Response on Gramsci (was Intervention for Marxism List)

Jonathan Strauss jonathanstrauss11 at
Tue Dec 3 20:26:33 MST 2002

Gramsci's political method as PCI leader

An earlier contribution of mine cited the 1924-26
leadership of Gramsci of the Italian Communist Party
(PCI) as an example of “bolshevisation” with positive
results: "In Italy, between 1924 and 1926, Antonio
Gramsci, appointed secretary of the Communist Party,
built an inclusive leadership team that headed a
reorientation and reorganisation of the party in the
face of fascist repression."

Luciano Dondero responded on November 14:

"I take exception to this. Whatever the limits of the
Italian party under Bordiga's leadership, the first
steps toward Stalinism were taken under Gramsci. In
1924 Bordiga still had a majority of leading comrades
in charge of local branches, and they were removed
from their position bureaucratically by Gramsci. Not
to mention that by 1924 there was nothing one could do
to reorientate the party, fascism was already rather
strongly in power.

"What Gramsci did, and is to his merit, was speak up
in the Italian parliament very bravely, especially
after Matteotti's murder (1924).

"It is certainly not by accident that in 1926, when
for the last time  someone spoke in an International
Executive Committee of the Comintern against Stalin,
that person was Bordiga, who spent the previous night
preparing the intervention together with Trotsky. Yet
Trotsky and Bordiga had not seen eye to eye about
Italian matters in previous years.

All Gramsci was able to do was write a letter to
Moscow, which was concealed by Togliatti, mildly
complaining for the treatment of Trotsky."

What I’ve read about this period of Gramsci’s work –
the biographies by Alastair Davidson and Guiseppe
Fiore, a book by Anne Showstack Sassoon, and also
Davidson’s PCI history, The Theory and Practice of
Italian Communism (Merlin, 1982) – do not say party
leaders were expelled from their positions in order to
enforce a new line in the PCI, however.

When Gramsci left Moscow at the end of 1923, first
basing himself in Vienna and later, after election to
the Italian parliament, returning to Italy, he decided
to form a new “Centre” leadership between Bordiga’s
Majority and Tasca’s Minority factions. According to
Davidson’s biography, for example, he carried out a
sustained correspondence with PCI leader, after
returning to Italy "started an endless round of
travelling between cities, dodging the police,
speaking at meetings, and organising the party around
his views” (p. 215, 1987 reprint) and integrated many
of the Majority and Minority leaders into his group.

In Davidson’s history, however, he does add the
Gramsci leadership,  fearing the impact of the views
of the Bordigist extreme left (Gramsci’s term) on the
new PCI line, and facing the promise of a renewed
fascist onslaught in 1925, did confine the discussion
of Bordiga’s views within the party and forced a
factional grouping around Bordiga to disband in July
1925 by threatening expulsion, although these
followers regrouped around the paper l’Operaio (Theory
and Practice, p. 159).

Davidson’s history (chapter 6) provides the following
·	“Through [a new party daily, l’Unita and new
theoretical journal] and by word of mouth, the rank
and file knew that Gramsci was urging the policy of an
alliance with the peasantry 
 [which, after the fifth
Comintern congress] developed into a call for
‘workers’ and peasants’ committees’ established from
 supplemented by the demand that the Party
workers give up any mechanist theory of revolution.”
90% of the 1926 party congress at Lyons supported
theses based on these positions.
·	In the Matteotti crisis “the PCI alone tried to
galvanise a non-Parliamentary opposition to
Mussolini”. But also, against some opposition from
members of his own “Centre” grouping, Gramsci had a
proposal for an Anti-Parliament – for the Opposition
to constitute itself as an assembly counterposed to
the Fascist parliament – published twice in l’Unita.
·	In the Matteotti crisis, which consolidated
Mussolini’s power, “the PCI also strengthened its
position greatly and had already, by 1925,replaced all
other parties as the only opposition of any
importance”. Membership increased from 8,696 in early
1923 to 17,373 in December 1924 and to 24,837 in 1925.
Thus this increase began before Gramsci’s appointment,
but continued under his leadership, boosted by
integration of some former maximalists. Membership
grew most rapidly in the South and, in the north, in
Lombardy rather than Piedmont.
·	Distribution of l’Unita rose as high as 70,000
copies. A peasants’ association claimed 75,000 members
in November 1924. Through cells with a membership of
300 Communists and 150 sympathisers in Turin, the PCI
maintained contact with 10,000 workers and resusciated
the commissioni interne: Mussolini personally visited
the Fiat factory there in reaction to shore up support
for the fascist regime.
·	Increased fascist repression from the middle of
1925, culminating in mass arrests of PCI leaders and
members in November and December 1926, reversed the
upward trend of PCI organisation and influence. At the
end of this process Davidson says the PCI “was
shattered” but “was more prepared than others for
clandestinity” and “continued, the only anti-Fascist
party left and functioning in Italy” (p. 184)

The same chapter of Davidson’s history also provides a
lengthy and occasionally confusing discussion of PCI
relations with the Comintern in that period. The
Centre had come under attack in 1924 when the fifth
Comintern congress took a “left” turn. In 1925,
however, when the Centre criticised Trotsky, relations
were more favourable.

Davidson suggests, however: “The real reason for their
attacks on [Trotsky], which gathered momentum in 1925,
was the association of Bordiga with the Trotskyist
theoretical position, especially in international
politics ... The fundamental point to be made about
the debate between Gramsci and Bordiga and others over
Trotsky in 1925 and before is that from the Majority
[Gramscian] point of view it was a theoretical debate:
a justification of positions in a battle which Gramsci
had already won  politically within his party, against
Comintern directives. In a sense, Bordiga chose the
ground in defending Trotsky.”

In 1926, however, the Comintern, including the new PCI
delegate, Togliatti, attacked the Lyons theses,
especially those concerning “bolshevisation”. It,
according to Davidson, “insisted that the very open
democratic centralism proposed by Gramsci be rectified
and Grieco reported back in July that the Party would
bow to its wishes. The real difference between the
Comintern and the Majority, particularly Gramsci, came
over the Trotsky issue. In October Gramsci
remonstrated over the treatment of Trotsky, again
indicating that PCI criticism of the Russian leader
was on theoretical grounds and that he was still
considered to be one of ‘our masters’, and expressing
worry that the internal squabbles of the Russian
leaders were making them forget their obligations to
the world movement and affecting the position of trust
which had been accorded to them. Togliatti replied
that Gramsci did not understand enough what was going
on, or at stake in the dispute, and that Trotsky had
been worsted. There was nothing to be done and Gramsci
should come out in favour of the Russian Majority.
Gramsci then replied that the issue of unity was
paramount in importance to the international
proletariat and that Togliatti’s views that the
concrete needs of Russia were imposing themselves were
‘without value’. Togliatti consigned his letter to the
wastepaper basket ... ”

Perhaps Gramsci can be criticised for allowing the
prism of alignments within the PCI to distort and
drive his approach to an international discussion.
However, his concerns for unity, which he raised in
1925 against Trotsky, did mirror Lenin’s discussion of
the problem in his “testament”. The letters Gramsci
sent probably do amount to about as much as he could
and should have done, in relation to the situation
within the Russian party, before his arrest the
following month.

I stand by my assessment on the basis of the evidence
available to me. If Luciano would like to argue
otherwise, then he needs to demonstrate the above
authors have falsely presented the facts.

Jonathan Strauss - Yahoo! Hint Dropper
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