining them of their serious political forces tempestuously placing ourselves within the International in face of this fact, by way of constraining it to choose between the fraction, founded in function as a party, as the only guarantee for the revolutionary struggle in the country, and the Socialist Party as having been definitively lost the this historic task. While not working on this level with the proper resoluteness and timeliness and not arriving at the construction of the party in the historic moment in which it was necessary, or when having come to the realization that it would be a little too late and should be an example for a proletariat not in the assault on power but in full retreat.

O. Damen

After Bologna, the fraction met again in Imola (November 28, 1920). There they prepared the scission that was to take place at Livorno (January 21, 1921). At Livorno there flowed together into the party the fraction to which Damen had adhered and the formation of the Ordine Nuovo. The young Communist Party under the direction of the left, of Bordiga, conducted their own improved struggles. It was this party which this homonculus of the apparatus of power, of Togliatti first and then of Berlinguer, renounced its revolutionary role. Damen in that period was a deputy of the Communist Party of Italy (PCd'Italia) and a member of the Central Union Committee. He was at the head of the workers' struggle of resistance to fascism in Tuscany, when he was involved in an exchange of gunfire in Pistoia.

We see in his writing that the proletariat was in full retreat. The Russian Revolution, whose definitive success Lenin had united in the victory of the proletariat in Europe to the contrary, discovered itself isolated. While in the worker's state the proletariat suffered under the weight of the hunger and the devastation of the civil war.

Behind this vengeance they had made their first capitulation, not yet on the plane of principle. The Russian comrades were induced to fall back on economic organization, in exchange for self-support they increased the opportunist stimulus, which is always present even in the most revolutionary party.

In the International as in the Italian party, they proclaimed the signs of danger of a revolutionary process that only a victorious revolution one Europe or in the East had been cut off, as we know it did not succeed.

We leave off to quote Onorato then:

We were in the two year period of 1924-25, as it was full of particular importance in the ulterior development of the workers movement. With the expulsion, imposed from above on the Italian Left, from the responsibility of serving as a guide for the Italian communist movement. New directive forces both more flexible and more disposed to compromise and whose exponents were also present with the Left in the formative phase of the Communist Party of Italy.

In speaking of the new direction we would not speak precisely and responsibly without relating it above all in the work and in the thought of comrade Gramsci. We do not mean the mythicized and theoretized Gramsci, but a human Gramsci, human like us, who lived through our own experiences, even if observed from an all-personal perspective. This still does not save Gramsci from the precise accusation of subjecting the party to the demands not of an authentically revolutionary party but to politics contingent those of the Russian state, even though it was that of a workers state.

What were the problems? It is to this that Damen spoke:

For the new direction of the party and hence for the executive of the International, the problem at that time was to gain space on the right and strengthen the politics of the party by broadening its sphere of influence in whose nebulous policies, the Third Internationalist fraction and with it the heart of the Socialist Party, looked to lay out an ideal point through the Communist International and as a consequence, through the party, in order to realize this as desired by the current of the Left then dominant in the party.

In these objectives corresponded a precise policy of the Gramscian Center in the face of which the left was not able to be silent. It was in 1924 in the Conference of Como when the Left emerged as the majority in the party. The body of the party was healthy, even if their new party center, imposed by the International, diverted from the constituted line of the party and from the need for a revolutionary policy in that moment. The apparatus, construed with the subtle intelligence of a Gramsci, dominated. There the judgement of Onorato on the apparatus was as follows:

The apparatus thus assumes the appearance of a nameless myth; of an economically and politically fleeting organization, hidden almost always behind a curtain of smoke of the privilege of cast; of a corporation of political work. This is not stated precisely but it is an external appearance, that is propagated and stretches its tentacles like an octopus, until it assumes its own manner of life that came to characterize it and distinguish it from the rest of the very organization of the party.

The United Front and the consequent political suicide, fundamentally opportunistic, of the Aventine cession, which was remedied poorly and too late, there were sufficient signs because of the more informed and responsible comrades that moved against it. It is of this period that the direct polemic between Damen and Gramsci of columns of unity on the subject of the Aventine cession, and of the chance that the party lost at the time of the Matteotti affair and of the Gramscian "moral questions".

With Repossi and Fortichiari, Damen founded the Committee of Intesa "with the precise task saving that which was still left to be saved". It was the birth of the Italian Left as a force of opposition in the International, as a center of elaboration and of political struggle against the new problems of the historic cycle, that of the most bitter defeat and of the most tragic results for the working class.

Bordiga adhered to the Committee of Intesa that was already constituted, giving some of the best and last contributions to the internal political struggle of the PCd'I.

It was to this that Onorato sought to clarify in 1966, against the deformations and defamations of a document of the PCI:

The constitution of the Committee of Intesa took place in Milan on the initiative of a small group of comrades, with the exception and without the knowledge of Bordiga, even if this comrade himself then drew up a major part of documents that were published and diffused under the name of the Committee of Intesa.

From the personal vicissitudes of the people that sustained them, the experience of the Committee of Intesa is of utmost importance to the consciousness that they did not yet have. Onorato was counted on to give a contribution to fill in for the absence of a general work on Gramscism that came out posthumously. From that experience came this warning:

The warning that was issued from the Committee of Intesa remains in all its validity for the perspective it characterized, in the period of bolshevization in the politics of the International, the start of that process of structural, ideological and political degeneration of the Communist Party of Italy, of the subservient imprint of Stalinism and to the entrance of the Soviet state into the ranks of imperialism.

That he dealt with this himself is demonstrated by the culmination of that experience, The attempt to debate again in the party and in the International their central problem of the moment, in breaking off the hypocritical revenge of the International. The decline in Italy initiated by Moscow by Umbert Droz, and as he himself recounted, ordered the disbanding of the Committee in exchange for the assurance that the same themes and problems would be taken up by the International and within its parties.

To the comrades, delegated by the party for years of struggle and trusted in the capacity of the renewal of the class party, this burden. It was thought, by Stalin, then responding to Bordiga in the Enlarged Executive of 1926, to end all doubts.

In fact the policies of the Comintern, were delegated to Moscow in a rapport of dependence, reducing itself to the defense of the Russian state, in the so-called tactic of "stabilization", even in their verbal declarations this was abstracted and separated from any talk of international revolution. While in London the infamous Anglo-Russian committee was launched, they passed the exceptional laws. Fascism had won definitively, the communists were went to jail and with them Damen, condemned to 12 years. Meanwhile the PCd'I was undergoing bolshevization and with this the marginalization of the left. The Congress of Lione is one swindle that not even the CPist historians like Spriano can conceal. We have already felt the judgement of Onorato on the apparatus, and it is this apparatus that substituted the body of the party in Lione. We still feel, as is possible to bring judgement on all the functionaries on the part of the center:

Only a short time has passed since, under Gramsci, the functionaries of the party convened that had participated in Napoli (of the Committee of Intesa in 1925). Posing their only administrative dilemma: either continue following and defending the policies of the party that pays you - or be dismissed. At the bottom of this "prostitution" ("puttano"), but yet efficacious dilemma, if the consequent shameful capitulation of everything, as if the forces of revolution in their party had become a reward of negotiation.

With the victory of Lione, the relatively slow work of the new social democrats against the left received new impulse and inexorability. Comrade Damen let out of jail in 1933, but incarcerated again later that same year, learned upon reading the fascist papers of being expelled from the PCd'I. The objective of a rapprochement with the party, even theoretically, was outside of and against all possibility. Not all the comrades that had been on the left for only a few years had the strength to resist at the expense of their own comfortable positions.

Onorato Damen and others, however, did resist. In attempting to firmly adhere to Marxism and that perfect point of observation of history, to examine them academically, it was all but favorable to the proletariat.

It was already present in the Chinese episode and again in 1936 in the Spanish Civil War as proof of the strength that it was bound to the World War; the comprehensive involution accelerated by the Russian situation with the Stalinist purges of all the Bolshevik old guard. An accumulation of tragic experiences, in short, against which remained the need for an analysis undertaken along strict class lines.

As to what occurred and was occurring in Russia? There the demand to lock in which they were to unite all the others. He dealt with, that is to say, resumed the analysis of imperialism and the description of its forces, because as Russia was reconstructed on capitalist bases, at that moment it was not able to become a question of elevation to a new imperialist pole, as for the extension and wealth of the territory for the contraposition to the other fronts inherited from the Civil War of 1919-1922.

Around this problems began the elaboration of the Internal center of the Italian Left, that permitted him to declare definitively and clearly, already in lieu of the war in Spain, that the forces of...

centrism are but slaves to a new imperialist power, rightly of state-capitalism - of an ex-Soviet Russia.

Even in the years Damen was in jail: during the Spanish Civil War and then again at the outbreak of the Second World War (first in jail and then in exile). It was from jail that the events that weighed on the class came to be examined, criticized in order to draw out the lessons for the reconquest of the revolutionary platform, it is from prison that he retained clandestine contacts with comrades outside in order to piece together an organizational network. If it were possible, as it was for Comrade Damen, the testimony of which is the strength of his adherence to the methods and principles of communism.

The reading of journals, even through the filter of the bourgeois and fascist press conceded to the Marxists being in step with events and drawing out the lessons in what was to be done. Upon the outbreak of the Second World War they were no longer able to retain any doubts: there was the absence of a functioning party. As it was in 1915 the fundamental problem was that of a coherent and active opposition to the war, of the transformation of the war into a proletarian revolution in full frontal political conflict with all the forces of the enemies and traitors.

In 1943 there was sparked a superb class uprising in the north and the party did not have the time to operate and take root in the class. As it maybe seen today, with Onorato, to critique the delay of 1921, we are able to discuss about the political responsibility of the forces acting at the moment (like to that ever Damen extracted himself from giving in fact the best contribution), we are not able to make much more of 1943. The Party was built from prison and within prison. Damen was in exile when they put out the first leaflets in the Internationalist Communist Party, and all were in strict clandestinity. It is under these conditions that the first series of Prometeo, the journal of the Internationalist Communist Party was published.

From the issue of December 1, 1943, we read the lead article, The Russia that We Love and Defend, one of the documents most significant for its unique, class based, revolutionary characterization of the party against the war and for the revolution. We were a party and acted as a Party against the bourgeois front of all the others. For this, in 1945, Togliatti and the PCI petitioned in the CLN,to have the leaders of the Internationalist Communist Party condemned to death as saboteurs and with the calumnious label of agents of the Gestapo, foremost among them all was Onorato Damen.

Not one, even less Damen, avoided their own tasks as revolutionaries: the struggle against the war was continued in the struggle against the bourgeois reconstruction, which our Party withstood.

From the foundation of the Party to today, other struggles, and other problems have engaged Damen: the rupture of 1952 above all. His contribution to the struggle to renew the political organization in the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat was not in vain.

It is characteristic of him that in those moments the more great looms the figure of Onorato.

The new crisis of accumulation of capital has mixed in this crisis a certain Marxism, that of the disbanded intellectuals [intellettuali allo sbando], of Stalinists, of social-democrats. This is not the Marxism of revolutionaries, who have foreseen and examined this crisis, it is exactly this Marxism that today endures in the Party (Pcint) and in the teachings of Onorato. The dregs of which neither is to be forever an unconscious victim, and in which the only future point of reference will be the Communist Left, the International Party of the Proletariat.

Onorato has contributed enormously to the creation and active cadres to withstand and to launch up to today the fundamental and organizational policies for the renewal of the International Party of the Proletariat.

As militants formed from the struggle of comrades such as Onorato Damen, we are sworn to bring his teachings together.