Letter to the III International

Abstentionist Communist Fraction of the Italian Socialist Party

Central Committee Borgo San Antonio Abate 221

Naples, 10 November 1919

To the Moscow Committee of the IIIrd International.


Our fraction was formed after the Bologna Congress of the Italian Socialist Party (6-10 October 1919), but it bad issued its propaganda previously through the Naples newspaper Il Soviet, convening a conference at Rome which approved the programme subsequently presented to the Congress. We enclose a collection of issues of the journal, plus several copies of the programme together with the motion with which it was put to the vote.

It should be noted at the outset that throughout the war years a powerful extremist movement operated within the Party, opposing both the openly reformist politics of the parliamentary group and the General Confederation of Labour and also those of the Party leadership, despite the fact that they followed an intransigent revolutionary line in accordance with the decisions of the pre-War congresses. The leadership has always been split into two currents vis-à-vis the problem of the War. The right-wing current identified itself with Lazzari, author of the formula "neither support nor sabotage the war"," the left-wing current with Serrati, the editor of Avanti!. However, the two currents presented a united front at all meetings held during the war, and although they had reservations concerning the attitude of the parliamentary group, they did not come out firmly against them. Left elements outside the leadership struggled against this ambiguity, being determined to split the reformists of the group away from the Party and not even the 1918 Congress of Rome, held just before the Armistice, to adopt a more revolutionary attitude, was able to break with the transigent politics of the deputies. The leadership, despite the addition of extremist elements like Gennari and Bombacci, did not effect much change in its line; indeed, this was weakened by a soft attitude towards some of the activities of a right wing hostile to the orientation of the majority of the Party.

Alter the war, apparently the whole Party adopted a "maximalist" line, affiliating to the IIIrd International. However, from a communist point of view, the Party's attitude was not satisfactory; we beg you to note the polemics published in II Soviet taking issue with the parliamentary group, the Confederation (in connection with the "constituent assembly of trades") and with the leadership itself, in particular concerning the preparations for the 20-21 July strike. Together with other comrades from all over Italy, we at once opted our electoral abstentionism, which we supported at the Bologna Congress. We wish to make it clear that at the congress we were at variance with the Party not only on the electoral question, but also on the question of splitting the Party.

The victorious "maximalist electionist" faction too had accepted the thesis that the reformists were incompatible with the Party, but failed to act on it for purely electoral calculations - notwithstanding the anti-communist speeches of Turati and Treves. This is a powerful argument in favour of abstentionism: unless electionist and parliamentary activity is abandoned, It will not be possible to form a purely Communist Party.

Parliamentary democracy in the Western countries assumes forms of such a character that it constitutes the most formidable weapon for deflecting the revolutionary movement of the proletariat. The left in our Party has been committed to polemicizing and struggling against bourgeois democracy since 1910-11, and this experience leads us to the conclusion that in the present world revolutionary situation, all contact with the democratic system needs to be severed.

The present situation in Italy is as follows: the Party is waging a campaign against the war and the interventionist parties, certain of deriving great electoral advantages from this policy. But since the present government is composed of bourgeois parties which were hostile to the war in 1915, a certain confluence results between the Party's electoral activity and the politics of the bourgeois government. As all the reformist ex-deputies have been readopted as candidates, the Nitti government, which has good relations with them as may be seen from the most recent parliamentary episodes, will trim its behaviour to ensure that they are preferred. Then the Party, exhausted as it is by the enormous efforts it has made in the present elections, will become bogged down in polemics against the transigent attitude of the deputies. Then we will have the preparations for the administrative elections in July 1920; for many months, the Party will make no serious revolutionary propaganda or preparations. It is to be hoped that unforeseen developments do not intervene and overwhelm the Party. We attach importance to the question of electoral activity, and we feel it is contrary to communist principles to allow individual parties affiliated to the IlIrd International to decide the question for themselves. The international communist party should study the problem and resolve it for everyone.

Today we are resolved to work towards the formation of a truly communist party, and our fraction inside the Italian Socialist Party has set itself this goal. We hope that the first parliamentary skirmishes will bring many comrades towards us, so that the split with the social.-democrats may he accomplished. At the congress, we received 3,417 votes (67 sections voting for us), while the maximalist electionists won with 48,000 votes and the reformists received 14,000. We are also at variance with the maximalists on other issues of principle: in the interests of brevity we enclose a copy of the programme adopted by the congress, which is the Party's programme today (not one member left the Party as a result of the changes in the programme), together with some comments of our own.

It should be noted that we are not collaborating with movements outside the Party, such as anarchists and syndicalists, for they follow principles which are non-communist and contrary to the dictatorship of the proletariat. Indeed, they accuse us of being more authoritarian and centralist than the other maximalists in the Party. Sec the polemics in II Soviet. What is needed in Italy is a comprehensive clarification of the communist programme and tactics, and we will devote all our efforts to this end. Unless a party that concerns itself solely and systematically with propagandizing and preparing the proletariat along communist lines is successfully organized, the revolution could emerge defeated.

As far as the question of tactics is concerned, in particular the setting up of Soviets, it appears to us that errors are being committed even by our friends; what we are afraid of is that nothing more will be accomplished than to give a reformist twist to the craft unions. Efforts are in fact being made to set up workshop committees, as in Turin, and then to bring all the delegates from a given industry (engineering) together to take over the leadership of the trade union, by appointing its executive committee. In this way, the political functions of the workers' councils for which the proletariat should be prepared arc not being tackled; whereas, in our view, the most important problem is to organize a powerful class-based party (Communist Party) that will prepare the insurrectionary seizure of power from the hands of the bourgeois government.

It is our earnest desire to know your opinion concerning: (a) parliamentary and municipal electionism and the prospects for a decision on this question by the Communist International; (b) splitting the Italian party; (c) the tactical problem of setting up Soviets under a bourgeois regime, and the limits of such action.

We salute both yourselves and the great Russian proletariat, the pioneer of universal communism.

Source Il programma comunista nr. 14 - 1965
Author Amadeo Bordiga
n+1 Archives Original Ref. DB -
Level of Control Null