Socialist Tendencies and Scissions (XVII)
Nenni said, among other things, that the history of Italian socialism can be summarised in the history of the splits and divisions of the party: this is partly true, although the Nenni in question is not the product of any of these selection processes but has been included in them, it is not clear how, from the republican, agrarian or interventionist-fascist ranks, certainly not on the occasion of a crisis of Marxism concerning it; and even though the socialist party, since Nenni became part of it, has had nothing more to say historically original, not even on the path it has taken.
These crises have had a certain significance in that, each time, it has been a question of making choices on questions of method in the action of the proletariat; and the clash of opposing methods, or the declaration of incompatibility of a given method, affirmed by the right or by the left, has given rise to heated discussions on doctrine and successive clarifications on the orientation of the class struggle, on the path towards socialism.
It was in 1892, in the Congress of Genoa, that the anarchists split, because they refused to adhere to the method of participation in elections adopted by the party: but the divergence concerned the whole question of political power as a revolutionary means for socialist economic transformation, and the function of the class party, a major issue that had caused the split between Bakunin and Marx in 1871, and certainly not because the latter had parliamentary ambitions.
It was in 1907 that the trade unionists, who were also a-electionists or even anti-electionists, broke away because they were mainly supporters of purely economic action as a means of struggle and leadership in revolutionary society and underestimated the task of the political party. This separation was related to the spread of this trend in France, Spain and some other countries due to the foundation of autonomous trade unions that had split with the confederations that stood alongside the parties.
It was in 1912 that the right-wing reformists, supporters of participation in bourgeois governments, which the party banned in its majority and which was an urgent problem in many countries, split from the party: two tendencies continued to remain together in the party, the uncompromising and revolutionary tendency, similar to that of the radical German Orthodox Marxists, and the reformist tendency which approached the views of the revisionists of Marxism, who, with Bernstein at their head, saw an evolutionary and gradual transition from capitalism to socialism and the rise of the proletariat to power in a legal way.
Without any real splits, the PSI rejected from its midst in 1914 the Freemasons and all the supporters of the blocs with bourgeois parties, even for contingent objectives, and then the interventionists who were supporters of the democratic and national war. This second historical process coincided with the rupture between revolutionary Marxists and social-patriots - who, in different countries, had allied themselves with the bourgeoisie at war - which led to Zimmerwald and then to the Third International of Moscow.
On the basis of the Russian revolution and Leninism, the left-wing Marxists clarified their positions on points that made it impossible for the party to coexist with the social democrats, even when they were not, like the Italian social democrats in Turati, champions of social patriotism. The use of armed force by the working class for the conquest of power, its dictatorship, opposed to bourgeois parliamentary democracy, to achieve socialism, the conditions established by the 2nd Moscow Congress in 1920, were at the root of the split in Livorno in 1921 and the founding of the Communist Party of Italy. On the other side remained not only the declared social democrats, but also all those who, although claiming to be revolutionary and "maximalist" in words (a term derived from the old distinction between the maximum and minimum programme of socialism), did not understand the fundamental requirement of breaking with the pacifists of class war, with the utopians of the bloodless conquest of socialism.
Since then, the Italian Socialist Party has practically drifted away. The segment that Livorno expelled had other crises since, not only did another group favourable to the Third International come out of it and was accepted by the Comintern (Maffi, Serrati, Riboldi, etc.), but the maximalists still separated themselves from the Turatians who formed, before the rise of fascism, the Unitary Socialist Party.
Three groups with different methodologies should have given very different positions on historical facts such as fascism and the Second World War. This was not the case. We will not follow here the crisis of the Italian and international communist movement; but let us recall that in fact not only did the three parties consider it necessary to unite on the same line to fight fascism internally and then to support the anti-German war externally, but that they constituted on these objectives a general bloc with all the bourgeois "democratic" forces, a bloc with which they merged practically until the "Victory".
At the end of the Congress of the Socialist Party - and there have been six in five years, during each of which at least three tendencies clashed - it was observed that a split, that of the Saragat supporters, occurred. This split did not succeed in giving itself a principled face because the new PSLI in turn had multiple sentiments and some claimed to have left the socialist party because they were clearly social democrats and possibilists, and opposed to violence and class dictatorship, others because they criticised the right-wing deviations of the socialist and communist parties.
In short, it is useless to recall that after the war, socialists and communists were part of the government with all the anti-fascist parties, including the Christian Democratic Party. Both parties proclaimed that they were engaged in legal and constitutional action. The supporters of Saragat left when the government agreement was broken, not because of questions of method in proletarian action, because they refused the legal path and denounced the country's constitutional order, but because of the known international relations of appeasement of the economic and political influence of the Western countries and America.
In the Socialist Party's current situation, the central problem seems to be its relationship with the Communist Party. And indeed, the party's so-called left-wing tendency says nothing more than communists on Italian and global issues, and sometimes even expresses itself much more bluntly. In the midst of a propaganda manoeuvre on Moscow's pacifist attitude, and in the midst of a period of détente in the Cold War, the various Basso do not hesitate to say that not only does the Russian State represent the working class but that its military forces will fight for revolution in all countries, as was the case in the wars that followed the French revolution.
Today, there is in effect no doctrinal or methodological reason that differentiates the Communist Party from the Socialist Party, and if we place ourselves on the specious ground of the call made by all their representatives to the working class and even to class struggle in its Marxist sense, there is no reason either to distinguish them from the right-wing tendency and the Saragat party.
If we confront the various groups with the movement's crucial old questions, none of them divide them. All are in favour of the electoral method and legal action. All have demonstrated that they do not exclude participation in power with bourgeois parties for reasons of principle. The great question of armed insurrection and violence is meaningless to all of them; while all refuse to resort to it in the current political struggle in Italy, the hypothesis of neo-fascism, or what they would like to present to the masses as such, whether from the east or the west, is enough to see them all once again become supporters of guerrillas and resistance.
And if, for a moment, the possibility of the Third World War is ruled out, they all also show themselves to be enemies of autonomous, radical, classist proletarian action, to overthrow capitalist power wherever it reigns. They all declare themselves democrats, progressives and evolutionists.
In the proudest of all his anti-American speeches, that of the Grand Session, Togliatti unequivocally defined the political method of both his party and the Russian state. "Collaboration of all great and small powers... in the construction of a Europe in which all peoples will be free, independent and help each other without fighting each other". "All the statements of the leaders of Soviet politics agree with this line, especially when they, partially modifying previous statements to take into account the facts as they are now (does it not seem to you that this is the case of saying: the revisionists have confessed?), affirm that the two systems, the socialist and the capitalist, can coexist peacefully, are not forced to fight each other." It is therefore not an apology and an offer of peace between states, but of peace between classes. Who could do better in imitating Romita or Saragat? What remains of class struggle and Marxism? One moment, let's continue reading and we'll know. "Of course, this does not mean that socialism should not move forward; it does not mean that capitalism should not defend itself. But they do so without making war, that is, by means of systems of competition and emulation that do not jeopardise the very existence of any civilisation whatsoever." Listen carefully: he said competition, emulation and civilisation.
And he adds that "no one has ever demonstrated that the doctrine and practice of the men who rule the Soviet Union were different from these". But this is precisely what we want to demonstrate, as it is no longer the declaration of a practice skilled at deceiving the opponent, but a doctrine. We were quite right to argue furiously that there is no such thing as a fishy practice that does not inevitably become a doctrine. The doctrine of emulation, ten times worse than the doctrine of collaboration. They no longer only propose to the proletarians to collaborate, but to imitate the bourgeoisie.
The disagreement, the battle, the replacement in power of the social classes no longer consists in taking a world and putting its head where it had its feet, but it is a peaceful and civilised emulation. It is not only the doctrine of workers revolution but the whole vision of history that is reduced to lukewarm dishwater. We know that so much candour could conceal a surprise: a submarine at the bottom of a bidet.
Where the Lelio saw a new tragic '93 with the Thermopylae of Russia and the epic columns of the sans-culottes, the cold Palmiro depicted a minuet danced by Marat with languid gestures in the company of Madame de Montespan, and proposed this model, sufficient to dishonour the history of the bourgeoisie, to the revolution of the proletariat.
Three parties, three tendencies, six congresses, twenty speakers; the doctrine of emulation can explain everything; very civilised competition and emulation, in the offer of services to the infamous order of capital.
 Lelio Basso was a leader of the PSI after the Second World War.
Battaglia Comunista No. 20, 1949
Translation by Libri Incogniti