Letter to the III International

Abstentionist Communist Fraction of the Italian Socialist Party

Central Committee Borgo San Antonio Abate 221

Naples 11 January 1920

To the Central Committee of the Communist IIIrd International, Moscow.


Dearest Comrades,

We sent you a previous communication on 11 November. We are Writing in Italian in the knowledge that your office is run by Comrade Balabanov, who has an excellent knowledge of the language.

Our movement is made up of those who voted in favour of the abstentionist tendency at the Bologna congress. We are again sending you our programme and its accompanying motion. We hope you received the collection of our newspaper II Soviet, and this time we are sending you copies of Numbers 1 and 2 of the new series which began this year. The object of this letter is to let you have some comments of ours on Comrade Lenin's letter to the German communists, published by Rote Fahne on 20 December 1919 and reproduced by Avanti! on the 31st, to give you a clearer idea of our political position."

First of all, let us draw your attention once again to the fact that the Italian Socialist Party still contains opportunist socialists of the Adler and Kautsky ilk, of whom Lenin speaks in the first part of his letter. The Italian party is not a communist party; It is not even a revolutionary party. The "maximalist electionist" majority is closer in spirit to the German Independents. At the congress we differentiated ourselves from this majority not only on the issue of electoral tactics, but also on the question of excluding the reformists led by Turati from the party. Hence the division between ourselves and those maximalists who voted in favour of Serrati's motion at Bologna is not analogous to the division between the supporters of abstentionism and the supporters of electoral participation within the German Communist Party, but corresponds rather to the division between Communists and independents.

In programmatic terms our point of view has nothing In common with anarchism and syndicalism. We favour the strong and centralized Marxist political party that Lenin speaks of; Indeed we are the most fervent supporters of this idea in the maximalist camp. We are not In favour of boycotting economic trade unions but of communists taking them over, and our position corresponds to that expressed by comrade Zinoviev in his report to the Congress of the Russian Communist Party, published by Avanti! on I January.

As for the workers' councils, these exist in only a few places in Italy and then they are exclusively factory councils, made up of workshop delegates who are concerned with questions internal to the factory. Our proposal, on the other hand, is to take the initiative in setting up rural and municipal Soviets, elected directly by the masses assembled in the factories or villages; for we believe that in preparing for the revolution, the struggle should have a predominantly political character. We are in favour of participating in elections to any representative body of the working class when the electorate consists exclusively of workers. On the other hand, we are against the participation of communists in elections for parliaments, or bourgeois municipal and provincial councils, or constituent assemblies, because we arc of the opinion that it is not possible to carry out revolutionary work in such bodies; we believe that electoral work is an obstacle in the path of the Working masses, forming a communist consciousness and laying the preparations for the proletarian dictatorship as the antithesis of bourgeois democracy.

To participate in such bodies and expect to emerge unscathed by social-democratic and collaborationist deviations is a vain hope in the current historical period, as is shown by the present Italian parliamentary session. These conclusions arc reinforced by the experience of the struggle waged by the left wing in our Party from 1910-11 to the present day against all the manoeuvrings of parliamentarism, in a country which has supported a bourgeois democratic regime for a long time: the campaign against ministerialism; against forming electoral political and administrative alliance with democratic parties; against freemasonry and bourgeois anticlericalism, etc. From this experience we drew the conclusion that the gravest danger for the socialist revolution lies in collaborating with bourgeois democracy on the terrain of social reformism. This experience was subsequently generalized in the course of the war and the revolutionary events in Russia, Germany, Hungary, etc.

Parliamentary intransigence was a practical proposition, despite continual clashes and difficulties, in a non-revolutionary period, when the conquest of power on the part of the working class did not seem very likely. In addition, the more the regime and the composition of parliament itself have a traditional democratic character, the greater become the difficulties of parliamentary action. It is with these points in mind that we would judge the comparisons with the Bolsheviks' participation in elections to the Duma after 1905. The tactic employed by the Russian comrades, of participating in elections to the Constituent Assembly and then dissolving it by force, despite the fact that it did not prove to be the undoing of the revolution, would be a dangerous tactic to use in countries where the parliamentary system, far from being a recent phenomenon, is an institution of long standing and one that is rooted firmly in the consciousness and customs of the proletariat itself.

The work required to gain the support of the masses for the abolition of the system of democratic representation would appear to be - and is in fact - a much greater task for us in Italy than in, say, Russia or even Germany. The need to give the greatest force to this propaganda aimed at devaluing the parliamentary institution and eliminating its sinister counter-revolutionary influence has led us to the tactic of abstentionism. To electoral activity we counterpose the violent conquest of political power on the part of the proletariat and the formation of the Council State: hence our abstentionism in no way diminishes our insistence on the need for a centralized revolutionary government. Indeed, we are against collaborating with anarchists and syndicalists within the revolutionary movement, for they do not accept such criteria of propaganda and action.

The general election of 16 November, despite the fact that it was fought by the PSI on a maximalist platform, has proved once again that electoral activity excludes and pushes into the background every other form of activity, above all illegal activity. In Italy the problem is not one of uniting legal and illegal activity, as Lenin advises the German comrades, but of beginning to reduce legal activity in order to make a start on its illegal counterpart, which does not exist at all. The new parliamentary group has devoted itself to social-democratic and minimalist work, tabling questions, drafting legislation, etc.

We conclude our exposition by letting you know that in all likelihood, although We have maintained discipline within the PSI and upheld its tactics until now, before long and perhaps prior to the municipal elections, which are due in July, our fraction will break away from the party that seems set on retaining many anti-communists in its ranks, to form the Italian Communist Party, whose first act will be to affiliate to the Communist International.

Revolutionary greetings

Source Il Soviet, n. 1, 4 January 1920
Author Amadeo Bordiga
n+1 Archives Copy of original Ref. DB -
Level of Control Null