Amadeo Bordiga's Prison Manifesto


Even in our so-called ‘Communist Left’ circles, it is a little-known fact that Amadeo Bordiga spent most of 1923 (3 February – 26 October) in a Rome prison cell where, as well as preparing his own defence and that of his thirty or so fellow-accused, he drafted a political manifesto on the crisis facing the barely two year old Communist Party of Italy (PCd’I), a manifesto he intended for discussion by the whole membership.

Although Bordiga’s own arrest had been followed by a veritable wave of arrests and persecution of Party militants(1) which inevitably weakened the organisation, this was not the crisis Bordiga was alluding to. As he makes clear in the manifesto, the more serious crisis was the growing rift between the “whole framework of principles” of the Party in Italy with what he politely calls “the majority in the International and its Executive organs”, i.e. the Russian Communist Party which was steadily using its position of authority within the International to turn its constituent parties into bureaucratic ‘yes-men’ for the foreign policy objectives of an increasingly counter-revolutionary USSR. This, of course, is easy to spot at a distance of 100 years. Bordiga at the time was simply calling for a full and open debate within both the International and the Party in Italy over the increasing dissonance between the tactics adopted by the International and the political framework and policies which the Italian Party in particular had adopted since it broke away from social democracy in January 1921.

The main issues of contention were a) the original complaint from Moscow that the Livorno split had been too far to the Left and that it must be redressed by fusion with the PSI ‘Maximalist’ majority; b) how to interpret the policy of the ‘united front’ initially formulated by the Executive of the International in Moscow in December 1922 and which Bordiga had chosen to understand as a ‘united front from below’ (i.e. for collective workers’ action, not a basis for the Communist Party to compromise its policies with political deals with whatever other party); c) stemming from this there arose the question of the Arditi del Popolo, anti-fascist resistance fighters, dubiously modelled on the proto-fascist bands of d’Annunzio who had occupied Fiume just after the war; and finally, d) the reduction of the Rome Theses, mainly drafted by Bordiga and accepted by a large majority at the Second Congress of the PCd’I, to a “consultative document” by the Comintern Executive.(2)

None of these issues seriously undermined Bordiga’s standing in the PCd’I, even if the rest of the Italian delegates to the International were ‘persuaded’ to accept in principle fusion with the PSI at the Fourth World Congress (Nov/Dec 1922) while he himself threatened to resign from the Party leadership, a threat no-one appears to have taken seriously. When Turati’s reformists were expelled at the PSI’s Congress (October 1922), the Russian-desired political fusion seemed to be on course. The policy was pushed by Zinoviev, Comintern Chairman, who argued it would enable a united front against Turati’s party. Thus, a ‘fusion’ commission was set up, minus Bordiga of course. He was replaced by Gramsci who had been in Russia since the Enlarged Executive (ECCI) meeting on the ‘Italian question’ the previous June.

In the event the PSI Congress of April 1923 rejected the policy.(3) Despite constant bullying by the Russians in the more or less permanent ECCI meetings of the International over the need to comply with the united front, the only crack in the political resilience of the PCd’I to the Russians’ manoeuvrings had appeared back in May 1921. This was over an article in L’Ordine Nuovo on the_Arditi del Popolo_ where Gramsci’s enthusiasm had run away with him and he had been obliged to publish a Party resolution explaining that membership in another political organisation was incompatible with the Party’s statutes.(4) Back then the International had intervened in the shape of Bukharin, who declared that the PCd’I was making one of its greatest mistakes, in turn provoking further discord.(5)

In any case, there was only so long that an increasingly Russian-dominated, mainly Russian-financed, albeit international, political body, was prepared to tolerate the constant non-compliance, essentially with the united front policy, from the Italian party. And if Bordiga would not become more compliant then … Gramsci was welcome to extend his stay in Russia beyond the length of his medical treatment, out of reach of Mussolini and always available to attend meetings of the ECCI of the Comintern to consider the Italian question — a question increasingly perceived as a question of Bordiga, to whose trial we now return.

The whole processo (‘trial’ in Italian) was a long one. Bordiga and his 31 co-defendants were accused of conspiracy and plotting to overthrow the State. There was a long preliminary hearing, at least in the case of Bordiga, a record of which was produced by the PCd’I in Rome in 1924. Bordiga was arrested outside a block of flats on Via Frattina, where the Party was intending to set up underground headquarters. He was carrying around 3,000 lire and about £3,000 in sterling: a considerable sum in 1923. Bordiga was at pains to explain that he was not in the pay of a foreign state, i.e. that he was not involved in any foreign conspiracy, though he did not deny that the £3,000 had been remitted by a “Russian representative” called Krasin.

President: Does the Moscow Executive Committee have no relations with the Russian Government?
Bordiga: No: it is not to be confused with that Government and now I‘ll tell you what the difference is between these two entities.
The Communist International Executive Committee may also reside in other countries. For example in Rome, if there weren’t a police force so skilled that they can even discover our headquarters in Via Frattina, which suggests against moving the headquarters of the Executive here. The old Internationals had their headquarters in Brussels, Geneva and elsewhere: thus the Third International has its headquarters in Moscow. The International includes the Russian Communist Party which is one of the most important parties, the one that has had the most success and for which we have the highest esteem and also the greatest envy especially given the situation we are in now.
The Government of Russia, the Communist Party of Russia and the Third International are entirely separate entities. The remittance of funds came from the Budget Commission of the Third International, which is made up of comrades from various countries and precisely this Commission, by chance, had an Italian President. So whoever had decided to send us that sum was really an Italian. He could have been Russian or Greek or whatever but this was all the same to us.
The difference between the International and the Russian Government is evident. We are a communist party affiliated to the Third International to which communist parties from all over the world are affiliated. In Russia the Communist International finds itself in a different situation than in other countries. In this sense: not that it is an organ of the Government, but in the sense that the Government is an organ of the International, or at least, that there is a relationship of subordination not of the International to the Government but of the Russian State to the Communist International.
… Not only does the Russian government and its various bodies have no authority to act in matters of the international communist movement, as only the International can do this; but the policy of the Russian Government which is dictated by the Congress and the leading bodies of the Communist Party of Russia, can be discussed and modified by the International.
So I could not have any interchange with Krasin who is nothing more than a diplomatic representative of the Russian government: he is a comrade of mine whom I appreciate and respect, but who had no organisational relationship with us, just as there can be no relationship between us and any other diplomatic representative of the Russian state.(6)

In his trial in a bourgeois courtroom, it was in Bordiga’s interest to stress the separation between the Communist International and the Russian state. How far he believed this is another matter but his manifesto clearly indicates that he thought an open debate, not just on the ‘Italian question’ but on the “programme, the organisation and the tactical question of the International, fighting any deviation to the Right” could still be held. In fact events in 1923 proved just the opposite. Ever since the Third Congress the Russians had been using their political weight inside the International to impose bureaucratic changes to ensure that the ‘correct’ decisions were made, i.e. decisions favouring the survival of the Russian state in a capitalist world. We have seen how Gramsci was simply substituted for Bordiga on the committee to discuss fusion with the PSI at the end of 1922, but more generally the members of the Russian controlled Executive Committee of the International, which looked after things between congresses, was now ‘elected’ from the floor of the Congress instead of beforehand by the membership of the constituent parties.(7) Moreover, in between Congresses a pattern of twice yearly meetings of the ECCI was established which, from the middle of 1923 — around the time when Bordiga was writing his manifesto — included co-opted members. As the counter-revolution took hold in Russia the fundamental aim of ‘the party of Lenin’ was to ensure the survival of the newly-daubed USSR and what was now the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). We cannot go into the resultant erratic foreign policy: on the one hand of trying to engineer revolutionary uprisings in order to break the isolation of the Russian state, notably the debacle in Bulgaria and the still-born German October engineered in 1923; on the other, cementing trade deals and reaching rapprochement with capitalist powers. Not only was loyalty of the parties in the Comintern becoming vital for Russia’s standing in the world, the dogfight for leadership of the CPSU was increasingly being fought in the Comintern. There could hardly have been a sharper contrast with the Russia depicted by Bordiga in the Italian courtroom.

The Government of Russia, the Communist Party of Russia and the Third International are entirely separate entities.

No matter that the Left were by far the majority of the PCd’I, it was only a matter of time before the Russia-dominated Comintern moved to sideline Bordiga and, if need be, the whole party leadership. As Russian in-fighting over the political direction and future leadership of their own Party increased, the Italian question became entangled in the manoeuvring. Bordiga’s imprisonment was a golden opportunity for the ECCI. In June, along with Scoccimarro, Tasca, Terracini, Fortichiari and Vota, Gramsci took part in a meeting of the ECCI and made a speech on the “Italian question.” The upshot was the appointment of a new PCd’I ‘mixed’ Executive Committee which included representatives of the right wing minority and which Fortichiari declined to join. This new Executive comprised Togliatti (who had previously not even been on the Central Committee), Scoccimarro, Tasca, Vota, and Gennari (as substitute for Fortichiari). In August, when news of the new Executive reached Bordiga and Grieco in their prison cells, they resigned.

Now Bordiga was counting more than ever on winning as wide support as possible for his manifesto, both inside the Italian Party and beyond. Surprisingly, being locked up in prison didn’t prevent him constantly communicating with the outside world which he did using a simple code and a compliant warden. The latter passed messages on mainly to Togliatti who in turn was the go-between with other Party members in Italy, the Comintern, including Zinoviev and Bukharin, and, apparently unknown to Bordiga … to Gramsci. A Gramsci who had already been persuaded of the need for a new leadership for the Italian Party, a leadership more compliant with the ECCI and the Comintern, not too far to the Right (as represented by Tasca), but more ‘moderate’ than Bordiga and the old Executive. And if Gramsci’s first moves to undermine Bordiga had been undermined by Zinoviev’s pronouncement in the ECCI that “You (i.e. the entire PCd’I) are responsible for the victory of fascism” as Gramsci himself put it, he was learning how to “slither like an eel”; how to manoeuvre in a war of positions in which, unlike Bordiga, he saw no reason to resign from any position of authority in the Party. Bordiga meanwhile argued that since fractional work meant open and head-on opposition to Moscow’s directives it could not be done from a position at the head of the party. After he was released from prison, towards the end of 1923, the Praesidium of the ECCI demanded that Bordiga once again join the PCd’I Executive Committee. Bordiga retorted that it had no authority to do that and in any case the whole of the previous Italian Executive would have to be reinstated, which he knew the Comintern Executive would not approve. By then though, Bordiga had been totally out-manoeuvred by the one who knew best how to "slither". Gramsci from the first had refused to sign Bordiga’s manifesto and continued to do so, even when Togliatti drew up a modified version. By the time Bordiga was released from prison a different game was being played. Moves were afoot to reshape the Party in Italy according to the Russian model. Already in September Gramsci had informed the Italian party’s Executive Committee of the Comintern decision to start publishing a new workers’ daily in Italy. He proposed the title of L’Unità. This was duly set up in February 1924 and became the vehicle for the Comintern’s Bolshevisation campaign against the Left in the run-up to the Third Party Congress in 1926. Before then, though, there was much work to be done. Just how much work, Gramsci was able to gauge at the bizarre Como Conference held in May 1924, just after his return to Italy. In a kind of dress rehearsal for the stitch-up at Lyons, three sets of theses were presented, for the Left (Bordiga the only representative of the Left present and without the right to vote), the Centre (Togliatti), and the Right (Tasca).

Out of 65 votes cast (14 from the Central Committee, 49 from federal and interregional secretaries, as well as the youth federation and representatives of the party press and propaganda organs, 41 voted for Bordiga, 10 for the right and 11 for the centre. Two abstained and one was considered lost. These numbers, still in favour of the Theses of the Left, were obtained despite the fact that Bordiga, Fortichiari, Repossi and Grieco, who were nonetheless members of the Executive elected in Congress, although they had resigned, were thus not recognised as having voting rights, while the votes in favour of the Centre by three absent members of the Central Committee (Gennari, Ravera and Leonetti), were counted.
Had these procedural decisions not been taken, the result would have been 45-8 in favour of the Left.(8)

As even the pro-Gramsci author of the above has to admit: “It was clear that the party as a whole remained, with few exceptions, Bordigan. A completely different start from what Gramsci had imagined.”

More work to do for the one who had learned how to “slither like an eel”. For more on this, see our pamphlets on the Committee of Intesa and Gramsci.(9) It is enough to say here that, while Bordiga’s active political resistance to the degeneration of the International diminished and ceased round about 1930, the fight of the Communist Left in Italy carried on without him.

Finally, we have to stress the main lesson we can learn from this largely obscured, but significant, historical episode. Next time around the world’s workers will be much better placed if they have already in place at least a strong framework for a revolutionary International, one grounded in more than one country, whose membership is based on individual adhesion, and thus less easily in a position to be controlled by any one section.

E. Rayner
Communist Workers’ Organisation

Notes to the Introduction:

(1) From PCInt Introduction to Quaderno no. 1, Il processo ai comunisti italiani, 1923, p.5:

In a letter addressed to the Executive of the Third International, dated February 13, 1923, Umberto Terracini wrote:
“In the space of a week the police arrested over 5,000 comrades ... Our Party has not folded and does not give in: a quarter of its membership have been arrested, its sections dissolved, deprived of its leader, comrade Bordiga, its members threatened with death and torture, the Communist Party of Italy has already resumed its function and its work.”
Amadeo Bordiga and almost all the other members of the Executive Committee have been arrested (in addition to Terracini, Bruno Fortichiari and Antonio Gramsci are fugitives) and are indicted before the Criminal Court of Rome, accused of crimes such as criminal conspiracy, excitement to revolt and desertion of the army, conspiracy to overthrow the established powers of the state and incitement of class hatred.
The trial took place from 18 to 26 October 1923 and ended with the acquittal of the defendants due to insufficient evidence.

(2) For more on this and the differences between the PCd’I and the Comintern, see the Introduction to our pamphlet, Platform of the Committee of Intesa 1925, 1925.

(3) Serrati went on to be expelled and formed the Unitary Communist Fraction with a couple of thousand members which in 1924 joined the PCd’I en bloc. He was elected to the PCd’I Central Committee. He died of heart failure in 1926 aged 54 on his way to a clandestine meeting of the Communist Party.

(4) In L’Ordine Nuovo, 31 July 1921:

Are the Communists against the Arditi del Popolo movement? Quite the opposite: they aspire to arm the proletariat, to create a proletarian armed force capable of defeating the bourgeoisie and overseeing the organisation and development of the new productive forces generated by capitalism.

our translation

The question of the Arditi del Popolo is a knotty one. With their undoubted anti-fascist motive force (albeit copying organisationally the proto-fascist Arditi), and close links with anarchism it’s not surprising that the PCd’I was sceptical about having formal ties, much less joint membership. On the other hand, it is the case that in working class areas like Oltretorrente in Parma, PCd’I and Arditi members often fought together against Mussolini’s thugs.

(5) Grieco’s reply included a criticism of Argo Secondari, an anarchist and one of the founders of the Arditi del Popolo, who never fully recovered from an attack by fascists not long after Mussolini’s march on Rome, to which Bukharin responded, “… and while Secondari was committing these anti-marxist errors, where were the communists?”

(6) Translated from Il Processo ai Comunisti Italiani, 1923, [PCd’I, Rome 1924] pp 79-82.

(7) This had been decided at the Third Congress, held in Moscow from June 22 through July 12, 1921. Even more significantly, the Russians managed to establish that the number of ECCI delegates be decided according to Party size, ensuring a Russian majority. In any case while all other parties were entitled to a consultative voice on the committee, only the Russian Party held a decisive vote!

(8) Luciano Beolchi, Dal Partito di Bordiga al Partito di Gramsci, p.248

(9) Platform of the Committee of Intesa 1925 and Onorato Damen, Gramsci between Marxism and Idealism; both available from the CWO address and on our website.

Amadeo Bordiga – Prison Manifesto (1923)

To All the Comrades of the Communist Party of Italy:

With a clear conscience and after long deliberation, we believe we are carrying out our duty as communists by directing the present appeal to comrades. The party is going through the kind of crisis that can only be resolved by the participation of the whole membership. We are not alluding to the crisis of efficiency and organisation which is the inevitable consequence of the victory of the anti-proletarian forces in Italy. That crisis also deserves full attention, and if it were not for another crisis, the party’s leading bodies would be able to respond.

Here the issue is a different crisis, one which unfortunately exacerbates the consequences of the first: an internal crisis of our general direction, a crisis which has now broadened from individual tactical questions to include the whole framework of principles and the party’s political frame.

This crisis has not sprung from internal disagreements, but from differences between the Italian Party and the present majority in the Communist International and its Executive organs. Precisely because the crisis is of such an absolutely abnormal character, it could lead to paralysis in party life and to sterile activity if the question is not put before the (whole) party, with the comrades being fully informed, [for] a discussion over basic issues, and a final and definitive judgment on what the platform of thought and action of our party should be. Despite being unable to hold open party meetings and the absence of a free press, this document proposes to begin that task.

The platform on which our party was established at the Livorno Congress is known to the comrades. They know it is the result of criticism carried out within the Socialist Party in response to its essential shortcomings, especially in the post-war years.

How did those who were entrusted with its leadership see the situation of the party, and its tasks, immediately after Livorno? The party’s theory was clearly established on the revolutionary and Marxist basis brought to light by the Russian Revolution and the founding of the Third International. The Italian proletariat’s new organisation of struggle, distinguished by the strength of its international links, had to develop progressively in a way that avoids the pernicious and traditional defects of superficiality, disorder, and personal cliques, which were fatal in the old party. New criteria of seriousness and cool reflection were combined with the unlimited dedication of all the individual militants to the common cause. So, the enormous problem of our activity is the tactics to apply in the specific Italian situation in order to reach communist goals.

At the beginning of 1921 the proletarian struggle was so compromised by the deficiencies of the Socialist Party that a revolutionary offensive seemed impossible on the part of a minority party like ours. But the party’s activity could, and should, have been conceived in terms of obtaining the greatest possible resistance of the proletariat to the offensive of the bourgeoisie, and in the process concentrate workers’ fighting power in the best possible condition, around the banner of the party: the only party with a method capable of ensuring preparation for a recovery.

The communists saw the problem in this way: how to assure the maximum of proletarian defensive unity in the face of pressure from the industrialists’ offensive, yet at the same time prevent the masses from falling into the delusion of apparent unity through a sorry mixture of contradictory instructions which had already been the sad experience of the Italian masses. We will not repeat here the history of the communist attempt to build a united front of workers’ organisations against reaction and fascism. The attempts failed due the behaviour of other parties with a following in the proletariat, but at least our criticism of this failure, based on the facts, means we may gain the advantage from an increased tendency of the militant proletariat to gather around the communist party.

Our propaganda has never been silent about the fact that the proletariat can only win if it has clear communist guidance, even if – precisely to reach that goal – the communists offer to struggle together with workers of any other political party. The results of this experiment, in a period of extraordinary historical importance, must be discussed by the party and the International, sifting through exactly what happened and drawing up a complete balance sheet.

But now the danger is that this question is quashed by saying, "The tactics of the party were wrong and caused the proletariat’s defeat"! Here the point is not to defend the work of any one individual, to whom nobody in the other parties denies goodwill and even other qualities, but something quite different: to reach a verdict on the significant parts of the whole experience, a thing of vital importance for a Marxist party, and only made more important by the international significance of the present phase of Italian history. It is also a question of asking whether the party, after the outcome of such an experiment, should review and modify the foundations on which it was constituted. Such a question demands the involvement of the whole party, as well as a much more mature examination by the International as a whole. And, after stating what is obvious to any witness of Italian politics over this last year – that there is no way the Communist Party could have prevented the course of events which stem from causes too deep and long-standing to reverse – it should be pointed out immediately that the line which we established at Livorno could only be followed for a brief moment. Here we are only presenting the outline of the question in the hope of persuading the comrades of the necessity for a profound discussion. Three facts need to be considered:

  • The Italian party’s opinions regarding the “international” communist tactic differs from those of the International.
  • The disagreement regarding Italian things is even more serious, since it goes beyond the limits of “tactics” to touch upon the very basis of the constitution of the party.
  • The International has modified, and apparently still is in the process of modifying, its policies with regard to tactics, but now, apparently, it is also modifying its programme and its fundamental organisational norms.

We won’t deal with the first point here. This is well known through the discussion at our party’s Congress in Rome (March, 1922), and is spelled out in the theses on tactics which were approved there.

The second point deserves more attention since the party membership is not very well informed about it.

On the question of the tactics to be applied in Italy within the proletarian movement, the differences emerged late and very slowly. Even though the Italian delegation to the Third Congress was already in opposition over the matter of the tactics of the International, the concrete work of the party up to that time, and beyond, was still approved and praised.

Later, faced with the slogan of the “united front” and the “workers’ government” — our party’s line was based on the criterion of avoiding a collision between tactical means and the essentials of propaganda, not only theoretically but based on the fact of two fundamental cornerstones: “the proletariat can only defeat the bourgeoisie by upholding the policy of the Communist Party and its leadership”, and “proletarian power can only be built by revolutionary dictatorship”, and consequently we took part in the “united trade union front” and openly campaigned against any shade of opportunism — it was never precisely clear what the International would have had us do instead.

From time to time, the International did make specific criticisms, but even in June 1922 it merely asked the party to launch the slogan of a “workers’ government,” but so defining it as to make it a “pseudonym for the dictatorship of the proletariat,” whereas afterwards it was said that it was really about ministerial and parliamentary participation. On the questions of the trade unions and fascism it was never precisely clear what the Internationale would have had us do instead.

But then, with the question of fusion with the Maximalist party the divergence deepened and widened to a field of substantial importance. Whereas we viewed the “pedigree” of the party as having been established historically when it was founded in Livorno, and always maintained that the influx of other proletarian elements — the chief goal of the party — had to be by drawing them out of other movements and introducing them into our political framework, we were against any idea of a mass fusion with other parties, or any attempt to create fractions of sympathisers within them, instead of getting them to join our own ranks (that is, we were against “noyautage” or cell building), it is clear today that the International considers Livorno to be a transitory solution and is aiming to get the mass adhesion of another “slice” of the Socialist Party. According to it, the Maximalists were divided from us solely by the fact that they hesitated to split from the reformists. According to us, Maximalism is a form of opportunism just as dangerous as reformism and, in accordance with its traditions and leading bodies, will never be revolutionary, but will continue to lead the masses astray by deceptive words which disguise the most pernicious cultivation of a state of impotence and inertia. The International, on seeing the Italian proletariat lose ground and the consequent reduction in the membership of our party, believed it could change the situation and achieve an international success by admitting the Maximalists. We wanted to openly denounce this as defeatism (caused by the despicable leaders of their own entourage), and — even with the inevitable retreat of the militant proletariat — to retain the predominant position of the Communist Party reinforced by the liquidation of the other parties.

The facts demonstrate the Maximalists’ political resistance to putting their organisation onto a revolutionary footing and loyally accepting adhesion to the International. It used to be thought that this was due to Serrati (preventing the appearance of a general communist tendency) yet we have seen Serrati himself liquidated by his own party, or rather by a few dozen leaders who do everything in the name of the Maximalist workers, whereas the latter can only be won over by breaking the net in which they are caught. And they say ... that the communists have prevented the fusion!!

What have been the consequences in Italy of this stance by the International? The tactical work of the party in the united front was impeded, providing the other parties with a diversion from a situation where they had been bound by our tactics. They proposed a “political” coalition to conceal their repugnance for acting in line with communist proposals. Inside the General Confederation of Labour and the Alliance of Labour the Maximalists could play the reformist game and deceive the workers right up to the very end – thanks to the fact that Moscow invited them to adhere, thus perpetuating the old and fatal mistake. Let us simply remember that the last chance to eliminate the trade union leaders and re-establish the movement of August 1922 on very different ground occurred at the conference of the Confederation [of Labour] in July [1922] at Genoa. There the reformists were a minority, yet the Maximalists got them to remain at their posts in return for a declaration against parliamentary collaboration, which was no less pernicious than their do-nothing formula: "neither proletarian action nor collaboration". Evidently, besides the old distaste for struggle, Serrati and others were playing a game, trading bit by bit their position and influence in return for re-admission to the International. The formation of the Third Internationalist faction, where those who might have come over to us were invited to remain, basically served to perpetuate the ambiguity. In conclusion, the Maximalist party – which should have disappeared after its split from the reformists – whilst mocking the International and its repeated overtures, and without making any commitment, exploits the situation through casual opportunism. Unfortunately at this difficult time it also exploits workers’ tendency towards inertia, to some extent winning them over to its banner of passive and simulated allegiance with a few revolutionary phrases. Whether or not the situation changes, it is a force destined to exhaust itself in the worst impotence.

And, even without obtaining the merger, the International’s policy prevented the Communist Party from benefitting from certain situations where workers tended to gravitate towards it, albeit in a “relative” sense, since numbers were declining anyway for more serious reasons. Thus, after the strike in August, the most notable fact for the International was still the possibility of a socialist split, and also, in a certain sense, even after the advent of fascism and the reaction unleashed against our party. Instead, our party has been subjected to an abnormally inactive parliamentary regime which is undergoing profound structural change, and where there is a growing state of malaise which contradicts every probability of a turn for the better. Moreover, the differences with the International have led to the formation of a current — the so-called “minority” — which, while posing as orthodox communists, in reality gathers up those who have remained somewhat attached to the old socialist methods after Livorno, and don’t really agree with the (new) clumsy systems of work and responsibility: they have supported the theses of the International, not with lofty and well-founded arguments, but with recalcitrance and sometimes quiet gossip.

As a result of all this, the party is suffering and a remedy is called for. The outcome of this “fusionist” approach threatens the “liquidation” of the party which arose at Livorno and which has fought for over two years, not without honour. This would plunge the Italian proletariat back into the entrails of the most vile Maximalist “centrism” and the Italian working class would not even have a useful experience to draw on for the future from this ordeal.

It may be said that the alarm should have been sounded earlier. But, as we have said about the tactical question, in practice the disagreement was elusive. The method of the International was to present its particular slogans one at a time, whereas we wanted them spelled out and defined in broader relief. Something similar occurred with regard to the fusion itself, and the various alternatives presented by the successive socialist congresses. For example, after the one in 1921, it seemed that fusion was no longer being considered, and even relations with the Third Internationalist faction were, as far as we knew, at least not considered to be official. It was only at the end of 1922 that the divergence appeared in all its seriousness, and only later events revealed that it had developed in a way that the party was scarcely aware of. And, most recently, any hope has been lost for a solution by means of a genuine, broad discussion within the International, as opposed to palliatives contrived in long and painful dealings and with expedients of hardly more than a personal character.

Let us at least refer to a typical point which we proposed to examine.

The meaning of the new tactical slogans of the International, which appeared after the Third Congress — and the Fourth did not have time to discuss tactical theses — has not yet been very well clarified. They bring with them the danger of changes to the programme and principles, a danger now evident in the repeated postponements of the question of the programme and the statutes to 1924. At the same time, the serious problem of organisational discipline has become a desultory and often discontinuous expedient resulting in unpleasant internal crises in many parties and in their relations with the centre.

We are referring to a danger that can become very serious. We are perhaps on the eve of a crisis in the international camp; as the Italian Party we are in the depths of a crisis. These abnormal conditions explain why the questions must be put before every militant, without interrupting for an instant the discipline carried out by the central organs.

Driven by all these serious considerations, which we promise to further illuminate as far as possible, we intend to gather the support of the comrades on these conclusive points:

  • Despite the obstacles presented by the present situation, to provoke a broad discussion and consultation within the party about the value of the experiences of struggle for the party and its programmatic and tactical focus.
  • To provoke, in the appropriate organs of the International, a similar discussion on the conditions of recent and current proletarian struggle in Italy, with a wide scope and beyond contingent and transitory situations that (often) stifle examination of the most important problems.
  • To participate in the discussion of the programme, the organisation and the tactical action of the International, fighting against any revision to the Right, and above all reaching the utmost clarity in deciding the directives.
  • To achieve, through these debates, a concerted assessment of the fundamental problems, so that a complete and clear plan is drawn up to guide the work of the party. On this basis an active effort will be initiated to intensify the work and efficiency of the party, on a line understandable to all the militants and with the most rational participation of all their energies, having thus overcome the reasons and causes of the previous serious state of malaise.

If this debate does not result in substantial consensus with a set of decisions built on common principles — while remaining in our place in the ranks as communist militants according to the will of the majority of the International — we will not take part in the party’s leading bodies, since we know that these must be constituted in line with the directives they are called on to apply. (This is to say that these must be drawn up in a consistent way and by comrades who are perfectly convinced of the directives they are called on to apply).


Would comrades who receive this document make copies of it and distribute them to the party members, also copying this postscript.

Each comrade is asked to send their agreement, or even their opinion, however dissenting, and any communication concerning this document by means of the same comrade who gave them this copy. The reply will travel the same road in a reverse direction.

This document has been sent to the Central Committee of the party and to the International.

It would also be of great interest to spread it abroad. We would be very grateful to anyone doing this in the form of a translation.

The Initiators
written in prison, summer 1923
Monday, August 14, 2023

Revolutionary Perspectives

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