International Communist Party The Union Question

The Classic Marxist Perspective of the Party and the Trade‑Unions
from Il Programma Comunista, issues no 10, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 22, of 1966

 1. Marx-Engels, 1841‑75
 2. Lenin, 1899‑1902
 3. The Left in the Italian Socialist Party, 1913
 4. The Communist Abstentionist Fraction, 1919‑20
 5. The Communist Party of Italy, 1921‑22
 6. In the Third International

Opportunism has always accused revolutionary communism of being indifferent to if not scornful of contingent issues, in this case, of the economic issues of the working class. The charge of indifferentism, however, is typically formulated in those historical periods when revolution has, regrettably, been driven to the fringes of the social movement, and opportunism, in its myriad diverse versions and forms, completely dominates the political world of class relations. When, on the other hand, stirrings of opposition to the betrayal snake through the working class, and proletarians demonstrate they are no longer willing to blindly and supinely accept the opportunist-revisionist dictatorship of the trade union and political bureaucracies, and mass economic and political organizations of the proletariat tend to form which are inspired, even if unconsciously, by the communist program, then suddenly the accusation of indifferentism is replaced by an equivalent charge: of barricadierismo, a charge with echoes of... bomb‑throwing anarchism. This is nothing new and is as old as the revolutionary struggle of the working class.

The intention of the first opportunist formula, indifferentism, was always to create a psychological obstacle to revolutionary communist ideas penetrating the class. The intention of the second, anarchism, was to counter the Communist Party’s struggle to conquer the working masses. In both cases, the aim of the enemies of the revolution is to prevent communists from getting to the head of the workers’ movement, and leading it towards the final struggle for the conquest of power.

In contrast, the communists have left no stone unturned as regards getting organizing themselves, and organizing proletarians, within the trade unions and class organizations on the basis of their revolutionary program. The day the Communist Party of the proletariat voluntarily renounced carrying out this function, it would implicitly have renounced leading the wage‑earning masses towards the destruction of the present capitalist regime and have eliminated itself from the historic struggle for the victory of communism. What is certain is that our party will never listen to opportunist chimeras and, strong as it is in its now centuries‑old program and heroic tradition, just as it never gives up its struggle to defend Marxist theory, which it conducts permanently even in the heat of the street battles, so it never renounces the struggle to conquer the leadership of the mass trade union organizations of the proletariat, whatever its physical forces might be and whatever the objective possibilities. And if the enemies of the communist revolution think our party will make this unpardonable error, they can abandon all hope right now.

The Communist Left, even when it was constituted as a Fraction of the Italian Socialist Party, led the struggle in the trade unions from the front lines with its combatants, a real revolutionary vanguard, in a party which, as the revolutionary crisis in Italy approached, was breaking apart, ready to pass to the side of the counterrevolution.

When, at last, the Communist Fraction formed the Communist Party of Italy section of the Third International, in 1921, that stance was explicitly confirmed in the Programmatic Manifesto launched in Livorno to the workers of Italy.

The same demand is to be found in 1922 in the Trade Union Theses, at the Rome Congress, in which, among other things, in points 11 and 12 it states: “The activity of communists to unite the Italian proletariat’s trade union organization, which began with the appeal dispatched to all organizations immediately after the constitution of the Communist Party, must be carried out equally from within and without, by forming groups and carrying out incessant propaganda within other partial or locally autonomous organizations”. And in point 7: “the Communist Party has permanent representations of its own within the trade union and operates through it, that is with the maximum competence and maximum responsibility”.

Such a position, of communists entering the class economic organization with the tactic of conquering its leadership, never wavered, even when, due to the vicissitudes of the international struggle, the Communist Left was excluded from the leadership of the Communist Party of Italy, and its tenacious struggle, which was consistent and unyielding, would culminate in the General Programmatic Theses of the 1926 Lyon Congress, in which it reaffirmed the need for the party to work in the workers’ unions to import the revolutionary program into the class, and specified, countering accusations of indifferentism and purism, that: “the Marxist conception of the party and its activity, thus shuns fatalism, which would have us remain passive spectators of phenomena over which it was felt no direct influence could be exerted. Likewise, it shuns every voluntarist conception, as regards individuals, according to which the qualities of theoretical preparation, force of will, spirit of self‑sacrifice, in short a special type of moral figure, and a requisite level of "purity" are to be required without distinction from every single party militant, reducing the latter to an elite, distinct from and superior to the rest of the elements that compose the working class, whereas the fatalist and passive error, though not necessarily negating the function and the utility of the party, at the very least would certainly involve adapting the party to a proletarian class understood merely in a statistical and economic sense”.

Recent party texts, from the Fundamental Points For Joining the Organization to the Naples Theses, confirm point by point the correct approach to the question of the relationship between party and trade unions enunciated since the Communist Manifesto of 1848.

We thus have nothing to add, much less to correct or remove, to what has been stated clearly for over a century.

It is not out of aesthetic or moral conviction that Communists have chosen to fight in the trade unions, that is, in the class organized on the terrain of production relations: they are compelled to do so by the aims of their revolutionary program, which, to be realized, presupposes that the revolutionary party of the proletariat leads the working masses in the conquest of power.

It is not out of aesthetic or moral conviction that Communists have chosen to fight in the trade unions, that is, in the class organized on the terrain of production relations: they are compelled to do so by the aims of their revolutionary program, which, to be realized, presupposes that the revolutionary party of the proletariat leads the working masses in the conquest of power.

It is in this struggle that the revolutionary communist party demonstrates its absolute loyalty to communism, to the communist revolution, and also defends the immediate interests of the workers, insofar as it does not conceal from the disenfranchised masses the precariousness of the partial achievements, of the wage and regulative improvements obtained, albeit at great cost, under capitalist rule. It is precisely through this struggle that the communists have the material possibility of demonstrating to the proletariat that only the struggle to conquer political power guarantees a real transformation of economic and social relations and therefore it is only under the new regime of the proletarian dictatorship that the living and working conditions of the working masses will really, noticeably and irreversibly improve.

By virtue of these considerations, the class party, our party, will continue its unceasing activity of struggle, propaganda and proselytizing in the heart of the class organized in the trade unions, as, logically speaking, it is the only party that can boast of having historically led and of leading still the proletariat towards the revolution.

1 - Marx-Engels, 1841‑75

A characteristic of Marxist texts is continually referencing the intimate connection between party and class, between party and class organizations of the proletariat. This connection destroys the claim for unilaterality in the activity of the masses and thus also of the party, as if economic, social and political struggles were separated from each other by a dividing wall and didn’t, instead, influence each other in a dialectical way, that is, by giving rise to a series of contradictions that characterize the real movement of the classes among themselves and of the parties that represent their interests.

In the Communist Manifesto of 1848 this relationship is masterfully described as follows:

«But with the development of industry, the proletariat not only increases in number; it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it feels that strength more. The various interests and conditions of life within the ranks of the proletariat are more and more equalised, in proportion as machinery obliterates all distinctions of labour, and nearly everywhere reduces wages to the same low level. The growing competition among the bourgeois, and the resulting commercial crises, make the wages of the workers ever more fluctuating. The increasing improvement of machinery, ever more rapidly developing, makes their livelihood more and more precarious; the collisions between individual workmen and individual bourgeois take more and more the character of collisions between two classes. Thereupon, the workers begin to form combinations (Trades’ Unions) against the bourgeois; they club together in order to keep up the rate of wages; they found permanent associations in order to make provision beforehand for these occasional revolts. Here and there, the contest breaks out into riots. Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers. This union is helped on by the improved means of communication that are created by modern industry, and that place the workers of different localities in contact with one another. It was just this contact that was needed to centralise the numerous local struggles, all of the same character, into one national struggle between classes. But every class struggle is a political struggle (...)

«This organisation of the proletarians into a class, and, consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves. But it ever rises up again, stronger, firmer, mightier. It compels legislative recognition of particular interests of the workers, by taking advantage of the divisions among the bourgeoisie itself. Thus, the ten‑hours’ bill in England was carried».

In The Poverty of Philosophy, written between December 1846 and June 1847, Marx, in sarcastically polemicizing with the philistine positions of the petty-bourgeois intellectual who dominated the working-class milieu of the time under the “socialist” ticket, analyzes the question in more detail. On page 138, after recalling that in England the workers’ combinations were authorized by Parliament, this having been forced upon them by the “economic system”, and that in 1825 Parliament itself had to “abolish all laws forbidding combinations of workers”, Marx ironically mentions the attitude of the “socialists” of the time:

«And we, as “socialists”, tell you that, apart from the money question, you will continue nonetheless to be workers, and the masters will still continue to be the masters, just as before. So no combination! No politics! For is not entering into combination engaging in politics?»

To this beautiful, “logical” way of reasoning is opposed the stark reality of the facts: “In spite of both of them, in spite of manuals and utopias, combination has not yet ceased for an instant to go forward and grow with the development and growth of modern industry (...) Thus combination always has a double aim, that of stopping competition among the workers, so that they can carry on general competition with the capitalist. If the first aim of resistance was merely the maintenance of wages, combinations, at first isolated, constitute themselves into groups as the capitalists in their turn unite for the purpose of repression, and in the face of always united capital, the maintenance of the association becomes more necessary to them than that of wages (...) In this struggle – a veritable civil war – all the elements necessary for a coming battle unite and develop. Once it has reached this point, association takes on a political character (...) Economic conditions had first transformed the mass of the people of the country into workers. The combination of capital has created for this mass a common situation, common interests. This mass is thus already a class as against capital, but not yet for itself. In the struggle, of which we have noted only a few phases, this mass becomes united, and constitutes itself as a class for itself. The interests it defends become class interests. But the struggle of class against class is a political struggle”.

And on page 140 the text anticipates the Manifesto’s categorical statement, “every class struggle is a political struggle”, with an equivalent, equally categorical expression, “Do not say that social movement excludes political movement. There is never a political movement which is not at the same time social”.

In 1873, Marx is forced to deal with the issue again, and this time not so much against a political school enunciating its theories, but against a political movement that is organizing within the International and behind its back: these are the anarchists, followers of the Russian Bakunin, whom Marx attacks and ridicules by reporting their beliefs in an article entitled Political Indifferentism. Marx thus exemplifies the strident contradiction between certain positions and the real workers’ movement:

«“The working class – the anarchists maintain – must not constitute itself a political party; it must not, under any pretext, engage in political action, for to combat the State is to recognize the State: and this is contrary to eternal principles. Workers must not go on strike; for to struggle to increase one’s wages or to prevent their decrease is like recognizing wages: and this is contrary to the eternal principles of the emancipation of the working class! (...) Workers must not struggle to establish a legal limit to the working day, because this is to compromise with the masters (...) Workers must not even form single unions for every trade, for by so doing they perpetuate the social division of labour as they find it in bourgeois society (...) In a word, the workers should cross their arms and stop wasting time in political and economic movements (...) In the practical life of every day, workers must be the most obedient servants of the State; but in their hearts they must protest energetically against its very existence, and give proof of their profound theoretical contempt for it by acquiring and reading literary treatises on its abolition; they must further scrupulously refrain from putting up any resistance to the capitalist regime apart from declamations on the society of the future, when this hated regime will have ceased to exist!”»

And he comments, «It cannot be denied that if the apostles of political indifferentism were to express themselves with such clarity, the working class would make short shrift of them and would resent being insulted by these doctrinaire bourgeois and displaced gentlemen, who are so stupid or so naive as to attempt to deny to the working class any real means of struggle. For all arms with which to fight must be drawn from society as it is».

At the June 20 and June 27 1865 meeting of the General Council of the International Workingmen’s Association (First International), Marx gives a report to show that the Owenist John Weston had argued much nonsense in asserting that wage increases are harmful to workers and that more harmful are the influences of the Trade Unions on the economy as a whole and by extension on the working class. Marx first demonstrates, in a plain and simple manner, the content of the economic categories of capital, Value, Price and Profit (the report was later published under this title), their mutual relations and in what relation the working class stands; and in closing he comments thus:

«The whole history of modern industry shows that capital, if not checked, will recklessly and ruthlessly work to cast down the whole working class to this utmost state of degradation”. And again, “In checking this tendency of capital, by struggling for a rise of wages corresponding to the rising intensity of labour, the working man only resists the depreciation of his labour and the deterioration of his race».

«The slave receives a permanent and fixed amount of maintenance; the wage‑labourer does not. He must try to get a rise of wages in the one instance, if only to compensate for a fall of wages in the other. If he resigned himself to accept the will, the dictates of the capitalist as a permanent economical law, he would share in all the miseries of the slave, without the security of the slave».

Marx goes on to explain the basic reasons why the working class must counter the capitalist class’s action on the economic terrain, even though it is the terrain he defines as most favorable to capitalism:

«The fixation of its actual degree [i.e. of the maximum rate of profit] is only settled by the continuous struggle between capital and labour, the capitalist constantly tending to reduce wages to their physical minimum, and to extend the working day to its physical maximum, while the working man constantly presses in the opposite direction. The matter resolves itself into a question of the respective powers of the combatants (...) This very necessity of general political action affords the proof that in its merely economical action capital is the stronger side».

And precisely for this reason, “By cowardly giving way in their everyday conflict with capital, they [the workers] would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of any larger movement”.

«At the same time, and quite apart from the general servitude involved in the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market.

«They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto: ‘A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work!’ they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: ‘Abolition of the wages system!’»

Marx concludes his report by submitting for approval a resolution that ends thus, “The general tendency of capitalist production is not to raise, but to sink the average standard of wages. Trades Unions work well as centers of resistance against the encroachments of capital. They fail partially from an injudicious use of their power. They fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organized forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class that is to say the ultimate abolition of the wages system”.

This concept of the trade union as the “lever” of the party would be carried over word-for-word into the Resolution of the First Internationals’s London Conference on Working Class Political Action in September 1871, specifically in the 9th Resolution on The Political Action of the Working Class. The final part defines the issue as follows:


«- that against this collective power of the propertied classes the working class cannot act, as a class, except by constituting itself into a political party, distinct from, and opposed to, all old parties formed by the propertied classes;

«- that this constitution of the working class into a political party is indispensable in order to ensure the triumph of the social revolution and its ultimate end – the abolition of classes;

«- that the combination of forces which the working class has already effected by its economical struggles ought at the same time to serve as a lever for its struggles against the political power of landlords and capitalists.

«The Conference recalls to the members of the International:

«- that in the militant state of the working class, its economical movement and its political action are indissolubly united». In the Resolutions of the International, approved in September of the following year, 1872, in The Hague, these basic notions would be transferred to the letter.

Engels in a letter to Bebel from London in March 1875, in which he harshly criticizes the “Program of the German Workers’ Party” guided by Marx’s “Glosses” against the nonsense contained therein, writes among other things: “There is absolutely no mention (in the draft program) of the organisation of the working class as a class through the medium of trade unions. And that is a point of the utmost importance, this being the proletariat’s true class organisation in which it fights its daily battles with capital, in which it trains itself and which nowadays can no longer simply be smashed, even with reaction at its worst (as presently in Paris). Considering the importance this organisation is likewise assuming in Germany, it would in our view be indispensable to accord it some mention in the programme and, possibly, to leave some room for it in the organisation of the party”.

Engels, between 1841 and 1845, had written an important work The Condition of the Working Class in England, in which he explains the necessity of the workers’ association to defend their wages, and – in p. 237 ff. of the Rinascita edition – among other things he writes: “It will be asked, ‘Why, then, do the workers strike in such cases, when the uselessness of such measures is so evident?’ Simply because they must protest against every reduction, even if dictated by necessity; because they feel bound to proclaim that they, as human beings, shall not be made to bow to social circumstances, but social conditions ought to yield to them as human beings; because silence on their part would be a recognition of these social conditions, an admission of the right of the bourgeoisie to exploit the workers in good times and let them starve in bad ones. [...] They [the workers’ associations, or trade unions] imply the recognition of the fact that the supremacy of the bourgeoisie is based wholly upon the competition of the workers among themselves; i.e., upon their want of cohesion. And precisely because the unions direct themselves against the vital nerve of the present social order, however one‑sidedly, in however narrow a way, they are so dangerous to this social order. The working men cannot attack the bourgeoisie, and with it the whole existing order of society, at any sorer point than this”.

And on the importance of the struggles: “These strikes, at first skirmishes, sometimes result in weighty struggles; they decide nothing, it is true, but they are the strongest proof that the decisive battle between bourgeoisie and proletariat is approaching. They are the military school of the working men in which they prepare themselves for the great struggle which cannot be avoided; they are the pronunciamientos of single branches of industry that these too have joined the labour movement (...) And as schools of war, the unions are unexcelled”.

This sequence of excerpts from our classic texts, condensing historical lessons from various different periods between 1825 to 1875, spans a historical phase particularly prolific as regards the fundamental vicissitudes of a class-divided humanity It includes gigantic turning points, from the definitive victory of the bourgeoisie in ’48 in France, from the establishment on the historical scene of the working class as a fighting class, struggling on its own behalf, to the establishment of the class party of the proletariat; from the rise of the revolutionary theory of this class of wage‑earners to the birth of the first world organization of this party, the First Communist International; this excursion, going back over century, linking up with the positions of the Left, you will recall from the first part of this work, gives an exact confirmation of the correctness of the positions of the revolutionary Communist Party on its live participation in the workers’ struggles, within the class organizations of the proletariat, in order to turn them into “levers” that are capable of unhinging the political power of capitalism. These texts make it abundantly clear that lying opportunist propaganda tries to make the mass of wage‑earners believe that workers’ unions should be “independent and autonomous” from the parties, so they can insinuate the reactionary belief that these economic associations can do without the leadership of the revolutionary communist party. The texts, in short, clarify the exact scope of the proletariat’s economic struggles, which, though just and inevitable, achieve nothing definitive and substantial for the class unless they move towards transforming themselves into struggles for the conquest of political power, that is, unless they serve as a practical exercise in establishing links with the political party of the working class, to the true communist party.

The texts cited record historical periods which are packed with the frequently heroic struggles of proletarians from the various European countries, and from the then young America, prepared to fight from a position of severe disadvantage – in the sense that it was in the course of such struggles that the class began to discover the forms of its class combat, testing them in the fire of many, often bloody, defeats, in the face of which the working class of today, if it has inherited from it the powerful lesson and the rich teachings, also has a grave historical responsibility not to betray the significance of so much heroism. And this grave responsibility weighs not only on the workers who are still unable to shake off the cowardice of their leaders and the betrayal of the old leaders who passed over to the enemy, but also on the revolutionary nucleus from the old generations of communists who survived through the immense tragedy of the counterrevolution, victorious over the Red October and the world revolution at the same time.

Every strike is a “battle”, and every battle is an episode in the “civil war” between the proletariat and society’s remaining propertied classes. In this battle, in this war, the classes mobilize their entire resources, their entire energy. The general staffs of the classes – the parties – check their battle plans, continually fine‑tune their weapons of offense and defense, study the enemy so they can strike at its heart. An army without leaders is not an army but a random collection of people; just as a body without a head is not a body but a deformed trunk. Thus the wage‑earning class without the party or physically separated from the party is only a mass of exploited people, and the party a nucleus of doctrinaires without a following, an end in itself, that is, an abortion of a party. Consequently, the class, with or without leadership, with or without its party, is forced to fight due to capitalism itself. When the adverse events of history prevent the establishment of the party, the class bleeds itself dry in these battles. But when the party rises from the very depths of the tragedy, as a sublimation of the sufferings, the betrayals, and the enslavement of proletarians, then this party, if it does not want the revolution to commit suicide, cannot but set itself the fundamental objective of conquering the leadership of the wage‑earning masses by penetrating the workers’ “associations”, “Trade Unions”, and “combinations” in order to turn them into “levers” against capital and against the opportunism lurking in the workers’ ranks; to turn them into “transmission belts”, in accordance with Lenin, of the revolutionary program.

2 - Lenin, 1899‑1902

With Lenin a long period of doctrinal systematisation begins, in part rendered necessary by the appearance at the heart of Second International, and particularly within German Social Democracy, of Bernsteinian revisionism, in part by the struggle for the establishment of the class party in Russia.

In the article On Strikes (Lenin Collected Works, vol. 4, pp. 310‑319), written in late 1899, Lenin examines the question of workers’ struggles, paraphrasing almost verbatim Marx and Engels’ classic texts on the subject. It must be noted – and we are counting on being able to show, at the very least, that for over a century, from 1848, that is, from the Communist Manifesto, to now, the great revolutionary leaders and the Communist Party have always confirmed and reaffirmed the same doctrinal principles, pursued the same aims, and envisaged the use of the same means – that Lenin deals with the problem by drawing explicitly, in everything and in all respects, on Marxism, as later on the Communist Left would do in Italy.

The text, having examined the conditions under which labor takes place within the capitalist mode of production, continues as follows: «Under capitalist economy, therefore, the mass of the people work for a wage for other persons, working not for themselves but for employers, in exchange for wages. It is understandable that the employers always try to reduce wages; the less they give the workers, the greater their profit. The workers try to get the highest possible wage (...) Between employers and workers, therefore, a constant struggle over wages is taking place (...) But can a single worker conduct this struggle on their own? (...) For the worker It becomes impossible to fight alone against the employer (...) And so the workers (...) begin a desperate struggle. Recognizing that each of them, if isolated, is completely powerless and menaced by the danger of perishing under the yoke of capital, the workers begin to revolt together against their employers. The workers’ strikes have begun.

«In all countries the wrath of the workers first took the form of isolated revolts. In all countries these isolated revolts gave rise, on the one hand, to more or less peaceful strikes, and on the one, to the general struggle of the working class for its emancipation. Strikes, therefore, always instill fear in the capitalists, because they start to undermine their supremacy. A German workers’ song says of the working class, “All wheels stand still if your mighty arm wills it».

«Every strike suggests very forcibly to the workers the idea of socialism, of the struggle of the whole of the working class for emancipation from the oppression of capital (...) A strike teaches workers to understand where the strength of the employers lies, and where the strength of the workers lies, it teaches them to think not just about their own employer and own immediate workmates, but about the employers as a whole, about the class of capitalists as a whole and the class of workers as a whole (...) A strike, moreover, opens workers’ eyes not only to the nature of the capitalists, but of the government and of the law as well (...) The workers begin to understand that laws are made in the interests of the rich alone (...) This is the reason why socialists call strikes “a school of war,” a school in which the workers learn to make war on their enemies for the liberation of the people as a whole and of all workers from the yoke of officials and from the yoke of capital.

«“A school of war” is, however, not war itself (...) Strikes are one of the ways in which the working class struggles for its emancipation, but they are not the only way (...) The workers, therefore, cannot, under any circumstances, confine themselves to strike actions and strike associations. Secondly, strikes can only be successful where workers are sufficiently class-conscious, where they are able to select an opportune moment for striking, where they know how to put forward their demands, and where they have connections with socialists and are able to procure leaflets and pamphlets through them (...)

«This is a task that the socialists and class-conscious workers must undertake jointly by organising a socialist working-class party for this purpose (...) When all class-conscious workers become socialists, i.e., when they strive for this emancipation, when they unite throughout the whole country in order to spread socialism among the workers, in order to teach the workers all the means of struggle against their enemies, when they build up a socialist workers’ party that struggles for the emancipation of the people as a whole from government oppression and for the emancipation of all working people from the yoke of capital – only then will the working class become an integral part of that great movement of the workers of all countries that unites all workers and raises the red banner inscribed with the words: “Workers of all countries, unite!”».

The text, of fundamental political education, plain, simple and without pretension, as is Lenin’s style, clarifies very well the central point of the question, namely that strikes and “strike associations” – trade unions – are not enough, and the wave of workers’ struggles need to solidify into the party of “conscious” workers, and consciousness of all the workers. This concept will be repeated again and again, in a thousand forms, in a thousand circumstances, especially as the formation of the party in Russia draws nearer in the struggle against economism and spontaneism.

In 1902 Lenin wrote the article The Draft of a New Law on Strikes, (Lenin Collected Works, vol. 6, pp. 217‑226), interesting for its “topicality”, in which, analyzing a “liberal” measure by the Tsarist government, he lays into the “legal Marxists”, not only of Russia and that time, but of all countries and of all times, exposing the tactics of “legalization” of trade unions by the State and the prostration of opportunists before the “statesmanship” which, under pressure from economic laws and the industrialists themselves, has been forced to admit, through the mouth of its minister of finance, that, “Actually, however, every strike (of course if not accompanied by violence) is a purely economic phenomenon, which is quite natural and in no way jeopardises public law and order. In these cases law and order should be maintained in the same way as during popular festivities, celebrations, performances, and like occasions”. Lenin forecasts today’s ‘news’, shameful and imbecilic, with ‘the news’ back then, and comments:

«This is the language of genuine Manchester Liberals, who proclaim that the struggle between capital and labour is a purely natural phenomenon, who with remarkable frankness put on a par “trade in commodities” and “trade in labour” (elsewhere in the memorandum), demand non‑interference by the State, and assign to this State the role of night (and day) watchman”. Lenin, then, takes head‑on the “legal Marxist” (in Russia, Struve) who takes pleasure in this and who calls on the workers for “restraint” to “increase the significance” of “legal” agitation:

«Mr. Struve tells us, among other things, that the new draft is an expression of “statesmanship” (...) No, Mr. Struve. It was not “statesmanship” that advanced the new strike Bill, but the manufacturers. This Bill has appeared, not because the State “recognised” the basic principles of civil law (the bourgeois “liberty and equality” of employers and workers), but because the abolition of criminal liability for participation in strikes has become advantageous to the manufacturers”. (Bear in mind the current laws on “just cause” in individual dismissals). In conclusion Lenin urges the workers not to “restrain” their demands, “but to pose them with greater force”:

«Against the debt the government owes to the people, they want to pay you one kopek in every hundred rubles. Use payment of this kopek to demand in louder and louder terms the whole sum, to completely discredit the government and prepare our forces to deliver a decisive blow at it».

By 1902, the struggle against economism was already in full swing, and Lenin, in his famous What is to be Done?, written between the fall of 1901 and February 1902, in the section Bowing to Spontaneity (Lenin Collected Works, vol. 5, p. 378 et seq.) returns with unparalleled polemical vigor to the question of the party and trade unions, referencing some typical attitudes of economism, taken from the Rabochaya Mysl:

«“The virility of the working-class movement is due to the fact that the workers themselves are at last taking their fate into their own hands, and out of the hands of the leaders”. ‘It was announced that “the economic basis of the movement is eclipsed by the effort never to forget the political ideal,” and that the watchword of the workers’ movement was “Fight for economic conditions” (!), or, still better, “The workers for the workers.” It was declared that strike funds “are more valuable to the movement than a hundred other organizations”. Catchwords like: We must concentrate, not on the “cream” of the workers, but on the “average,” mass worker; “Politics always obediently follows economics”, etc., etc., became the fashion, and exercised an irresistible influence upon the masses of the youth who were attracted to the movement, but who, in the majority of cases, were acquainted only with such fragments of Marxism as were expounded in legally appearing publications.

«Consciousness was completely overwhelmed by spontaneity – the spontaneity of the “Social-Democrats” who repeated Mr. V. V.’s “ideas”, the spontaneity of those workers who were carried away by the arguments that a kopek added to a ruble was worth more than socialism or politics, and that they must “fight, knowing that they are fighting not for some future generation, but for themselves and their children”. Phrases like these have always been a favorite weapon of the West‑European bourgeois, who, in their hatred for socialism, strove (like the German “Sozial-Politiker” Hirsch) to transplant English trade-unionism to their native soil and to preach to the workers that by engaging in the purely trade union struggle they would be fighting for themselves and for their children, and not for some future generations with some future socialism. And now the “V. V.s of Russian Social-Democracy” have set about repeating these bourgeois phrases (...) This shows (something the Rabocheye Dyelo cannot understand at all) that all worship of the spontaneity of the working-class movement, all belittling of the role of “the conscious element,” of the role of Social-Democracy, means, quite irrespective of whether the belittler wants to or not, strengthening the influence of the bourgeois ideology over the workers» (italics are Lenin’s).

Lenin, after having quoted a long passage by K. Kautsky criticizing the draft program of the Austrian Social Democratic Party, in which must be highlighted the famous passage, often quoted by Lenin in his other writings, and perfectly adhering to the most uncompromising Marxist orthodoxy, namely: “Thus, socialist consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle from without [von Aussen Hineingetragenes] and not something that arose within it spontaneously [urwüchsig]”, continues thus: “There is much talk of spontaneity. But the spontaneous development of the working-class movement leads to its subordination to the bourgeois ideology (...) for the spontaneous working-class movement is trade-unionism (...) and trade-unionism means the ideological enslavement of the workers by the bourgeoisie. Hence, our task, the task of Social-Democracy, is to combat spontaneity, to divert the working-class movement from this spontaneous, trade-unionist striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie, and to bring it under the wing of revolutionary Social Democracy”.

The primary importance of the party, and at the same time its function as the leader of the struggling proletarian masses, is reiterated here once again. We come across the need for this again, also in What is to be Done? along with another aspect of the question, that is the delicate matter of whether trade unions should be party organizations or not. Lenin points out, to begin with, that “The political struggle of Social-Democracy is far more extensive and complex than the economic struggle of the workers against the employers and the government. Similarly (and indeed for that reason), the organisation of the revolutionary Social-Democratic Party must inevitably be of a different kind than the organisations of the workers designed for this struggle. A workers’ organisation must in the first place be a trade organisation; secondly, it must be as broad as possible; and thirdly, it must be as little clandestine as conditions will allow (here, and further on, of course, I have only absolutist Russia in mind). On the other hand, the organisation of revolutionaries must consist first and foremost of people who make revolutionary activity their profession (for which reason I speak of organisation of revolutionaries, meaning revolutionary Social-Democrats). In view of this common feature of the members of such an organisation, all distinctions as between workers and intellectuals, and certainly distinctions of trade and profession, must be utterly obliterated.”

These concepts are found as such in old and recent texts of the Italian Left, standing as formidable evidence of the identity of revolutionary thought and action.

Lenin now explains how the “free” West differs from autocratic Russia: “In countries where political liberty exists the distinction between a trade union and a political organisation is clear enough, as is the distinction between trade unions and Social-Democracy. The relation of the latter to the former will naturally vary in each country according to historical, legal, and other conditions – it may be more or less close, complex, etc. (in our opinion it should be as close and simple as possible); but there can be no question of trade union organisations being identical with the Social-Democratic Party organisations in free countries”.

Lenin’s solution is peremptory, leaving no room for interpretation: the party must be completely distinct from the class and from its trade union and political organizations where the conditions of the class struggle are “free” to unfold without “despotic” hindrances, etc., but it can coincide where “as in Russia, the yoke of the autocracy appears at first glance to obliterate all distinctions between the Social-Democratic organisation and the workers’ associations”. “Still others will be carried away, perhaps,” comments Lenin, already an expert connoisseur of opportunism, “by the seductive idea of showing the world a new example of “close and organic contact with the proletarian struggle” – contact between the trade union and the Social Democratic movements”.

«Unfortunately – he reiterates – some go beyond that and envisage the complete fusion of Social-Democracy with trade-unionism”. Instead, “The workers’ organisations for the economic struggle should be trade union organisations. Every Social-Democratic worker should as far as possible assist and actively work in these organisations. That is true. But it is certainly not in our interest to demand that only Social-Democrats should be eligible for membership in the “trade” unions, since that would only narrow the scope of our influence upon the masses. Let every worker who understands the need to unite for the struggle against the employers and the government join the trade unions. The very aim of the trade unions would be unattainable if they failed to unite all who have attained at least this elementary degree of understanding, if they were not very broad organisations. The broader these organisations, the broader will be our influence over them – an influence due, not only to the “spontaneous” development of the economic struggle but also to the direct and conscious effort of the socialist trade union members to influence their comrades (...) Professional organizations can be most useful not only in developing and consolidating the economic struggle, but they also offer valuable help for political agitation and revolutionary organization».

Lenin writes in Russian; but during that historical period Russian is the international language of the world proletariat. Syndicalist deviations in Europe and the West are no different or less pernicious than “spontaneist” ones. After the bloody repressions that followed the fall of the Paris Commune, for nearly a decade the workers’ movement was more or less disorganized, and the slow recovery began with the first timid workers’ associations, from which, via a selection process involving bitter political clashes, the socialist party would later re‑emerge. However, it is precisely between the end of the last century and the early years of the 20th century, during the resurgence of union organization and the succession of strikes in various categories, that the groupings that emerged from the multiple splits between 1880 and 1882 will radicalize their initial positions.

Revolutionary syndicalism would expand and come to dominate the French labor movement. Its characteristics can be reduced to just one: freeing the workers’ movement from the nefarious influence of politics, liberating it from its class party; what matters is a powerful workers’ union organization that through the expropriatory general strike will replace the bourgeoisie and regulate economic organization. Twenty‑five years in advance of Ordinovism, workers’ control is preached by one of the agitators, Fernand Pelloutier. And already Lenin writes: «In the early sixties, the Stackelberg Commission, which revised factory and artisan regulations, proposed that factory courts elected from among the workers and the employers be set up and that some freedom of organisation be granted the workers» (Lenin Collected Works, vol 6, p. 218).

3 - The Left in the Italian Socialist Party, 1913

In the three previous instalments (nos. 10, 14, 16, of Il Programma) it was shown how the problem of the relation between class party and workers’ unions had been considered as invariant by Marx, Engels and Lenin, and how the same line – immutable as a matter of principle – had been followed since before the 1914‑18 war by the Left in Italy.

In Italy there also “appeared the false syndicalist Left” (see Storia della Sinistra Comunista, edited by our party, volume I, p. 34 et seq.), which manifested itself at the April 1904 Congress in Bologna and exited from the party in July 1907, founding the Italian Syndicalist Union. However, within the party, reformist trade-unionism/syndicalism, which was just as workerist and spontaneist as avowed syndicalism, would enucleate itself, declaring through Rigola’s mouth at the party’s 10th Congress in Florence that “the economic organizations can no longer be dependent on the Socialist Party”.

The party’s Intransigent Fraction, although not completely in line with orthodox Marxism, expressed well, as voiced by Lazzari, the proper relationship between the party and the trade union: “We must have every respect for the immediate interests dealt with by the Confederation of Labor, but we are the Socialist Party, and the viewpoint we have to take, to guide us in our actions, must be such as to leave no possibility of subordinating our great conceptual interests to the various transitory necessities which on a daily basis, for the defense and protection of the immediate interests of the workers, may also be necessary”; thus: “one program, one principle, one method, one discipline, which must bind us all”.

The far left of the Socialist Party would specify the function of the party and of the trade unions in the article Partito Socialista e organizzazione operaia (op. cit, p. 193), which appeared in Avanti! on 30‑1‑1913: «The trade organizations represent the first step in the development of the class consciousness which prepares the proletariat for socialism. They recruit all the workers who without yet being socialist want to improve their conditions. The duty of the socialist party is to make every effort to support the economic organization of the masses. An equally elementary and urgent duty is to see to it that, alongside the organization of the workers in the trade unions, intense socialist propaganda is carried out so that the solidarity of the exploited as a whole, the aspiration for total emancipation from all chains, is felt by the masses to be ever more pressing, and that which today is the bold dream of a small vanguard becomes tomorrow the conscious desire of the masses».

In Avanguardia, organ of the Socialist Youth, on 15‑6‑1913, in the article Lo sciopero di Milano (op. cit. p. 211), the party is summoned back to the “right path”, which is not that of the Sorelian syndicalists, nor that of the reformists: “It seems unfortunate that the Party, even after the victory of the revolutionaries, doesn’t want to involve itself with the necessity of exerting pressure on the proletarian organizations with a view to providing them with a directive more in line with genuine class struggle; it seems that the socialists, totally preoccupied with preparing for the elections (ouch!), are not concerned about the fact that the proletariat’s life in the trade union organizations amongst us is today sluggish, amorphous and colorless, and that its highest manifestation is the weekly exchange of insults between the two “coteries” of organizers... Proletarian action reduced to the purely economic trade union manifestation, is insurrectional, if you will, up to a certain point, but it dozes off after a certain level of conquered advantages has been achieved, which, in the final analysis, don’t affect the institutional foundations of the capitalist economic regime, and indeed constitute a substantial and almost necessary phenomenon of it. The principle of a revolution in the social forms of production, while undeniably finding its logical basis in the first workers’ movements which set out to achieve immediate improvements, has to expand and complete itself on a plane higher than that of the trade union milieu. It’s here that the need for a revolutionary class political party arises. And do we really need to say that political does not just mean electoral?

«Trade union action is indispensable to proletarian development, provided that it affirms, in carrying out its partial tasks, movement towards achieving the political goal, supported on the political terrain by the class Party. The Party must therefore be the accelerator of workers’ movements in the revolutionary sense and should give life and color to workers’ action, which in itself is not revolutionary in the automatic way upheld by the syndicalists, but which must not be narrowly neutral as the reformists claim... Neither with the reformists nor with the syndicalists on the organizational terrain. We want the organizations to become socialist, and not to end up in the stagnant pond of apoliticism...

«Treves believes it is necessary to fall back and soften economic opposition by intensifying political opposition. The formula is at the very least equivocal, like all distortions. It is equivalent to abandoning all the proletarian organizations to the lynch mob of business and associated capitalism... Soften nothing, then, but color and reinvigorate politically the economic resistance, intensify both forms of opposition which, in their harmony, give the precise delineation of the preparatory class struggle for socialism».

In the following excerpt taken from the article L’unità proletaria, which appeared in the Avanti! dated 1‑8‑1913, the question of “unity” is addressed; “unity” is for all opportunists is instrumental in covering up their worst iniquities, to the detriment of the communist revolution. It is a question which, taking other forms and under different historical conditions, will again be the subject of confrontation between the Left and other, more or less organized, currents within the parties of the Third International. The text takes its cue from an article that appeared in the Avanti! of July 28, 1913 on the relations between the French Socialist Party and the French CGT, which concluded by noting how “the fetishism of proletarian unity stifles the freedom of socialist criticism”; and continues thus:

«Just as the French Socialist Party missed the opportunity to catch out the syndicalist organization after it completely failed in its vaunted revolutionary aims, so, mutatis mutandis, it seems to us that the Italian Socialists, for fear of eroding their fragile unity, are too soft on the corporatism within our own General Confederation of Labor. That socialists should foster the development and ascent of the resistance movement, which cannot flourish and solidify unless it gathers into its cadres an increasing number of organized workers, no one doubts. But in fostering the development of economic organizations, we socialists must not regard them as ends in themselves, but as means for the propaganda and future achievement of socialism. That is why our point of view cannot coincide with that of the labor leaders and organizers (and syndicalists, too, for that matter), who see the union as the ultimate end, who are concerned only with its development and thus also with its conservation, and are unwilling to compromise it in struggles that transcend immediate goals or those of a particular category. Although one might object that almost all the organizers and leaders of the CGL are socialists, we believe that this represents more than anything a danger for the party, which those comrades leave in the background when they support the independence lamented by Avanti! some time ago».

The article goes on to recall that the policy of acquiescence to the workers’ organizations allowed the deputies expelled from the party to remain on the crest of the wave with their votes and to allege they were “in an almost socialist regime, on those occasions – rare – when the balance sheets of the cooperatives proved positive”, going so far as to issue the censure that “Bissolati and his comrades were pushed up the stairs of the Quirinal by the demands of the workers’ organizations ill‑prepared for the real class struggle. They felt the proletariat behind them, and were amazed when the Party disavowed them”.

The text reiterates the revolutionary purpose of the Party’s activity, which should not be one of stupid, reactionary worship of the “masses”, of “respect for the will of the masses”, but rather: “The Party today has a duty to return to making propaganda among the masses in order to restore their socialist consciousness. It should react to the independence manifested by the largest proletarian organization, and resolutely defend not only the intransigent method of political action of the proletariat, but also a more socialist and less corporatist tactic in the economic organization. Otherwise our revolutionary attitude will remain ungrounded, without solid foundations (...) We aren’t saying that the party should set itself up against the famous unity, but we do want the revolutionary fraction not to have quietly canceled under this formula its thinking as regards organisation, which should be just as resolutely extraneous to the syndicalist conception as to the reformist one which predominates in the Confederation today (...) A unity that would mean constraining ourselves to suffer in silence all the oscillations of the Confederation’s tactics and political eclecticism, that would mean a renunciation of freedom of criticism in the face of the trade union movement, a unity that would mean an obligation not to take steps as regards taking action and making propaganda except when one is completely certain it wouldn’t harm the tenuous web of cooperatives and workers’ associations. Such a unity does not seem to us to be a systematic program but merely an ambiguous and equivocal expression, which revolutionary socialists should dissect and clarify before accepting it with closed eyes”.

The emphasis is on the party, not on the proletarian organizations, nor on the masses, nor on the class: first the party, then the class. It is on this programmatic cornerstone that the extreme defense of the revolution can hold firm against the chimerical temptations of “blocs”, “mergers”, and deference “to the average worker”. This concept of the pre‑eminence of the party over everything, which gives substance to the Left just as the crisis of the Socialist Party, the not-so-good party of that time, is approaching, is at the heart of the violent clashes against the “right‑wing” defended to the bitter end by the CGL, as documented in the article La Confederazione del Lavoro contro il Soviet; which appeared in Il Soviet, no17 of 13‑4‑1919 (op. cit. p. 378). After vigorously reiterating that: “We are not among those who judge whether an organization is reformist or revolutionary on the basis of whether it obtains a little more or less money as wage increases”, the basic assumption is briefly traced as effectively as ever:

«We do not see the revolution in trade union work but in the proletariat’s political and party work. That is why we do not share a common policy with either the Confederation or the Syndicalist Union. We would ask of the organization an attitude more along the lines of: The trade unions hand over to the Socialist Party the overall direction of the social and political work of the working class, declaring that the latter aims to overthrow capitalism through the revolutionary conquest of political power carried out by its class party organization. This absolute delegation would be enough for us, in order to attribute to the economic union a revolutionary potentiality of a different kind».

And to the objection that the party is not really “revolutionary”, the text clarifies that: “To remedy this, one can only work on the basis of the party’s political action”; and that: “By creating an antithesis between the political movement and the trade union movement, even if one intends to do revolutionary work, one succeeds only in encouraging the craft/category spirit and decentralization of action which has an anti‑revolutionary effect, as Russia and other countries in revolution are proving”. And it concludes – after having clearly stated, against the view of reformists and anarcho-syndicalists, that: “Sovietism is not a hodgepodge of trade unions” – that “as the revolution unfolds – in the Marxist program as in the history that is taking place before our eyes – it rejects the views of reformist workerism and of syndicalism, and entrusts to the political action of the working class the praxis of the revolution”. Already there is a nod to the question of the Soviets, which we’ll come on to later, where the Left’s critique extends to all forms spontaneism and immediatism, categorism and corporatism, a stance that would turn into the magnificent example of truly “united” tactics adopted by the Communist Party of Italy, under the leadership of the Left, in its battles to win the leadership of the workers’ struggles.

The question of “unity” was being placed at the center of the clash between the revolutionary wing and the reformist wing (supported indirectly by the maximalist center) because it constituted a screen behind which lurked the ingrained habit of all opportunists to link up with the bourgeoisie via the multiple tentacles of the democratic octopus. The Left was fighting relentlessly against the trinary leadership of the proletariat as represented by the leadership of the Socialist Party, the parliamentary group, and the central of the Confederation of Labor. The question is fundamental: the party alone is entitled to direct the overall political struggle against the bourgeois State, and it cannot share this historic right with any other organization, on pain of collapsing into the most blatant laborism and democratism. The reformists asserted the trinary formula of leadership by arguing that it was a good representation of the three main aspects into which the working class struggle for power is articulated: the political, represented by the Party; the economic, embodied by the CGL; and the legal, represented by the Socialist parliamentary group.

The maximalists, the centrists of the time – revolutionary in words and opportunist in deeds in Lenin’s incisive definition – joined with the Left in bitterly criticising the Party leadership, which made each of its attitudes and political initiatives depend on the determining influence of the trade union organizers and parliamentary deputies; but they dared not go beyond verbal protests, whose substance they sacrificed all the more willingly to the “unity” of the socialist body, the more the party split irremediably under the terrible blows of bourgeois resistance and the ripening of the revolutionary crisis. The best evidence of maximalism’s indecisive attitude, of its lack of character, is offered by the Livorno congress of January 1921, when the centrists refused to switch to the communist wing, crying about the now irretrievably lost “unity”. And they were not the only ones to shed hot tears; some of those who jumped to the “left” would show not long afterwards they had left their lukewarm hearts in the “center”.

With the spread of the counterrevolution, still submerging the working masses today, the trinarian formula triumphed, and its traitorous content was actually decanted into the now dead communist party.

The accusations of the reformists and even the maximalists against the Left were the classic ones of them having set themselves “against the class”, by renouncing the “pact of unity of action”, and the “alliance’ with the trade unions”, which represented and organized in a broader manner the proletariat and the working classes in general. The Left replied that the only authentic representative of true “proletarian unity” is the class party, which not only organizes in its ranks, in an undifferentiated manner, all categories of workers and laborers, but above all possesses a general non‑corporatist vision, a historical program and consciousness of the final aim, which on the other hand are inhibited in any other proletarian organization. It is precisely in the party that full “class unity” is realized, insofar as the party opposes the capitalist State by positing and organizing the violent revolution of the working class, the destruction of the bourgeois State, and the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship.

For the Left, proletarian “unity” has only one meaning: that of bringing together the workers under the single and unified direction of the revolutionary policy of the class party; which does not mean “fusion”, “blocs” between party and union central or, worse still, between class party and economic and political organisations (even if nominally working-class such as social democratic ones) as in the CGL’s proposal at the time to convene a “Professional Constituent Assembly”: nor does it mean – opposite error but of the same nature and having a similar effect – splitting from the reformist (“reactionary”, as the Italian translation of Lenin’s Left‑Wing Communism reads) trade unions to replace them with genuinely “communist” bodies.

The first error – an overtly social-democratic emanation, consisting of wishing for a “fusion” or “bloc” between the political party and the trade union central – was one that used to infest the whole of the decrepit Socialist Party, and would unfortunately reappear like La Fontaine’s coach‑fly, assuming undeserved authority, in the third opportunist wave, and overwhelm the Third International. The second error, of a syndicalist character and which consisted of the proposal to split from the reformist trade unions and replace them with “communist” unions, would contaminate a part of the German movement and would be the basis for the KAPD (German Workers’ Communist Party) splitting from the Communist Party of Germany; to the critical demolition of which Lenin would devote the entire sixth chapter of “Left‑Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder, a text fully supported by the Left, which also on this point had always held a position that was correct in terms of doctrine and practice.

Today’s traitors, including some of the old fogeys who survived those far off years, used to hypocritically lump together the “syndicalist” extremism of the Germans and some Dutchmen with the anti‑parliamentarism of the Left in Italy. This is not the place to go into the question of parliamentary abstentionism, dealt with magnificently, among other things, in our party pamphlet devoted to a serious and revolutionary examination of Lenin’s text; but it is necessary again to attract the attention not so much of those who, corrupted by their parliamentary paycheck, can have neither heart nor brain nor the nerve to hear, but of the younger generation, not transfixed by the radiant vision of... a career, to what an enormous difference there is between the anti‑parliamentarism of the Left and the deviation of the German workerists. Abstentionism did not affect questions of principle at all, and it envisaged a tactical solution perfectly consistent with Marxist theory. According to Lenin, a formidable dialectician, it constituted an error, but not such as to prevent, precisely the abstentionist Left, from forming the much‑awaited Communist Party of Italy and remaining faithful to the fundamental principles of the Communist International. But according to the Left, the tactics of revolutionary parliamentarism in the West and in the countries of consummated capitalist experience would constitute a vehicle by which the most violent age‑old pressure of bourgeois corruption would overcome the revolutionary tide; which although bravely developed would prove of unequal value and efficacy. History has confirmed the validity of the Italian Left’s thinking with one of the most tragic examples in the history of the revolutionary movement: the Party was shockingly overwhelmed by anti‑extremists, disguising themselves as defenders of Leninism.

Workerist extremism, on the other hand, negated the Party’s vital conception of class and amputated the unitary body of doctrine.

4 - The Communist Abstentionist Fraction, 1919‑20

We report here, jumping ahead almost half a century, the exemplary summary of "some extreme dialectical theses that in theoretical formulation may not be immediately digestible", contained in our History of the Left (Italian text), vol. I, pp. 130‑131:

«Party more revolutionary than trade union. Political party closer to the class than the trade union. Party true organ of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and not the trade union, or any other economic body, and not the Soviet – which could fall prey to petty-bourgeois opportunists, and should then be denied power (Lenin). Splitting of the traditional socialist parties to form the Communist Party fit for dictatorship". Today such a prospect of a split is not feasible, because both the old socialist parties and, unfortunately, also the communist parties have gone completely over to the opposite side of the fence, so it is not them splitting that we need to be worried about but their dissolution, during which the revolutionary communist party will be formed. "And – in all consistency – work in the unions in every situation as the first duty of the party. We don’t postulate splitting the unions, but work even in those dominated by reformists and traitors. Active participation in strikes, speaking daily to the masses about politics, about seizing power, about dictatorship, about bringing down bourgeois parliamentarism».

Yet another quote from the History, in order to show through an episode from it – this time from almost half a century ago – what consistency between theoretical conception and practical action looks like. The episode refers to the powerful metalworkers’ strike in Naples on March 24, 1920, and "it is a good way of bringing our theme, on how the party acts in the union, to a fitting end"

«The mass of thousands of workers shouted, ’General strike!’ It was objected that the members of the General Council of Leagues and not even the Executive Commission were present. And with that? we replied. Are there not revolutionary militants who are members of the Socialist Party? Are we not workers here from all categories and factories? We decided on the strike and distributed our pickets. The next morning, albeit not observing complete constitutionality, Naples was at a standstill! Doctrinairism, or practical method of fighting by putting the party where it belongs: at the head of the proletariat?" The text comments on the episode by comparing it with another recent one of opposite significance, but highly educational for all: "Thirty years had passed, and in the same place where we were on picket duty back then we asked a railwayman: Are you striking today? He raised his arms: We are awaiting instructions he said. A phrase worthy of fascist times, and indicative of the fact that fascism, with the ’new Risorgimento’ of the renegades, consolidated itself in power».

At that time – 1920 – the Left had already organized nationally into the Communist Abstentionist Fraction, with its organ Il Soviet of Naples. At its constituent meeting in July 1919, the Fraction’s Program already reads:

«The class party keeps itself in constant contact with the workers’ unions by coordinating and directing their action in the political struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat». This precise conception, perfectly inspired by the principles of revolutionary Marxism, is extensively elaborated in the "Theses of the Communist Abstentionist Fraction of the PSI" of June 1920, where in the last paragraph of thesis 10 of Part II it says:

«Communists consider the union as the setting for an initial proletarian experience which permits the workers to make further steps towards the concept and the practice of political struggle, which has as its organ the class party"; and this after explicitly arguing that "Communists cannot consider economic trade or craft organisations to be sufficient for the struggle for the proletarian revolution or as the basic organs of the communist economy».

The text continues: «Organisation in trade unions serves to neutralise competition between workers of the same trade and prevents wages falling to the lowest level. However it cannot lead to the elimination of capitalist profit, still less to the unification of the workers of all trades against the privilege of bourgeois power. Further, the simple transfer of the ownership of the enterprises from the private employer to the workers’ union could not achieve the basic economic features of communism, for the latter necessitates the transfer of ownership to the whole proletarian collectivity since this is the only way to eliminate the characteristics of the private economy in the appropriation and distribution of products”. This last part repeats the well‑known concepts contained in Marx and Engels’ writings, and demolishes in advance the "guild socialism" of Austro-Marxism, which postulated the transition from capitalism to socialism by entrusting the management of enterprises to workers’ unions. And in thesis 11, is addressed the issue – also debated with the "electivist communists" and in particular the New Order group – of "workers’ control" and the creation of "Soviets":

«Factory unions and factory councils emerge as organs for the defence of the interests of the proletarians of different enterprises when limiting capitalist despotism in the management of the enterprises begins to seem possible. The acquisition by these organisations of the right to more or less control production is not however incompatible with the capitalist system and could even be used by it as a means to conserve it”. And the general formula is anticipated and repeated: First power, then economic transformation. In fact, "According to the true communist conception the control of production will be achieved only after the overthrow of the bourgeois power, as control of the entire proletariat unified in the State of workers’ councils over each establishment».

Thesis 1 of Part III, where the tasks characterizing communists are dealt with by marking them off from all other movements and notably from the "rightists" and "centrists" or "maximalists" of the PSI, after having underlined – thesis 3 – that "Fundamental activities of the parties are propaganda and proselytizing", and – thesis 4 – that "The communist party carries out within it an intense work of study and political critique intimately linked to the requirements of action and to historical experience, and strives to organise this work on an international basis". continues: «Above all, the party conducts its activity and propaganda among the proletarian masses and works to polarise them around it, particularly at those times when they are set into motion in order to react to the conditions that capitalism imposes upon them, and especially within organisations formed by proletarians to defend their immediate interests». «Communists – Thesis 5 – therefore penetrate proletarian cooperatives, unions, factory councils, and form groups of communist workers within them. They strive to win a majority and posts of leadership so that the mass of proletarians mobilised by these associations will subordinate their own action to the higher political and revolutionary ends of the struggle for communism».

In this last thesis, the "trade union policy" of the party is already set out in the way it will necessarily have to unfold a year later when the Left takes on the leadership of the Communist Party and which, in more extended form, is developed in October 1920 in the Manifesto to the comrades and sections of the Italian Socialist Party, amongst whose "directives on Party activity" it is noted:

«Organization in all unions, leagues, cooperatives, factories, firms, etc., of communist groups, connected to party organization, for propaganda within and the conquest of such organisms and revolutionary preparation. Action within the economic organizations in order to establish a Communist Party leadership within them. Appeal to revolutionary proletarian organizations not in the Confederazione Generale del Lavoro to return to it to support the struggle of communists against its present orientation and its present leaders. Denunciation of the pact of alliance between the Party and the Confederation, inspired as it is by the social-democratic criterion of parity of rights between party and trade union, with a view to replacing it with actual control of the actions of the proletarian economic organizations by the Communist Party by means of the discipline of communists who work inside the unions to the directions of the Communist Party. Separation of the Confederation, as soon as it is won over to the directives of the Communist Party, from the yellow secretariat in Amsterdam, and its adherence to the union section of the Communist International, according to the rules that are in the latter’s Statute».

The Leninist concept of the trade union as the "transmission belt" of the party is very explicit, as is that of the "United trade union front" envisaged by the Left even before the Communist International made it the basis of its tactics, with the invitation to the "revolutionary proletarian organizations", i.e., the anarchist-controlled trade unions and the Railwaymen’s Union, to join the C.G.d.L. to confront, along with the Communist proletarians, the reformist and counter-revolutionary leadership of the main Italian trade union central. The denunciation, made so frequently by the Left, of the "alliance pact" between the Confederation of Labor and the Italian Socialist Party, clarifies well what should be understood by “autonomy” of the trade union: autonomy that is from the opportunist parties and political leaderships, and not, as is the fashion today of all trade union centers, "autonomy" from parties whatever they may be, envisaging for the trade unions a policy "of their own" which is "different" from that of the parties. For communists there exists only one trade union autonomy: that of the counter-revolutionary and opportunist policy of preventing, on the contrary, the trade unions from having their actions directed by communists.

The same has been said without feigning or mincing our words ever since, and it would never be concealed by the Left, not even when in the International itself tactical and diplomatic tendencies would prevail. Just as clear to the Left is the concept of "alliance" with other proletarian forces and that of the irreplaceability of trade unions. In fact, the hoped‑for entry of the anarchists’ into the C.G.d.L., would be preceded by the Left’s decades‑long critique of their "generous" utopias and their impotent and often counterproductive political "abstentionism". Yet, anarchist proletarians and communist proletarians shared the sacrifices of the struggle and fought alongside each other in heroic emulation. In Il Soviet No. 15 of 23‑5‑1920 appears a much‑needed Precise Statement on the Communists’ position regarding the widespread error of making the outcome of the struggles of that period, decisive in almost all of Europe, depend on sabotaging the trade unions headed by reformists (as in the case of the German workerist communists, already seen before) in order to replace them with other organs:

«Elevating to a revolutionary method the formation of other economic organs from scratch, such as the trade unions of industry, the factory councils (Turin), the Shop Stewards (England), and claiming thereby to have solved the problem of leading the proletariat to communism, this error which recalls the one made by the syndicalists (surviving in organs that want to join Moscow, such as the I.W.W. of America, the Spanish Confederation of Labor, the Unione Sindacale Italiana) is the one that was condemned in Moscow, in order to reclaim the revolutionary function, attributing it to the political action of the "strong, centralized" Marxist party, as Lenin put it; in order to remind us that the proletarian revolution is, in its acute phase, rather than being a process of economic transformation, is a struggle for power between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat which culminates in the establishment of a new form of State, the conditions for which are the existence of the Proletarian Councils as political organs of the class and the prevalence within them of the Communist Party».

In the Letter of the Communist Fraction of the P.S.I. to the C.C. of the Third International in January ’20, after clarifying that, "programmatically, our point of view has nothing to do with anarchism or syndicalism – we are advocates of the strong, centralized political party of which Lenin speaks, indeed we are the most tenacious assertors of this conception in the maximalist camp", it is made clear that, unlike other groups proclaiming to be communist, "we do not advocate the boycott of economic trade unions, but their conquest by communists", and, finally, that "we are indeed against collaboration with anarchists and syndicalists in the revolutionary movement because they do not accept those criteria of propaganda and action", i.e., undemocratic criteria for the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat after the violent overthrow of capitalist power.

From what we are reporting, it is easy to see that when the split between the Communist fraction and the P.S.I. took place in Livorno, the Left was already in firm possession not only of the theoretical foundations of the Marxist program, but also all the tactical notions indispensable for orientating itself in a revolutionary direction.

5 - The Communist Party of Italy, 1921‑22

An effective demonstration of correct communist action is revealed from the amount of consensus it obtained in February 1921 in Livorno, a few weeks after the split in the Italian Socialist Party, at the Congress of the CGL: out of around 2.5 million members, five hundred thousand went over to the communist fraction of the Confederation, although this proportion didn’t reflect the real influence that the young Communist Party of Italy had over the working masses.

In the Manifesto to the Workers of Italy launched on January 30, 1921, the party openly proclaimed its tasks to the proletariat:

«The Communist Party of Italy draws inspiration for its tactical line from the deliberations of the international congresses and therefore intends to make use of trade union, co‑operative action, etc, as so many means for the preparation of the proletariat for the final struggle (...) Propaganda, proselytizing, organization and the revolutionary preparation of the masses will be based on the establishment of communist groups, which will gather together party adherents who work in the same company, who are organized in the same trade union, who, in any case, are part of the same grouping of workers. These communist groups or cells will act in close contact with the party, which will guarantee their action as a whole, in all circumstances during the struggle. By this method the communists will set out to conquer all of the proletarian bodies set up for economic and contingent purposes, such as the leagues, cooperatives, and Chambers of Labor, in order to transform them into instruments of revolutionary action directed by the party.

«The Communist Party will thus undertake, in line with the International’s tactical theses on the trade union question, to conquer the General Confederation of Labor, by summoning the organized masses to an implacable struggle against reformism and the reformists that rule over them.

«The Communist Party therefore does not invite its adherents and the proletarians who follow it to abandon the confederal organizations, but rather to commit to intensive participation in the bitter struggle that has started against the leaders. This is certainly no short and simple task, especially today when many self‑styled opponents of reformism are showing themselves for who they are and openly passing over to the side of the D’Aragonas, with whom they are militating in the old socialist party. But precisely for this reason, the Communist Party relies on the help of all those proletarian trade union organs that are leading the struggle against confederal reformism externally, and invites them, with a warm appeal, to place themselves on the terrain of the international tactics of the Communists, by penetrating the Confederation, in order to dislodge the counter-revolutionaries from it in a resolute and victorious joint action».

And again, in one of the many appeals from 1921, To the Workers Organized in Trade Unions for Proletarian Unity, the Communist Party solemnly reaffirms its function and aims within the trade union struggle: «In the opinion of the Communists of Italy and of all countries, the most effective means of gaining ground for revolutionary tendencies among the organized masses is not by splitting those trade unions that find themselves in the hands of right‑wing, reformist, opportunist and counter-revolutionary leaders. Having broken with these traitors of the working class, nationally as well as internationally; having constituted in the Communist political party the organization which embraces only those workers conscious of the revolutionary directives of the Communist International; the members and militants of the revolutionary party do not leave the Trade Unions, do not urge the masses to abandon and boycott them, but inside them, from within the economic organization, they engage in the fiercest of struggles against the opportunism of the leaders».

In the Communist Motion at the Livorno Congress of the CGL, these tasks are spelled out in even greater detail on specifically trade union terrain: «Considering that the only road that can lead to the emancipation of the workers from the yoke of wage labor is the one traced out in the program and methods of the Communist International, through the violent overthrow of bourgeois power and the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship based on a regime of Workers’ Councils, which will implement the making of a new communist economy;

These texts unpack, with strict programmatic rigor, two issues, that of the relationship between the class party and the trade unions – going back over the function of the former and the tasks of the latter, with the party remaining pre‑eminent and the economic and contingent organizations of the workers subordinate to it – and the relationship between the party and the class, which boils down to the tactic of the united front of proletarians willing to fight against the social-traitor’s policy of the trade union central within the reformist trade unions. Of particular relevance to the proletariat’s international struggle is the tactical line set out with a view to connecting the proletarian front inspired by the Communist Party to the Red International of Labor Unions, closely linked to the Third International, a line implemented through the constant work of detaching the trade union organizations from the Amsterdam Yellow International, which is subjugated to the opportunist International and the Bureau of Labour of the bourgeois League of Nations.

6 - In the Third International

Serrati and Bianchi, in June 1920 in Moscow, had already – the former as a representative of the Italian Socialist Party, the latter as a representative of the CGL – subscribed to the idea of a Red International of Labor Unions. In fact soon afterwards, on July 15, 1920, the CGL and the Trade Union Central of Russia agreed to establish the Provisional Trade Union Council as the committee that would prepare the first constituent congress of the Red International of Labor Unions. But when it came to the practical realization of the international organization, which involved the choice “Either Moscow or Amsterdam”, the CGL, through its delegate in an “observer” capacity at the Ist Congress of the RILU in July ’21, declared that it would not abandon Amsterdam and would simultaneously support Moscow. The confederal delegate Bianchi, a socialist of the “center” as he called himself, arrived at this fine conclusion by arguing that it was necessary to stay with Amsterdam in order to organize a left wing there that would crystallize around it a strong and growing opposition, capable of conquering the International Yellow Central itself and thus bring on a silver platter to the Red Central the Social Democratic masses radicalized by this “revolutionary” tactic.

The same tactics and justification would be adopted later on, but this time by the Third International, against the Kuomintang, i.e., the Chinese national-democratic party, after a similar experiment to that of capturing the shambling PSI via the “internationalist” quasi-fifth column. Both failed and the former marked the terminal phase of the collapse of the Communist International and with it of the Chinese party. The PSI also conducted its “united front” tactics in reverse, in its ends as well as its means. Indeed, whereas the RILU, and Repossi, delegate to the First Congress as the representative of the Communist fraction of the CGL, put to the Confederation, and consequently to the socialists who led it, the alternative of “Either Moscow or Amsterdam”, a catchword for a split in the international arena, while not in the least contemplating the exit of the communists from the Confederation if it declared itself for Amsterdam, the socialists of the CGL approved in February in Livorno at the national trade union congress the formula: adhere to Moscow “without reservation” but without leaving Amsterdam “provided that the PSI is admitted into the Communist International”! The blackmail tactic didn’t work, but it nicely illustrated the Social Democratic intention of snuggling up in the bosom of the Comintern in order to operate there as a defeatist element.

The Left understood the intentions of Social Democracy very well and it fought at the second congress of the International for the incorporation into the Conditions of Admission to the Communist International of the strongest possible barrier to any infiltration of spurious elements. It also always opposed the method – which unfortunately flowed from the former one which had always been detested and fought – of diplomatic “concessions” and “negotiations” between the International and external political groupings or parties; a method, so it was said, that would allow revolutionary influence to spread. This method and these tactics, which we might well call social democratic, when adopted by Moscow led to the supreme aberration of having so‑called “sympathizer” parties affiliate to the Communist International as well.

The left‑communists fought against the seductive idea that the realization of the “united front” would have been made simpler, and that the tactical condition of the “conquest of the majority” of the working and exploited masses for the revolutionary victory would have been realized faster and easier. The supporting evidence for the arguments rested precisely on the true intention of the socialists: they would willingly join both the Communist International and the RILU in Moscow, inorder to form a reformist right wing there for the express purpose of shattering the revolutionary communist movement by sabotaging its action, all the while having people believe that their joining would result in the achievement of a proletarian consensus.

It would be a grave mistake to believe that the participation of communists in the economic organizations of the proletariat, understood as the formation within these organizations of communist groups, is a “tactical” position, a “move” to simply win support for Communist Party policy. The participation of communists in the trade union and economic struggles of the proletariat is a necessity implicit in the working-class character of the communist party, and it absolves the class party’s fundamental role of leading the proletarian masses towards the overthrow of capitalist power. This false conception is typical of political groupings in the current chaos, in which total ignorance and ideological confusion reigns; they claim that in the “new” course of capitalism the role of trade unions has been superseded, leading them to postulate the replacement of traditional trade unions with other forms of workers’ organization that are more “advanced” and which respond to the “new requirements” of the struggle. Such a conception mirrors that of official trade unionism, which, setting out from the same alleged change in the fundamental structures of society, no longer wants to entrust to the trade unions the “usual” “traditional” tasks of “protesting”, “making demands”, and of "head on" struggle anymore, but with the much more “civilized” and “modern” tasks of “intervention” in economic, social and even political structures, in order to “transform” them, in democratic competition, to serve the workers. This would justify the “new tactics” of the self‑described workers’ parties (and especially of the party that usurps the communist tradition in Italy today, the Italian Communist Party), which do not aspire to conquer the monopoly of the leadership of the economic organizations of the proletariat, but consider it “tactically” more useful to their cause to have a parallel development of the political organizations of the proletariat (the parties) and of the economic organizations (the trade unions), consisting of autonomy and independence of action and judgement of each in their own “sphere”.

It is clear, from what we’ve already written and above all quoted at length, that such a “new” conception perfectly replicates that of the social‑democratic reformism of fifty years ago, and that it serves only to deprive the working class of its natural guide, the revolutionary communist party. As long as capitalism exists, and even after its overthrow in the period of economic transformation, during which the politically defeated bourgeois classes will nevertheless continue to survive for some time during the process of systematic uprooting of class forms, workers’ trade unions will be the indispensable basic organization of the proletariat, and the Communist Party will have the task of directing its action (Lenin).

To attribute, then, to the trade unions autonomy and independence would be to see in their policies a consciousness that belongs to the party alone; just as believing to be superseded the need for the class to organize under the impulse of economic pressures assumes that the class has completely traversed the whole historical arc that separates it from full communism, under which there will no longer be any need for class defense organizations, since the proletarian class itself will no longer exist, along with all other classes, as expressions of humanity’s “prehistory”.

We have already seen that the first position, on the historical emptying of the trade unions and thus, as a consequence, the need to replace them with more suitable organs, was made by the German so‑called “left” communists who formed the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany. Today, those who postulate such a degradation of functions are unable, however, to even envisage a fallback solution, and relapse into complete indifference. Nevertheless, both the positions of the workerist communists, and all those who discern a speedier and safer development of the revolutionary movement by inventing organs different from the classical ones, and who implicitly entrust the historical result to organizational forms, make the grave and irreparable error of downplaying the primary importance of the class party in history. This error was also made by the Italian ordinovists, although to a different extent and with attitudes that were less peremptory than those of the German KAPDists and the Dutch tribunists.

The question is always “topical”, in the sense that the “diseases” arising in the workers’ movement have been perfectly diagnosed and eradicated on the theoretical level, as well as having been mercilessly defeated in the heat of the living class struggle, but it does not mean that their foolishly ambitious resurgence can be considered averted. The danger, as usual, doesn’t reside within the heads of a few people or in the political programs of groupings with a centrifugal tendency with respect to the official movement; rather its origins can be traced within the very conditions that the proletarian class lives and conducts its inevitable defensive struggle. The long historical appeal, in which this treatment of ours essentially consists, has the precise intent of reminding the class that revolutionary Marxism delights in repeating well‑known theorems not because it likes defining itself as non‑innovatory, but because the same theorems of a century ago are still valid today, inasmuch as the questions addressed are still live ones today. For as long as the working class has not conquered political power, that is, as long as capitalism survives and along with it its supporting cast of defectors and servants whose express purpose is to dampen the impulse of part of the class to take up the line of class combat, deviations are possible and the danger of defeats remain: just as the productive madness of capitalism will continue until the proletarian dictatorship has killed off its political power once and for all.

It is not only the conquest of a clear, solid and irrefutable theoretical position that immunizes the class party from possible deterioration: this was the historic lesson that the Left understood it should draw from the violent struggles of the 1919‑26 period, especially in relation to simplistic theses which, in their abundant pretension, sought to demonstrate that to communists everything is permitted, because... they are communists. To a firm possession of principles must correspond an equally firm action conforming to the principles that respect in their entirety the parting assumption.

The factory councils and the “united front” itself only remained instruments of the proletariat’s revolutionary struggle for as long as they did not consider themselves as replacements for trade unions and economic organizations in general. When these instruments were entrusted with a role that took precedence over the traditional function of trade unions, and workers were called upon to overestimate them, and to see in them an early reflection of their future condition as a victorious class, and the realization of conditions of infallible success, the fundamental role of the party was lost to sight and the class was entrusted with a conscious capacity for action that left the party out of consideration, and assigned to the large number of proletarians that were deployed in the political trench a determinant position regarding the outcome of the battle. When the leaders of the International, entangled in tactical theoretics, got caught up in Byzantine disputes over what was meant by “the majority” of the class, and by what mathematical expression it should be adopted, they were actually breaking that firm link between principles and action, and between tactics and ends. Not only was no “New Order” achieved, but the elementary organizational structure of the class was also irreparably compromised.

The Communist Party had won an enviable position within the proletariat by virtue of its revolutionary intransigence, and not by an empty campaign of revolutionary wishful thinking which, unfortunately, the Left was accused of by the growing number of its detractors.

Not only was the Left in Italy the first to launch the watchword of the “united front”, but it was also the only one to apply it with evident success. And such successes and such tactics were possible because the Communist party didn’t mix itself up with other ones, didn’t chase after the left wings of supposedly workers’ parties nor much less make ideological and organizational alliances with them, or with anybody else, which would have compromised the very existence of the class party. Suffice to recall that in November 1921, ten months after the founding of the Communist Party of Italy, the Communist motion at the National Council of the CGL in Verona, despite rigging and bribery, won a quarter of the votes: that is, 60,000 communists obtained the adherence to their policy of 400,000 proletarians.

The way the Left applied the tactic of the united front was exemplary in demonstrating two cornerstones of communist action: the necessary participation of communists in class economic organizations, with consequent formation of communist groups within them, as taught by Marxism and by Lenin himself (see Left‑wing Communism); and absolute fidelity to principles, which must never be compromised for hypothetical short‑term advantages. With this the Left never put into question “winning over the masses”, in the sense that the party would need to make it possible for itself to direct the general struggle of the proletariat in the first place by wresting it from the nefarious influence of the reformists and centrists, the latter more pestilential than the former. The Left, however, was the only one that didn’t believe in historical miracles, and that being its conviction it was more sensitive than any other party to the real tendency of the capitalist economy in a historical situation in which all revolutionary attempts, since the October victory, had been beaten back. Given this state of affairs, the Left’s main concern consisted in preserving a firm party cadre loyal to revolutionary Marxism, which would work to achieve whatever the material conditions in the working class allowed, whether the immediate prospects were for vanguard battles or for rearguard battles instead.

All the formidable work of the Left Party Central of the Communist Party of Italy, up to 1924, for as long as directly or indirectly it held on to the leadership of the party, is testimony to the flawlessly Marxist direction given to the party. Tireless was the search for grounds for class unification in order to establish a revolutionary battle array that was as broad and as deep as possible.

The establishment of the “Alliance of Labor” between the communist, anarchist, syndicalist, railroad workers and socialist-maximalist trade union currents was a first remarkable achievement. Through the “Alliance”, whose soul was the party, was prepared the general strike of 1922, after contact had been established by the “Alliance” with the workers’ parties, which, however, attempted to take advantage of these links for the sole end of using the “Alliance” to sabotage the action and block the work of the communists. The strike was proclaimed, and on the third day achieved an unexpected following, so much so that it was broken off at the initiative of the collaborationists, who feared the struggle developing to the point it would irremediably compromise their maneuvers to establish a coalition government, under the pretext of preventing a fascist government. The inevitable result was that the cessation of the general strike set in motion the fascist squads, which everywhere passed on to the attack, against the workers’ organizations; but at the same time both the reformist socialists and the tough-talking maximalists themselves were discredited before the masses, and the most advanced part of the proletariat was pushed towards the Communist Party.

The Left set out the party’s tactical principles in the famous Rome Theses, and condensed the lessons of the Communist Party’s first two years of existence into its Draft Program of Action. In the “Draft”, after pointing out that “the aim of the CP must be to show the masses the revolutionary incapacity of that party (of the Italian Socialist Party), of its inability to defend even their concrete interests”, and that “this requires unceasing opposition to all currents of the PSI, that it be declared impossible to do communist and revolutionary work in its ranks, that any project of official “entryism” into its ranks by the CP be rejected”, and that, “confronted with the split in the PSI and the formation of an independent party, the stance of the CP must be such as to prevent this party from being greeted by the Italian proletariat as a competent revolutionary entity”, the question of party action is thus set out:

«4. The increase of the CP’s organized forces and influence over the masses cannot be achieved with the simple proselytism that could be derived from promoting the theoretical and ideological promotion of the party’s principles, and its task cannot be limited to preparing the elements which it has organized for the moment of the supreme revolutionary struggle (...) The conquest of the masses for the purpose of preparing them for the struggle for proletarian power must be carried out as a complex and intensive action in every field of proletarian struggle and life, and with the participation of the party in the forefront of all struggles, even partial and contingent ones suscitated by the conditions in which proletarian lives. However, in the course of the party’s participation in such struggles, the close connection between the speeches that the party makes and the attitudes it adopts, and the attainment of its highest programmatic aims, must be emphasized at all times. In order to ensure the winning over of the masses to the communist cause, it is necessary that all this work in the very important field of concrete problems be accompanied by an incessant critique and polemics directed against the other parties that lead a part of the masses, even when it appears that these may share the same goals as the CP. The elements won over to it by the party’s aptitude and work are bound then to arrive in all areas solidly integrated into the various organizational networks at the party’s disposal, from which it aims to continually extend itself and whose independent existence and continuity must under all circumstances be assured».

In Paragraph 6): “Communists in Trade Unions”, as well as reiterating the central concept of the participation of communists, practical norms of action are given: «The participation of the CP in the concrete struggles of the proletariat with its forces, with its solutions, with its experience, is effected in the first place by the participation of party members in the activity of those associative bodies of the working classes which are born of necessity and which pursue economic objectives, such as the trade unions, cooperatives and mutual aid societies, etc. On principle, communists work systematically in those bodies which are open to all workers and do not require from their adherents particular professions of religious or political faith (...) In all of these bodies, on principle, the communists have their own groups, well connected with each other and with the party, and which fully support the program in accordance with communist directives (...) The intention of the CP is to achieve the unification of the great Italian class trade union bodies and it has been working to achieve this since its formation».

In point 7): «The work in the trade unions, intended to win them for the Party, and to win over new proselytes to the detriment of other parties operating within the trade unions, and from among the party‑less, is the most useful thing that can be done to bring about a rapid increase in the influence of the CP.” In the same paragraph can be found a norm that is still really useful today: “Today the CP must conduct an intensive campaign in this sense under the catchword: red unions not tricolor unions. To this end the CP must seek to conclude an understanding with those left currents within the trade union movement which want to keep it on the lines of revolutionary class struggle, including in this action the struggle for the organizational unification of the trade unions, which would ensure the greatest possible attraction of the masses in the trade unions themselves. This unification must be pursued as broadly as possible, not even excluding the right‑wing elements that are organized by reformists and syndicalists, formerly interventionist, now aiming to alter the course the unions take, but the limitation it must maintain is that of keeping the trade union organs immune from any direct influence of the State and of the bosses’ parties and unions, excluding from explicit participation in the life of the workers’ unions those parties and currents that on the same level advocate the organization of professional corporations of the wealthy classes, like they are supporting today, in addition to other bourgeois parties, the fascists and to a certain extent the People’s Party. If that were not the case it would allow all of the proletarian membership to pass into bodies in which all communist and revolutionary propaganda and penetration would be rendered impossible».

In the Report on Tactics to the Party’s Second Congress (the Rome Congress of 1922), the question of the “relations between the Communist Party and the proletarian class” was analyzed and deepened: «How can the CP increasingly enlarge its zone of real, effective influence? Through the example of its unfailing uprightness? Through propaganda? By exploiting the aesthetic seduction of the courageous, rebellious gesture of a few of its members? These are not the only and certainly not the main means the CP must use in its assiduous work of penetrating the broad working masses. The CP has a duty above all of participating, profitably and tirelessly, in all manifestations of the complex activity of the proletariat. Wherever even a small group of workers has been formed to struggle on the terrain of class struggle, the CP must bring its message – and its incitement to concrete action; even if this action presents only in rudimentary and embryonic form the characteristics proper to a purely revolutionary action, it is never a reason to alienate or mock it: it is always necessary to intervene, because through struggle any movement, however unimportant and undecided it may be at its inception, will eventually become part of the complex of revolutionary activities of the proletariat. Our party has so far proved that it is entirely up to its task in this respect as well. No comrade, even those most specifically engaged in the historical studies of our movement, has ever refused to engage in the more modest, but fruitful, forms of work in pursuit of the objectives our party sets out to achieve».

In defining the specific tasks of the party, the Rome Theses also addressed the controversial issue of the united front, which, according to the leaders of the International, should involve not only the economic and mass organizations of the proletariat, but also the workers’ political parties. The Left was accused of practicing a “syndicalist tactic”, because it considered the so‑called “political” one to be harmful and unproductive, that is, united front with other parties with a working-class base. The “Report” gives a superb elucidation of the controversy and highlights, on the contrary, the purely political significance of the party’s tactics: «It has appeared to some comrades in the International that our tactics deserve the label of syndicalist, because they disregard the political factor. This is not correct. All our comrades, by bringing the communist word into the unions no matter how and no matter where, know that what they are doing is, in fact, exquisitely political work. The truth is that we are constructing in the trade union a solid mechanism for us to use in the struggle against the reformists. This mechanism is a predominantly political instrument in the struggle waged by the proletariat against capitalist exploitation. Our united front means the united front of all workers’ organizations. It crosses every limitation of category and locality. It strives to erase all the remnants of corporatist tendencies that are often concealed in a revolutionary [i.e. syndicalist] trade union that is not much better than federal social democracy. This united front which we are fighting for is an eminently political pact because, in the struggle to bring it about, the organization of the proletarian masses under the leadership of the class political party is constituted and developed. This tactic of ours is already beginning to bear fruit (...) We will strenuously preserve and defend the solidity of this unitary arrangement of ours; neither will we disdain in any case from getting closer to any proletarian organism in order to draw it into the orbit of our movement».

The clarification served not only to reject certain accusations of syndicalist activism, in contrast, what is more, with those whose disdainful attitude of doctrinairism would enclose communists in an “ivory tower”, but it also attacked the attitudes of “ultra-left” groups which, in rejecting the principle of struggling within the proletarian economic organizations, had no other resource in the long run, lest they suffocate in their isolation from the working masses, than to drift off to the margins of the opportunist movement.

We consider the quotes that have been given and the attitudes recalled are sufficient to contextualize the question, while recognizing that revolutionary Marxist literature abounds with texts which deal with this topic; and that, in the incandescent years, formidable struggles on the terrain of the battle between classes and on that of the political evaluation of party action, beyond those referred to here, have continually re‑proposed the specific question of the Communist Party’s position on the trade unions, and its more general stance on tactics.

But the present series of writings did not merely want to be a more or less successful commemoration, or more or less brilliant panegyric, on the struggles of the revolutionary Communist Party and of its Marxist integrity. As ever, Communists shy away from such attitudes and concern themselves instead with seeking within the current conditions, within the particularly adverse conditions today, for grounds on which to reconfirm the revolutionary program and reasons to support and encourage the resumption of the struggle. It’s the striving towards these preliminary and historically current goals that drives our small party to make soundings within the real process as to what possibilities exist for the penetration of the revolutionary program in tandem with revolutionary action. We are not content to slap ourselves on the back for having unraveled major theoretical problems: we want above all to commit our organization to working terribly hard among the proletarian masses, in the factories, in the fields, in the economic and class defense organizations, knowing that only by dint of this obscure work will it be possible to win back to the communist revolution the consensus and adhesion of proletarians. The conditions of struggle and the revolutionary capacity that the party had at that time much be achieved again, and from there, with renewed impetus, another attempt to take power must be made.

Every effort, therefore, will be made so that communists can lead the proletarian army forward from the front line, not afraid “to get their hands dirty”, because in revolutionary struggle everything is purified and exalted.