Communist Party of Italy
Clandestine National Conference, Como, may 1924
In these theses we don’t intend to address the questions of a general and international order, without which they, on the other hand, cannot be exactly evaluated, since these questions are outlined from the point of view of the left wing of the PCd’I, in the theses on tactics of the Rome Congress and in the project of tactical theses for the International presented at the 4th Congress by Bordiga: documents that we’re assuming are now well known to comrades.
The nature of this discussion and the need to shorten it justify the very concise compilation of these theses, which cover topics that in a regular party consultation would be divided into several sections of a congress agenda.
I. The Italian situation
1) A complex of circumstances makes the lessons which flow from the conduct of the social struggle in Italy in recent years very interesting from the point of view of the policy of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, although Italy is a country without very advanced capitalism. After the reactionary adventures of the last decade of the last century, in the beginning of the present one the policy of the bourgeoisie was characterized by a wide use of "leftist" resources, in order to neutralize and draw and deceive the great proletarian movement into class collaboration.
2) The World War threw the bourgeoisie and the Italian State into a serious crisis, due to the lack of solidity of the Italian economy and the meager rewards of the victory. In order to avoid the revolutionary outcome of such a crisis, the bourgeois policy consisted, at first, of a clever tactic of conciliation and concessions to the proletariat, preparing until the forces were ready to unleash a reactionary offensive that would ensure the preservation of the regime. The first factor of this action can be seen in the work of the governments of Nitti and Giolitti: above all in the elections of 1919, in which the former was faced with an invasion of socialist deputies into parliament, and in the occupation of the factories in 1920 in which the latter was able to find a settlement with the proletarian leaders, thus avoiding that extreme danger for the bourgeoisie that the excessive tension of the class struggle represented.
3) The second factor of bourgeois preservation was Fascism. Fascism arose out of the veterans’ movement and of the middle classes, an unstable stratum which the proletarian party was not able to bend to the vision of its dictatorship, and which, under the illusion of carrying out their own autonomous policies and inheriting (sic) from the traditional political classes, was mobilized by the State machine and by the big bourgeoisie, both agrarian and industrial, for the armed offensive against the revolutionary workers. The offensive not only prevented any development of revolutionary actions, but even took away from the workers the deceptive concessions made in the democratic period, as the fascists wanted to demolish all proletarian organizations. The crowning success of this political action, in which the various bourgeois groups and parties collaborated above the competitions of the political leaders, in a dialectical and inseparable whole, was the creation of a Fascist Ministry, which is not the government of a new party with a new program, but the consolidation of the traditional regime, which now gives a country‑wide formidable organization wholly alien to the old liberal party, in full possession of the State machinery and its repressive measures, thus replacing any need for stalling and making concessions to the laboring classes.
4) The Italian experience shows how reactionary and foolish the thesis that conditions of broad political democracy allow the proletariat to carry out its revolutionary advance is. Before that, those conditions will always lead to the unmasking of the bourgeois dictatorship, under whatever political label, in a defensive and violent counter-offensive. The future of the redemption of the proletariat doesn’t lie in the preliminary conquest of the old equivocal platform of so‑called "freedom", but in the struggle against the organizations of the bourgeois dictatorship. The present situation of proletarian defeat must be increasingly translated into a consciousness and preparation of the masses, as red today as before, for that necessity of the revolutionary struggle which is the clear cornerstone of the communist program and which must not be veiled by intermediate and equivocal formulas.
II. The Policy of the Proletariat
5) The old Italian Socialist Party in the Second International was oriented to the left, so much so that it was able to refuse the collaborationist offers of the bourgeoisie and kept out of war collaboration. The formation of a majority on these negative theses was not, however, equivalent to the prevalence in the party of complete consciousness of the positive revolutionary task. The current which, not stopping at the formula "neither join nor sabotage", maintained that from the war one must take the opportunity for the revolutionary assault on the world bourgeoisie, according to Lenin’s formulation, was always during and after the war a minority, though a strong one, of the Party.
6) The post‑war situation found the party in the midst of so much shifting to
the left of the masses in conditions of deplorable insufficiency. This was:
(a) Theoretical and programmatic, inasmuch as it lacked a consciousness of the revolutionary process, clearly Marxist and distinct from the pacifism of the reformists, and from the wordy and petty-bourgeois revolutionism, at once too fatalistic and too voluntarist;
b) Organizational, in that there was no organic unity and preparation of organs of action in any field in the Party, so that control of the parliamentary organs and the trade unions remained with the far‑right reformist minority, even though the latter was excluded from the Party leadership;
c) Tactical and strategic, insofar as a possible action of the masses was conceived only under the equivocal species of a popular movement devoid of any general staff and of any knowledge of the successive positions to move towards, and entrusted to the occasional alliances of subversive groups of all shades, from bourgeois republicans to anarchists, having divergent and incompatible objectives and methods.
A manifestation of this organizational insufficiency can be seen in the international situation of the party, which at the Bologna Congress had adhered to the program of the Third International, but refused to face the most basic consequences of such an attitude, including the elimination of the extreme reformist right wing of the party. This simple elimination would not have made the party a truly revolutionary party, since other more substantial conditions were necessary; but the obstinate refusal showed a symptom of the fact that the majority of the party, and the entirety of its maximalist and unitary center, were outside the communist movement, and could not, nor wanted to, nor should they become part of it.
7) The failure of the Italian proletariat in the post‑war period is the most evident demonstration of the thesis that the formal unity and the confluence of a sentimental consensus of the masses are not enough to ensure the revolutionary victory, if the Marxist party lacks the doctrine, the organization and the tactical capacity to fulfill its task. It shows that a heterogeneous party or a bloc of different parties will never provide the general staff needed for the victorious revolution.
III. The Communist Party: The First Period
8) The Communist Party of Italy was constituted at the Congress of Livorno with the secession of a minority of the old party, in the logical and timely way that had to give the platform of a new revolutionary party which, while using the traditions of the Italian socialist left, would break completely with the organizational trunk and with the habits of reformism and centrism. The maximalists who remained with the reformists were not communists occasionally misled by a misunderstanding with the Third International, but, as a political staff, a formation of the Italian movement that was wholly "undesirable" for a new revolutionary party.
9) The Communist Party was formed in a situation whose unfavorable turn to
the proletariat was now outlined, after the failure of the occupation of the
factories and the beginning of the open offensive of fascism in the Po Valley.
As a minority party, it could not set itself the goal of carrying out a
revolutionary offensive of the proletariat, and in fact it could never set this
as its next objective.
The task of the party was presented in the following way: its ideology was satisfactorily established by the critical and polemical work that led to its formation and by the doctrines of the Communist International; its organization had to be quickly set up on the basis of the network already provided by the work of the fraction; its complex tactical work had to achieve two simultaneous conditions: To concentrate for an efficient defense against fascism, i.e. against the whole bourgeoisie, the greatest possible number of workers, and at the same time to clear away the mists of programmatic and organizational confusion of the hundred little groups jockeying for revolutions of various kinds. For true revolutionary organic unity, against confusionism and opportunist demagogy, had to be the word of order of the party. The leadership that the party had given itself in Livorno and confirmed in Rome wanted to achieve these essential conditions with its work.
10) The first care had to be that of underlining the political independence of the new party from all the others, with open propaganda and criticism, and avoiding every central and local alliance between political bodies: this was the constant word of the old executive. At the same time, in order to increase the mass of workers gathered around the revolutionary party, the foundations of the party’s work were laid among the workers’ unions, in the workshops, wherever material problems of interest to the workers arose, in accordance with the indisputable direction of revolutionary Marxism. Communist organs and groups corresponding to the needs of such work were formed, closely linked to the Party. All the work to mobilize on a plan of effective revolutionary defense the largest part of the masses was based on this structure, up to the proposal of a united front put forward in August 1921 by the Communist Trade Union Committee to the red trade union organizations, for the national general strike against the fascist reaction and the bosses’ offensive.
11) As far as military organization is concerned, the party had to and did proceed autonomously. The military network must be regulated in a unitary way and for stronger reasons than the political one. Proposals for action common to the various parties, or "outside the parties" made in this matter (Arditi del Popolo) were declined, both for this reason of principle and for those that were made by suspicious emissaries and with false declarations of consent of the responsible organs of the party, to the organizations in the periphery, in order to mislead them. This and other elements demonstrated to the Executive that these organizations had suspicious motives and aims, imposing the behavior for which the old party leadership claims responsibility.
12) Conforming to the wishes of the Communist International, after the constitution of the Alliance of Labor among the trade unions, the party reached negotiations with the political parties, but it imposed conditions in them that were such as to guarantee that the proletariat would not again be betrayed as in all previous cases of blockades of mass movements. These conditions were so effective that the other parties broke off the negotiations, but they never dared to appeal to the proletariat, since their incapacity and neglect, combined with demagogic and defeatist intentions, was evident from their behavior.
13) This led to the strike of August 1922. This episode in the lessons it
offers is an example of the application of the revolutionary tactics of the
united front. It was in line with the tactical plan of the leadership of the
communist party: to intervene in the leadership of the movement with direct
responsibility in case it was possible to overcome the influence of the other
groups and prevent their sabotage; if the opposite happened, it was to
participate in the struggle in order to demonstrate to the proletariat the
revolutionary superiority of the communist party and to convince it in the light
of the facts that the painful possibility of defeat weighed on the
responsibility of the other parties and would have been avoided if the proposals
of the communist organs had been followed and not sabotaged.
The action of August, even though it was a response to the hypothesis of the proletarian defeat, and it could not be otherwise, because of the equivocal policy of the reformists and the too late denounced complicity of the maximalists, put the communist party in evidence and polarized towards it the part of the proletariat that, even in the retreat, wanted to face the enemy and keep itself under the flag of its own class and its revolution.
14) After the August strike, the logical development of the tactics of the
proposals of a united front, put forward in the period from August 1921 to
August 1922, should have been the passage of the communist party, despite the
prevalence of the fascist reaction, to an independent appeal to the proletariat
to gather around it, and only to it, for the preparation, no matter how bitter
and long, of redemption, denouncing the incapacity of any other proletarian
party and aiming at their emptying out of it with the exodus of its adherents to
This clear and evident tactic had to accompany the concentration of the greatest energies on the field of the technical defense of our internal organization, with all means, against the attempts of the reaction to suppress us. In order to survive these attempts, the party had to base its future tactics on the word: fascism, by defeating the proletariat, has liquidated the political methods and illusions of the old pacifist socialism, even under the loud‑speaking mask of maximalism: the future of the proletariat can be one of either: fascism or communism, bourgeois dictatorship or proletarian dictatorship.
IV. The New Communist Policy
15) In this period, the disagreement between the tactics followed by the leaders of the Italian party and the tactics wanted by the central organs of the International became clearer. As had already occurred, the International found no resistance in the Italian party and it carried out its instructions. But it is from this period that the provisions themselves came to change the direction of the political work of the party, in a substantial way. According to the International, the split that occurred between the maximalists and the reformists was to set the Communists’ course as a more important political fact than the conclusion of the August strike. By anticipating the fusion with the maximalists, and by taking steps in this direction, the International was not only modifying the tactical line followed until then by the party, but also shifting the political platform of its constitution. Evaluating the proletarian failure in Italy as also being due to the deficiencies of the Communist Party, the International showed that it considered the situation after Livorno as provisional, and the constitution of the Communist Party, as it had been until then, as a necessary fallback only to attract the maximalists later on, en bloc, with their newspaper Avanti!, to the ranks of the International.
16) The leaders of the party expressed their dissent and maintained it even
at the Fourth World Congress: but in the meantime the new political line had
been implemented, which from then on inspired the action of the party even
though the replacement of the Italian Executive was deliberated only at the
Enlarged Executive of June 1923.
The point of view of the Italian party was this: the splits are condemnable in principle, as per our tactical theses, and also condemnable is the feeding of communist fractions in other political parties, which serves to feed the misunderstanding about the leftist tendencies of these parties. The leading group of Italian maximalism and its tradition must be broken, in order to lead the mass of workers that still follow it to communism: it is illusory to think that it is possible to conquer this mass in a useful way, by coming to terms with their leaders, and making concessions to them and promising them participation in the leadership of the unified communist party, which would be once again the party of misunderstanding.
The maximalist workers, even in groups, must come to the communist party as gregarious, no one can penetrate it "with the benefit of rank". Moreover, the leaders of our party at that time expressed all their skepticism about the safety of winning over the General Staff of the second and third rank leaders of maximalism with the simple accession of a few men more or less converted to join the International, with all the relative honors.
17) Having prevailed at the Fourth Congress the criterion of fusion, the leaders of the Communist Party committed the discipline of the whole mass of the Party to the deliberations of the International, but declared their replacement necessary for the carrying out of the new political work. In the meantime, the reactionary wave of February 1923 arrived with the arrest of the party leaders and the discovery of some central offices. Perhaps many consequences of this blow could have been avoided if the Party could have concentrated its energies in its defense against the reaction, instead of bothering itself with exhausting polemics and discussions with the International, which distracted the leaders from their office and demoralized the Party in front of its multiple and poisonous adversaries. In the meantime, the anti‑communist reaction urged the leaders of the maximalists to discover their traditional pusillanimity and to repudiate and reject the fusion, as happened at the Milan Congress, where the fusionist fraction was completely defeated, confusing its few votes with those of an intermediate and equivocal motion by Lazzari.
18) Instead of considering this dissolution as the liquidation of mistaken
fusionist tactics, the International attributed it to the sabotage of the
communist left, and insisted on the line of infiltrating the PSI, feeding its
third-internationalist fraction, which lacks both in strength and
politico-organizational capacity. Thus the setting up of the necessary
pre‑requisites for fusion dragged on for a year and a half, a situation which
even those who do not reject all fusion in general should strive to limit to a
very short preparatory period. Thus in Italy there was a double
third-internationalist organization, with double ramifications in all fields of
work, which brought confusion, slackness and distrust in the ranks of the
Communist Party itself, in the period when the method of united, firm and
compact leadership was most necessary.
In this situation maximalism speculated as far as it could, portraying itself as the movement which Moscow approved and backed up in every way and thus improving itself before the eyes of the Italian proletariat in the period when every other revolutionary title had lost all credibility. The liquidation of the maximalist misunderstanding was thus delayed by the policy of the International.
19) In the following period the party demonstrated its spontaneous vitality and robust tradition, proving itself to be an effective political force and not in need of integration in order to function independently. In the periphery, the party organizations magnificently resisted and recovered. In the meantime, the continuous prevarications about the tactics to be dictated to the third-rankers, about their joining the Communist Party and staying in the Socialist Party for its hypothetical conquest, the replacement of the old leaders with elements who were in an intermediate position between their policy and that of the International, have reduced the functioning of the central apparatus of the party to a daily and trivial practice without rigor and without physiognomy, despite the good will of most of the comrades in charge of it.
20) In the political elections, we wanted once again to experiment with the
unsuccessful tactic of inviting other political parties and, once that failed,
to build an alliance with the third party and to give a word of unity, while we
were allied and united only with an organization made by ourselves, basically
holding hands with our own image in the mirror, so to say. This has made
necessary in the formation of the lists and of the new parliamentary group an
elasticity of criteria that would have appeared scandalous ten or fifteen years
ago to the left of the old socialist party: politicians have been able to choose
in cold blood the list where to put their name, either professing their
third-internationalism or renouncing it.
Even if this had led to an electoral advantage it would have been condemnable: but instead the success of the party was not the success of an alliance, but of the "communists" sharply defined as such by the opposing press, while we were under the fig leaf of a so‑called unity. The strident formulation: fascism or communism, and the attitude of extreme left‑wing opposition taken by repudiating on principle every possible electoral bloc, be it wide or narrow, real or fictitious, besides being more consonant with revolutionary tactics, would have given us an even greater electoral success. The opposite attitude threatens to revalorize the stupid fetish of false and in‑name‑only unity, to make the proletariat forget what our doctrine is and what the situation teaches it: to consider the parties of opportunist socialism as impotent and counterrevolutionary.
V. The Future Task of the Communist Party in Italy
21) The task of the party according to the communist left can be deduced from
what we have said about the Italian situation, in relation to the tactical
directives of our well‑known theses. It depends on the decisions of the
International, since the latter, and not a majority of the party, must decide on
the matter. In the hypothesis that the International, having avoided any
programmatic revision, would accept the criteria of the left with regard to
tactics and organizational and directive criteria, the Italian party would have
to set itself the following goals:
Organizationally: liquidation of every fraction in other parties and admission of the third-internationalists into its own ranks, with a faster procedure compared to the normal one, but without participation in the governing bodies. Consolidation of the internal organizational apparatus and of the relations between the center and the periphery, according to a comprehensive and complete international solution of the question;
Politically and tactically: irreconcilable and truly Marxist critique of the phenomenon of the fascist regime, not blinded by democratism and victimism, and fighting against it by all means; resolute critique of the anti‑fascist bourgeois parties and the self‑styled anti‑fascist bourgeois parties and the social-democratic parties, avoiding any conduct of blocs, alliances, agreements with them or parts of them: work to resurrect class unions and other economic organizations of the masses of workers and peasants, and to influence them towards communism.
This program of action can be more extensively carried out, with regard to the many and important special problems it presents, by the representatives of the Italian left, if the Fifth Congress discusses a program of action of the Communist Party of Italy, and bearing in mind the current part of the broad analogous program presented for this purpose at the Fourth Congress, and not discussed by this one.
On such a platform alone, and guaranteed against the mutability of tactics and strategic twists and turns that the texts of the International should finally condemn and explicitly exclude, the Italian communist left could resume the work that it had undertaken with broad intentions of continuity and seriousness, establishing in the party a very strict rule of discipline, but accompanied by a very sure consciousness of the course that the party itself and its leaders had committed themselves to give, without deviations and without surprises manipulated without the knowledge of the mass of militants.
If the direction of the International and of the party should remain opposite to the one outlined here, or even indefinite and unspecified as it has been until now, the Italian left will have to face a task of criticism and control, and a firm and serene refusal of posthasty solutions reached with lists of executive committees and various forms of concessions and compromises, such as the demagogic coverings of the much exalted and abused word – unity.
Amadeo Bordiga, Bruno Fortichiari, Ruggero Grieco, Luigi Repossi
From "Stato Operaio" nr. 16 of May 15th, 24.
1) The group of comrades who directed the Party in the period after the Livorno Congress considered the need to make the Party’s theoretical and political consciousness precise and complete, and its organization well‑defined and solid, not as a preliminary and occasional task but as a permanent necessity for the Communist Parties, a task which cannot be separated from the implementation of the best tactical action, just as the it must not be in contradiction with the latter, according to the criteria widely formulated in the theses on tactics of the Rome Congress, which faithfully represent the opinions of that group.
2) The differences that arose between the Communist Party of Italy and the Communist International were based on a different evaluation of the problems inherent in the tactics, internal organization, and leadership work of the International as a whole, and only as a particular aspect of the general divergence did they translate into an evaluation of the Italian situation and the task of the Italian Communist Party.
3) The old Executive of the PCd’I was able to apply the line of action that corresponded to its views until the strike of August 1922. That strike and all the action that led up to it was an example of the application of the tactic of conquering the masses by means of the united front, as outlined in the Theses of Rome; and the situation that culminated in it, with the defeat of the proletariat, for which the other parties and groups that participated in and led the strike were responsible, had to be further developed, even in the general retreat of the Italian working class, with a period of completely independent action by the PCd’I, that denounced all the other above-mentioned parties and groups in the most explicit way as incapable of class action, making itself the center of the proletarian resistance and redemption against the triumphant capitalist offensive.
4) At that culminating moment, it seemed to the CI that the way to gain greater strength in Italy was given instead by the split of the Socialist Party with the fusion of the maximalists and our Party. From that moment on, the International, as was its undisputed right, practically took over the direction of action in Italy, which it inspired to its new objective. Since then, the leaders of the PCd’I felt and proclaimed themselves incompatible with the direction of this policy, which they did not share. At the 4th Congress, after having once again defended their point of view in the Committees, they renounced to speak against the new policy in the Congress Plenum, and clarified their attitude by committing themselves to the absolute discipline of the whole Party and of themselves as militant members of the Party, but explicitly declined the task of political leadership.
5) The most important question that arises in this field after the Fifth Congress is not that of the sabotage of the PCd’I against the decisions of the CI. The old leaders loyally observed the line now indicated, which did not consist in making themselves responsible for the implementation of the fusion, which they believed to be harmful and subordinately impossible, instead demanding their immediate replacement. The fusion did not take place because of the behavior of the maximalists, and in any case the International could, if it had believed so, proceed to the requested replacement of the Party leaders before the Enlarged Executive of June 1923. No act against the fusion can be cited against the old leaders, as the documents prove.
6) The experience of the Party’s action in the new period, i.e. after August 1922 – if it is indisputable that the change of course took place at a time that made it problematic to judge the results of the old and the new politics – while it does not present a balance sheet of a rapid conquest of new effects and political positions, if not in the progressive line advocated by the old leaders, it did not lead to any organic elaboration of a new political consciousness and practice; with the oscillations of attitudes in the relations between the PSI and its left‑wing, with the blurring of the boundary between the communist forces and the others, with the creation of double political bodies, of the press, etc, with the creation of a new political consciousness and practice, shows that the method in question corresponds to a loosening of the precise orientation and organizational discipline of the Party and that it leads to an undeniable state of malaise and discontent among the comrades; while the possibilities of fortunate action do not fail to present themselves to the Party, which in the material that composes it and in its old framework does not cease to demonstrate its revolutionary capacities, in contrast to the continuous, often factually incorrect, sometimes nonsensical and lacking in seriousness, criticism with which it is believed to teach the Party in the best possible way.
7) The problems of action of the PCd’I. can only be solved on the basis of international discussions and decisions on the whole direction of the Communist International. The left wing of the PCd’I can formulate a program of party action for the present and the future, but basing it on the assumption that its views on the tactics, organization, and direction of the CI will prevail in international meetings, maintaining in full force the classical programmatic postulates as they are carved in the constitutional documents due to Lenin, and inspired by the most vigorous line of revolutionary Marxism.
8) Only if in such a discussion a consensus of views is reached and the left wing of the PCd’I. finds itself on the ground of the majority of the IC, in the relevant deliberations, will the left wing itself be able to participate in the new leadership of the Party.
9) The minority of the PCd’I, i.e. its right wing, corresponds in part to the tendency of the current tactical terrain of the IC, but in part represents the survival of immature and conservative elements of the centrist mentality. This group could take on "liquidating" tasks of the Party’s tradition, should it meet with the action of liquidating groups for the glorious political tradition of the IC; against this danger the left wing of the PCd’I will wage a most energetic and decisive struggle.
10) It is indisputable that in the International, functioning as a world Communist Party, organic centralization and discipline exclude the existence of fractions or groups that may or may not take over the leadership of national parties, as is the case in all countries as of speaking. The left wing of the PCd’I is in favor of the most rapid achievement of this goal, but considers that it is not achieved through mechanical decisions and impositions, but by ensuring the proper historical development of the International Communist Party, which must go hand in hand with the clarification of the political ideology, in the unequivocal definition of the tactics, and in its organizational consolidation.
An International without fractions will be one in which the criteria of solidity and political continuity will prevail, which make incompatible double local organizations, mergers, i.e. the admission of militants not with statutory guarantees but with the sudden conferral of important leadership functions through negotiations and compromises, political blocs, agitations with unclear demands that may be in contrast with the content of our program, such as that of the Workers’ Government, and so on. Should the International threaten to evolve in the opposite direction, the rise of an international left opposition would be an absolute revolutionary and communist necessity. The left wing of the PCd’I is confident that this painful eventuality will be, by clear decisions of the imminent congress, unequivocally excluded for reasons of principle as well as for the same meaning of the most recent experiences of international communist action, and the communists will continue, without any mitigations and maneuvers of an illusory political diplomacy, the simultaneous ruthless struggle against both bourgeois reaction and opportunism, which in all forms lurks among the workers while being the necessary and natural ally of the former.
Amadeo Bordiga, Bruno Fortichiari, Ruggero Grieco, Luigi Repossi
"Lo Stato Operaio", May 15, 1924.