100 Years of Solitude of the Communist Split of Livorno 1921

Creato: 27 Febbraio 2021 Ultima modifica: 27 Febbraio 2021
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Experience, meaning and lessons of the birth of the Communist Party of Italy

Li1921It would seem that there is nothing left for communists to do but remember the glorious past, in the messianic expectation that the good old days can miraculously return to reconnect that red thread dramatically broken by the passage of time. Indeed, for the fifth year running we are here to remember an important date in the history of the Italian and international workers' and communist movement; after the centenary of the Russian Revolution in 2017, the bicentenary of Marx's birth in 2018, the centenary of Rosa Luxemburg's death in 2019, the bicentenary of Engels' birth in 2020, these days there is a proliferation of initiatives to celebrate the centenary of the founding of the Communist Party of Italy.

Exactly one century has passed since the 17th congress of the Italian Socialist Party, when a little more than a third of the delegates, on the instructions of their leader Amadeo Bordiga, left the Goldoni theatre in Leghorn to meet at 11 a.m. at the San Marco theatre, just over a kilometre away, to form the Communist Party of Italy - section of the Third International. Thus, on a cold Friday 21 January 1921, the socialist split took place, a painful break that had been smouldering within the party for some years and about which rivers of ink have been spilled throughout this century. Nothing has remained of those distant events. The site of the foundation has disappeared, the already dilapidated San Marco theatre having been demolished immediately after the war, and the Communist Party itself disappeared in 1991 after a long history in which the political reasons for its very birth were almost immediately abandoned and betrayed. As evidence of the place and the immediate betrayal of the reasons for the Livorno split, a plaque installed in 1949 by the local section of the party bears the following words: "Within these walls on 21 January 1921 the Italian Communist Party, the vanguard of the working class, was born. At the head of democracy in the twenty-year battle against fascism, it populated prisons and war camps with its best people. Supported by the ideology of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, by the example of Gramsci, under the leadership of Togliatti, it continued the struggle to break the chains of harsh servitude, for peace and the independence of Italy in the reality of socialism". These are words that sound light years away from the political climate in Livorno in January 1921, words that clearly testify to a path of sudden abandonment of those revolutionary ideals that animated the foundation of the party. To understand the difference, it is enough to quote Luigi Amadesi's testimony[i], reported by Paolo Spriano in his Storia del partito comunista italiano, in which he states: "We grew up in already socialist environments; then came the Soviet revolution, which deeply influenced young people. We understood from the Soviet example that it was possible to end it, that it was possible to make the revolution. There is no comparison that would allow us to understand the power of the myth of the Soviet revolution on our consciences at that time. All this inspired us and opened our minds: there was a way, there was a solution... At the time, the question was on the level of the conquest of power. We saw parliamentarianism as a rotten expression of bourgeois corruption. The only way forward was revolutionary action. What a distance there is between these words and those carved on the gravestone. Throughout our essay we will try to understand the reasons for this sudden change, analysing the context in which the birth of the party took place, verifying whether there was the political space to oppose what had happened and above all grasping the lessons and limits of an experience like the Livorno split.

Obviously it is not our intention to glorify the past, to live on memories, to commemorate, our intentions are different in returning once again to talk about Livorno 1921. We think, instead, that it is absolutely necessary to understand whether the basic reasons that led to the split in Livorno can be of any use to the tasks to which the revolutionaries of the 21st century are called. It also seems important to us to reconstruct in brief the events that led to the Livorno split and at the same time to observe its evolution during its first five years of life. From Livorno 1921 to Lyon 1926, the site and date of the third party congress, the reasons for the split were defeated. This was the period in which the Livorno party was transformed from an organ that was to guide the communist revolution in Italy into an instrument for defending the interests of the Russian state. It seems opportune to return to these events, not because there is not an endless literature on the subject, but because even today we note that even the latest publications[ii] dedicated to the Livorno split suffer from the usual approach that rewrites history with the eye of the winner, exalting the role played by Gramsci in the process of founding the party or accusing the current headed by Bordiga of parochial sectarianism[iii]. For us, the Livorno split is not only a historical problem, an attempt to reconstruct the facts that happened in that context, but it also has a political character that is substantiated in understanding the importance of building a modern revolutionary party that has the ability to interpret the contradictions of 21st century capitalism and at the same time represent a clear class reference point for the modern international proletariat.    

A century never passes without profoundly changing the economic and social context in which human events take place; this must teach us that we cannot think that what happened on 21 January 1921 in Livorno can be repeated in the future. The context in which that event took place is too different to imagine a repeat of it in the same terms and in the same way. But it is time to go back and look, a century later, at the reasons and causes of the Livorno split.

The origins of the Communist Party of Italy

The Livorno split in 1921 was not a bolt from the blue that split the old Italian socialist party, but had its origins in the positions that crystallised within it in relation to two major events: the First World War and the Russian revolution of October 1917. These two events, as well as marking the entire history of mankind, triggered deep divisions within the international socialist movement, from which the various communist parties would emerge in the immediate post-war period. Until the Basle Congress of 1912, the Second International, the organisation that brought together the various socialist parties scattered across Europe and the world, had maintained a clear attitude of opposition to the war. No support for the war of the capitalists who, in order to defend their class interests, send millions of proletarians to the slaughter, had been the position of the socialist parties of the Second International up to that time.

The picture changed abruptly on the eve of the outbreak of the First World War, when many of the socialist parties in the International voted for war credits and thus sided with their respective bourgeoisies and their imperialist war. The outbreak of the world war marked, among other things, the disintegration of the Second International, and in a very short time the solidarity between the workers, who were now called upon by the socialist parties themselves to defend their homelands from enemy attacks and fight against their own class brothers, was wrecked. In the heat of the world conflict in September 1915 in Zimmerwald, a small town in the canton of Berne, a small and varied group of revolutionaries met who supported the original positions of the Second International of clear opposition to the war. The conference ended with the drafting of the famous Zimmerwald Manifesto in which the reasons for opposition to the world war were clearly expressed. Among the participants at the Swiss conference were Lenin and other members of the Bolshevik party.

The outbreak of the first imperialist conflict saw the Italian socialist party adopt a unique political position on the international scene, summed up by the formula of 'neither join nor sabotage'. Translated into practical terms this meant on the one hand not voting in favour of war credits in parliament, but at the same time not giving instructions to the workers to oppose capital's war. This ambiguous position did not prevent the secretary of the Italian socialist party from personally attending the Zimmerwald and Kienthal conferences held in 1916, which brought together the left wing of the international socialist movement opposed to the world war. In Italy, one of the supporters of the war was Benito Mussolini, then editor of L'Avanti, with a past as a representative of the revolutionary wing within the socialist party. The call for war did not leave the young Gramsci indifferent, who in an article in October 1914, published in the Grido del Popolo, argued for an active and active neutrality, which did not differ much from Mussolini's interventionism. Mussolini's interventionism was an almost isolated case within the Socialist Party, and although the party as a whole approved of the formula of neither adhering nor sabotaging, a current of clear opposition to the war emerged within the party. The Neapolitan Amadeo Bordiga was among the leaders of this position[iv].

The other major watershed event in the history of the socialist movement was the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917. With the fall of Tsarist power in February 1917, the rapid revolutionary cycle began, which was consolidated with the Bolshevik party's seizure of power in October of the same year. The revolution had an extraordinary impact on the dynamics of the Italian and international socialist movement. While the reformist and gradualist wing of the Italian socialist party, whose main exponent was Filippo Turati, had enthusiastically welcomed the news of the Tsar's fall and the formation of Kerensky's provisional government, it denounced Lenin's seizure of power as a flight forward with disastrous consequences for the entire movement. For this section of the socialist party Lenin had not carried out any revolution but the events of October were to be ascribed to a real coup d'état perpetrated by the Bolshevik party against the democratic government in power. Turati's position was strongly in the minority within the Socialist Party, which instead enthusiastically welcomed the news from faraway Russia. The majority of the Italian Socialist Party thought that the Russian October was a clear signal that a new revolutionary phase had begun and would soon sweep across the entire European continent. This is at least what Giacinto Menotti Serrati, the leader of the maximalist wing of the party, which represents the largest part of the entire party, says. The revolutionary wing of the socialist party, whose exponent of the greatest theoretical, political and organisational depth was undoubtedly Amadeo Bordiga, welcomed the news of the Russian revolution with the light in its eyes of those who saw in those events the prospect of the definite overthrow of the capitalist system. But it was not only the party leaders who saw in the events in Russia an epochal event that could mark the beginning of a new world, even the workers demonstrated in favour of the revolution, so much so that the slogan most often used during the workers' initiatives was "do as in Russia". In order to understand how the Italian Socialist Party expressed a myriad of different political positions, also the result of a different theoretical approach to the themes of the revolution, it is interesting to observe Gramsci's position on the Bolsheviks' seizure of power. Gramsci wrote an article "The Revolution Against Capital", published in November 1917 in L'Avanti, in which he argued that the Russian revolution was against Marx's Capital, because it took place in a backward country while Marx foresaw the possibility of a revolution only in a country with advanced capitalism, and this was possible thanks to the willpower of the Bolshevik party. A revolution, the Russian one, no longer determined by the contradictions of capitalism and the action of the proletariat led by its party, but made possible by a sort of subjectivist voluntarism a thousand miles away from Marx's historical materialism and Lenin's reading of the new phase of imperialism. Gramsci interpreted Marx's Capital in almost scholastic terms, he did not grasp the changes that had occurred in the meantime in the capitalist context, with the emergence of new forms of imperialist domination that made revolutionary attacks possible even in the peripheral areas of capitalism. In reality, the Russian revolution is not a revolution against Marx's Capital but a splendid confirmation of it.

The Third International and the currents in the Italian Socialist Party

The revolution in Russia was led by the Bolshevik party with the clear intention of representing only the initial moment of a broader revolutionary process that would affect other countries on the European continent. Not only was the Russian revolution to be the first stage of a wider process, but its success was inevitably linked to the prospect of the revolution spreading to other countries. The internationalist vision of the Bolshevik party was a cornerstone of its strategy, so much so that for Lenin and his comrades, without the revolution in other countries, the Russian revolution itself was destined to succumb to the counter-revolution of capital. For this reason too, as soon as internal conditions permitted, the Bolshevik Party, which in the meantime had changed its name to the Russian Communist Party, took the initiative of organising a meeting in Moscow in March 1919 between the representatives of the European socialist parties, with the aim of launching the idea of establishing a new international. At the end of the meeting, the few delegates present decided to found the Third International with its headquarters in Moscow and because of the unrepresentativeness of the Moscow meeting, no official document was adopted during the work. In what was to be considered the founding moment of the Third International, the most important instruction was to invite the various socialist parties to expel the representatives of reformism and gradualism and all those who had sided with the world conflict.

When the Communist International was founded, the different souls that made up the Italian socialist party became more clearly defined. In the new international context, they were called upon to make resolutions that made it impossible for these different souls to remain in the party, thus preparing the ground for the final act that was to be celebrated in Livorno in January 1921. But Livorno was still a long way off and the slowness of this process of clarification was to be one of the main causes that led to the constitution of the new party much later than the wave of struggles that in the two-year period 1919/1920 saw its highest point.

A first component of the Italian Socialist Party is represented by the reformist wing, which controls the parliamentary group and also has strong links with the trade union world. It expresses the trend that emerged internationally at the end of the 19th century with the writings of the social democrat Eduard Bernstein and was consolidated in the early years of the 20th century. It argues that the ultimate goal of workers' struggles is in any case socialism, but that this can be achieved gradually through a series of reforms to be implemented through the use of the bourgeois parliament. For this strand of socialist thought, the best means of achieving socialism is to win a parliamentary majority through which all those reforms with a socialist society as their ultimate goal can be approved. The revolutionary break is replaced by the conquest of the bourgeois parliament through the weapon of the electoral battle. At the end of the 1910s, this reformist current represented a minority in the ranks of the Italian socialist party, and was the one that the 3rd International felt should be expelled if the party was to become a true revolutionary party. It is the various Turati, Treves and Modigliani who are in the International's dock, and it is enough to expel them to cleanse the party of the dross of reformism. This is an optimistic interpretation of the Third International which, partly due to the lack of knowledge of the real situation in the Italian socialist party, does not grasp the much more serious reformist incrustations which pervade much larger sectors of the party. But let us proceed in order.

The maximalist current represented the central and majority body of the party and had Giacinto Menotti Serrati as its leading representative. A former editor of L'Avanti, he became the Russians' point of reference for purging the party of the dross of reformism. While siding clearly with the Communist International, while judging the revolutionary break to be necessary, maximalism did not share the need to expel its reformist wing from the party. For Serrati, party unity was a value to be defended and if Turati and company had to be expelled, it had to be done at a time and in a manner chosen by the party itself. When at the second congress of the Communist International the 21 points representing the conditions for admission to the organisation were approved, Italian maximalism had no hesitation in approving them, but when it came to taking action and consequently expelling the reformists from the party it invoked its autonomy in managing the internal life of the party. For Serrati, immediately expelling the reformists would pose a serious threat to the party's ability to operate within the working class, not least because the trade union organisations and the cooperative movement itself were in the hands of its reformist wing. By breaking unity, it is feared that the party could lose its connection with the working class. What actually happens is that the defence of the party's unity, in the new phase that opened with the Bolshevik revolution, becomes a straitjacket that paralyses its action at the very moment when the workers express the highest point in the class confrontation. A paralysed party incapable of giving the workers a word of order when, in the famous Red Two Years, they became the protagonists of extraordinary demonstrations of struggle. In order to defend the unity of the party, for fear of losing the link with the working class, the party ended up abandoning the struggling workers to themselves.

In this climate of effervescence, fuelled by the news of the extraordinary Bolshevik victory, a clearly revolutionary position was consolidated in the Socialist Party. The main group of this tendency was the Neapolitan one led by Amadeo Bordiga, who published the newspaper Il Soviet, a clear sign of how strong the link with the experience of the Russian revolution was. Despite having its stronghold in Campania's capital city, Bordiga's fraction extended its range of action to many other parts of the country, so much so that the abstentionists were present in many of the party's federations. Opponent of any gradualist and reformist vision of Marxism, Amadeo Bordiga's group is placed at the leftmost point of the party, approving without hesitation the indications coming from Moscow about the need to expel the reformists. Unlike Serrati, who argued that the time was not yet ripe to expel the reformists and that the revolution was not so far away, Bordiga waged an all-out battle to expel them and was convinced that the Russian revolution had paved the way for a larger process. Precisely in order to differentiate itself from reformist gradualism, and thus disillusion the workers about the possibility of achieving socialism through the ballot box, Bordiga's current was abstentionist. For Bordiga it was not only necessary to expel the reformists, but he thought that through abstentionism the party could be injected with the necessary antibodies to prevent a slide towards new reformist visions. At this juncture in the political struggle within the Italian Socialist Party, abstentionism became the principle around which Bordiga hoped to build his consensus and broaden the ranks of the revolutionary current. For the Naples Soviet group, the abstentionist battle also had the significance of making the working class understand that the objective was not so much the electoral conquest of the management of the bourgeois state, but its destruction and the constitution of the new organs of proletarian power. There can be no mediation between the revolutionary demands of the working class led by its class party and a vision of the conquest of power through parliamentary channels.

Among the left-wing ranks of the party is the Turin-based group of the Ordine Nuovo, whose main protagonists are Tasca, Gramsci, Terracini and Togliatti. It is a group of young intellectuals whose training is at a sidereal distance from that of the abstentionist group. It is a group that operates only in the city of Turin, one of the economic capitals of the country, which gains important experience in the context of the workers' struggles of those years in the city's factories. It was in this context that Gramsci saw in the formation of the factory councils a sort of proletarian counter-power that preceded the revolution; in other words, the Turin factory councils would represent, in Gramsci's thinking, what the soviets represent in the Russian revolution. Bordiga will have the opportunity to criticise this vision in a clear way, denouncing the danger of reformism implicit in this elaboration, as it assumes the possibility that socialism can be achieved without the necessary revolutionary break. Bordiga's criticism concentrates on pointing out how factory councils, if they prefigure in the capitalist regime a proletarian counter-power, opposing the command of capital, would create a kind of dualism of power (capitalist and workers) which could be resolved in favour of labour without the pain of revolutionary birth. We would add that such a vision not only reintroduces a reformist vision into the process of building the new socialist society, but also debases the role and the very function of the class party relegated to playing an accessory role in the permanent class clash.

The components of the Italian socialist party that we have briefly described clashed at the Bologna congress in October 1919. The results of this congress showed that the party was in the hands of Serrati's maximalism, which won a clear majority with 48,000 votes, while Lazzari's motion supported by Filippo Turati won 15,000 votes, and finally the motion presented by Amadeo Bordiga obtained only 5% of the delegates' preferences with 3417 votes. In Bologna, the victory of maximalism was celebrated and a clear defeat for the left of the party. Not only did the abstentionist theses fail to gain support on the left of the party, but in the November 1919 elections the socialist party won an extraordinary electoral victory with 156 deputies; the socialist party became the leading party in the Italian parliament.

Towards the Livorno split

The results of the Bologna congress leave no doubt as to what the majority of the party's orientation was at the time. The central role played by Italian maximalism was also recognised at international level, so much so that it was still Serrati who was singled out by Moscow to carry out the expulsion of the reformists. The ambiguity of Italian maximalism played its nefarious role on both the domestic and international fronts. On the domestic political front, at the very moment when the working class was demonstrating a willingness to fight that had never been achieved in the last century, Italian maximalism paralysed the socialist party with its immobility, leaving the class without an adequate political guide. They paid lip service to the reasons for revolution, but in reality they did not lift a finger to prepare it, leaving the management of the struggles in the hands of the unions. At the international level, Italian maximalism was, for much of 1920, the Russians' point of reference for expelling the Refomists from the party. This relationship of trust soured at the second congress of the Communist International held in Moscow between 19 July and 7 August 1920, during which the famous 21 points representing the conditions for joining the organisation were approved. Again in the spring of 1920, Lenin criticised Bordiga, among others, for his positions on abstentionism in his "Extremism, an infantile disease of communism", thereby supporting the maximalist current. A century after those events, we can see that Lenin and the Russian leadership had very little knowledge of the various components of Italian socialism, thus favouring the role played by Italian maximalism at that juncture and placing a trust in it that objectively proved to be misplaced. It is interesting to observe how in these months Bordiga's abstentionist current, after coming out clearly defeated at the Bologna congress, renounced the principle of abstentionism and strengthened its ties with the other expressions of the left within the ranks of the socialist party. In particular, relations were intensified with the Ordine Nuovo group in Turin and the Milanese group of Fortichiari and Repossi. At the end of 1920, when the struggles of the working class on an Italian scale inevitably lost momentum, at the Imola Conference the revolutionary current of the socialist party approved its own motion which was to be presented at the party congress held in Livorno in January 1921.

The Communist Party of Italy is born

The Italian socialist party began its 17th congress with the certainty that at the end of the proceedings some of its militants would leave the organisation. The evolution of the internal clash had been such that it had become impossible to keep the socialist organisation intact; too many differences had accumulated in recent years to avoid a fracture. In fact, all the congress work was based on the discussion of the three main motions: the maximalist motion which, while accepting the principles of the Russian revolution and the International, defended the unity of the party; the motion of Turati's reformists, which was critical of the Bolshevik power and obviously did not accept the 21 points approved by the second congress of the Third International; and finally the motion of the communists, which called for the reformists to be expelled from the party. During the congress, the main speakers for the Imola motion were Umberto Terracini and Amadeo Bordiga, symbolising the unification of the different souls of the communist current operating in the socialist party. Just to refute the false historical reconstructions that attributed to Gramsci and Togliatti the role of founders of the party, it is worth remembering that Gramsci did not speak at the Livorno congress, he sat in silence and listened to the various speakers, while Togliatti was not even present at the congress. The Livorno congress of the Italian socialist party ended with a clear victory for the maximalists who obtained just over 98,000 votes, Turati's motion 14695 votes, while the communist current obtained 58783 votes out of a total of 172,000. At Bordiga's invitation all those who had approved the Imola motion were invited to move to the San Marco theatre to start the constitution of the Communist Party of Italy. They arrived in Livorno when the games within the party were already done, making official the irremediable fracture that had been operating within the organisation for several months. With the constitution of the Communist Party, the Italian working class also had its revolutionary vanguard, finally free from the fetters of reformism and the hesitations of maximalism, but a century later we can safely say that the process of formation of the party was unfortunately slow, arriving late compared to the cycle of workers' struggles of 1919/1920. The Communist Party of Italy was formed when the Red Decade was practically over and even on the Russian front doubts were beginning to grow about the immediate extension of the revolution to an international level. The strategic error made in that context was to think that in Italy it would be enough to expel the reformists to find the party of the revolution ready and waiting. Almost two years were lost waiting for the maximalists to decide to expel Turati and company, and the responsibility for this delay is to be attributed both to the International, which identified Serrati as the man to focus on in this operation of expulsions, and to Bordiga who did not understand that the battle to be waged was not that of defending the principle of abstention, around which no consensus was built, but that of giving life to a new party. Posing the question of abstentionism as the central question around which to build a revolutionary current within the socialist party was a mistake that Bordiga made at the Bologna congress in the autumn of 1919. We agree with Onorato Damen when he writes that the mistake made by the abstentionist fraction during the Bologna congress in 1919 was that they were unable to oppose the indications of the International which considered the socialist party still recoverable for the cause of revolution through the expulsion of the reformists[v]. Damen also observes that Bordiga's adherence to the position of abstentionism in principle made it easier for his political adversaries who put him on the same level as the Dutch tribunists Gorter and Pannekoek, known for being consiliarists and anti-partisans[vi]. It was obviously not an easy task for Bordiga to perform and it was not done. A century later allows us to grasp some elements that the protagonists of that period could hardly even guess at. Precisely for this reason, knowledge of the past must not be a simple chronological reconstruction, but it is necessary to push the analysis through interpretative keys that allow us to grasp from the past useful lessons for the present and the future. It is for this reason that after such a long time, from the point of view of revolution, today we can say that the party that was born in Livorno was born late and that in Bologna perhaps an opportunity was missed.

The party which is constituted in Livorno around the predominant figure of Bordiga and the abstentionist group, only in appearance presents itself as a cohesive group on the theoretical and political level. In reality the new communist organisation lives from the beginning on a precarious homogeneity, which remains dormant for some months under the enthusiasm deriving from its constitution. Bordiga himself was aware of this heterogeneity when, during his speech at the Livorno congress, he affirmed that "There may be weak, incapable, incomplete members among us, there may be disagreements among us; Gramsci may be on a false path, he may be following an erroneous thesis when I am on the true one, but we all fight equally for the final result, we all make the effort that constitutes a programme, a method". These are differences that were destined to become real fractures on a class level when the international reference framework within which the party born in Livorno was placed changed.[vii]

The Communist Party of Italy and the International

The party that was born in Livorno was essentially a creature of Amadeo Bordiga's action, and the leadership group elected at the first congress was a clear demonstration of this. The first executive committee, based in Milan, included Bordiga, Ruggero Grieco (one of the main exponents of abstentionism), Terracini, Fortichiari and Repossi. The latter two comrades, although not coming directly from abstentionism, are very close to Bordiga. The central committee also expressed a clear majority of the old abstentionist group; Gramsci was part of it while Palmiro Togliatti was excluded.

Just six months after its foundation, the Communist Party of Italy was on a collision course with the International during its third congress, held from 22 June to 12 July 1921 in Moscow. It was Trocky who, during the congress, read the report on the tactics of the united front to be built together with the socialist parties in order to increase the influence of the communist parties among the working masses. If until a few months earlier the International's call had been to expel the reformists from the party, now the new watchword was to make a united front with the gradualists themselves. The International's change of direction was not a headlong rush by its leadership but was part of a wider picture in which the fate of the Russian revolution itself was in turmoil. Having overcome the difficulties of the civil war, the Bolshevik power observed that the revolution was not spreading to the European front; on the contrary, capitalism was heading towards a period of relative stabilisation which would inevitably slow down the revolutionary process. It is in this new climate that Nep is launched, reintroducing and formalising mechanisms typical of the market economy; it is a measure that Lenin considers necessary to give oxygen to an economy in exhaustion, but which at the same time is taken with the clear tactical intent of surviving while waiting for the next revolutionary wave in Europe. With the launch of the Nep Lenin is aware that the measures taken in 1921 do not represent a march towards socialism, but a step towards capitalism with the variant of being, however, managed by a state in the hands of the party of the proletariat. The guarantee of this tactical halt in the process of building socialism, was offered in the fact that political power was in the hands of the proletarian state and that help for the revolution in Europe would come in any case despite the momentary stabilisation of capitalism. The tactic of the single front advanced by the International through Trocky should be read in this new context in which primordial demands for the survival of the Russian state, independent of the European revolutionary process, were appearing on the horizon in Russia.

The Communist Party of Italy, through Terracini, opposed the tactic of the single front, defending the choice of Livorno and arguing that the workers would not understand such a sudden change. For the Italian Communist Party, a united front was a betrayal of the choice made in Livorno only a few months earlier, and would mean letting back in through the front door those very reformists who had been thrown out of the window earlier. The opposition of the Italian party was a real case in point during the congress, Lenin himself was forced to intervene to attack Terracini and support the reasons for the united front, and the decision to comply with the decisions of the third congress was only of a disciplinary nature.

In March 1922, the second congress of the Communist Party of Italy was held in Rome, where the executive committee was confirmed en bloc and Togliatti joined the central committee. The congress clearly confirmed that the new organisation was firmly run by the left, and the congress theses approved in Rome represented the highest point in terms of the theoretical elaboration expressed by the party in the tradition of revolutionary communism. The congress defines more fully the organisational structure of the party, whose elementary unity has a clear territorial dimension. This organisational structure best responds to the needs of a revolutionary party that, on the one hand, has the task of bringing its own theoretical elaboration and its own words of order to the class, making use of the territorial cells, while on the other hand, and through the same territorial cells, it takes up and reworks the demands coming from the class itself.

While the Communist Party of Italy faced its first disagreements with the International and better defined its organisational structure, the great struggles of the working class were now a distant memory. After the great scare of the Red Decade, when the Italian bourgeoisie feared being overwhelmed by the wave of workers' demonstrations, with the March on Rome Benito Mussolini took over the government and launched the fascist regime that would manage the fate of Italian capitalism for the next two decades. The advent of Fascism played a fundamental role in the internal affairs of the Communist Party, as not only did it immediately force the party into semi-hiding, but in 1923, following the arrest of Bordiga and numerous other leaders, Palmiro Togliatti, who had been a minor figure until then, took over as party secretary. Gramsci avoided imprisonment as he was sent by the party to Moscow immediately after the Rome congress. Bordiga and the other party leaders were released from prison a few months later and, despite the many difficulties caused by fascist repression, they were able to resume their political battle within the ranks of the organisation. In anticipation of the Fifth Congress of the Communist International scheduled for the summer of 1924 in Moscow, the first to be held after Lenin's death, in the spring the party organised a conference in Como attended by the members of the central committee and almost all the secretaries of the various provincial federations. The conference had a consultative and non-binding value, but because of the topics discussed and the presence of the main national and provincial leaders, it almost took on a congressional value. The report by Togliatti, formally at the top of the organisation, focused on a strong criticism of the Rome theses and the need to support the single front policy proposed by the International not out of mere discipline but because it represented the right line to relaunch the party's action. On the same wavelength is the intervention of Gramsci who, on the strength of the period spent in Russia, explains even better than Togliatti the need for the party to accept in a convinced manner the indications of the International; for the Sardinian leader, only in this way could the party fulfil its tasks and become a true mass party. In his report Bordiga defends the reasons why the party only accepted the tactics of the single front out of discipline, while for the Neapolitan revolutionary the Rome theses maintain their validity even after the advent of the fascist regime. The conference ended with an overwhelming victory for the left wing of the party, which remained faithful to the choices made in Livorno and confirmed with the Rome theses, obtaining 41 votes, while the centre motion of Gramsci and Togliatti obtained only 8 votes and that of the right wing of Tasca 10 votes.

Livorno party dies in Lyon

With the death of Lenin, the clash within the Russian Communist Party revealed itself in all its drama, inevitably dragging the International and its various parties into its vortex. The increasingly evident difficulties in spreading the revolution opened a wide debate within the Russian party with an exchange of reciprocal accusations about the responsibility for the failures of the increasingly sporadic attempts at insurrection. In this clash the figure of Stalin emerges, who in a first phase, thanks to the support of Zinoviev and Kamenev, eliminates Trockij, and later, thanks to the support of Bucharin, exiles Zinoviev and Kamenev. It was in this climate of violent political confrontation that the idea that it was possible to achieve socialism in Russia even without an extension of the revolution to other countries of old Europe took shape. It was the Stalin-Bucharin duo who, in 1925, elaborated the theory of socialism in a single country, disguising under this label the fiercest counter-revolution in history. It became possible to achieve socialism even without the enlargement of the revolutionary front, thus reversing the internationalist vision that had been the basis of the Bolshevik revolution by 180 degrees. In this new context, the role of the International changed from being an instrument of revolution to an organisation aimed at defending the interests of the Russian state and its nascent state capitalism. The principle that the International never makes mistakes and that anyone who dares to criticise its decisions is an enemy to be mercilessly crushed was quickly established. In 1925, in the murky climate of violent clashes between the various ruling groups of the Russian party, the campaign to bolshevize the various communist parties began. This took the form of modelling individual communist parties on the example of the Russian one. In Italy, it was mainly Gramsci who led the Bolshevization of the party, with the support of Togliatti and Terracini. The tactics used by Gramsci in the internal struggle against Bordiga and the left wing of the party were conducted along two different lines: on the one hand convincing some leaders that by being on the left wing of the party one was with the opponents of the International, and on the other hand taking disciplinary measures against those leaders who were reluctant to change their positions. Thus, in the course of 1925, the new centre of the party took from its ranks old elements who had until recently belonged to the left, and replaced those leaders who did not comply with orders from Moscow. The Bolshevization of the party was only one of the elements through which the counterrevolution materialized, which in the space of a few years swept away the Soviet, the Russian Communist Party, the International and its adherent parties. Bolshevization also entailed a different party organisation. The territorial sections were replaced by factory cells, thus distorting the class party's role as a political vanguard, relegating its work only to the workshops. A new party was established that responded better to the theories of Gramsci's Ordine Nuovo, but was light years away from the model of the revolutionary party that had been born only a few years earlier in Livorno. The climate of intimidation in Russia, where Stalin's opponents were first described as opportunists and shortly afterwards even accused of being agents provocateurs in the service of foreign powers, spread to all the Communist parties belonging to the International. The left wing, which until a few months earlier had been at the head of the party, suffered the violence of the Bolshevization and reacted with some of its most combative and capable exponents, constituting on June 1st the Committee of Understanding with the aim of coordinating the activities of its current in view of the next congress. Among the organisers of the Steering Committee were Onorato Damen, Bruno Fortichiari, Luigi Repossi and Ugo Girone. What the agreement committee, in which Bordiga did not participate, asked for was the possibility to discuss freely and have the necessary space in the party press. The reaction of the centre is violent, the comrades of the left are accused of fractional activity and disciplinary measures are taken against Girone. It was only thanks to Bordiga's intervention with the International that the disciplinary measures were cancelled and the Committee of Understanding was dissolved with the promise to obtain the required space in the press.

In the second half of 1925, Gramsci's centrist leadership essentially had the entire organisation in its hands, while the left, which had led the party until recently, was in fact relegated to a marginal role in the new organisation that was taking shape. The third party congress took place in January 1926 in Lyon when the game was already over. The victory of Gramsci and Togliatti's centre was overwhelming, with over 90% of the votes, while the left-wing motion received just under 10% of the delegates' votes. In Lyon, the turning point initiated in the previous months was consolidated and from being an instrument created to guide the revolution in Italy, the Communist Party of Italy, being by now totally subordinate to the dictates of the Third International, was transformed into an organism functional to the consolidation of the Russian state. From 1926, with the consolidation of the Fascist regime and the passing of special laws, the activities of the Communist Party in Italy effectively came to a standstill. Those who could fled abroad, including Togliatti, and many others ended up in prison for many years. In just five years, the party went from the enthusiasm of Livorno, when the dream of revolution was thought to be at hand, to Lyon, which sanctioned its transformation into something different, no longer functional to the revolution. For us revolutionaries, the Livorno party did not end its history in 1991 when the leaders of the Italian communist party decided it was time to put an end to that name, but many years earlier at the third congress in Lyon when the prospect of revolution disappeared from its horizon to support first the reasons of Russian state capitalism and in the following decades those of the Italian bourgeoisie.

A century has passed since a group of communists formed the Party of the Revolution in Livorno. We believe that the reasons for Livorno are more relevant today than they were then, and the epochal crisis in which capitalism is struggling at a global level reinforces our conviction. A crisis that, aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic, puts more and more on the agenda the need to build the communist alternative to the barbarity of capitalism. We are living in a time that dramatically places us before a choice: accept the barbarity of capital supinely, or relaunch the project of the communist alternative by working to build the party that will have to lead the class in this huge task. While the reasons for Livorno are more valid today than ever, all the other conditions that made the party's constitution possible have changed. The path that will lead us to the constitution of the new party will necessarily be different from Livorno, because not only is the historical context different, but the composition of the modern proletariat is also changing. Livorno is close, because modern capitalism confirms the reasons for it and the function to which the party was called, but at the same time Livorno is distant, because paths and organisational models will necessarily have to be rethought if we do not want to propose old and stale formulas that only serve to exalt a past that will never return.

(This text has been automatically translated by deepl.com)

[i]      A militant of the Italian Communist Party, former secretary of the party's youth federation during the 1930s, who remained within the organisation until his death in 1980.

[ii]     We particularly recommend Ezio Mauro's book "La dannazione. 1921. La sinistra divisa all'alba del fascismo" published by Feltrinelli in November 2020, and the book written by Marcello Flores and Giovanni Gozzini "Il vento della rivoluzione. La nascita del partito comunista italiano" published by Laterza in January 2021.

[iii]   This is the definition given by Marcello Flores and Giovanni Gozzini in the aforementioned book on page 87 of the political positions of the abstentionist fraction that was formed in 1919 around the figure of Amadeo Bordiga.

[iv]    We refer to Giovanna Savant's book "Bordiga, Gramsci e la grande guerra (1914/1920)" published by La città del sole in 2016 in which she examines the writings of the two militants in the crucial war period and on the immediate eve of the Livorno split.

[v]     See the essay 'In Bologna they were afraid to say no to the International's possibilist policy' which appeared in 1966 in the magazine Prometeo and is now available at the following link http://www.istitutoonoratodamen.it/joomla34/index.php/onorato-damen-scritti/raccoltascritti/24-bordiga-parte1

[vi]    Ibid

[vii]  We invite readers to read the documentary collection published in this issue of the journal, which also includes the speech given by Bordiga in Livorno in January 1921.