Antonio Gramsci "Pre-Prison Writings": Review Article

The article reprinted here was published originally in International Communist Review 13 in 1995. We have recently scanned this entire publication and it can be downloaded as a pdf. However our main reason for revisiting this issue was because several people in the last few months have written to ask us if we have written anything on Gramsci. The article which follows, although it takes the form of a review article, is perhaps our most succinct commentary and pending the translation of Onorato Damen’s book Gramsci – tra marxismo ed idealismo also most clearly exposes the myths that the capitalist left have peddled about Gramsci’s supposed contribution to Marxist theory. Further information about Gramsci and his role in the Stalinist takeover (so-called “bolshevisation”) of the Communist Party of Italy can also be found in the introduction to our pamphlet on the Committee of Intesa (referred to here as the Committee of Agreement).

Edited by Richard Bellamy; translated Virginia Cox. Published by Cambridge University Press, 1994

Yet another academic work devoted to Gramsci. At first glance this seems a strange time for a publisher like Cambridge to be bringing out a volume of Gramsci's writings. In the wake of what the editor refers to as "the collapse of Communism" and the lost allure of "the EuroGramscian thesis", not to mention the current disillusion and lack of interest in all things 'Marxist' in academic circles. The book can't exactly be selling like hot cakes. Possibly Cambridge have been so slow in preparing the translations that they've simply missed the gravy train of what was until very recently a thriving commerce in Gramsciana. Or maybe all this has just confirmed Gramsci as a 'safe' subject for an ivory tower series in the history of political ideas which, "aims to make available to students all the most important texts in the history of western thought ..." but which includes neither Marx nor Lenin, nor even more radical bourgeois revolutionary figures like Rousseau or Tom Paine. In any case the Introduction offers the reader no new insight into Gramsci. For the most part it is content to churn out established clichés: there is Gramsci, that more humanistic and idealist 'Marxist' who welcomed the October Revolution as a "revolution against Karl Marx's Capital"; Gramsci, the supposed initiator of the concept of the 'ltalian road to socialism'; Gramsci, the master of contemporary political analysis with a superior insight into fascism and a "far more complex account of the nature of the bourgeois state than many of his Marxist colleagues". Above all there is Gramsci, ambivalent and ambiguous,the unending subject of academic speculation and generator of obtuse philosophical and sociological jargon. Try this, for instance:

He seems to have been more concerned with overcoming anomie by having the worker assimilate the norms he believed, in quasi-Durkheimian fashion, to be inherent to the integrated work processes of industrial production.


Instead of clearly raising the real question of Gramsci's limited view of proletarian revolution a view which alternates between workers' self-management of the capitalist workplace and the Communist Party simply taking over the state, all we get is a demonstration of the editor's 'erudition'. This is only to be expected from an academic introduction. Even from academia, however, we might have expected a more serious attempt to explain the significance of this particular edition of Gramsci's 'pre-prison writings'. (Well over half of which are already available in English.) The period in question is from Gramsci's early days in the ltalian Socialist Party (he joined in 1913), up until 1926 when, as General Secretary of the Communist Party of Italy (PCd'l), he was arrested under Mussolini's 'Exceptional Laws' alongside other prominent leaders and hundreds of other Communist Party activists. When the 1st World War broke out Gramsci, at twenty-three years old, was by no means a fully-fledged Marxist and he had neither the necessary materialist framework to recognise its significance as an inter-imperialist conflict nor any previous identification with the anti-militarism of the PSI's left-wing. However, when Mussolini — left-wing editor of Avanti and effective leader of the PSI — began to ditch all his previous anti-imperialism and militant anti-militarism, arguing that Italy should enter the war (preferably on the "progressive" side of France and the Allies) Gramsci chose to try and defend his position. Gramsci's October 1914 article, Active and Operative Neutrality (following Mussolini's title) is usually seen as something of an embarrassment by commentators and shrugged off as a more or less naive mistake. Not so this present volume which absurdly comments, "It was characteristic of Gramsci that he did not falter from holding unpopular positions." This is absurd because any serious student of Gramsci knows that when he came to realise the implications of defending Mussolini (who was eventually expelled from the PSI for his interventionist stance) Gramsci succumbed to a characteristic bout of nervous exhaustion and didn't engage in political activity or write another political text for a year. It is also absurd because the article itself is confused, reflecting both Gramsci's own incoherence and the wider state of bewilderment Mussolini's turn-round had created inside the PSI. This episode in itself is not so significant even if it does show that Gramsci was no Italian Lenin. (Amongst the confusions of the 1914 article there is no sign of proletarian internationalism, the basis of Lenin's revolutionary defeatist opposition to the imperialist war.) What is more significant, at least for anyone wanting to trace the development of a revolutionary marxist current in Italy, is that Gramsci did not clarify his thinking on the war, much less develop an analysis of its imperialist character. When he returned to political life in 1916, after Italy had joined the belligerent states, Gramsci concerned himself with 'cultural' issues — writing articles advocating universal free education or the setting up of a 'cultural association' (which he compared to the Fabian Society) as a means for intellectuals to contribute to the socialist movement and discuss,

... problems philosophical, religious and moral — which underlie political and economic action, but which economic and political organisations are not equipped to discuss or to promote solutions for.

From 'Socialism and Culture', originally published in Il Grido del Popolo 29.1.16.

These are the sort of concerns dear to university academics. For a revolutionary marxist in the middle of imperialist war, seeing the international working class embroiled in mutual slaughter whilst the socialist parties of the Second International acquiesced in or openly supported the war aims of their 'own' national capital, they were not exactly the central issues of the day. Whilst it is true that in ltaly the crisis of social democracy was more blurred as a result of the PSI's official position of 'neither support nor sabotage' for the war, it is a fact that Gramsci saw no particular implications for the Party's failure to unambiguously oppose the war, or indeed of the centrality of the war itself. Like Kautsky, Gramsci preferred to view the biggest conflict so far in human history as a contingent event which was not intrinsic to capitalism's development. Unlike Lenin, Luxemburg and in Italy Amadeo Bordiga, he never analysed the war in terms of capitalist imperialism. In terms of concrete political activity it is above all to Bordiga that we must look for the revival of what was known as "revolutionary intransigence" inside the PSI; for the attempt to force it off the political fence by repudiating the idea of the bourgeois 'fatherland' and adopting a "strictly and sincerely revolutionary tactic", which means putting itself at the head of strikes and anti-war demonstrations and recognising that "violence is the midwife of every society pregnant with future life". The quotations are from the manifesto of the newly-revived intransigent revolutionary fraction issued in July 1917, after the PSI leadership had announced its support for the 'democratic bloc' (following US entry into the war) and when news of the February Revolution in Russia was inspiring more and more workers to take to the streets to demonstrate their opposition to the war. Gramsci had nothing to do with this manifesto or the revolutionary current which produced it. For our academic commentator this is all part of his attraction — an indication of his "more idealist" "non-determinist" Marxism which, in contrast to the vulgar positivism of "orthodox" Marxists, emphasised "the role of ideas and human will" and was "anti-deterministic". So how did this man, whose preoccupation with things 'cultural' in 1917 kept him apart from the initial struggle to revolutionise the PSI from within, later come to identify with 'orthodox Marxists' and their revolutionary cause which eventually led to the creation of the Communist Party of Italy (PCd'I) in 1921?

For all Gramsci's philosophical idealism and emphasis on self-development the answer is not that he went through a process of rethinking and intellectual conversion to Bordiga's arguments. Indeed, apart from the bizarre occasion in 1917 when Gramsci, the 'Centrist', found himself accidentally representing the Turin section at a meeting of the intransigent fraction (most of the Turin leaders were in jail or in the army following working class unrest in the city), Gramsci never showed any signs of opposition to the war. In typical PSI fashion this meeting had attracted a much wider political spectrum than those who wanted revolutionary class struggle against the war. Also present were high-up Party leaders such as Serrati and Lazzari who were quite prepared to come under the 'intransigent' umbrella if it meant they could undermine the development of a clear revolutionary fraction. Whilst they argued for 'realism' and managed to secure a reaffirmation of the official Party slogan of "Neither Support Nor Sabotage" Gramsci is supposed to have impetuously sided with Bordiga's call for class action against the war — the only other delegate to do so. For this he was, not unsurprisingly, accused of voluntarism. The Introduction says nothing at all about the context of this charge — probably the author does not know the context — but no matter, it's a useful term to seize on to show "Gramsci's emphasis on the role of ideas and the human will". (p. xiv) Emphasising ideas apparently does not mean valuing their consistency. In March 1918 demonstrations of popular opposition to the war once more gripped Turin. Gramsci's response was to dismiss this as "proletarian and defeatist barbarity and stupidity" (in The Club of Moral Life p.51.) and carry on with his plans for a socialist study group-cum-debating society. In fact, right through 1918 and well into 1919 this remained his main preoccupation: while the working class seethed and increasingly looked to Russia and while Bordiga called for the expulsion of reformists from the Party. Then, no sooner had Gramsci's ambition of setting up a "review of socialist culture" been obtained (along with Angelo Tasca, Palmiro Togliatti and Umberto Terracini) than the industrial working class in Turin began to transform the workers' commissions into organs of workers control and take over the factories. For the first time Gramsci became involved in the living class struggle and the cultural review L'Ordine Nuovo (The New Order) — was transformed, in Gramsci's own words from, "an incoherent mess, the product of a mediocre intellectualism, fumbling around looking for an end to aim at and a direction for its action to take" (p.180) into a mouthpiece of the Turin workers' movement as well as a source of information on revolutionary events and ideas from outside Italy.

From the point of view of the actual texts which span the period of the factory occupations (or rather the "two red years" (biennio rosso) of widespread class struggle in Italy) very few of them have not appeared in English before, notably in the rival Lawrence and Wishart series edited by Quintin Hoare. Whereas Hoare's collection has the merit of including some of Bordiga's criticisms of Gramsci's limited factoryist conceptions Bellamy's ignores this polemic and the wider context altogether and simply provides an abstract criticism. This is valid as far as it goes. In his pretentious, idealist way he sees that Gramsci's tendency to see the end-product of workers' self-management in terms of greater efficiency and productivity has nothing to do with "the growth of freedom". Typically he concludes that, "Unlike Lenin, Gramsci was saved the embarrassment of having to face up to these theoretical limitations of his scheme by never having to implement it." As if the failure of the Russian working class to establish communism in Russia was due to the weakness of Lenin's theoretical schemas!

From a revolutionary perspective Bordiga's criticisms are much more telling. First, he pointed out that Gramsci was talking about nothing more than factory committees, albeit democratically organised ones, not soviets. Whilst the first were a means for workers to organise their own activity in the workplace, soviets are political organs of the whole working class and are necessarily organised on a territorial basis to avoid dividing the class up on trade and industrial lines. Second, Bordiga was trying to convince Gramsci and other Ordinovisti that revolution was not simply a process of building up workplace democracy and proving that the working class could "responsibly and efficiently manage production". Rather it is a conscious political movement to overthrow the existing state that has to be centralised and coordinated by a party with a clear revolutionary programme.

We would not like the working masses to get the idea that all they need to do to take over the factories and get rid of the capitalists is set up councils ... These futile and continual outbursts which are daily exhausting the masses must be merged together, organised into one great, comprehensive effort which aims directly at the heart of the enemy bourgeoisie.
This function can and must only be exercised by a communist party which, at the present moment, has not, and must not have, any other task than that of directing its activity to making the working masses more conscious of the necessity for this great political step. This is the only direct way they will gain possession of the factory, while to proceed otherwise will be to struggle in vain.

Bordiga in Il Soviet 22.2.20, reprinted in Antonio Gramsci: Selections from Political Writings 1910-1920 ed. Quintin Hoare; p.235.

Above all he criticised Gramsci's failure to face up to the need for the proletariat to confront the capitalist state as a result of his view that the socialist state could be built up inside capitalism. ("The socialist state already exists potentially in the institutions of social life characteristic of the exploited working class." (Gramsci in 'Workers' Democracy' p.96). None of this is mentioned in the Cambridge Introduction. Likewise, Gramsci's conversion to the idea of "renewing" and eventually forming a communist fraction inside the PSI is passed over in almost complete silence. (Why should he have been 'disillusioned' about the PSI's failure to expel the reformists and implement the International's 2l conditions?) Granted, an introduction cannot say everything but the way Bellamy presents it (p.xxv) there are two communist fractions — one round Bordiga and the other round "the Ordine Nuovo group" in the run-up to the Livomo Congress which resulted in the PSI split. This is not the case. There was a single communist fraction which came formally into existence on 15th October, 192O by which time the Ordine Nuovo group had disintegrated. (Gramsci had been left in virtual isolation with his 'communist education' group of 17 workers in July/August 1920.)

The formation of a communist fraction was the result of several inter-connected factors: The lnternational's growing disillusion with Serrati's 'maximalist' leadership (good at giving formal allegiance to the international revolution but short on revolutionary action and refusal to expel the 'reformists' who openly opposed the revolution); Bordiga's abandoning of the abstentionist tactic at the Second Congress of the International (thus focussing on the fundamental question of what is a communist party rather than the side issue of abstaining from parliamentary elections); the increasing urgency of the situation as the class movement in Italy began to fizzle out after a series of isolated and uncoordinated upsurges. On Gramsci's part it meant abandoning the prime role he had placed on the factory committees and recognising that the first priority was for the proletariat to have a political weapon — a communist party.

At the beginning of 1920, at the same time as doing their best to isolate the Turin movement, the PSI and the unions came up with their own schemes for institutionalising workers' councils and socialists began to see that the Socialist Party was a dead weight round their necks. The abstentionists began to gain ground in Turin. Bordiga upped his criticisms of the council movement (coming personally to speak to the Turin section of the PSI in February) and the "illusions" of ordinovism were directly criticised by Niccolini (pseudonym of Nikolai Ljubarsky, one of the Comintern's representative's in Italy) in the pages of Avanti! For the first time Gramsci started to speak about the need to "renew the Party". After the section elections in February abstentionists outnumbered ordinovisti by eight to one in the Turin branch of the PSI. In April the national council of the PSI was to meet in Milan. Gramsci was delegated to draft the document representing the views of the Turin section. This was For a Renewal of the Socialist Party which was duly presented to the National Council and promptly rejected, along with calls for the PSI to back an extension of the general strike currently going on in Piedmont. The point here is that this was a document of the whole Turin section, not a reflection of Gramsci's personal position. As such it was a compromise which mentioned neither the factory councils (all references were edited out during a section meeting) nor abstentionism but concentrated on the failure of the PSI to act as a revolutionary party. Usually this is presented as simply a text by Gramsci (this is what Quintin Hoare does, for example), thus making it easier to claim that Gramsci did not ignore the 'party question' and in general allowing the impression to be created that Gramsci's contribution to the formation of the Communist Party was much more central than it actually was. The Cambridge edition does concede something of this (in a footnote) when it says that, "Although clearly informed by Gramsci's ideas, one should bear in mind that as a Party document it had to take other views into account." But this is so obtuse that there is obviously no intention to undermine the myth of Gramsci's key role in the formation of the PCd'I. It is a myth that is partly perpetuated by Lenin's writings and the records of the Second Congress of the International — where Lenin praised For a Renewal... as an Ordine Nuovo document and, despite being informed of its real nature, continued to insist "that it is the line of L'Ordine Nuovo members that corresponds to the line of the Communist International" (Speech on the Terms of Admission into the Communist International. See Volume 31 of Collected Works.) There is evidence to suppose that as the Russian leaders in the Executive of the International became disillusioned with Serrati they would have preferred Gramsci to lead the communist split rather than the more independent Bordiga. Be that as it may, in practice it was Bordiga who really understood the need for the communists to split. In the event it was he who was the principle motivating force of the communist fraction which Gramsci joined and which was supported by the International's representatives in Italy.

Naturally Bellamy says nothing of this. He is content to repeat the myth shared by liberal democrats and Leftists alike that the split "divided the Italian labour movement at a crucial time. considerably weakening its ability to respond to the rise of Fascism." (p.xxv) This is a complete misreading of the situation. The question of the hour for the Italian "labour movement" was whether or not it was going to make a communist revolution against the whole of the Italian state set up, not just prevent the Fascists becoming part of it. As a point of fact it is also nonsense. Far from regretting the opportunity to lead an undivided labour movement against Fascism, in 1921 the PSI was busy signing a Conciliation Pact between its own parliamentary deputies and the Fascists in parliament. In 1921 and the early years of the PCd'I Antonio Gramsci had no such regrets. He didn't even speak at the Livorno congress, never mind voice doubts about the narrowness of the split (unlike Paul Levi who argued against a break with Serrati). More important, Gramsci actively participated in the Rome Congress in 1922 and showed no signs of concern at the political direction the Party was taking. Only after two years of political grooming in Moscow and Vienna, when he returned to Italy at the behest of the Comintern to take over the leadership of the Party, did his tune change. In 1924 Gramsci began to describe the split at Livorno as having been "too far to the Left" and therefore "the greatest triumph of reaction" because it cut off the majority of the Italian proletariat from the International. This reassessment is echoed in the article, Against Pessimism (p.255), where Gramsci reflects on the errors of the Ordine Nuovo group for not having worked for a wider-based Party "even though we had the great authority and prestige of the International on our side". This is just a post-hoc rationalisation. In 1921 the Ordine Nuovo group had been in no position to lead any kind of split. By 1923, however, it was leading figures from the old Turin group — Togliatti, Terracini and then, in 1924, Gramsci himself — who provided the core of the new executive "chosen for the PCd'I by the Comintern". (From Bellamy's chronology p.xxxv.)

It is an irony of history that the Party which was founded on the necessity for the constituent parties of the International to recognise and implement the decisions of its Congresses that it should find itself almost immediately an oppositional minority inside those Congresses, as well as the Enlarged Executive meetings that were held in between them. The PCd'I was born in the wake of the defeat of the working class, not just in Italy but all over Europe. As the Communist International degenerated into opportunism and eventually into an out-and-out tool of the counter-revolution in Russia, the Left-leaning Italian Party found itself increasingly out of step with the Russian leadership in the Comintern. The first point of divergence was over the united front policy, first formalised by the Executive of the International (ECCI) in December 1921 following the decision of the 3rd Congress (June) to adopt the slogan of "To the Masses". The issue is more complicated than Bellamy makes out. Whilst Bordiga certainly found "collaboration with the socialists" (i.e. the PSI) "anathema" he was far from opposed to seeing the working class unified in a common struggle. For him 'To the Masses' and the united front tactic which followed could only be interpreted in this way — i.e. as an attempt to get the workers at the grass roots to struggle together, whatever their individual political or trade union allegiance. As for top-level deals, alliances and "collaboration" with other parties, however, this indicated an abandonment of the revolutionary programme altogether and a return to the sort of backstage wheeling and dealing that had characterised so much of Socialist Party activity before the war. The acceptance of the Rome Theses by the vast majority of the PCd'I in March 1922 shows that the bulk of the membership agreed. Already the Italian Party was a thorn in the side of the Russian leadership and as the shifting sands of Comintern policy turned the united front into a call for workers' governments the Italian Party leadership, still as one with Bordiga, found it increasingly difficult to acquiesce. In this case Bordiga only did so out of discipline and by insisting that the only way to a genuine "workers' government" was via revolution. This was in June 1922. By November, at the 4th Congress, the Italian delegates were pressurised into accepting the principle of fusion with the PSI which had just expelled the Turati-led Right and was now split into four fractions. (In fact Comintern emissaries in Italy were already negotiating with the PSI leadership. Fusion did not come about because of opposition from the Nenni fraction inside the PSI itself.

This was not good enough discipline for the Comintern. A more reliable and pliant executor of its decisions was required in Italy. Gramsci had already been singled out as a much more malleable alternative to Bordiga and had been asked to stay on in Moscow after the 2nd Enlarged Executive meeting. (Where Zinoviev, Trotsky and Bukharin had tried to persuade him to break with Bordiga's stance.) The opportunity for the Comintern to intervene directly and install its own choice of leadership came in early 1923 when Bordiga and other members of the EC were arrested or in hiding under threat of arrest. This step was eased by Bordiga's tactic of having the Italian EC resign en masse in protest against being told to implement fusion with the PSI. When the Italian delegation arrived in Moscow for the Third Enlarged Executive meeting they were all set to refuse to reassume their posts of responsibility on the EC so long as the International continued with its insistence on fusion with the PSI. The International did insist but all except one of the old EC members (Fortichiari) returned having accepted posts on the new, so-called 'mixed' EC which now included four new members: Togliatti (already acting as spokesman for the Party), Scoccimarro, Tasca (who had been the only voice of opposition, from a Right-wing standpoint, to the Rome Theses) and Vota. Now the ECCI had a more manageable situation in Italy. Although the newly constituted EC was by no means an obedient poodle there were now important figures ready to be persuaded of the Comintern line, especially when reinforced by arguments from Gramsci who was moved to Vienna in November in order to be able to keep in closer touch with Togliatti et. al. It is true that Gramsci had previously refused to contemplate substituting himself for Bordiga — mainly because it was impossible to conceive of the PCd'I without Bordiga at the helm. However, now that Bordiga's position had been undermined (and in any case Bordiga refused to rejoin the EC after his release from prison in October), Gramsci appears to have had few qualms. Even before he left Vienna one of his first moves, far from showing "he considered it important to obtain the active consent of the membership through mass democratic organization" (p.xxvi-xxvii) was to prevent the publication and discussion of Bordiga's prison Manifesto. (The rest of the EC, even Togliatti had been prepared to do that.) Gramsci returned to Italy just before the semi-clandestine Party conference held near Como. This must have revealed to him just how much work he needed to do to shape the PCd’I into the Comintern's mould. Although the upper echelons of the Party — the EC and the Central Committee (CC) — now technically belonged to the 'Centrist majority' (thanks to Moscow's intervention) the overwhelming majority of the federal secretaries, who were much closer to the grassroots, were with the 'Bordigist Left' as was the Youth Section. Gramsci promptly set out to change the political balance of the Party. First he aimed to incorporate new elements from the PSI. (In the event this boiled down to the admission of the terzini, Serrati's fraction which was ready to submit to the International and who were admitted en bloc in September 1924.) Second, in keeping with the call for "Bolshevisation" of the Communist Parties at the Vth Congress, he aimed to radically change the way the Party was organised so that the leadership would have much more control over the base. Not an open debate to persuade the membership and obtain their "active consent" to the directives sent down from above, but the dismantling of the territorial federations and their replacement with workplace cells (presumably with little contact with each other and under the control of 'trusted' cadres) was the method adopted by someone who was supposed to consider "it important to obtain the active consent of the membership through mass democratic organization."(xxvii)

However, before this organisational upheaval could get underway there came the Matteotti crisis. In June 1924 Giacomo Matteotti, a PSU (Unitary Socialist Party) deputy who had dared to criticise the regime for its electoral corruption, was kidnapped and murdered by Fascists. This led to a public outcry and the first spontaneous street demonstrations for years. The Fascists were divided and Mussolini was forced to get rid of some of the more 'extremist' figures such as Rossi and Marinelli. For a time support from Salandra's Liberals hung in the balance as the industrialists took fright at the blatant lawlessness of the Fascists in the Matteotti affair. For a short while too it looked as though the King might demand Mussolini's resignation. Meanwhile the opposition parties in Parliament chose to protest by leaving the Chamber altogether — the so-called Aventine secession.(1) The PCd'I deputies were instructed by the EC to join them. This was clearly Gramsci's idea of a united front. What his "more subtle view of Fascism" (p.xxvi) boiled down to in practice was nothing more than bourgeois democratism: a policy of manoeuvring alongside the bourgeois democratic parties against the 'immoral' Fascists. In a report to the Central Committee Gramsci described the crisis as a "moral" one which had led to the "creation of a State within the state: and anti-fascist government against the fascist government". The report went on to say that the parliamentary opposition remained the "fulcrum of the popular antifascist movement". Gramsci might have been leading the Catholic Popular Party for all this had to do with the political agenda of the working class. Thus, while the handful of Communist Party deputies joined the Aventine opposition committees, reports were coming in from the regions that the working class was restless and ready to act. Information like this was discounted as leftwing recklessness by the Party Centre which was now almost completely out of touch with the base.

It was, however, in touch with Moscow and the International whose Vth Congress had just presented a revised interpretation of the 'united front' whereby the social democratic parties were now viewed as "social fascists". Gramsci's policy of joining the Aventine secession was duly criticised and in an attempt to follow the Comintern line the Party leadership launched the totally inappropriate slogan of "Workers' and Peasants' Committees" without any preparation at the grassroots. Heaping confusion upon confusion and under instructions from the Comintern. Gramsci tried to rectify his Aventine 'mistake' by veering back to bourgeois politicking and directed the PCd'l deputies to call for the Aventine secession to be turned into a permanent "anti-parliament". When they refused the Communist deputies re-entered the new session of the 'real' parliament alone where Repossi was given the task of reading out a speech condemning Fascism (for which he was roughed up and spat on). This was accompanied by yet another tactical turn-round: that of using the Communist deputies, who still legally had parliamentary immunity from arrest, to go and speak "to the masses" at factory gates and street corners. This new turn to the masses was too little too late and only exposed Communist Party militants to Fascist attacks. Moreover, it was during this shift in tactics that class conscious workers in Italy were further disoriented and demoralised by the sight of the Russian Ambassador holding a banquet for Mussolini and other top Fascists. By November 1924 trade treaties and official recognition by other capitalist states were more important for the Soviet Union than what was happening to the international working class.

After this fiasco and display of confusion and opportunism by the Gramscian leadership a core of militants from the Left (who still represented the majority of party members) decided that Bordiga's tactic of leaving the Party in the hands of the 'Centrists' was not enough. The very raison d'etre of the Party was being undermined while comrades from the Left were being thrown out of the Party and substituted by 'Centrists' without any political debate whatsoever. In the Spring of 1925 a small group of comrades from the Left, including Bruno Fortichiari, Luigi Repossi and Onorato Damen, resolved to form the Comitato d'lntesa (translated in the Cambridge text as the 'Committee of Agreement') with the intention of trying to make sure there was a full debate about what was going on, both nationally and internationally, before the next Party Congress:

What can a Congress which is aiming at bolshevisation be worth if it is attended by delegates from the various federations where there has been no previous discussion, of a serious aid informed nature, with the recognised representatives of the various currents about the "fundamental problems of national life on which basis the general programme of the party must be drawn"?

Letter from the Committee of Agreement to the Party Executive, 1.6.25, in response to a statement of the Party Executive published in L'Unita of 26.5.25

Here would have been a chance for the Cambridge work to say something new and deal with an episode otherwise avoided by studies of Gramsci. However, despite the singular inclusion of one of Gramsci's published responses to the Committee, there is no explanation whatsoever about how Gramsci 'persuaded' paid Party organisers to withdraw from the Committee with the threat of losing their 'jobs'; there is no mention about how the Committee came to be dissolved with the promise of a full and open debate and how that debate was sabotaged by typical Stalinist tactics of delaying publication of articles from the Left and surrounding them with condemnations from the Centre when they were published. (Though the very title of the one text by Gramsci that is published here — The Party Grows in Strength by Combating Anti-Leninist Deviations — is nowadays enough to give a flavour of the sort of barrage they were being subjected to.) In short, there is no mention of how Gramsci preferred 'administrative' measures to political debate in order to achieve a very precise 90.8% of the vote at the Lyons Congress. But then this would be to reveal another aspect of Gramsci, Gramsci the Comintern hack — an aspect of his thinking that neither liberal academics nor erstwhile Stalinists have an interest in dwelling on.

If you are interested in what Gramsci had to say while he was actively involved in politics and you haven't already got or can't afford the two volumes of the Lawrence and Wishart collection which cover the same period then this Cambridge edition will suffice. Otherwise the Quintin Hoare collections, despite the basic hostility to Bordiga and the Left, come with introductions which give a clearer and more accurate picture of the political context in which Gramsci was working and writing. (Volume One even has articles by Bordiga criticising Gramsci's early 'councilism'.) lf, however, you are looking for the political origin of the Italian Left communists this cannot be deduced from reading Gramsci and his interpreters. For revolutionaries there is another history which still remains to be written.



(1) Named after the 4th Century BC incident in Ancient Rome when the plebs withdrew to the Aventine Hill after rejecting patrician-dominated rule from the Palatine Hill.

Further Reading

For more about Gramsci in English, see 'Antonio Gramsci: Myth and Reality' and 'Gramsci: The Concept of Hegemony' in Communist Review 5 and 6 respectively.

There are still some copies of the CWO's translation of the Rome Theses the document insisted that the 'united front' slogan could only be interpreted as the unification of the mass of the working class behind the communist banner, and not as political support for coalition governments which included social democratic parties. From the outset the Comintern leadership objected to this interpretation and pressure was put on the PCd'I to withdraw the document. In Revolutionary Perspectives 22 (the CWO's theoretical journal). For a short history of the ltalian Left who went into exile after the outlawing of the PCd'l by Mussolini at the end of 1926, see the extract from Octobre which we published in the previous edition of this journal.

Friday, August 30, 2013