«‹Left-Wing› Communism, an Infantile Disorder» – Condemnation of the renegades to come
III. The cornerstones of bolshevism:
centralisation and discipline
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Since the XXth congress the same people have put on the low act of having repented of dictatorship and terror, only peculiar, for «local» reasons, to the Russian October, and not to the anticapitalist revolution wherever it breaks out. Of course, according to the Kremlin gang, dictatorship must not be seen as a means of struggle for the world revolutionary proletariat; which is to use culture, civilisation, and emulation, in place of terror. But dictatorship, terror, and even more truculent means are still suitable when their power is at stake!
What is the «marxist» doctrine of Bauer-Deutscher? Stalin resumed and appropriated the motto of Lenin, i.e., that the Russian revolution consisted in soviets and electrification. According to them, Stalin had wiped out the soviets, alleged true popular democratic representative body in political assemblies (which are on the contrary a class structure for dictatorship which, Lenin demonstrates in the text we're dealing with, fail if there is no dictatorship of the revolutionary party; and not a new, ludicrous arena for a multiple-party system dance); but he had accomplished electrification. Not only that, he had carried out with it both school and technological education of the Russian people. Such are the foundations of every admirable democratic system, an atmosphere where, according to these people, socialism can breathe; and Stalin had unintentionally laid the foundations of the new Russia, parliamentary, liberal and pluriparty, with free elections, etc.
Kautsky himself – whose venomous temperament had led him since then to say that the crime of dictatorship could only be repaired by an armed repression from outside, which he dreadfully applauded – hurled at such an old Bauer’s thesis.
Kautsky insulted the «partner» Bauer for the latter’s optimism about a «sound» evolution of Russia, while our third man, Adler, sided with Bauer. It is not incorrect to say that Adler was not driven by a confidence of Stalin becoming democratic, but rather by the fear of fascist totalitarianism, that was invading Europe, and by the hope, that would have come true (Adler spoke at that time as secretary of the IInd International, which could outlive the IIIrd, shame of shames!), of the salvation of bourgeois democracy from the fascist danger, thanks to an alliance with Russia (infamy and supreme outrage against the bolshevik tradition).
But the waverings of these professionists of opportunism have not such an importance, as to hide the fundamental significance of their thesis.
It was formulated as follows: The proletarian and socialist revolution in «civilised» and «advanced» countries will take place in a way that will exclude both terror and dictatorship. In Russia, causes have counted, that radically distinguish it from advanced, modern countries. Such causes were not just tsarism, but above all the alleged, tremendous ignorance of Russian people. Those clowns, who believe that Lenin was an Asiatic despot, maintain that if the Russian people were not so much uneducated, they would not have tolerated his methods.
We saw on the contrary, into such a glorious method, the link between the formidable revolutionary instinct of the great Russian proletariat, and the formidable conquest of the view of history derived from its great marxist party, which was already master of the science of tomorrow when the vile professors of the West were still scratching around on the despicable culture of the past.
Instinct is at an inverse ratio to culture, which is spread by the ruling class through its countless, contemptible petty schools. We admire a proletariat that has not even elementary qualifications, but holds the supreme qualification of possessing, because it experiences it, the revolutionary truth, from which the bourgeois science is at a centuries long distance.
It appears vain therefore the tall story according to which Stalin took the way of scholastic petty culture, thus leading the Russian people up to the level of socialism. In such a manner the Russian people were only brought up to the level of bourgeois imbecility, fraught with technologies and academic bodies, of priest- like sermons of modern augurs of the so-called «advancing science», in a world that cowardly draws back.
Although from such a cultural hoax of the Russian people parliamentary liberalism did not emerge, it does not mean that there is no deterministic explanation. Dialectically speaking, the bourgeoisie is living an epoch of free, illuministic progress, which in its first phase is not only a class one, it is also of the humanity. Marx described how in its second phase, both in substructures and super-structures, it would have kept growing as a class, and as a class form (and capitalism is actually growing in America and Russia), while dreadfully sinking into an inhuman and obscurantist social organisation.
Dictatorship is urgent, because in this world the capitalist society asphyxiates us in its degenerescence, and becomes even more feted, owing to the effect among masses of its school, of its publicity media, and of its conquests shouted from the rooftops.
That could not be understood by the Bauers and Adlers, as well as by all present day hack-writers, and by every poor wretch who now and then falls with them into the sewage.
In the second section, Lenin’s work deals with the essential conditions that secured the success in the October revolution to the Russian bolsheviks which will have to take place in all European countries, in order to make possible the proletarian seizure of power. We say European because the likely prospects of 1920 were referred to Western Europe; but it may well concern every country of the world, where the proletariat aspires to victory.
Lenin, while he writes, has before himself two historical realisations: seizure of power in October 1917 and victorious defence of it, for two and a half years, from tremendous assaults. These are his words:
«It is, I think, almost universally realised at present that the Bolsheviks could not have retained power for two and a half months, let alone two and a half years, without the most rigorous and truly iron discipline in our Party, or without the fullest and unreserved support from the entire mass of the working class, that is, from all thinking, honest, devoted and influential elements in it, capable of leading the backward strata or carrying the latter along with them.» (op. cit., p. 514)
Before Lenin explains the vital necessity of the discipline factor, suspected and contested by so many, and defines as befits him the meaning of discipline within both party and class, we'll quote a period that comes a little further, and that parallels the communist fundamental concept of discipline with the other, no less essential, of centralisation, keystone of any marxist construction.
«I repeat: the experience of the victorious dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia has clearly shown even to those who are incapable of thinking or have had no occasion to give thought to the matter that absolute centralisation and rigorous discipline in the proletariat are an essential condition of victory over the bourgeoisie.» (op. cit., p. 514)
Lenin knows that at that time, even in those who defined themselves leftists, hesitations existed upon these two formulae, that always had a very strong bitter taste: «absolute centralisation» and «iron discipline».
The resistance to the above formulae comes from the bourgeois ideology, spread among petty bourgeois, and overflowing from this onto the proletariat; and this is the true danger, against which this classical writing was raised.
The bourgeoisie idealised its tasks in history as a curse on both despotism of absolute monarchies, to which it opposed the freedom of the individual citizen in his economical movements, free from the control of the central state, and oppression of consciences from the religious powers, demanding blind obedience,
Bourgeois radicalism had educated to the rhetoric of free thought, and every call for a discipline of ideas was regarded as a return to clerical obscurantism. This capitalist economic organisation, the real step forward of which had been the concentration of scattered productive forces and an actual concentration of power into the State against the centrifugal feudal dispersion, disguised itself under the literature on the autonomy of private enterprises and economical liberalism. All words about centralisation were rejected as a withdrawal from the path towards freedom, and as a betrayal of liberalism; an exacerbation of which was libertarianism, that had enticed some proletarian strata since the nineteenth century.
One of the wrongful reasons that dangerously fostered the suspicion toward the party form, was that the party, by obliging everybody to think in the same way, was a church, and as all decisions come from the centre, it was a barracks. In the nonsenses of this kind, that for decades have disturbed our work, lies the true infantilism against which Lenin moves with no weakness; and against which, with equal energy, the Marxist Left has always fought, especially the Italian one. Yes, – we always said to comrades, maybe more imprudently than the great Lenin, in a way that could be more savagely attacked by generations of philistine henchmen, still alive today, – if I am in the party my personal head and its critical itchings will have to keep quiet seven times a day, and my actions, shall not derive from my personal will, but from the party’s impersonal will, as history shows and dictates through such an organism.
From which microphone does such a collective force give its orders? We always denied the presence of the mechanical and formalistic rule: it is not the half plus one having the right to speak, although such a bourgeois method will be necessary in many situations; and we do not accept, as a metaphysical rule, the «count of heads» within party, trade unions, councils or class: sometimes the decisive voice will come from the unresting masses, at other times from a group within the party structure (Lenin is not afraid to say, as we have seen: oligarchy), or from an individual, from a Lenin, as happened on April 1917 and on October itself, against the opinion of «all» .
Ours is above all experimental materialism, and we are led by the lessons of history, Lenin says here. If we have won in Russia, no doubt that such an event followed both acceptance of discipline and use of centralisation: two conditions for the victory of proletarian dictatorship. Total acceptance of discipline and centralisation can result in the extreme case, where few, or only one, speak and take decisions, while others not completely convinced or resolute, obey and carry out the orders. And thus proceeds revolutionary history.
Let’s now see, in a remarkable passage the atrocious contrast between discipline and stupid whim of «I want to think with my personal mind», peculiar to the anarchist individualist; between centralisation and dispersion, autonomy, molecular fragmentation of both economical production and social forms.
«The dictatorship of the proletariat means a most determined and most ruthless war waged by the new class against a more powerful enemy, the bourgeoisie, whose resistance is increased tenfold by their overthrow (even if only in a single country), and whose power lies, not only in the strength of international capital, the strength and durability of their international connections, but also in the force of habit, in the strength of small-scale production. Unfortunately, small-scale production is still widespread in the world, and small-scale production engenders capitalism and the bourgeoisie continuously, daily, hourly, spontaneously, and on a mass scale. All these reasons make the dictatorship of the proletariat necessary, and victory over the bourgeoisie is impossible without a long, stubborn and desperate life-and-death struggle which calls for tenacity, discipline, and a single and inflexible will.» (op. cit., p.514)
In these words, that we left with Lenin’s stressings, a succession of notions return, upon all of which we have a duty to dwell, profoundly reflecting, even if we may be considered pedantic.
The revolutionary act, that the anarchist and the infantile revolutionary see as instantaneous, or at least reduced to the proportions of a battle, and that for the bourgeois used to be a general, decisive uprising, is instead just the opening of a period of social war, the revolutionary dictatorship. The causes of it are of a different nature, firstly internal, national, then international, and finally «social».
First of all, taking the power from the bourgeoisie (if only it were already all monopolistic! then the initial victory would be easier, and the war shorter) does not mean having rooted it out of the economical society. The meaning of the dictatorship is that from that moment on the bourgeois parties are scattered, and the bourgeois have no representation in the new State, both as a class and as individuals. The meaning of class terror is that they will be given to understand that any attempt to regain political importance will get extermination as a response. But it does not mean that the bourgeois minority will be either eliminated or exiled. In quite a few companies, as during the first years in Russia after 1917, the owner will only be under control, not so much of his workers, as of the proletarian state. An extremely dangerous period, but less dangerous than the total stoppage of physical production: which, according to the libertarian illusion, soon after the day-long battle is supposed to be carried on by virtue of the famous spontaneous association of producers!
Thus the politically defeated bourgeoisie is even more powerful (Lenin is crystal-clear, and defies the accusation of paradox) and, owing to the several reasons we are patiently listing, ten times more than before! It can now stop a factory of ammunitions, and can cause a defeat at the front, where the armies of other national bourgeoisies are attacking. A factory firing squad will be ready for him: but, even if for him eight bullets will be sufficient, the shot will leave without arms a revolutionary unit.
Reasons of production, not only of foodstuffs but also of arms, make therefore the bourgeoisie dangerous, even after it has been deprived of power, when it cannot yet be deprived of all productive and managerial, technical functions.
Moreover, there is the difficult international question. We did not make, as we do not for the future, the hypothesis that the bourgeoisie will lose its political power in several capitalist countries on the same day. Should we make such a cunning mistake, we would be victims of the trap of social democrats, who want us to abstain from seizing power «in only one country». It is instead what we will always have to do, as it is the only way for world revolution to historically get started. We'll always bring down the weakest among bourgeois states, and in 1917 such was the very young Russian state, precisely because it was coming from the fall of the feudal regime.
The parenthesis you’ve read in Lenin means that for us, from the point of view of the «victorious proletarian dictatorship», the least favourable situation is when the other states are still in the hands of the bourgeoisie. If in a given historical period some more, neighbouring states would fall, the situation of the victorious communist dictatorship would consistently improve. Such hypotheses appear today abstract, but at that time they were close to being realised. In January 1919 we had all hoped to see the victory of the gloriously attempted spartacist revolution in Germany. In 1919 we fell, after having won, and we fell for mistakes that could have been avoided (hesitations of a demo-libertarian type on dictatorship enforcement), in Hungary. Soon after the same, or almost the same, took place in Bavaria. Lenin speaks because these tremendous moments were then under the very eyes of all Europeans at that time, as he fears further failures if neglects, both in striking and acting, will occur. It must be remembered that in 1920, during the very same weeks of the IInd Congress, the Russian-Polish war was being fought, and we were only a few kilometres from Warsaw. The interposition of the states, rapidly formed after the victory over Germany and Austria, had created a buffer between red Russia and Berlin, Budapest and Munich strongholds, fallen without the chance of getting any help. Had Warsaw been taken, even if through a merely military action, with its strong proletariat and communist party, the program of conquering central-western Europe would have revived in history. But the sharp-eyed bourgeoisie of France supported with its means and with its «heroic» generals the tottering Polish sister, and the revolutionary wave was halted. (Well-known are the polemics between Trotsky and Stalin on the disastrous diversion of the Russian attack from the vital objective of Warsaw. A mistaken telegram can change the history of decades and decades).
What Lenin says in this text is that no unburdening whatsoever came for the first dictatorship of Moscow, that had, alone, overthrown a state bourgeoisie; and that its struggle continued in the worst conditions, because the international factor played a role in strengthening the capital and its international bourgeois connections, as we have read.
Before proceeding to the very important social question, which requires the dictatorship vigour. (obtained through centralism and dictatorship), it is worth remarking that for Lenin it has never been the matter of the foul phrase: indifference to the internal affairs of foreign countries with a different regime!
All Lenin (and all the revolutionary communists of the time of the IIIrd International formation) worried about was to work on the proletarian power in Russia, and above all on the outstanding teachings that the experience of it had given, by clearly confirming the «rightness of marxist revolutionary theory» (which we'll soon meet), to exert an influence on the internal equilibrium of «other countries», to blow it up, to sweep away their constitutional structure. Lenin here discusses and chooses the means; and he wants to teach us that it would be metaphysical apriorism, not Marxism, to discard some of them on the grounds that they are not beautiful, not elegant, not pleasant, or not clean, as many left wing infantiles were stupidly doing. But, first, the goal must be understood. On certain circumstances, according to Lenin, by working within parliament it is possible to contribute to upset the national equilibrium and the bourgeois constitution. There are not «a priori» reasons to refuse to discuss such a possibility on positive bases; on the contrary, it cannot be excluded that historical situations occur, in which we'll give an affirmative answer. But when one goes to respect and defend the constitutional structure, as well as to urge on masses to perpetuate it, then it is no longer the matter of Lenin’s problem: are his goals to be reversed and repudiated.
We are not yet dealing with parliamentarism, but we'll have the opportunity of showing the way Lenin faces the problem: in order to have the parliament dead as quickly as possible, is it better to act from the outside or from the inside? We were doubtful about his solution, as he was about ours, but before those who «respect the internal regime and the parliamentary constitution» of Italy, or of any other country, we would have vied with each other to throw fire-balls against such a mob.
The concept, according to which the bourgeoisie is still a powerful enemy after the victory of dictatorship, will be repeated by Lenin word for word in another passage, where he will deal with «compromises». Here are almost the same words:
«After the first socialist revolution of the proletariat, and the overthrow of the bourgeoisie in some country, the proletariat of that country remains for a long time weaker than the bourgeoisie, simply because of the latter’s extensive international links, and also because of the spontaneous and continuous restoration and regeneration of capitalism and the bourgeoisie by the small commodity producers of the country which has overthrown the bourgeoisie». (op. cit., p. 550)
Thus, when the very modern swines say that Lenin established the theory according to which the country of the isolated, socialist victory must abstain from stirring the revolution in other countries, inviting them to pacifically «exist» with their full capitalist structure, is an answer still necessary? Lenin had already answered forty years ago, with two exact perspectives, of which the one unfavourable to us took place. The good perspective is that the country of socialist political victory succeeds in stirring up the revolution in many foreign countries, with the result that its proletariat from weak would turn up strong against the internal resistances. Otherwise, as according to Stalin, it refrains from fostering the international revolution; in that case, internal mercantilism and small commodity producers spontaneously regenerate internal, social capitalism, and give in to the international bourgeoisie – as they indecently cohabited with it, they may openly join it! – thus shamelessly outraging both the October tradition and Lenin’s doctrine .
We, revolutionary communists, have lost the class war; but, if not our organisation of a world party – in conformity with the fears the left expressed in vain to Lenin himself –, the «rightness of our theory» was spared. Those who today vaunt their leninism are at the bottom of the shitty marsh; Lenin remains, as a theoretician of history, high and unsullied.
The communist proletariat has won, and its party firmly holds the dictatorship in its hand; but, apart from the danger coming from abroad, even after the victory in the civil war against the white bands, an internal danger remains, on the definition of which Lenin gives an unambiguous formula: small production.
In the marxist sense small production is more dangerous than the big one, before and after dictatorship; and the process for which large numbers of small producers succumb can be described by communists to the deluded petty bourgeoisie, but it can be neither opposed nor averted.
On innumerable occasions we have shown the power of such a thesis, not in a few sentences but in all the pages of Marx and Engels.
In Lenin marxist dialectics attains its height, and to follow him is arduous; yet the renegades are not guilty of ignorance, but rather of open scoundrelness. The Italian word carogna (carrion – translated in this text as scoundrel), in its proper meaning, indicates the carcass of an animal that cannot be blamed for its stench, of which the animal-man takes care of by means of the most fleeting myth and rite, the burial. But we use the word in its figurative meaning, as good guests of our country’s prisons. When in prison, the delinquent does not despise the fellow delinquent, like him wretched, and sees by instinct the victim, making no graded list of iniquities. One category is excluded: the scoundrel, that is the spy, the squealer to the prison-structure that oppresses all, that who for filthy lucre embitters the fate of his mates.
Going back to Lenin’s passage, it should be noted that the expression small commodity producer has the same value of member of non-proletarian masses. When he deals with such a social collectivity (which includes small holding peasants and city craftsmen, and similar forms), Lenin maintains that the revolutionary proletariat must turn them into its allies, and he maintains that not only as regards the phase of the struggle against tsarism, but also for the following one, that of the struggle against the industrial and agrarian capitalist bourgeoisie. But when Lenin speaks about this economical and social type, of this spurious form that is not only present in Russia but also in many other European countries, to different extents but always in a quantitatively considerable size, then he refers to this form as to the greatest danger for the already established proletarian dictatorship. As long as such an economical type of small production of commodities, both agricultural and manufactured will be tolerated in the changing society, there will be a base from which inevitably, using the same words of Lenin, capitalism, dictatorship will arise, daily, hourly, through a spontaneous and continuous regeneration.
In which way will the communist dictatorship avoid such a regeneration? Certainly not by exterminating the peasant and artisan strata, or small producers at large, who can statistically be more numerous than the proletariat itself. If the dictatorship cannot physically annihilate the industrial bourgeoisie itself, or either exile it or imprison it, for a given period in which it will still be indispensable for the production, such a period shall be much longer for those classes. Whereas private property will be fairly rapidly abolished in large-size concerns, we will have to tolerate it for a long time in these very small (and not only very small) concerns. About the duration of such phases, and on the error that Stalin made by shortening them in 1928 with the alleged collectivisation and with the extermination of Kulaks, or rich peasants, we already said everything in the many studies of ours on the Russian structure, in the one presently being published (in «Il Programma Comunista», summer-autumn 1960), in «Dialogato coi Morti» (1956), and in «L’économie russe de la révolution d’Octobre a nos jours» (1963).
What is then the remedy, wanted and proposed by Lenin, for such a very serious danger, while the proletariat must «coexist» (here unfortunately the term is appropriate) with the classes of small mercantile production? It is for the time being just a party and political remedy; and it is quite unequivocally indicated as discipline and centralisation. This is what the bolsheviks had opportunely understood, and that made possible their victory in the colossal «manoeuvre» of making use of the hatred of both peasants and some strata of the working petty bourgeoisie against tsarism and against the Russian bourgeoisie, which only a short time before was an ally for them; while assuring nevertheless the hegemonic leadership of the proletariat on such hybrid classes, as well as the supremacy of the communist party, which little by little routed and destroyed the political organisations coming from such strata: the menshevik socialdemocratic party and social revolutionary, populist party, supporters of a non-marxist and non-proletarian formula of the Russian revolution.
It is indubitable that, in non-euphemistic terms, centralisation and discipline mean unequivocal subordination. Small producing classes are subordinated to the proletariat, the hegemonic class in the revolution; and when Lenin speaks of discipline within the party, as well as within the proletariat, he means that the proletarian class as a whole must submit to the rigorous leadership of its vanguard, organised within the communist political party.
Such a positioning of the party at the summit worried the infantile prejudices that Lenin had to struggle against in this writing. According to such «immediatists» (that we fought in Italy and abroad, then and now, in this post-war period and always), a system of proletarian consultation must give the party its policy, and determine, through a more or less electoral mechanism, its obedience; while we maintain that the party must demand such an obedience from the class and from the masses, as only the party can synthesise all the revolutionary historical experience of all times and of all countries. Lenin here shows that the bolshevik party was able to do so, and that’s why it won, and now points such a way to all countries.
The events did not allow Lenin, in the heated year of 1920, to write the complete history of the bolshevik party, that he indicates as an indispensable source in order to understand how discipline, necessary to the revolutionary proletariat, could be built up. But the ideas he gives are more than sufficient to understand the problem.
The basis of discipline comes in the first place from the «class-consciousness of the proletarian vanguard», i . e., of that proletarian minority that gathers in the party; soon after Lenin draws attention to the qualities of such a vanguard with «passionate», rather than rational, words, by pointing out, as shown in many other writings of his («What is to be done?») that the communist proletariat joins the party instinctively rather than rationally. Such a thesis had been maintained as far back as 1912 by the Italian socialist youth against the «immediatists» – who always are, like the anarchists, «educationists» –, in the struggle between culturists and anti-culturists, as they were called at that time; whereas it is understood that the latter ones, by requiring of the young revolutionary faith and sentiment rather than school preparation, proved to comply with strict materialism, and with the rigour of party theory. Lenin, who’s holding an enlistment rather than an academy, refers to qualities of «devotion, tenacity, self-sacrifice, heroism». We, faint pupils, have recently, with dialectic resolution, dared to openly call a «mystical» fact that of adhering to the party.
This in the first place. Secondly, Lenin requires for this vanguard:
«…ability to link up, maintain the closest contact, and – if you wish – merge, in certain measure, with the broadest masses of the working people – primarily with the proletariat, but also with the non-proletarian masses of working people.» (op. cit., p.515)
But to link up does not mean that, if the «temperature» of the masses is cold, pacifist, conciliatory, the party must lower itself to that level, as the Tartuffes of opportunism pretend to read here. The meaning of linking up is that the connection of the masses with the party raises the revolutionary temperature; in fact – as we have many times said, although it’s not our discovery –, only by «organising itself into a political party» the shapeless working mass (infected by small production) can be selected into the proletarian class. Without the revolutionary party there’s no true class, subject of history, and tomorrow of revolutionary dictatorship.
But it is the third place that greatly interests us, as an explanation of the first two, from which it cannot be separated:
«Third, by the correctness of the political leadership exercised by this vanguard, by the correctness of its political strategy and tactics, provided the broad masses have seen, from their own experience, that they are correct.» (op. cit., p.515)
We believe the above passage, in connection with many others, fundamental as it establishes what we would call «theory of rightness». If the masses must verify, through their own experience within the real historical struggle, the rightness of the revolutionary party strategy, it means that the party, on the path of history, precedes the masses.
The party, by virtue of its interpretative theory of past history, enabled itself to foresee to a certain extent the development of history to come, of the class struggles that will follow those of the past in the alternation of social forms. The party foresaw, and in a sense actually foretold, which will be in a crucial phase the thrusts that will sway the masses, and which class, provided with a theory and with a party, will be the protagonist of the struggle. When the above will take place, then even the masses with more blurred outlines will see how the past resolute side was trained in the struggle, and the fact that such a party had rightly foreseen the events, the drawing up of the forces in a general conflict, will get into their experience. Lenin will later show how the Russian peasantry saw since 1905 that the industrial proletarians were at the head of the struggle. When he moves on discussing the fading of the various parties that had tried to theorise the revolution, having in view the attempt to lead it later, he shows how the construction, according to which peasants and small producers at large would have been in Russia the personification of the revolution by becoming its hegemonic class, came to nothing. This was populism, the leaning and theoretical aberrations of which date back to old Proudhon, on the one hand, and on the other occur again, imprudently, today, in the last wave of the present day, pro-Russia and pro-Kremlin, opportunism. The peasants themselves realised that even the game of liberation from feudalism would have been lost, had not been ahead of them the far more seasoned workers with their bolshevik party; as the same events had got rid of the mensheviks, it appeared before the eyes of the small producers that such parties, not owing to polemical insinuations of communists but de facto, were acting as allies of big production, and of the counterrevolution itself.
Here is an actual example of what is the checking, in the experience of large masses, of the rightness of the class revolutionary party’s political strategy.
In order to make such a combination of favourable circumstances possible, the party must, as it had to, have spoken before, without being, like the petty bourgeois parties, awaiting to see how it turns out, or which move meets with the masses’ approval. Party theory must not only be a scientifical explanation of past events, it must also be a courageous anticipation of future deeds. Masses must experience them, but it is right to say that the party knows them beforehand.
At this point they try to justify the filthy palinody of Stalin, and today his successors, against «the dogmatics, the talmudics», by means of a passage of Lenin, who is supposed to have written in these pages that theory is not a dogma; which is understood in the foolish sense that the party must always be ready and prone to change it to create a new one.
Whilst quoting almost in full the text of Lenin, it is worth reminding that we are utilising the edition in the Italian language of the «Selected Works», edited in Moscow, 1948 (Vol. II, p. 550–612). The events of the past forty years made it difficult to have available one of the original editions of the time, in the various languages; and we believe that not even the readers possess any of them.
The text of the quoted translation, after speaking about the conditions that secured to the Russian bolshevik party the success in establishing the true discipline and centralisation, which we broadly expounded, says:
«On the other hand, these conditions cannot emerge at once.»
(Let us stop a little on this incidental thesis, to think of those wandering spirits who, thinking themselves marxists, propose: let us then have a meeting, and found the perfect party, disciplined and centralised! But even the party is the result of history; and such was the central observation of the left in all the Moscow discussions on the party’s task and tactics):
«They are created only by prolonged effort and hard-won experience» (even that coming from the scoundrels’ deeds); «Their creation is facilitated by a correct revolutionary theory, which, in its turn, is not a dogma, but assumes final shape only in close connection with the practical activity of a truly mass and truly revolutionary movement.» (op. cit., p.515)
The opportunists, who understood nothing of Lenin, or who have understood but in many cases make believe they haven’t, comment on this passage in the well known way. Theory is never finished, it continuously undergoes changes, and only after the completion of the series of proletarian revolutions it will be scientifically possible to write the doctrine of the anticapitalist revolution. Such an interpretation is not only mistaken, it serves to achieve diametrically opposed results and aims, if compared to those Lenin is resolved upon when he sets to writing this famous «‹Left-wing› communism». As a matter of fact, they want to establish what follows: in Russia and in Lenin’s and bolsheviks’ revolution certain peculiarities occurred; but history will show that in further «national» revolutions they shall disappear, and that violent insurrection, dictatorship, terrorism, and the dispersal of the democratic and constituent parliament exerted by the soviet power and by the communist party, will not take place. Lenin intended on the contrary to demonstrate that the Russian revolution has forever destroyed the socialdemocratic version of the transition from capitalism to socialism, and he showed that those Russian peculiarities are obligatory for all countries. The «right- wing» traitors of World War I were – we all believed it – out of action once and for all; but Lenin was worrying about the left-wing infantiles, who were saying: Couldn’t we make the future revolutions by avoiding, sparing, if not the armed and bloody strife to overthrow the old regime (they did not go that far; but modern scoundrels do), at least the use of a party that despotically silences dissents, centralises everything, and treads the returns of free elections underfoot?
Lenin started his historical analysis of the bolshevik way to revolution with two important facts: discipline and centralisation. He then sought to understand which distinctive features secured such an achievement, and indicated the bonds with masses, historically thrusted toward a revolutionary movement, the passionate devotion of the party vanguard, the rightness of both strategy and tactics, Without all this, he says, there’s no true discipline and centralisation, and the revolutionary power, even if seized, is to be lost afterwards. He now enunciates the conditions for the favourable conditions, which are a long time of development and the elaboration of the long experience, made easy by (the verb may appear weak, but the meaning is: made possible only by) the right revolutionary theory.
Lenin here does not make a statement, he rather demonstrates, and he does so not by philosophising but by explaining facts; he will therefore explain soon after how and why the bolshevik party, the only one in Russia, succeeded in having the right revolutionary theory, and consequently the indispensable discipline and centralisation. He does not want to write: I enunciated the theory thirty years before, and therefore «I made the revolution», as I have been able to direct on it the faith of many others and, finally, of the waiting masses. In this sense, theory is not a dogma: we accept the formula, and wouldn’t even dream of changing it with the other one: the party theory is a dogma. But, should the formula become the other one, that the party theory will be tomorrow the most convenient one, coming from the lessons of the presently unknown facts of tomorrow, then we would say that such is the construction of opportunism and not of leninism; and rather than such an opportunist formula we would certainly prefer the one that says: Party theory is to be accepted as a dogma.
What does dogma mean? In its proper sense it means revealed truth, by a supernatural entity, to a man chosen by God, the prophet; and others cannot see it unless they repeat and respect such revealed words. In this sense we are poles apart from any dogmatism, and to enounce this is quite superfluous. The bourgeois themselves, during the historical phase in which they were revolutionary and the churches supported the feudal regimes, boasted their overcoming any sort of dogmatism. But marxists’ antidogmatism is radically different from theirs. The bourgeois philosophy counters the acceptation of the religious dogma with the principle of individual freedom of judgement; according to such a principle the subject, typically a petty-bourgeois one, boasts that, rather than accepting from the priest his beautiful, ready made and written from the church petty doctrine, he makes it by himself, just with his own brain of a classical «freethinker». We, on the contrary, as we have not been waiting for the truth of divine revelation, we marxists counter an opposed class truth by means of a class truth, and, rather as philosophemes or ideologisms, we see them as arms of the practical and historical class struggle.
On the side of the proletarian struggle is a class party, with a class truth. It is precisely because we don’t believe in the bourgeois science, which pretends to be an eternal and definitive victory on the «dogma», that we maintain that only our class truth is «scientifical». It means that the bourgeoisie is unable to achieve the social science, and that only the proletarian revolution and its party can do so, by breaking off with all sorts of bourgeois thought. It is our thesis (but at the right time we'll show it in Marx’s and Lenin’s works) that such an incapacity for capitalist «civilisation» and «culture» to possess the social and historical science means incapacity towards science at large, towards the knowledge of nature and universe, even in the physical field. Therefore a general yardstick for «science» doesn’t exist, by which our conclusions and those of the bourgeois world can be judged. Who believes that is a true khruschevian, a champion of emulation, for the competition for more capital and more technology, cowardly substituted to the civil war.
That is why the bourgeoisie, as far as social and political matters are concerned, turned to the defamed dogma and, especially since it pretends to appear democratic and pacifist, has put back into such a dogma the ingredient God, and the «a priori» moral.
Marxist theory, that we'll see was not invented by the bolshevik party but rather taken by Western Europe, is the only theory that can explain the future proletarian revolution, and also the only one able to explain the bourgeois revolution, as well as all revolutions; it is politically true for double revolutions, that is the close up revolutions of contemporary history, of which Russia gave the only victorious example – although it was not the only fought example. Russia gave an earlier fought, and not victorious even in the bourgeois sense, example, with the colossal struggles of 1905, where the proletariat already acted as protagonist.
Under such a circumstance Russian backwardness, normally a negative condition, turned into being a favourable one.
If such a picture of historical events is not taken into account, then it’s useless to try to read Lenin. It might be inferred exactly the opposite. And whoever reads as a mercenary forger, let him go to hell.
«The fact that, in 1917–20, Bolshevism was able, under unprecedently difficult conditions, to build up and successfully maintain the strictest centralisation and iron discipline» (the dialectical chain is not interrupted) «was due simply to a number of historical peculiarities of Russia.» (op. cit., p.515)
But the peculiarities of Russia consisted just of the fact that, owing to the presence of tsarism, exiled revolutionaries acquired Marxism, which got formed in the West, not in books but from the real struggle of masses, These phases of real social struggle are given by the revolutions of the nineteenth century. Lenin is about to say it; then the marxist «theory» of revolution is complete, not just in 1920, when Lenin writes, it was already so in 1871, or rather in 1850, when Marx outlined it.
«On the other hand, Bolshevism arose in 1903 on a very firm foundation of marxist theory. The correctness of this revolutionary theory, and of it alone, has been proved, not only by world experience throughout the nineteenth century, but especially by the experience of the seekings and vacillations, the errors and disappointments of revolutionary thought in Russia. For about half a century – approximately from the forties to the nineties of the last century – progressive thought in Russia, oppressed by a most brutal and reactionary tsarism, sought eagerly for a correct revolutionary theory, and followed with the utmost diligence and thoroughness each and every ‹last word› in this sphere in Europe and America. Russia achieved Marxism – the only correct revolutionary theory – through the agony she experienced in the course of half a century of unparalleled torment and sacrifice, of unparalleled revolutionary heroism, incredible energy, devoted searching, study, practical trial, disappointment, verification, and comparison with European experience. Thanks to the political emigration caused by tsarism, revolutionary Russia, in the second half of the nineteenth century, acquired a wealth of international links and excellent information on the forms and theories of the world revolutionary movement, such as no other country possessed.» (op. cit., p.515)
We resisted the temptation of underlining the fundamental formulae of this passage. The reader is to understand that the experience, sufficient to consolidate forever the theory of revolution, requires a large struggle of masses, but it has been already given by the revolutions of the nineteenth century, and it is already definitive by the end of that century. We could quote ten passages of Lenin and Marx in order to establish that even the French revolution of the eighteenth century was an engagement of masses of people by the millions, sufficient to construct straight off the doctrine we're declaring to be immutable since 1848.
Besides, the favourable peculiarities of Russia were that, in the first place, in order to achieve the antifeudal and antidespotic revolution, the masses had to irresistibly rise to action; then, the mistakes of non-marxist parties led them to terrible disappointments (the Italian Left several times engaged, especially in 1918, before reading Lenin, in the «critique of the other schools» with particular regard to anarchism, syndicalism and factory counciliarism) and defeats of the proletarian struggle; thirdly, it was not the matter of the Asiatic, Mongolian, Cossack circumstances, as our foul adversaries were blathering at the time, but of pure internationalist circumstances; i.e., the ascertainment that the school, the training ground, and, better still, the bloody battlefield of the revolution, are not national, neither Russian or German, English, French or Italian, they are European and, with words that Lenin, impeccable even in the heat, here does not use at random, of the world.
The whole text aims to show the greatness of the Russian revolution, not as the formation of a «socialist country» – a miserable formula –, but as a typical demonstration, still unsurpassed, of the universal dynamics of the communist revolution.
The text of Lenin has shown here how the doctrine on which the bolshevik party was founded had a European and world origin, rather than a Russian and local one, and how the spread of such a theory, marxism, the only right theory on a world-wide scale, in Russia was favoured by the «emigration» of revolutionaries, as an effect of tsarist persecutions. Around the year 1900 there were, in every city of Western Europe – as well as of other continents –, real colonies of Russian refugees, exiled or emigrated for their political positions, who kept in close contact with the advanced parties abroad, and made important contribution to those parties’ activities; in Italy, it is enough to think of Kuliscioff, Balabanoff, and others.
The clash among doctrinal ideologies was in these colonies constant and very lively, and could be continuously compared with the political struggles within the host countries.
Then Lenin moves to describe a phenomenon that, although moving in the opposite direction, is complementary and integrative of the former one. Russia has pumped the theory from the West but, enforcing it with the facts, in the famous «tactics», it rapidly surpassed the teachers, and achieved a tactical experience of its own, which the countries still under bourgeois rule should have taken to heart.
Without falling into oversimplification or schematism, let us follow a little these two opposite flows, which historically failed in fertilising each other, and therefore in giving to the revolution its world victory.
The peculiar conditions of the Russian movement, that enabled it to rapidly and greatly drink deep from the Western revolutionary thought, were the survival of despotism, its resistance against the internal attacks, and the flow of revolutionary vanguards out of Russia.
The peculiarity that allowed the not less rapid accumulation of strategical and tactical experiences goes back substantially to the same cause: last country in Europe, Russia had not yet accomplished its great liberal revolution, that more clearly can be called antifeudal and antiabsolutist. It had in common such a situation, as far as Europe was concerned, only with Turkey, but the latter, although having at that time its capital in Europe, was an Asiatic state.
It was therefore generally expected a political «democratic» revolution to burst out soon in Russia; and that it could not be kept within the incomplete framework of the concession, from the traditional dynasty, of just a parliamentary type constitution.
For quite a time all socialists had believed that such a revolution was to take place in the presence of a far more developed proletarian movement, if compared to those existing in the European countries at the time of the nineteenth century revolutions; and a rapid «grafting» of two consecutive revolutions, the bourgeois one and the proletarian one, could be expected. Marx and Engels had said it openly; in fact, they believed that the tsarist power in Russia was a true European police against the proletariat, and that the Russian liberal revolution would set off the proletarian revolution, not only in Russia, but even in the whole of Europe.
Without (for a while) thinking of what happened afterwards, it is worth remarking that the expectation of the grafting of the two class revolutions into one had not been made then for the first time by marxists. It had been fully theorised for Germany in 1848.
One more remark is important. Lenin is here about to point out that such a «plan» of historical strategy is not only rich of teachings when successful (and he’s explaining the only favourable historical example), but even when its outcome is a defeat: he refers to the Russian 1905, but it is clear that it applies to all proletarian defeats, not only to those of 1848 in almost all Central Western Europe, but even to that of Paris Commune in 1871, from which both Marx and Lenin have always drawn great contributions, not just to the doctrine of the workers’ revolution, but also to the principles of its strategy and tactics. Even in 1871 the proletariat of Paris attempted what had been already tried in 1830 and in 1848, that was to achieve, under the force of a democratic revolution, and of the fall of a dynastic power, its own class victory.
With the introduction of the above references, always useful although often repeated and universally known, we can read the passage of Lenin, that closes the second chapter, on the conditions that allowed the success of the bolsheviks.
«On the other hand, Bolshevism, which had risen on this granite foundation of theory»
(we have seen before that he refers to marxist theory, that the text defines as granite, i.e., well-established in an unchanged form, and no longer susceptible of any plasticity or elasticity, a fashionable term for opportunists, as well as for the defamation of Lenin),
«went through fifteen years of practical history (1903–17) unequalled anywhere in the world in its wealth of experience. During those fifteen years, no other country knew anything even approximating to that revolutionary experience, that rapid and varied succession of different forms of the movement – legal and illegal, peaceful and stormy, underground and open, local circles and mass movements, and parliamentary and terrorist forms. In no other country has there been concentrated, in so brief a period, such a wealth of forms, shades, and methods of struggle of all classes of modern society, a struggle which, owing to the backwardness of the country and the severity of the tsarist yoke, matured with exceptional rapidity, and assimilated most eagerly and successfully the appropriate «last word» of American and European political experience.» (op. cit., p.515–6)
The construction of Lenin, dated 1920, lays its bases on the following two contributions: the West providing the Russians with the theory, and Russia providing «experimental evidence», thus proving the theory as right and granitic, through fifteen years of social convulsions to which immense masses of men of all classes take part; and thus leading, for the first time in history, to the result that the working class establishes its own dictatorship.
The contribution of Russia is not only that of a test field, enabling us to say: our marxist theory proved to be the right one; it is also that of a campaign of social and class war which, having for the first time led to victory as well as confirmed the dialectical lessons of campaigns followed by defeats, enables us to establish the universal rules of our party, strategy and tactics.
They have no right to say that theory can only be established after the victory, being all the previous ones uncertain, and susceptible of transformation. First of all, if it were true, we should still ask those who deviated from Lenin why have they then abandoned the theory, according to which armed insurrection, dictatorship, terror dispersal of parliamentary and democratic organs, are not local tactical expedients, but rather cornerstones of both doctrine and programme, valid, obligatory, for all countries.
When Lenin wrote the famous sentence, that theory is not a dogma, he did not mean that the theory, before October 1917, was a blank page, let alone that it would become such afterwards, at the disposal of Stalin’s and Khruschev’s wills. Lenin only meant to say that the theory did not arise (as it is the case of the dogma, based on a text that has been revealed by the divinity to an exceptional or chosen man) from the discovery of an author, or a clever leader, it could only arise after, through the effect of, and owing to the lessons of large historical movements of immense masses; and that such lessons can be learnt only outside the old class and school prejudices.
Now, in a sense for the first time in human history, the revolutions caused by the capitalist bourgeoisie have taken the shape of not passive, but rather active movements and thrusts of immense masses. The French revolution was fought by all, maybe a bit less by bankers and industrialists, by the «economy operators» of that time. Peasants, serfs, villagers, students, intellectuals, poets, workers of the early manufacturers, made up the ranks of the revolutionary war: the proletariat was born already in both industry and agriculture, but did not become imbued with only bourgeois ideology, it also tested the first attacks on the newborn ruling class, and although in extremely vanguard groups, followed the raw, as well as great, communism of Babeuf and Buonarroti.
The discovery of Marx is bound to the historical experience of the struggle of very large masses within the bourgeois revolution, and to the statement, made possible only by that wave of historical deeds, that the revolution was not to be theorised in the way it theorised itself, but in a new way. The doctrine of the proletarian revolution is dialectically constructed at the same time of the construction of that of the bourgeois revolution, but opposed to it; because the illuminist forerunners of the 1789 revolution introduced their doctrine – no matter if they acted in good or bad faith – as the liberation of the whole of mankind, and they were not aware of its class nature.
Nothing would be left of our centuries-old construction of history (or it would just keep an incomparable «artistic» value, for its harmony and consistent completeness) if it were not true that the first class to possess the key of history is the modern proletariat, and that it does not grasp it when victorious in its titanic and world-wide struggle, but, on the contrary, since its birth and since its first tests in its early struggles; which it carries out, owing to an historical necessity, not for itself but for the class of its exploiters that, as a battering-ram, will clear its shining path.
Whoever wants it, we're saying it as we'll repeat it countless times, can get rid of both Marx and Lenin, subordinating their splendid pages to the idiotic superstition of hindsights; but those who deny that in Lenin and for Lenin the theory was engraved in a granite block since the 1st International of the proletariat constructed it on the lessons coming from the struggles of waves of men, that took place in the first half of nineteenth century in Europe, they are just scoundrels, not contradictors, and do not belong to the class. As it is thanks to such a lesson that Lenin and his party were able to describe, before it actually occurred, the most glorious deed of man’s social drama, the Russian October revolution.
The party doctrine, the programme, establish the goal of our struggle, as well as the fundamental stages it will have to go through in the course of its development. Are therefore doctrinal and programmatic cornerstones: the armed insurrection against the established state, the destruction of its power and administration machinery, the dispersal of democratic parliaments, the proletarian dictatorship, and consequently the hegemonic function of the working class within the society, above and against all other classes, the primary function of the political party in all these stages of the great course of events; are likewise part of such a body of fundamental points the social characters of the communist structure, as well as those of the bourgeois structure, which will be uprooted at the right time by the revolution, up to the classless and stateless society.
In order to go through this succession of stages, both the party and the proletariat must make use of the right means. Before the revolutionary phase peaceful propaganda and still unarmed agitation (and even, in due moments and places, the participation to organs of the bourgeois society such as parliaments and the like) are quite permitted and provided for, as means and methods of large-scale employment. Of course, their use cannot and must not contradict the programme’s stages.
The never-ending dispute among parties, currents, tendencies, often within the same party, that occurred between the last two centuries, has always fallen into the misunderstanding of relying on a careful choice of means, rather than that of the tasks to be achieved. In this lies the whole revisionism and opportunism.
Bernstein, against whom Lenin throws himself here and everywhere, dictated the formula according to which the end is nothing, the movement is all. At first sight, such a formula appears just cynical, Machiavellian; it seems to say that all the means are good but, as far as the final aims are concerned, we know nothing, and it is up to the future to show them to us. But opportunism was to soon unmask and expose itself to a greater extent. Although always agnostical about purposes and final aims, it made a place list of means, and choose among them: some good, some bad. The question of principle, worth nothing for it as far as the programme was concerned, was introduced for the tactical choices. Lenin did not say: it is decent to choose as one pleases. Lenin was on the contrary the one who forever exposed the scoundrels, by showing how the traitors used to choose the means in order to better serve the principles that suited the counterrevolution. Before Lenin, the revisionist, the reformist was the one who wanted to proceed always more slowly. By him, and by ourselves, his last pupils, such people were called reactionary, i.e. conservatives and restorers of the bourgeois power.
The distinction among tactics was the same as that today openly made by the parties of all countries that tail behind Moscow; yes to peaceful propaganda, no to armed struggle, neither today or ever. Yes to democracy, no to dictatorship, neither today or ever (a pardon for Lenin and October; that little man, that incident!). Yes to elections and constitutions, no to parliaments dissolution, and (always) neither today, or tomorrow, or ever.
Lenin here says, in his long list of antitheses, that in those fifteen years – with ten parties and many more sub-parties, as from the historical view of the fourth chapter – all «means» were brought into play and underwent a test, from the fabian pietism (let us put it down as the last word from the West) to the dynamite attack. He certainly says more: i.e. almost all, if not all, those means brought into play that have been listed were experienced by the bolshevik party itself, as in those fifteen years that party went through one hundred and eighty years of history (a little further he'll say: «one month counted at that time for one year»).
The sense of the work of Lenin, at the eve of the study on the tactical arsenal of international communism was this: there are historical stages that can be discarded on principle, but there are no tactical means to be discarded on principle. We can say that only our left has demonstrated, after forty years, of having assimilated and appropriated such an antithesis.
Twice, in two consecutive paragraphs, Lenin used the expression that in Russia they were informed, as to the mentioned ebbs and flows, of the last words of the European, and American, experience.
We should not forget that Lenin was a first-rate polemicist, as well as ironist, writer. The polemical wave that was befalling him – that in those great years we believed to have rejected and exposed forever – played upon the usual chief argument: in Russia you were backward (with a modern expression, a depressed area), and you should have been quiet, humble and well-behaved; at the most you were free to initiate and reproduce our past great democratic and liberal revolutions; but, as regards the proletarian and socialist movement, you had no permission to move; you should have first waited for our experience of progressive, developed, advanced countries (all of them imbecile expressions, that we despised, both then and today, as stupidly posing admiration for a capitalism that half a century ago had already done all it could as regards economy, society, technology and science; and, as to the rest, wherever it spread it could only bring oppression and ignominy), and then you would have learnt how is the way to socialism in mature countries (for us, already disgusting and rotten in their decomposition), to bow and imitate, when your turn comes, such a way.
The barefacedness of our adversaries was that they used marxism as a demonstration of this alleged hierarchy and chronology of revolutions, while they were ordinary immediatists, and belonged to the crowd of barterers of principles, at whom Marx and Engels had for decades lashed out.
To this was connected the ingenuity of the young Gramsci who, as a good idealist, rejoiced because Lenin had been able to violate the rule of marxism (as him too, heedlessly, saw in that way the bolsheviks’ success).
When Lenin says that the «last words» of the West had already been transferred, utilised and weighed up in Russia, he’s answering that there’s no «culturist» need to take further lessons from Europe or America, in order to entitle Russia to become the vanguard; provided the right materialist and dialectical position on the model question, on which, under his direction, we go started in these pages.
Lenin does not therefore make here a concession to the concept of bringing up to date according to the modern and recent results, stupid fashion of the immediatist petty-bourgeois thought, but rather a courageous statement, i.e., all the good things worthy of being learnt, bolsheviks knew them already, and they were mature enough, with their followers of all countries, the left-wing marxists, and able to pontificate and to dictate the norms.
The petty-bourgeois thought’s immediatist infection (same as infantilism for Lenin) consists exactly in the obsession for the latest fashion, for the most recent patent, for the last brain-wave.
In the years that preceded the historical epoch we're dealing with, the revolutionary syndicalists of Sorel’s school, widely represented in latin Europe (in Italy by Arturo Labriola, Orano, Olivetti, Leone, De Ambris, etc.), and even in Northern America by the trade union movement of IWW, who opposed the reformist and bourgeois General Confederation of Labour, set themselves up as repository of the latest fashion. It seemed to be at the moment the last word. But the Bolsheviks did not make such a mistake, however enticing could be the slogan of that school, if compared to those of the revisionist socialists. They followed the model of the left wing of German social-democracy (that name, as suggested by Marx and Engels, was to be abandoned by the revolutionary class party), and before the First World War events (when nearly all sorelian were wrecked) they were close to Kautsky, an outstanding marxist at the beginning of the century.
How did the last word people think? In accordance to the immediatists, infantile outlook; that is, they put the tactical means in the place of programmatic cornerstones.
As, like all radical bourgeois, they were at heart real progressists and evolutionists, they listed the «new courses» that in their mind had occurred in history. The pattern was of this kind: the French revolution gave rise to the political club, which originated the parties. The proletarian movement passed from the small clubs of conspirators to the big electoral parliamentary parties, boasting, as in Germany (they accused of it the very consistent, revolutionary Engels!), to be able to achieve a peaceful seizure of power. But the masses saw that the party form inevitably degenerates toward the right, and moved to a solely economical form of organisation, the trade union. They replaced elections by general strike and direct action, i.e., by the struggle with no intermediation of the party, which comprises (according to the clever formula of Marx) men of all classes. Since then political parties, for that people, have been of no use for the proletariat.
The Russian bolsheviks avoided such a mass of enormous historical and falsely revolutionary mistakes for two reasons: their connection with originary classical marxism, that sorelians and the like tried to attack in its fundamental doctrine, and the Russian experience, that had already shown the inconsistency of such petty-bourgeois attitudes in the deeds of nihilists, anarchists, bakuninists and populists. As Lenin here recalls, in the course of a preliminary ideological struggle (in his construction such a contrast shows, ahead of time, the future engagement of acting masses) bolshevik marxists had already dealt with «economists», «legal marxists» and «liquidators» who, by converging on an error that wasn’t new, as in a sense its German example was already in Lassalle, timely exposed by Marx, maintained that both the political struggle and the party, which was running up against the tremendous tsarist state structure, were to be liquidated, and that an economical struggle of the industrial workers against capitalists, taking no interest in the antitsarist revolution, should be set off .
As from Lenin’s passage, both doctrine and history had taught bolsheviks the right revolutionary way. Their ideology and activity were able to take and fill all forms, the small group and the huge crowds, the trade unions’ as well as the parliamentary work, even within the reactionary Duma, both the secret conspiracy and the insurrectionary general strike; but they kept their positions of principle: never set aside the question of the state, whether it is still feudal, or already bourgeois; never put in a secondary place the party form; understand that the general strike is revolutionary as far as it is no longer economical and becomes political, and is personified by both the revolutionary party and the trade unions, rather than by the latter alone; and the masses’ social struggle itself would not lead to call in the historical question of power, if the masses and the industrial working class itself could not have the political party as the protagonist.
The effect of historical circumstances led the left wing of the Italian socialist party to positions that show a broad analogy with those just described for the Russians and explains why, not certainly by virtue of a mere careful reading of texts or of the existence of efficacious readers, a defence was built up against the influences of immediatism-infantilism, those that worried Lenin.
About 1905 in Italy, the field of tendencies within the socialist movement, with the exception of union groups and currents that soon disappeared from the struggle without leaving any remarkable trace, appeared clearly divided in two, between reformists and revolutionary syndicalists. The latter, after all in a way consistent with their ideology, ended up by splitting from the party, concentrating their action in the Unione Sindicale Italiana and getting organised, without an out and out national network, in «syndicalist groups», which hybridly concealed their political nature, as they asserted to be non-party organisms, as well as non-parliamentarian and non-electionist. Such an agnosticism would not prevent them from having in certain areas fairly odd electoral experiences, as they went as far as making popular coalitions in the administrative elections.
On the other side, the party moved more and more to the right, and was run by open reformists, who leaned to what at that time was called «possibilism», i.e., participation to bourgeois cabinets, as from previous examples in France. They didn’t go that far in Italy, but the reformist leaders predominated within the party’s parliamentary group and within the Confederazione Generale del Lavoro, that consisted of the majority of economical organisations, adopted more than minimalist tactics and abhorred open struggles and strikes.
It was then clear in Italy, for an orthodox marxist current within the party, that the two above tendencies, apparently engaged in a decided conflict and in fierce and defamatory polemics, had on the contrary many aspects in common; which were the negative aspects, that reduced the efficiency of the class struggle of a proletariat which, both in industry and in agriculture, was being fiercely exploited by the sinister national bourgeoisie.
Like the Russians, Italian marxists avoided the mistaken anti-these: party and class collaboration versus trade union and class struggle. The trade union organisational form was not less, but rather more than any other, accessible to the deviation from both class struggle and revolutionary action; what’s more, parliamentary reformism lived on the trade unions network, which in turn needed political lawyers within the bureaucratical network of bourgeois cabinets.
Trade unionism is not at all free from the disease of compromise among classes, which from its structure may easily catch on within the party. The solution is not to choose one or the other organisational network, and therefore the victory over reformism could not be expected from the side of sorelian and anarchist syndicalists of the Unione Sindacale. In Italy, before the war, a man who certainly didn’t lack intelligence and culture (and who would not have been frightened, later on, by the dictatorship formula), Antonio Graziadei, theorised what at the time seemed, and was not, a contradiction in terms: reformist syndicalism.
On the other hand the formula was born within the English movement with the Labour Party, the membership of which is mainly composed by the Trade Unions; and it is at their service that it carries on its parliamentary activity, as well as, unhesitatingly, its governmental action.
Every pure – in its organisational form – labourism is susceptible to degenerating into class collaborationism; and another point that was not quite clear in Italy, with the exception of the best marxist current, is that salvation is not in the devising of another immediate form: the factory council.
The perspective of ordinovism, which ductilely camouflaged itself in a follower of leninism and of the October revolution, was originally to weave all over Italy the councils’ system, «immediately» in accordance with the structure of capitalist manufacturing companies, and to replace with it the reformist Confederazione del Lavoro. The critique of the socialist party, as regards to its negative part, was correct, but it was lacking of the idea of founding the revolutionary party, because substantially the system, the councils movement, was one more surrogate of the party, as usual a new recipe for a new course. An old, but immortal, illusion!
At the first news about October, those who were only superficially informed about Marx and just journalistically acquainted with Lenin, saw the soviets as the same «patented invention».
But if we follow the pages of Lenin’s writing – or, better, neither words nor pages, which would be nothing, but rather the true lesson of the historical facts of October revolution – then we can draw those theses that the Italian Left has considered as its own for half a century. The fundamental form for the class revolution is the political party, as the insurrectionary struggle for power is political. The boycott of reformist-led traditional trade unions is a mistake, as indeed had been shown by the «Western experience» of the failure of «extreme» syndicalists in France and Italy, who rejected the party form. A similar mistake would be the abandonment of the trade union form for the new form, the factory council. Further on Lenin explains that another mistake would be to take the soviet (an openly political organ, when it was understood what it was, and not a system connected to production, as immediatists believed) as a replacement of the political party. A little further Lenin will say that the bolsheviks launched with a great care the formula all power to the soviets, as a Soviet government with a menshevik or populist majority would be a non revolutionary formula; what’s more, it would be a non revolutionary fact, because «no organisational or constitutional formula is in itself revolutionary». The bolsheviks waited until they had the soviets in their hands, and then they set off the insurrection, because the content of their agitation, apart from all verbal formulae, actually was: all power to the communist party. It is not the matter of double-faced tactics, but rather of a continuous line, conceived before the event with a unique clarity in history: on July 1917 soviets are mostly opportunist, and Lenin (was he then a pompier?) curbs the revolution. In October the time is ripe, the soviets have moved to the left, then it will be possible, by using them as a platform, to wipe out the elected constituent assembly; and Lenin invokes the break out of action, against the party’s Central Committee itself (all formulist philistines are ready to say: against the party and its legal hierarchy); and harshly calls traitor whoever proposes the slightest delay.
Before closing this Italian interlude, we'll recall that before the war the Marxist Left had sensed that the two ways, of reformists and syndicalists, were both theoretically wrong, and had taken the right position for the revolutionary party. Before the war such a formula was only, insufficiently, expressed by the electoral intransigence, but at the eve and during the war (1914–18) it served to spare the Italian party the ignoble end of the big parties of Western Europe.
Since the pre-war congresses the left in Italy did not confine itself to denying class collaboration in parliamentary politics, it also stated the terms of the question of the state. We were against reformists, because they believed possible a peaceful conquest of the democratic state; and we were against the anarcho-sorelians because, although they correctly wanted the destruction of the bourgeois state apparatus, they refused to admit the function of a proletarian state, as come from the insurrection. Although such a problem was not demanded by neither necessity or tactics, it arose, as for the bolsheviks in 1903, in the theory, as a correct application of economical determinism to the correct expectation of the transition from capitalism to communism; direct and «instantaneous», in its military sense, as regards its political side; complex in its social development, as far as the economical transformations are concerned, which is to be a function of the whole course, a very backward in Russia, semi-modern in Italy and very modern, for example, in England.
This is the essence of «‹Left-wing› communism».