Revolution or War n°17

(January 2021)

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About Onorato Damen’s Gramsci Between Marxism and Idealism

The publication of the book Gramsci between Marxism and Idealism, based on articles by Damen in his original Italian and in its English translation at the initiative of the ICT, has particularly appealed to us, arousing an interest that we would like to share with the reader of Revolution or War [1]. It is not our intention to go back over Gramsci’s thought, which is considerably touched upon by the author; reading the book we are talking about is sufficient and enlightening on what was at once a mutilated life, that of Gramsci, and on the intellectual whose eclecticism constitutes the central aspect of his path. A thought between idealism and materialism, between philosophical speculation on an ontology of becoming and a Marxism revisited in the light of Gramscian historicism, which dilutes the historical materialism of Marx and Lenin in the context of a universal in the making; this universalism renders contingent the individual or the group in the expression of a cultural hegemony, which is built metaphysically by a grasp of reality and material conditions instead of materializing the domination of social phenomena according to objective economic and social conditions.

“If we had to locate Gramsci’s doctrinal position, we would undoubtedly place it in that field of European thought which has moved from Hegelian idealism and reached its logical continuity in neo-idealist historicism” (p.16).

It would be futile to seek in Gramsci an appropriation of the revolutionary dialectic as formulated by Marx and Engels, but rather the expression of an eclecticism that is resourced by the thousand heads of pre-Marxist idealism. It is not only a thought whose instability would be due solely to a scattering but to an a-dialectical conception of the world and social relations. Damen’s insistence on this point is not anecdotal. It is necessary for the understanding of the Gramscian scheme; in his case, the analysis of history is based on the observation of molecular processes, unequal consciousness dynamics, developing within society (series of integration/disintegration), an immanentist and serial vision that he calls ’spirit of division’. This ’spirit of division’ does not coincide with the organizational structure of the party, with its tactics and its strategy. It constitutes a programmatic and strategic rupture which invalidates the revolutionary Marxist policy of seizure of power by the proletariat, giving way to a ’democratist’ conception in its councilist version which becomes autonomous within the ’factory councils’, transforming the party into an organ aggregating intermediate forces, a tactic of united front and opportunism.

“Given such a theoretical premise (i.e. trasformismo considered as a basic part of the political life of parties), one wonders how much Gramsci is responsible for the future events of the party that was born in Livorno. What began as a party of the revolutionary proletariat ended up in the muddy political waters of the most despicable and devious parliamentary ‘trasformismo’ whose aim is to gain entry to the corridors of power as the last bulwark of defence for the current system of capitalist production.” (p. 30)

It is important to understand Gramscism as the movement of a split thought that freezes contradictions. The concept of hegemony and its ’theory of praxis’ perfectly illustrates its molecular conception of history, a mechanistic conception of the development of consciousness. While Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg, as early as 1914, elaborated a revolutionary theory on the problem of war, Gramsci remained indecisive; this indecision reveals nothing other than his inability to understand the real nature of war, to analyse imperialism from the point of view of the class, to develop the alternative revolution or war. Gramsci denounces the formula of ’absolute neutrality’ preferring that of ’active operative neutrality’. This modelization of the period under the rule of Gramscian thought, which translates into a militant position, leads us straight to Mussolini’s theory of the war, the class being dissolved in the concept of the people. This ideological resurgence of the Risorgimento is the prelude to the fascist dictatorship. The experience of the Workers Councils of Turin, and their corollary ’factory councils’ where workers’ control would represent a conquest, in this case the organization of the class by factory, realizing "a communist economic form before the conquest of political power of which the party is the specific organ" (see Bilan n° 4, February 1934) [2], is a councilist experience deprived of political leadership, which cannot be compared to the soviets of 1917 in Russia under the political leadership of the Bolshevik party with the dictatorship of the proletariat as its programme. “The Council experience, more theoretical than practical, was clearly ditched by Gramsci at the Imola Convention of the Communist fraction (1920) and he would no longer speak of them in the Ordinovisti terms as organs of proletarian power” (p.35). They will be reduced to a permanent instrument of trade union policy whose nature is based on corporatist demand and paralysis, outside any revolutionary perspective.

“The events of this historical period add weight to the line of the Italian Left which, through the voice of Bordiga, recognised that the crucial point was not to occupy the factory just to remain prisoners if the State structures were not conquered and broken. (…) The defeat of the workers’ factory occupations effectively and miserably closed the experience of the Councils. And then came fascism.” (p.35)

Gramsci’s obsessive insistence supporting the experience of the councils, which in this case would be the prefiguration of class hegemony, says a lot about the nature of the state as he conceives it. This concept of hegemony is none other than a leftist conception whose strategy rests on the sabotage of the dynamics of class struggle. Much more than an adventurist drift, Gramscism is a class betrayal whose conclusion formulates opportunism “with an ever-wider inclusion of the proletariat into the capitalist frame, such as turning it into the progressive spearhead of a combined bourgeois front” (p.36).

The Marxist theme is not only foreign to him, it is hostile to him.

While the Theses of Rome [3] in 1922 gave the Communist Party of Italy, born in Livorno, a programmatic and strategic basis and at the same time were part of the proletarian internationalism of the Communist International, Italy was to face a coup de force initiated by Mussolini’s fascists in October 1922, the March on Rome to counter the revolutionary wave. Not that it was a seizure of power by force, but rather a symbolic act whose exaltation would create the conditions for the Duce’s accession to power that same year; it wasn’t the Italian fascists who put Mussolini in power but the leaders of the government in power who entrusted it to him, a fascist dictatorship was promulgated, which lasted until 1943. At a time when Europe was confronted with the rise of fascism and imperialist tensions, when the communist parties were entering a new phase of their opportunist development after the death of Lenin in January 1924 and when the Communist International intended to align them with the sole discipline of Moscow, the ’Bolshevization’ of the parties, a slogan launched by Zinoviev at the V Congress of the CI, would concretize a strategy of purging the left-wing opposition or any attempt to challenge it would be assimilated to fractionalism.

From 1924 onwards, Gramsci and his ’ordinovism’, an abstract and a-historical conception, which, excluding any possibility of revolutionary leadership of the proletariat, will benefit, in the state of confusion that characterises the relations of the party at its base, i.e. a party separated from its base, to this post-Leninist strategy of Bolshevisation.

“Bolshevising the party meant splitting it, breaking the bonds between its various social components and categories, depersonalising [4] it and fragmenting it in the factories and workplaces. The unacknowledged objective was to establish a strong network of functionaries to dominate the party from above and so extinguish any capacity for critical vision, every bit of initiative and any groundswell of the class.” (p.38).

In this opportunist dynamic, the left, of which Bordiga remains the illustrious animator, does not disarm in the face of a right, whose strategy of gaining space in the instances of the party, reinforces the strategy of the CI and a centre represented by Gramsci incapable of political clarification, whose tactics will be that of a united front policy which is decided from above and whose aim, no less than consensual, rests on a will to gather the masses, a strategy just as adroitly adopted by the CI. The party cornered by the Zinovievist orders of the leadership of the CI tried to rebound with its left by the installation of the Committee of Intesa whose existence didn’t exceed a few weeks, which was qualified as fractionist by the party’s EC under the direction of Gramsci, and therefore, by the reframing that the Bolshevization was carrying out, as counter-revolutionary.

“We have never seen in our party the most daring flouting of the most basic rules of organisation and discipline of a Communist Party. (…) [It is] a criminal act which deserves the most severe sanctions and the most severe blame. (…) Anyone who puts themselves on the same road as the members of the self- styled ‘Committee of Intesa’, goes straight out of the Party and of the Communist International. And to put oneself outside the Party and the International means to stand against the Party and the Communist International, that means strengthening the elements of the counter-revolution. (…) And it will also be necessary to shed light on the manoeuvre that is hidden in the absence of the name of Comrade Bordiga, with whom the initiative of the ‘Committee of Intesa’ is certainly agreed. It is painful to have to make such observations when amongst the signatories we find the name of comrades who were with us amid the founders of the party and fought and worked for it”. (Communique of the Executive Committee of the party under Gramsci’s leadership, undated, quoted p.107-108)

The programmatic and strategic lessons of the Theses of Rome are echoed by the resolutions taken by the Committee of Intesa whose task is to refocus the party on the basis of the Marxist invariants. The difficulty lies not in convincing the party’s base, which remains largely faithful to the founding spirit of the party, but in combating the opportunism of a CI-supported leadership and its policy of bolshevization. This strategy, far from being fractionalist, works to defend a political apparatus emptied of its revolutionary component and subjected to united-front strategies. The party must fight any return to social democracy.

“In reality we are the only ones who are taking account of concrete circumstances in the revolutionary sense because we are incorporating the work of the moment into the general action plan of the party so that it develops with the dialectical unfolding of the situation.” (p.110, platform of the Committee of Intesa).

The fact remains that every attempt at disintegration, disembodiment, has its own language. The question of the conquest of power by the proletariat refers to the exercise of its dictatorship and, at the same time, to the decline of the state as a condition of communist society, so there can be no question, under the guise of an approximate management of language, of taking refuge behind hollow but implicitly imprecise qualitatives, which is why “on the ‘Workers’ Government’, we reaffirm that this is a synonym for the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ and that it is a so-called agitational slogan. We are against formulating slogans which do not have any real meaning. On the other hand, if what is meant is something different from the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ we oppose it all the more fiercely since this is a sign of the most dangerous parliamentary divergences, if not the direct denial of the elementary principles of revolutionary marxism” (idem,, p. 112).

The left will not cease to fight opportunism within the party, just as it will denounce the personalisation of leadership activity, which only accentuates the gap between the base and its political leadership. Ordinovism is a constituent of this separate leadership, a doctrine foreign to the principles of Marxism. The search for political and organisational stability at the expense of historical materialism, which determines the economic and social foundations and the dialectical link with the development of the class struggle in terms of evolution or involution, characterises this period. And the clerics are active, Togliatti is a representative of them; didn’t the person of Gramsci and his painful history serve as a springboard, wasn’t he a perfectionist of the shenanigans and prevarications at the time of the Bolshevisation? Togliatti was the man of low blows in the service of Moscow, he was the man who created the conditions for the marginalisation of the left, depriving it of any material possibility of defending itself.The ICT book is an essential document. It allows us to apprehend Gramsci’s thought without any concession to the eclectic intellectualism that characterises it. It allows us to confirm that the Communist Left is at the programmatic and strategic antipodes of Gramscism, whose charismatic leader became an almost mystical figure of the bourgeois left and leftists more generally. Where historicism seems to contingent the development of consciousness through immanentism and the development of social processes qualified as ’molecular’, the answer is and can only be Marxist. A definite contribution with regard to the history of the Communist Party of Italy, but also a document that should allow us to elaborate a consequent critique of councilism and its various anti-capitalist substitutes in the ’mouvementist’ sphere. The choice of the ICT to publish this book in its original language and to propose an English translation deserved our full attention.




[4. We think that there is a mistaken translation from Italian. This one uses the word “spersonalizzarlo” which is, according to our dictionary, “personalize” and not “depersonalize”, which we hardly politically understood while translating. Actually, this opportunist “personalization” of the relations within the party is opposed to the Italian Left’s conception of the party, which was also fighting the stalinist “personalization” and even idolatry to the Big Leaders in general and Stalin in particular (IGCL’s note).