Communes and Socialism (XIX)


Using the expression: The communes and communism, that is: the communes and the communists, rather than playing a pun, helps to promote to the confusion of terms and ideas against which the Marxist party systematically struggles and which the opportunists instead make their daily bread.

We want to talk about the communes as an existing local administrative body; and to declare first of all that the word communism does not come from the commune but from the community of means of production and objects of consumption, does not seem to us like a banal remark. Means and objects that are and always will be physical, although the terms property, wealth, commodities and other similar meanings include social relationships that the communist revolution will destroy.

The historical distinction between commune and state is not always clear. Engels argues that the primitive society without private property, whose core is the tribe or native people, did not yet possess a state, since there was no division into classes, no class struggle and no political power, as an expression of the strongest class. The first political states appear on limited territories comprising a single city with a large number of inhabitants; since the same term refers to the territory organised in a unitary way and the institutions that govern it, the city merges with the state. And the Greek "polis" or the Roman "civitas" do not correspond to our modern urban commune but rather to the national states. It is the Roman municipality that was the current commune and Rome the city; and when the legal quality of citizen, a word that comes from the city (it is rather civitas that comes from cives), is recognised to Italians from all the communes to the Po, the whole peninsula constitutes the territory of the Roman political state with uniform laws and jurisdiction. On the other hand, the term politics, i.e. the science or art of the state, comes from the Greek "polis", which is understood not as a city-agglomeration of houses, but as a single territory and regime.

Much poetry about the Middle Ages commune was written by the first-hand bourgeois revolutionaries who ended up with Carducci, and by those of today, second-hand, who are only fools whose fragile feet Mussolini had rudely trampled on. The commune in which the first bourgeoisie fought with courage against the feudal order and then succumbed in Italy before the Lords of the aristocracy, in the ebb and flow that our country has suffered for centuries as a result of the development of trade and production throughout the world (but which had however historically excluded forever the threat of the feudal spectrum returning, a threat that the thinkers, writers and political agitators who fall ill from it make a puerile fuss), this commune was therefore a political state on a restricted territory, formed by a large urban centre surrounded by a countryside of houses and land with a common elective organisation, it was therefore a polis and not a municipium. In the struggle between the Collegati of Legnano and Barbarossa, Dante had already understood that it was on the latter's side that the fundamental element of the modern state centralised over a large territory, which would have advanced history much more than political fragmentation and the organisational and mental narrowness of "those who lock themselves behind a wall and a pit", was to be found. But when the breathless rhetoricians of political history saw where the Palladium of Liberty stands, they saw everything. Formed by good sons of Troy.

Modern bourgeois states have renewed the Roman commune in the so-called autonomy of local administrations which, generally, when they have a local model of a small parliament, function more like a common Camorra than when the state puts its own officials at the head.

The Marxist vision of class struggle seeks to understand and present this social phenomenon in the particular enterprise where the employee depends on his bourgeois patron, develops it in the national framework where the working class leads its struggle against the state, organ of the dominant bourgeoisie, to overthrow it, and in the international framework of proletarian solidarity. The class struggle also undoubtedly has the commune and the province or canton as its domain and stage, but it is not a question of reducing it to a matter of gossip about the spectacle of the struggle between Montaigus and Capulets.

Politics and administration are two different fields, the bourgeois yapped. The accommodating socialists, echoing them faithfully and idiotically, claimed that, in local authorities, it was useful and beautiful to help steer the administrative barge -; the unfortunate were brave, honest and disinterested technicians while the opportunists of today are the best filibusters -; insofar as class postulates were defended within the framework of the state and within the international framework. That is why they said that the party's principles could very well be supported in national political and parliamentary campaigns, while locally, one should not engage in "political questions" but contribute to the correct solution of technical and concrete problems in the interest of the workers, of course, but also of the "population", the "majority", "our city" and so on. You want to have, they said, an attitude of opposition in principle towards the state and parliament, to refuse participation in government and alliances with other parties, but in local administrations, the workers expect from us (as usual it is always the workers who expect all this -; and they are still waiting patiently -, while councillors, deputies, mayors and other insects no longer expect what was their lifelong dream) a positive gesture for their well-being, and there is no contradiction with our socialist principles if we practise good administration and if we make agreements with other parties for this purpose.

Slowly, please, before you start rolling up your sleeves. Politics and administration? For bourgeois liberal ideology, the political sphere is the one in which the opinions, confessions and declarations of political faith of citizens meet and play, which, in order to formulate them, question their conscience and the civic education they have received from the school and press of the "free" capitalist state. The citizen who fulfils his free and sacred right and duty to vote does not question his interests and no longer remembers the economic class to which he belongs, but chooses according to the political reasoning that most seduced him in the candidates' speeches. It is from this noble domain that the supreme organ of popular government of the nation is born, which directs it according to the highest principles and precepts of democratic consecration. In the more down-to-earth "administrative" field, once the great ideas have been put aside, we can then deign to deal with the facts of material life, roads, canals, aqueducts and even, please excuse, sewers. The atheist as well as the catholic, the republican as the royalist, can then agree on a solution.

But it is precisely all this nonsense that the socialist vision throws into turmoil by completely overturning it. The satisfaction of the material needs of the working class as well as that of its economic interests is only possible by confronting the bases of the social privilege of the opposing class; yet the latter is built on a system of institutions and defences that intervene at all levels of the territory and companies, but which nevertheless emanate from a single centre nestled in the political state. Any problem of production technique and administration of social activities, whether the field concerned is vast or restricted, becomes a political problem, or better yet a political problem, that is, a problem of disagreement and clash between political forces, and it is on this basis that the socialist movement builds its organisation and its class action.

It was such reminders and developments that were enough to prompt the Italian Socialist Party to reject, at the Ancona Congress in 1914, the thesis of the notorious popular administrative blocks. In spite of the reformists and opportunists, it was stated that class struggle and class politics would also take place in the commune of Milan and in the commune of Borgocollefregato.

If the uncompromising old socialist Serrati made a colossal mistake regarding the great questions of the Third International, it was largely due to the influence exerted on him by the conquests of the party of these "fortresses", the communes, the mutual societies, the cooperatives, which he believed could be played in a revolutionary sense even though they were being held by grey reformists and dedicated to the most trite and concrete work. In vituperating Serrati, who was already at that point close to death, the concretists of the Turin group of the "Ordine Nuovo" not only were not to be outdone, but they hit the peak of virulence, not to mention poison. This did not prevent them from defending the merger with the same repentant Serrati, rather than simply readmitting him into the ranks. But its anti-Serratism of the time has prevented even less, in recent times, one of the many tightrope walkers of post-fascism from manipulating without taking itself seriously, a new historical-political theory -; who does not have one among the post-fascists? Mussolini had made his fortune there, and the others reason as if they were in the PMU -; namely that of the administrative state, its anti-Serratism at the time did not prevent Togliatti from giving a Marxist meaning and from throwing one of his so skillful winks of sympathy at this vulgar bullshit in freedom.

The Paris Commune of 1871 was the occasion for a later phase of confusion between the commune and the state, especially in defining the doctrinal differences between Marxists and anarchists. For many years, socialist and anarchist revolutionaries have indeed claimed this glorious battle, but it is the critical contributions of Marx and Engels, with above all the decisive clarification provided by Lenin in "The State and the Revolution", that have settled this subject. The Commune was the first example of a revolutionary state that organised itself after breaking the traditional capitalist and parliamentary state. If it had committed a fault, it was to hesitate in breaking up certain institutions of the bourgeois regime and not to use sufficient force and authority to crush the surviving minorities of the old ruling class. The Parisian revolutionaries conquered the Hôtel de Ville and thus seemed to substitute a communal power for the ministries of the national government, but the historical substance lies in the foundation of a new proletarian political power that wanted to extend to all of France and to make the working class rise up in all of France. The arms of the bourgeois republic, supported by the Prussian-German Empire, prevented the formation of this workers’ state, this first proletarian dictatorship, whose unitary, centralist and non-federal nature Marx and Lenin demonstrated.

If the capitalist economy now has supra-national limits, the communist economy will not be able to lock itself into narrower limits, of enterprises or of communes. Similarly, the historical form of revolutionary power that will lead the economic transition to the dissolution of the state, democracy, and even the administration in its current sense (Lenin, Engels), cannot be limited to a limited territory. We aim towards a world commune, not a municipal one, since it would make no sense, or really a medieval sense, to have a municipal economy.

The ease of the brash, romantic and Romagnolan spirits had awakened in Mussolini, while he was still leading the Italian left-wing Marxists, one of those reckless sympathies for a word with -ism that wanted to be born from the usual pretense to overcome classical Marxist directives: communalism. It is a tough job to prevent these great politicians of yesterday and today from letting go of their bad habit of picking in all directions, to think that we can put everything into the comrades' soup. Even administrativism... brrr!


The Stalinist parties' instruction about the commune seems to be as follows: in the central organs everything is allowed; in the local political organs even more is allowed. For example, in the councils, form a bloc with anyone. We do not want to risk inaccuracies, but if we could look at all the municipal lists from Castiglione Messer Marino to Pieve Porto Morone, we believe we would find Stalinists allied with monarchists, Christian democrats and fascists. There is only one instruction given by the management: hang on to the seats. Enrichissez-vous!

Mayors, deputies, ministers, trade union officials and party leaders all work in series and in concert to make the world proletariat, from success to success, the "cocu magnifique" -; the magnificent cuckold -; of history.

We hope, however, to see them one day skewered upon those horns.


[1] "Communes" in this text initially refers to municipalities or townships, and not to the Paris Commune. In Italian they are called "comuni".

[2] Bordiga talks about the union of the Stalinists with the "fascists", in fact he talks about the "misisti" (we now say "missini"). In fact: these are the members of the MSI the Movimento Sociale Italiano.

[3] This is a pun. In Italian, and in many other languages, to signify that one is a cuckold, one "puts the horns" on to someone: a hand gesture often seen at heavy metal concerts.

Battaglia Comunista, No. 22 – 1949
Translation by Libri Incogniti

(Italian Version)


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