International Communist Party The Union Question

Italian Socialist Party
Communist Abstentionist Fraction

For the Constitution of Workers’ Councils in Italy

 I.   Il Soviet no. 1, January 4th, 1920
 II.  Il Soviet no. 2, January 11th, 1920
 III. Il Soviet no. 4, February 1st, 1920
 IV. Il Soviet no. 5, February 8th, 1920
 V.  Il Soviet no. 7, February 22nd, 1920

I. – Il Soviet, no. 1, January 4th, 1920

We’ve collected quite a bit of material around the proposals and initiatives for the establishment of Soviets in Italy, and we reserve the right to establish the terms of the topic neatly. We would now like to introduce some general considerations to which we have already alluded in our last issues.

The system of proletarian representation, as it was first introduced in Russia, exercises a double order of functions: political and economic. The political functions consist in the struggle against the bourgeoisie until its total elimination. The economic in the creation of an entirely new mechanism of communist production.

As the revolution unfolds, with the gradual elimination of the parasitic classes, the political functions become less and less important in the face of the economic ones: but at first, and especially when it is still a matter of struggling against bourgeois power, political activity is in the forefront.

The real instrument of the proletariat’s struggle for emancipation, and first of all the conquest of political power, is the communist class party. Workers’ councils, under bourgeois power, can only be organisms within which the communist party, the engine of revolution, works. To say that they are the organs of liberation of the proletariat, without mentioning the function of the party, as in the program approved by the Bologna Congress, appears to us as a mistake.

To claim, like the Ordine Nuovo comrades in Turin, that workers’ councils, even before the fall of the bourgeoisie, are already organs not only of political struggle, but of the economic-technical preparation of the communist system, is a pure and simple return to socialist gradualism: This, whether called reformism or syndicalism, is defined by the error that the proletariat can emancipate itself by gaining ground in economic relations, while capitalism continues to detain, with the State, its political power.

We will develop a critique of the two aforementioned views.

* * *

The system of proletarian representation must adhere to the whole technical process of production.

This criterion is correct, but it corresponds to the stage at which the proletariat, already in power, organizes the new economy. Transpose it without modification to the bourgeois regime, and you accomplish nothing revolutionary.

Even in the period in which Russia finds itself, Soviet political representation – that is, the stage culminating in the rule of the people’s commissars – does not originate from work crews or factory departments, but from the local administrative Soviet, elected directly by the workers (grouped, if possible, into labor communities).

The Moscow Soviet, as an example, is elected by the Moscow proletarians in the proportion of 1,000 for each delegate. There’s no intermediate body between this and the voters. From this first designation come the subsequent ones, to the Soviet congress, to the executive committee, to the government of commissars.

The factory council takes its place in a quite different mechanism: in that of workers’ control over production.

As a result, the factory council, consisting of one representative from each department, doesn’t designate the factory representative in the administrative-political municipal Soviet: this representative is elected directly and independently.

In Russia, factory councils are the starting point – always subordinate to the political network of the Soviets – of another system of representation: that of workers’ control and the popular economy.

The controlling function of the factory shop has revolutionary and expropriatory value only after central power has gone into the hands of the proletariat. As long as the bourgeois state protection still stands, the factory council controls nothing: the few functions it achieves are the result of the traditional practice of: a) parliamentary reformism; b) trade union resistance action that doesn’t stop to be reformist gradualism.

We conclude: we don’t oppose the establishment of internal factory councils if the workers themselves or their organizations demand them. But we affirm that the activity of the Communist Party must be set on another basis: on the struggle for the conquest of political power.

This struggle can find its proper field in the creation of workers’ representation: but this must consist of workers’ councils from city or rural districts, directly elected by the masses to be ready to replace city councils and local organs of State power at the moment of the collapse of the bourgeois power.

Having thus affirmed our thesis, we promise to give ample documentation and demonstration of it, as well as summarizing our work in a report to the next convention of the communist fraction.

II. – Il Soviet, no. 2, January 11th, 1920

Before delving into the discussion of the practical problem of the establishment of Workers’, Peasants’ and Soldiers’ Councils in Italy, and after the general considerations contained in the article we published in the last issue, we would like to continue examining the programmatic lines of the Soviet system as found in the documents of the Russian Revolution, and in the declarations of principle of some Italian maximalist currents, such as the program approved at the Bologna Congress, the motion presented at the same Congress by Leone and other comrades, the publications of Ordine Nuovo, around the movement of factory councils in Turin.

The Councils and the Bolshevik program

In the documents of the Third International and the Communist Party of Russia, in the masterly reports of those formidable doctrinaires who are the leaders of the Russian revolutionary movement, Lenin, Zinoviev, Radek, Bukharin, the notion that the Russian revolution didn’t invent new and unforeseen forms but confirmed the predictions of Marxist theory about the revolutionary process comes up time and time again

What’s substantial in the grand development of the Russian Revolution is the conquest of political power by the working masses through actual class warfare, and the establishment of their dictatorship.

The soviets – no need to be reminded that the word soviet simply means council and can be used to refer to any representative body – the soviets in their historical signification are the system of class representation of the proletariat that has come to power. They are the organs that replace bourgeois parliament and administrative assemblies, and are gradually replacing all the other machinery of the State.

To put it in the words of the last Russian Communist Congress, quoted by Comrade Zinoviev, the Soviets are the State organizations of the working class and poor peasants which effectuate the dictatorship of the proletariat during the stage when all the old forms of the State gradually disappear.

The system of these State organizations tends to give representation to all producers as members of the working class, but not as participants in a professional category or branch of industry: according to the latest manifesto of the Third International, the Soviets are a new and broad organization which embraces all the working masses independently of trade or level of political development already attained. The administrative network of the Soviets has the city or rural district councils as its primary organs, and culminates in the commissars’ government.

It is indeed true that alongside this system other organs arise in the phase of economic transformation, such as the system of workers’ control and of people’s economy; it’s also true as we’ve repeatedly stated that this system will tend to absorb the political system into itself, when the expropriation of the bourgeoisie is completed and the need for State power ceases.

But in the revolutionary period the essential question, as is known from all the Russian documents, is that of subordinating local and category interests to the general interest of the revolutionary movement, both in space and time.

When the fusion of the two bodies will have taken place, then the network of production will be completely communist and then that criterion, which seems to us to be over‑emphasized, of a perfect articulation of representation with all the mechanisms of the production system will be realized.

Before then, when the bourgeoisie is still resisting, above all then when it’s still in power, the problem is to have a representation in which the criterion of the general interest prevails; and when the economy is still that of individualism and competition the only form in which that higher collective interest can be made explicit is a form of political representation in which the communist political party acts.

Getting back to the issue, we’ll show how wanting to concretize and over‑technicize Soviet representation, especially where the bourgeoisie is still in power, means putting the cart before the horse and falling back into the old errors of syndicalism and reformism.

Let us quote for now Zinoviev’s unambiguous words:

The Communist Party brings together that vanguard of the proletariat which struggles, consciously, for the practical carrying out of the communist program. It strives especially to introduce its program into the organizations of the State, the Soviets, and to obtain total rule over them.

In conclusion, the Russian Soviet republic is led by the Soviets, which gather ten million workers out of a population of about eighty million. But essentially the nominations for the executive committees of the local and central Soviets take place in the sections and congresses of the great Communist Party, which rules the Soviets. This corresponds to the vibrant defense made by Radek of the revolutionary functions of minorities. It’ll be good to not make a fetish out of workerist-majoritarianist that only benefits reformism and the bourgeoisie.

The party is at the forefront of the revolution insofar as it’s potentially made up of people who think and act as members of the future laboring humanity in which everyone will be a producer, harmoniously embedded in a marvelous apparatus of functions and representation.

The Bologna Program and the Councils

It’s regrettable that in the current party program there’s no trace of the Marxist notion that the class party is the instrument of proletarian emancipation; and there is only the non‑contentious codicil: “resolves (who does? Not even grammar was spared in this hurry to deliberate… on the elections) to base the organization of the Italian Socialist Party on the above principles”.

The paragraph denying the transformation of any State organ into an organ for the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat is questionable, but that’s for another discussion, after the indispensable terminological clarification.

But we disagree even more with the program where it states that the new proletarian organs will function also before, under bourgeois rule, as instruments of the violent struggle for liberation, and then they will become organs of social and economic transformation, and it specifies such organs like the workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ councils, but also the councils of the public economy, organs inconceivable under bourgeois rule.

Rather, workers’ political councils can also be said to be organs within which the action of communists for the liberation of the proletariat is carried out.

But even recently Comrade Serrati has belittled, despite Marx and Lenin, the task of the class party in the revolution.

“Together with the working masses”, Lenin says, “the political, Marxist, centralized party, the vanguard of the proletariat, will lead the people on the correct path, for the victory of the dictatorship of the proletariat, for proletarian democracy instead of bourgeois democracy, for the power of the councils, for the socialist order”.

The party’s current program suffers from libertarian scruples and a lack of theoretical preparation.

The councils and the Leone motion

This motion was summed up in four points set out in the author’s evocative style.

The first of these points is admirably inspired by the observation that class struggle is the real engine of history and has broken social-national unions.

But then the motion exalts the Soviets as the organs of revolutionary synthesis, which they’re supposed to bring about almost by the very mechanism of their constitution, and asserts that the Soviets alone can lead the great historical initiatives to triumph above schools, parties, and corporations.

This notion of Leone, and of the many comrades who signed his motion, is quite different from ours, which we infer from Marxism and the directives of the Russian Revolution. It’s a matter of over‑emphasizing a form over a force, similar to what syndicalists do with the trade union, attributing to its minimalist practice the miraculous ability of bringing about the social revolution.

Just as syndicalism was demolished first by the critique of the true Marxists, then by the experience of the labor movement, which everywhere collaborated with the bourgeois world by providing it with conservative elements, so Leone’s notion falls before the experience of counter-revolutionary social-democratic workers’ councils, which are precisely those in which there’s been no victorious penetration of the communist political program. Only the party can gather unto itself the dynamic revolutionary energies of the class.

It would be petty to object that even the socialist parties have compromised, since we are not extolling the virtues of the party form, but the dynamic content which resides in the communist party alone. Each party defines itself by its program, and its functions can’t be compared with other parties, while necessarily all trade unions and in a technical sense even all workers’ councils, share functions with each other.

The harm of the social-reformist parties was not that they were parties, but that they were not communist and revolutionary. These parties led the counterrevolution, while the communist parties directed and nurtured revolutionary action in struggle against them.

Thus, no body is revolutionary just by virtue of form; social forces are only revolutionary by the direction in which they act, and these forces are fulfilled into a party that goes into battle with a program.

The councils and the Ordine Nuovo initiative in Turin

The Ordine Nuovo comrades go even further, in our opinion. They’re not even happy with the wording of the Party’s program, for they claim that the Soviets, including those of a technical-economic nature (the factory councils), not only should exist and be organs of the proletarian struggle of liberation under bourgeois rule, but that be already organs of the construction of the communist economy. In fact, they write in their newspaper the passage from the party program we quoted above, with the omission of some words in order to transform its meaning in a way that conforms to their point of view: “New proletarian organs (workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ councils, public economy councils, etc) will have to be opposed… Bodies of social and economic transformation and construction of the new communist order”.

But this article is already long, so we leave the exposition of our profound disagreement with this criterion, which in our opinion risks the danger of turning into a purely reformist experiment, with the modification of certain functions of trade unions and perhaps promulgation of bourgeois law about workers’ councils.

III. – Il Soviet, no. 4, February 1st, 1920

In closing the second article around the establishment of Soviets in Italy we mentioned the Turin movement for the establishment of factory councils.

We don’t share the point of view held by the Ordine Nuovo comrades, and while we appreciate their tenacious work for a better knowledge of the cornerstones of communism, we believe that they’ve made major mistakes in both principle and tactics.

According to them, the essential matter of the communist revolution lies precisely in the establishment of the new organs of proletarian representation intended for the direct management of production, the fundamental character of which is to adhere strictly to the production process.

We’ve already explained that there seems to be a lot of exaggeration around this concept of the formal coincidence between the representations of the working class and the various aggregates of the techno-economic system of production. This coincidence will occur only at a very advanced stage of the communist revolution, when production will be socialized and all the particular activities that constitute it will be harmoniously subordinated to and inspired by general and collective interests.

Before then, and during the period of transition from the capitalist to the communist economy, the aggregations of producers go through a period of continuous transformation, and their particular interests may come to clash with the general and collective interests of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat.

This will find its real instrument in a representation of the proletarian class in which each individual enters as a member of this class, interested in a radical change of social relations, and not as a member of this or that professional category, factory or any local group.

As long as political power still lies in the hands of the capitalist class, a representation of the general revolutionary interests of the proletariat can only be obtained on the political terrain, in a class party that gathers the individual adherence of those who have overcome, in order to devote themselves to the revolutionary cause, the narrow view of self‑interest, categorical interest, and sometimes even class interest, in the sense that the party admits even defectors from the bourgeois class who are proponents of the communist program.

It’s a grave mistake to believe that by transposing within the present proletarian environment, among the wage earners of capitalism, the formal structures which are believed will be formed for the management of communist production, forces will be determined, revolutionary by their inherent virtue.

This was the mistake of the trade unionists and also of the overly enthusiastic advocates of factory councils.

Appropriately, Comrade C. Niccolini in an article in Comunismo warns that in Russia, even after the handover of power to the proletariat, factory councils have often created obstacles to revolutionary measures, pitting the pressures of narrow interests against the unfolding of the communist process even more than the trade unions.

Nor are factory councils, in the machinery of the communist economy, the main managers of production.

In the organs with that task (Councils of the People’s Economy) the factory councils have less weighty representation than the trade unions, and much less than the proletarian State power, which with its centralized political apparatus serves as the instrument and essential factor of the revolution, not only insofar as it wages a struggle against the political resistance of the bourgeois class, but also insofar as it leads the process of socializing wealth.

At the point where we are, that is, when the proletarian State is still a programmatic aspiration, the fundamental question remains that of the conquest of power by the proletariat, and more still by the communist proletariat, that is, the workers organized into a class political party and determined to implement the historical form of revolutionary power, the dictatorship of the proletariat.

* * *

Comrade A. Tasca himself, in No. 22 of Ordine Nuovo, clearly sets out his disagreement from the program of the maximalist majority of the Bologna Congress, and even more so from us abstentionists, in the following passage which is worth quoting:

Another point in the party’s new program deserves consideration: the new proletarian organs (workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ councils, public economy councils, etc) functioning from before (under bourgeois rule) as instruments of the violent struggle for liberation, then become organs of social and economic transformation, of reconstruction of the new communist order.

We had insisted, in a committee session, that such a formulation was a mistake, as it entrusts the new organs with different functions according to a before and after, separated by the conquest of power by the proletariat.

Gennari had promised to amend it with an “at first predominantly as instruments, etc”. but the idea has since clearly been abandoned, and I, absent force majeure at the last session, could not get him to take it up again.

There is, however, in this formulation a real point of disagreement which, while it brings Gennari, Bombacci, etc closer to the abstentionists, distances them from those who believe that the new workers’ organs cannot be “instruments of the violent struggle for emancipation” except insofar as they are immediately (not afterwards) “organs of social and economic transformation”. The emancipation of the proletariat is brought about precisely through the development of its capacity to autonomously and originally manage the functions of the society created by itself and for itself: emancipation lies in the creation of such organs, which, if they’re living and functioning, by that virtue alone bring about a conscious social and economic transformation, which is their end.

This isn’t a question of form, but of substance and essential. In the present formulation, we repeat, the drafters of the program come to adhere to Bordiga’s conception, which gives more importance to the conquest of power than to the formation of the Soviets, to which he recognizes for the moment as having a more “political” function in the strict sense of the word, rather than an organic one of “economic and social transformation”.

Just as Bordiga believes that the integral Soviet will be created only during the period of the proletarian dictatorship, so Gennari, Bombacci, etc., believe that only the conquest of power (which then takes on a political character, i.e., leads us back to the already outdated “public powers”) can give the Soviets their true and accomplished functions. It’s precisely here, in our opinion, the central point that must lead us, sooner or later, to a new revision of the program we have just voted for.

According to Tasca, the working class can thus build the stages of its liberation, even before wresting political power from the bourgeoisie.

Further on, Tasca implies that this conquest can also take place without violence, when the proletariat has completed the work of technical preparation, and social education, which would constitute precisely the concrete revolutionary method advocated by the comrades of the Ordine Nuovo.

We won’t go on at length about how this concept tends toward that of reformism, and departs from the cornerstones of revolutionary Marxism according to which revolution is determined not by the education, culture, and technical capacity of the proletariat, but by the intimate crises of the capitalist system of production.

So like Henry Leone, Tasca and his friends overestimate the appearance of a new form of social representation in the Russian revolution, the Soviet, which by the virtues inherent in its formation would constitute an original historical solution to the proletarian struggle against capitalism.

But the Soviets – excellently defined by comrade Zinoviev as the State organ of the working class – are nothing but the organs of proletarian power exercising the revolutionary dictatorship of the working class, the cornerstone of the Marxist system, whose first positive experiment was the Paris Commune of 1871. The Soviets are the form, not the cause of the revolution.

* * *

In addition to this disagreement, there’s another point that separates us from the Turin comrades.

The Soviets, State organs of the victorious proletariat, are quite different from the factory councils, nor do the latter constitute the first degree, the first step of the Soviet political system. The equivocation in reality is also contained in the statement of principle voted at the first assembly of the Factory Commissioners of the Turin factories, which begins just as follows:

The factory commissaries are the sole and true social (economic and political) representatives of the proletariat, since they are elected by universal suffrage by all the workers in the very workplace.

In the different degrees of their constitution the commissaries represent the union of all workers as realized in the bodies of production (processing team – department – shop – union of the shops of a given factory – union of the production plants of the mechanical and agricultural factories of a district, of a province, of a nation, of the world), of which the councils and the council system represent the power and social direction.

This statement is unacceptable, since proletarian power is formed directly in urban or rural municipal soviets without going through the factory councils and committees, as we have repeatedly said, and as reflected in the clear expositions of the Russian Soviet system published by Ordine Nuovo itself.

Factory councils are bodies designed to represent the interests of agglomerations of workers in the period of the revolutionary transformation of production, and they represent not only the aspiration of that group to free itself by socializing the enterprise away from the hands of the private capitalist, but also a concern for the way in which the interests of the group will be enforced in the socialization process itself, governed by the organized will of the entire working collective.

The workers’ interests during the period when the capitalist system appears stable and thus it’s only a matter of fighting for the best pay for work have hitherto been represented by the trade unions. These continue to live on during the revolutionary period, and naturally they’d contrast competences with the factory councils, which arise when the abolition of private capitalism is announced to be imminent, as was also the case in Turin.

However, it’s not a great question of revolutionary principle to know whether or not unorganized workers should participate in the elections of commissioners. While it’s logical that these should participate, given the very nature of the factory council, we don’t think being logic, however, that the mixing in Turin of organs and functions between councils and trade unions by requiring the Turin Section of the Metallurgical Federation to have its council elected by the assembly of departmental commissaries.

In any case, the relations between councils and trade unions as exponents of special interests of workers’ groups will continue to be very complex, and can settle down and harmonize only at a very advanced stage of the communist economy, when the possibility of contradiction between the interests of one group of producers and the general interest of the production course will be minimized.

* * *

The Russian system is arranged so that the municipal soviet of a city consists of one delegate from each group of proletarians, who vote for only one name.

The delegates, however, are proposed to the voters by the political party, and so it is with the second- and third‑tier delegates to the higher bodies of the State system.

It’s therefore always a political party – the communist party – that demands and obtains from the voters the mandate to administer power. We are certainly not saying that Russian schemes should for sure be adopted everywhere, but we do think that there should be a tendency to approach, even more than in Russia, the informing principle of revolutionary representation: that is, the overcoming of selfish and particular interests in the collective interest.

Is it appropriate for the revolutionary struggle of communists to immediately set up an apparatus of political representation of the working class? This is the question we’ll examine in the next article, discussing also the project elaborated about this matter by the party leadership, and with full understanding that (as this same project partially recognizes) this representation would be quite different from the system of factory councils and committees that has begun to form in Turin.

IV. – Il Soviet, no. 5, February 8th, 1920

We believe we’ve emphasized the difference between the Factory Council and the Workers’ and Peasant’s’ Political-Administrative Council enough.

The Factory Council is a representation of workers’ interests, restricted to a small group within a firm. Under the communist regime it’s the starting point of the system of “workers’ control”, which has a certain part in the system of “economic councils” intended for the technical and economic direction of production.

But the factory council does not meddle in the system of political soviets, the depositary of proletarian power.

In the bourgeois regime, therefore, one cannot see in the factory council – just like the trade union – an organ for the conquest of political power.

If one were then to see in it an organ for the emancipation of the proletariat by other means than the revolutionary conquest of power, one would fall back into the syndicalist mistake – and the Ordine Nuovo comrades aren’t correct in arguing, polemicizing with Guerra di classe, that the factory council movement, as they theorize it, isn’t in a certain sense syndicalism.

Marxism is characterized by the prescient partition of the struggle for proletarian emancipation into major historical phases, in which political and economic activity have very different weight: Struggle for power–exercise of power (proletarian dictatorship) in the transformation of the economy–classless society with no political State.

To bring about a coincidence, in the functions of the organs of proletarian liberation, of the moments of the political process with those of the economic process is to believe in that petty-bourgeois caricature of Marxism which one might call economism, and is classified into reformism and syndicalism – and the overestimation of the factory council would be but another incarnation of this old mistake, which connects the petty-bourgeois Proudhon to the many revisionists who have believed they’re going beyond Marx.

Under bourgeois rule the Factory Council is therefore a representative of the interests of the workers of a company, just as it will be under communist rule. It arises when circumstances require it, through changes in the methods of proletarian economic organization. But perhaps more than the Trade Union it lends itself to reformist diversions

The old minimalist tendency to obligatory arbitration, to the co‑interest of workers in the profits of capital, and thus to their intervention in the management and administration of the factory, could find in the factory council the basis for the elaboration of an anti‑revolutionary social law.

This is taking place in Germany right now amid the opposition of the Independents, who, however, don’t deny the principle but rather the modalities of the law – differentiating themselves from the communists for whom the democratic regime cannot give rise to any control of the proletariat over capitalist functions.

Let it therefore remain clear that it’s nonsensical to speak of workers’ control until political power is in the hands of the proletarian State, in whose name and by whose power alone such control can be exercised, the prelude to the socialization of enterprises and their administration by appropriate organs of the community.

The workers’ councils – workers, peasants and, on occasion, soldiers – are, it’s well understood, the political organs of the proletariat, the foundations of the proletarian State.

Local urban and rural councils replace the municipal councils of the bourgeois regime. Provincial or regional soviets replace the current provincial councils, with the difference that the former are designated for 2nd degree elections by the local soviets.

The congress of soviets of a State and the central executive committee replace the bourgeois parliament, but are elected by 3rd and sometimes 4th degree suffrage, rather than directly.

There’s no need here to insist on other differences, principally among which is the right of the voters to remove delegates at any time.

The need to have a quick mechanism for these revocations means that the initial elections are not by lists, but by assigning a single delegate to a group of voters who, if possible, live together by the conditions of their work.

But the fundamental characteristic of the whole system doesn’t lie in these arrangements, which are by no means miracle-making, but in the criterion that establishes the electoral principle, active and passive, reserved for the workers alone and denied to the bourgeoisie.

Two mistakes are commonly made on the formation of municipal soviets.

One is to think that their delegates are elected by the factory councils or factory committees (executive committees of the councils of departmental commissars) while instead the delegates are elected (we repeat ourselves on certain points by choice) directly by the mass of voters.

This error can be seen in the Bombacci draft for the establishment of soviets in Italy in paragraph VI.

The other error is to think that the soviet is a body made up with representatives directly designated by the Socialist Party, trade unions and factory councils.

Into this error falls, for example, Comrade Ambrosini in his proposals.

Such a system may perhaps be of use to form, quickly and provisionally, soviets when necessary, but it doesn’t correspond to their final structure.

In Russia, a small percentage of delegates in a soviet is thus added to those elected directly by the proletarian voters.

But in reality the communist party, and other parties, get their representation by proposing proven members of their organization to the voters and by showing their program to said voters.

A soviet, in our view, is revolutionary only when the majority of its members are members of the Communist Party.

All this, as is well understood, refers to the period of the proletarian dictatorship.

The great question now arises. What usefulness, what character can workers’ councils have while the power of the bourgeoisie still lasts?

In Central Europe, workers’ councils and the bourgeois democratic State – all the more counter-revolutionary in that it’s republican and social-democratic – coexist at the moment. What value does this representation of the proletariat have, if it’s not where power actually lies, if it’s not the basis of the State? Does it at least act as an effective organ of struggle for the implementation of the proletarian dictatorship?

These questions are answered by an article by Austrian comrade Otto Maschl that we read in the Geneva Nouvelle Internationale. He states that in Austria the councils paralyzed themselves, abdicated power into the hands of the bourgeois National Assembly.

In Germany, on the other hand, after the same thing happened, the Majority and Independent SPD – according to Maschl – came out of the Councils, and these became true centers of struggle for proletarian emancipation, and Noske had to repress and crush them in order for social-democracy to rule.

“In Austria, on the other hand,” Maschl concludes, “the existence of the councils in bourgeois democracy, or rather the existence of bourgeois democracy in spite of the councils proves that those workers’ councils are far from being what in Russia are called soviets”. And he formulates the doubt that, at the moment of revolution, other soviets may arise, truly revolutionary, becoming the repositories of proletarian power, in place of these tamed ones.

The party program approved in Bologna declares that soviets must be established in Italy as organs of revolutionary struggle. The Bombacci project tends to carry out this proposed constitution in a concrete way.

Before dealing with the particularities, we will discuss the general concepts that Comrade Bombacci was inspired by.

First, we ask – and don’t call us pedantic – for a clarification of form. In the sentence, “Only a national institution broader than the soviets will be able to channel the present period toward the final revolutionary struggle against the bourgeois regime and its false democratic illusion: parliamentarism…” should it be understood that parliamentarism is that broader institution, or this democratic illusion? We fear that it’s this first interpretation, confirmed by the chapter on the action program of the soviets, which is a strange mixture of the functions of the soviets with the parliamentary activity of the party. If it is on this equivocal ground that the constituent councils are to act, it’s certainly better to do nothing about it. That the soviets should serve to draw up drafts of socialist and revolutionary legislation to be proposed by the socialist deputies to the bourgeois State, such a proposal only parallels those relating to communal-electionist sovietism, so well demolished by our D.L.

For now we’ll merely remind our comrades who write such projects of one of Lenin’s conclusions in the declaration approved at the Moscow Congress: Separate from those who delude the proletariat by proclaiming the possibility of its conquests in the bourgeois sphere and by advocating the combination or collaboration of the apparatus of bourgeois rule with the new proletarian organs. If the former are the Social Democrats – still citizens of our Party! – must not the latter be discerned in the electivist maximalists preoccupied with justifying parliamentary and municipal activity with monstrous pseudo-soviet projects?

Don’t our comrades in the fraction that won in Bologna realize that these people aren’t even in line with that communist electioneering which could legitimately oppose – with the arguments of Lenin and certain German communists – our irreducible principled abstentionism?

V. – Il Soviet, no. 7, February 22nd, 1920

We intend to conclude our exposition with this article, besides resuming the discussion in controversy with those comrades in other newspapers who have responded to our point of view.

The discussion has now become generalized throughout the socialist press. The best we’ve read is C. Niccolini’s articles in Avanti!, written with great clarity and in line with true communist notions, and with which we fully agree.

The Soviets, the workers’, peasants and soldiers’ councils, are the form taken by the representation of the proletariat when it exercises power, after the overthrow of the capitalist State.

Before the seizure of power, when the bourgeoisie still politically rules, it may happen that special historical conditions, probably corresponding to serious convulsions in the institutional orders of the State and society, bring about the emergence of soviets, and it may be very appropriate for the communists to facilitate and propel the emergence of these new bodies of the proletariat.

It must be very clear, however, that soviets being formed can’t be an artificial action, or the application of some formula; and that in any case, just because workers’ councils (which will be the form of the proletarian revolution) have been formed, that doesn’t mean that the problem of the revolution has been solved, nor even that infallible conditions have been set for the revolution. This – and we’ve already shown examples of this – may be lacking even where councils exist, when the political and historical consciousness of the proletariat, condensed we may say into the communist political party, is not transfused into them.

The fundamental issue of the revolution thus lies in the tendency of the proletariat to overthrow the bourgeois State and take power into its own hands. This tendency in the broad masses of the working class exists as a direct result of the economic relations of exploitation by capital, which determine an intolerable situation for the proletariat and impel it to break existing social forms

But the task of the communists is to lead this violent reaction of the crowds in order to give it a superior efficiency. Communists – as the Manifesto already said – know the conditions of the class struggle and the emancipation of the proletariat better than the rest of the proletariat; their critique of history and of the constitution of society puts them in a position to make a fairly accurate forecast of the developments of the revolutionary process. Thus, communists constitute the class political party, which aims at the unification of all proletarian forces, the organization of the proletariat into the ruling class, through the revolutionary conquest of power.

When the revolution is imminent and its preconditions are ripe in the reality of social life, a strong communist party must exist, and its consciousness of the ongoing events must be particularly precise.

That’s why, if these organs are to arise, if the communists are to concern themselves with their constitution at any given time, it mustn’t be believed that this is a means of quickly outflanking the bourgeoisie and almost automatically overcoming its resistance to the ceding of power.

Can the Soviets, State organs of the victorious proletariat, be organs of revolutionary proletarian struggle while the capitalist State still rules?

Yes, in the sense, however, that they can be, at a certain stage, the suitable ground for the revolutionary struggle that the party conducts. And at that certain stage the party tends to form such a terrain, such a framing of forces.

Are we today, in Italy, at this stage of the struggle? We believe that we’re very close to it, but that there’s an earlier stage still that we haven’t gone through.

The Communist Party, which should take action in the soviets, doesn’t yet exist. We aren’t saying that soviets, in order to come about, will wait for it: it may be that events will go about another way. But if so, this grave danger will emerge: the immaturity of the party will let these bodies fall into the hands of the reformists, the accomplices of the bourgeoisie, those who either openly crush or falsify the revolution.

And so, we think, the problem of having a real Communist Party in Italy is much more urgent than that of forming soviets.

Studying both problems and setting the best conditions for dealing with both without delay may also be acceptable, but without mechanistically putting fixed dates on an almost official inauguration of soviets in Italy.

Decisive for the formation of the truly communist party is selecting communists from reformists and social-democrats.

Some comrades think that the very proposal to form soviets may offer the ground for this selection. We disagree: exactly because the Soviet isn’t, in our view, revolutionary by itself.

In any case, if the emergence of the Soviets is to be a source of political clarification, we don’t see how it can be arrived at on the basis of an understanding – as in the Bombacci project – between reformists, maximalists, syndicalists and anarchists!

Instead, the creation of a healthy and efficient revolutionary movement in Italy will never come about by over‑prioritizing new bodies anticipated on future forms, such as factory councils or soviets – just as it was an illusion to save the revolutionary spirit from reformism by considering the trade unions as the nucleus of a future society.

We won’t achieve this selection with a new formula that won’t frighten anyone, but with the final abandonment of old “formulas” of harmful methods, sometimes fatally so. We – for well known reasons – think that this is a method that should be abandoned, as well as the electoral method, so that along with it non‑Communists can be rejected from our ranks; and we see no other way for the emergence of a Communist Party worthy of joining Moscow.

Let us work in this direction beginning – as Niccolini well put it – by working out a consciousness, a political culture, in leaders, through a more serious study of the questions of revolution, less dazed by spurious electoral, parliamentary and minimalist activities. Let us work in this direction – that is, let us make propaganda right now for the conquest of power, for the consciousness of what the revolution will be, of what its organs will be, of how the Soviets will really act – and we shall have really worked to constitute the councils of the proletariat and conquer in them the revolutionary dictatorship that will open the bright paths of communism.