V. I. Lenin

On the Struggle of the Italian Socialist Party[1]


Written: 4 & 12 of November, 1920
First Published: 1920; Published according to the manuscript
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 31, pages 377-396
Translated: Julius Katzer
Transcription\HTML Markup: David Walters & R. Cymbala
Copyleft: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive (www.marx.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License


Pravda No. 213 of September 25, 1920, published a short letter of mine entitled: “Letter to the German and the French Workers Regarding the Discussion on the Second Congress of the Communist International.”[2] In its issue of October 5, Avanti!, the central organ of the Italian Socialist Party, carried a reprint of this letter with comments of its own, which are worth examining since they strikingly reveal the fallacy of the stand taken by Comrade Serrati, editor of Avanti!

“Lenin’s explanation,” we read, “to some extent mitigates the draconic conditions dictated by comrades who are not quite in a position to correctly appraise men and circumstances at such a distance and in such a different situation...,”

“... Lenin spared one of his victims: Modigliani ....”

“... Lenin now says-whether on his own behalf or on behalf of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, we do not know-that ’exceptions’ [to the general rule] are permissible [with the consent of the Executive Committee].”

The ironical remark about the “victim”, which Modigliani, one of the reformists, is supposed to be, is pointless. Despite Serrati’s opinion, my failure to mention the name of Modigliani (and of Longuet) was unintentional. I took one name or another as an example, in order to characterise a trend, leaving aside, as I still do, the question of individuals; I did not undertake to decide this question, considering it of secondary importance, and spoke of the possibility of exceptions. Notwithstanding his statement, Serrati is fully aware (for he makes precise reference to my article in Pravda) that I speak, and can do so, only on my own behalf, and in no way on behalf of the Executive Committee.

By his remarks, Serrati distracts Avanti! readers from the principal, basic and vital question of whether reformists can now be tolerated in the ranks of the Italian party of the revolutionary proletariat. Serrati covers up the falseness of his stand by trying to divert attention from the essential to the secondary and insignificant.

That must be combated. The essentials must be elucidated.

Both in the comment we are dealing with and in other articles, Serrati says that the Moscow Congress (the Second Congress of the Communist International) was not adequately informed about Italian affairs. One might think that the gist of the matter did not lie in the struggle between two fundamental trends, or in the answer to the fundamental question of whether “unity” with the reformists is permissible, but in differences over points that “Moscow” is not precisely informed about!

The glaring fallacy of this view-and of this attempt to distract attention from the main point-is best of all exposed in the official report of the discussion in the Central Committee of the Italian Socialist Party. This discussion took place in Milan on September 28, 29 and 30 and October 1, only a few days prior to the publication of the issue of Avantil referred to above.

The discussion closed with a vote on two resolutions, one of which may be called a communist, and the other a “Centrist” or evasive resolution, which in a masked form advocated an alliance (“unity”!) with the reformists. The first resolution was carried, seven voting for it (Terracini, Gennari, Regent.. Tuntar, Casucci, Marziali, and Bellone); the second resolution was rejected (five in favour: Baratono, Zannerini, Bacci, Giacomini and Serrati).

The first resolution is of a remarkable clarity and precision. It opens with a reference to the “present conditions” of the revolutionary struggle in Italy calling for “greater homogeneity” in the party. It goes on to say that the right to remain in the party was extended to all, on condition of submission to party discipline; however, this condition has not been observed. It would be erroneous, it goes on to say, to expect submission to discipline from those whose convictions are opposed to the principles and tactics of the Third International; consequently, since the twenty-one points of the Moscow conditions have been accepted, a “radical purge” of the party is necessary so as to eliminate all reformist and opportunist elements.

Here no reference is made to names or particular instances. A clear political line is laid down. The grounds for the decision are precisely stated, viz., concrete facts from the history of the party in Italy, and concrete features in the revolutionary situation there.

The second resolution is a model of evasiveness and poor diplomacy: we accept the twenty-one points, but consider that “these conditions leave a loop-hole for dubious interpretations”, and that “the political criterion of each section of the Third, Communist International should be adapted to the historical conditions and the actual specific features of its country, and submitted for approval to this International”. The resolution emphasises “the need to preserve the unity of the Italian Socialist Party on the basis of the twenty-one points”; individual breaches of discipline are to be sternly punished by the Central Committee of the Party.

The communist resolution says that the revolutionary situation calls for greater homogeneity in the party. That is undeniable. The resolution of those who advocate “unity” with the reformists attempts to evade this undeniable truth, without daring to dispute it.

The Communist resolution says that it is a feature of the situation in Italy that the condition demanding submission to party decisions by the reformists has not been observed. That is the gist of the matter. That being so, it is not merely a mistake but a crime to allow the reformists to remain in the party at a time when the general revolutionary situation is becoming acute, and the country may even be on the eve of decisive revolutionary battles.

Is this true or not? Have the reformists carried out party decisions? Have they in fact submitted to the party? Have they pursued its policy? The resolution of the defenders of the reformists cannot give an affirmative answer; it cannot challenge the Communists’ negative answer, and avoids a reply. It twists and turns, makes general references to the different specific features in the various countries, and does so in order to evade and to present in a false light the most important “specific feature” of Italy herself at the moment. What constitutes this specific feature of Italy is the fact that the reformists have already proved incapable in practice of carrying out party decisions and pursuing party policy. By evading this fundamental issue, the resolution of the advocates of unity with the reformists utterly defeats itself.

By this fact alone, Serrati, Baratono, Zannerini, Bacci, and Giacomini have already shown quite clearly and irrefutably that they are fundamentally wrong, that their political line is fundamentally false.

The discussion in the Italian party’s Central Committee has ever more forcefully revealed the total falsity of Serrati’s line. The Communists were right in saying that as long as the reformists remained what they were they could not but sabotage the revolution, as they had already sabotaged it during the recent revolutionary movement of the Italian workers who were taking over the factories.

That is the pith and marrow of the matter! How is it possible to prepare for revolution and advance towards decisive battles, when there are people in the party who sabotage the revolution? That is not merely a mistake but a crime.

If, as he frankly declared in his letter to l’HumanitÉ’s[3] of October 14, Serrati counted on the expulsion of Turati alone,[4] this mistake of his has also already been revealed by the facts. The Italian reformists not only held a factional congress of their own (in Reggio Emilia on October 11, 1920); at this congress they not only reiterated the essence of their reformist views; not only did they give a triumphant reception to Filippo Turati at the congress, but they also declared, through TrĆves: “We shall either remain in the party, or to a man leave it.” Let us note in this connection that the bourgeois press and the reformists themselves did their utmost to play up the importance of their factional congress. But in A vantil of October 13 (the Milan edition) we find it frankly stated that the reformists were able to get representatives from only two hundred branches of a party with thousands of branches.

But let us dwell in greater detail on Serrati ’s main argument on the essence of the question. Serrati fears a split that may weaken the party and especially the trade unions, the co-operative societies and the municipalities. These institutions, which are essential to the construction of socialism, must not be destroyed-that is Serrati’s main idea. He asks (Avanti!, October 2, 1920, the Milan edition): “Where shall we find enough ’Communists’, even if only the most ardent new-fledged Communists, to fill the public posts from which we shall drive their holders, as Terracini proposes?” The same idea is expressed by Serrati in an article on the Second Congress of the Third international, in the journal Co,nunismo (No. 24, p. 1627), which he edits: “Picture to yourselves the Milan commune [i.e., the Milan municipality] administered, not by competent people but by novices who only yesterday declared themselves ardent Communists.”

Serrati fears the destruction of the trade unions, the co-operative societies and municipalities, and the inefficiency and mistakes of the novices.

What the Communists fear is the reformists’ sabotage of the revolution.

This difference reveals Serrati’s error of principle. He keeps reiterating a simple idea: the need for flexible tactics. This idea is incontestable. The trouble is that Serrati leans to the right when, in the present-day conditions in Italy one should lean to the left. To successfully accomplish the revolution and safeguard it, the Italian party must take a definite step to the left (without in any way keeping its hands tied or forgetting that subsequent events may well call for definite steps to the right).

Victory in the proletarian revolution cannot be achieved, and that revolution cannot be safeguarded, while there are reformists and Mensheviks in one’s ranks. That is obvious in principle, and has been strikingly confirmed by the experience both of Russia and of Hungary. This is a decisive consideration. It is simply ridiculous to compare with this danger the danger of “losing” the trade unions, cooperative societies, municipalities, etc., or of their failures, mistakes, or collapse. It is not only ridiculous, but criminal. Anyone who would subject the entire revolution to risk for fear of injuring the municipal affairs of Milan and so forth, has completely lost his head, has no idea of the fundamental task of the revolution, and is totally incapable of preparing its victory.

We in Russia made thousands of mistakes and suffered thousands of reverses, losses, etc., owing to the inefficiency of novices and incompetent people in the co-operative societies, municipalities, trade unions, etc. We have no doubt that other and more civilised nations will make fewer mistakes of this kind. Notwithstanding these mistakes, we have achieved what is most important, viz., the conquest of power by the proletariat. Moreover, we have maintained that power for three years.

The mistakes mentioned by Comrade Serrati are minor ones and are infinitely easier to rectify than the “mistake” of allowing the sabotage of the revolution by the Mensheviks and the wrecking of the revolution itself. That is selfevident. It has been strikingly demonstrated in the case of Hungary. It has also been confirmed by our experience; during the three years of proletarian government in Russia difficult situations have arisen many times, when the Soviet regime would most certainly have been overthrown if Mensheviks, reformists, petty-bourgeois democrats had remained in our Party, or even if they had remained in any considerable numbers in the central Soviet bodies, such as the Central Executive Committee.

Serrati has failed to understand the specific features of the transitional situation that exists in Italy, where, as is generally admitted, decisive battles are in store between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie for possession of state power. At such a moment, it is not only absolutely essential to remove the Mensheviks, reformists, Turatists from the party, but it may even be useful to remove some very good Communists too, to remove them from all responsible posts, if they are inclined to waver, and reveal a tendency to drift towards “unity” with the reformists.

Let me give a practical illustration. On the eve of the October Revolution in Russia, and immediately after it, a number of very good Communists in Russia committed an error, one which our people are now loth to recall. Why are they loth to recall it? Because, unless there is particular reason for it, it is wrong to recall mistakes which have been completely set right. But it will be useful to recall this mistake for the benefit of the Italian workers. At the time mentioned, prominent Bolsheviks and Communists, such as Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rykov, Nogin and Milyutin, wavered and expressed the fear that the Bolsheviks were isolating themselves excessively, were taking too much risk in heading for an uprising, and were too unyielding in their attitude towards a certain section of the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries. The conflict became so acute that these comrades demonstratively resigned from all responsible posts in Party and government, to the great glee of the enemies of the Soviet revolution. It developed so far that the Central Committee of our Party conducted a very heated controversy in the press with the comrades who had resigned. But a few weeks later-at most a few months-all these comrades realised their mistake and returned to their posts, some of the most responsible in the Party and the Soviets.

Why this happened can readily be understood. On the eve of revolution or at the height of the struggle for its victory, the slightest wavering in the ranks of the Party may wreck everything, frustrate the revolution, and wrest power from the hands of the proletariat, for that power has not yet been consolidated, and the onslaught against it is still very strong. If wavering leaders resign at such a time, that does not weaken the party, the working-class movement and the revolution, but strengthens them.

Italy is going through a similar period. It is generally seen and admitted that a nation-wide revolutionary crisis is maturing The proletariat has proved in deed that it is capable of rising spontaneously, and of rousing the masses for a mighty revolutionary movement. The poor peasants, or semi-proletarians (it is a pity that Comrade Serrati has acquired the bad habit of putting a question mark after this word whenever he uses it; it is a correct Marxist term and expresses a correct idea, which has been confirmed by facts both in Russia and in Italy, viz., that the poor peasants are half property-owners and half proletarians)the poor peasants in Italy have shown in deed that they are capable of rising for a revolutionary struggle, in the wake of the proletariat. What is most essential now, in fact absolutely essential for the victory of the revolution in Italy, is that the Italian revolutionary proletariat should have a real vanguard in the shape of a truly Communist Party, one that is incapable of wavering and flinching at the decisive moment, a party that will concentrate within itself the utmost fervour, devotion to the revolution, energy and boundless courage and determination. Victory has to be achieved in a very hard and painful struggle that will entail great sacrifice; when captured, power will have to be upheld in the face of incredibly fierce attacks, intrigues, slander, calumny, intimidation and violence on the part of the bourgeoisie of the whole world, in the face of the most dangerous waverings on the part of every petty-bourgeois democrat, every Turati supporter, every “Centrist”, every SocialDemocrat, socialist and anarchist. At such a time and in such surroundings, the Party must be a hundred times firmer, bolder, more determined, devoted and ruthless than in ordinary or in less difficult times. At such a time and in such surroundings, the Party will become a hundred times stronger, not weaker, if Mensheviks, like those who foregathered in Reggio Emilia on October II, 1920, withdraw from it altogether, and even if some excellent Communists-such as Baratono, Zannerini, Bacci, Giacomini and Serrati, members of the present Central Committee of the party, probably are-withdraw from its leadership.

Even if the people of the latter category resigned now, most of them would undoubtedly very soon see their mistake and return after the victory of the proletariat, after its victory had been consolidated. In all probability, even a section of the Italian Menshoviks, of the Turati supporters, would return, too, and be received into the party when the period of greatest difficulties had passed, just as a section of the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, who were on the other side of the barricades in 1917-18, have come over to us now (after we have been through three difficult years since the revolution).

The Italian revolutionary proletariat is about to face a period of battles that will be not merely extremely difficult, as I have said, but truly the most difficult of all. The greatest trials lie ahead. I would consider it frivolous and criminal to shrug off these difficulties. It surprises me how Comrade Serrati could have published in his journal Comunismo (No. 24, September 15-30, 1920), without any comment, such a superficial article as that by G. C. entitled “Will We Be Blockaded?” Despite what the author of this article says, I personally think that in the event of the proletariat’s victory in Italy, the blockade of that country by Great Britain, France and America is possible and probable. In my opinion, Comrade Graziadei was much closer to the truth in his speech at the meeting of the Italian party’s Central Committee (Avanti!, October 1, 1920, the Milan edition), when he admitted that the problem of a possible blockade was “very grave” (“problema gravissima”). He said that Russia had held out despite the blockade, partly because of the sparseness of her population and her enormous territory, but the revolution in Italy “could not resist (resistere) for long if it were not co-ordinated with a revolution in some other country in Central Europe”, and that “such co-ordination is difficult but not impossible”, because the whole of continental Europe is passing through a revolutionary period.

Though put very cautiously, this is true. I would merely add that Italy is assured of acertain amount of co-ordination—although that may as yet be inadequate and incomplete—and that complete co-ordination will have to be /ought for. When the reformists speak of the possibility of a blockade they do so in order to sabotage the revolution, instil apprehension of the revolution, and imbue the masses with their own panic, fear, indecision and vacillation. Revolutionaries and Communists must not deny the dangers and difficulties of the struggle in order to put greater firmness into the masses, purge the party of those that are weak, wavering and unstable, and inspire the entire movement with greater enthusiasm, a higher spirit of internationalism, and a greater preparedness to make sacrifices for the sake of a great aim, namely, hastening the revolution in Great Britain, France and America should these countries dare to blockade the proletarian and Soviet Italian republic.

The question of replacing experienced reformist or “Centrist” leaders by novices is not a particular question, of concern to a single country in special circumstances. It is a general question which arises in every proletarian revolution, and as such it is formulated and quite specifically answered in the resolution of the Second Congress of the Communist international on “The Fundamental Tasks of the Communist International”. In point 8 we read: “Preparation for the dictatorship of the proletariat, not only entails explaining the bourgeois character of all reformism; ... it also entails replacing the old leaders by Communists in proletarian organisations of absolutely every type-not only political, but also trade union, cooperative, educational, etc . ...These representatives of the labour aristocracy, or the hourgeoisified workers, should be eliminated from all their posts a hundred times more boldly than hitherto, and replaced by workers, even if wholly inexperienced, as long as they are connected with the exploited masses and enjoy the latter’s confidence in the struggle against the exploiters. The dictatorship of the proletariat will require the appointment of such inexperienced workers to the most responsible posts in the state; otherwise the workers’ government will be impotent, and will not have the support of the masses.”[5]

Serrati is therefore wrong in saying that “all” in the Italian party agree to accept the decisions of the Communist Congress. In fact the reverse is to be seen.

In the above-mentioned letter to l’HumanitÉ Serrati says among other things:

As for the recent events, one should know that the leaders of the General Confederation of Labour (the Italian variant of the T.U.C.) proposed that the leadership of the movement should be turned over to those who wanted to expand it to a revolution. Our comrades of the General Confederation of Labour declared that they were willing to remain disciplined soldiers if the extremists assumed leadership of the insurrection. But the latter did not assume leadership of the movement ....”

It would be highly naĽve on Serrati’s part to take at its face value this statement from the reformists in the General Confederation of Labour. In fact, threatening to resign at crucial moments is a variety of sabotage of the revolution. This is in no way a question of loyalty, but simply of the victory of the revolution being impossible if at every difficult turn the leaders are faced with hesitation, vacillation and resignations on the part of their “own” colleagues, those at the top, the “leaders”. It may be useful to Comrade Serrati to know that at the end of September 1917, when the coalition of Russian Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries with the bourgeoisie had obviously fallen through politically, none other than our Socialist-Revolutionaries, Chernov’s party, wrote in their newspaper: “The Bolsheviks will be obliged to form a cabinet .... Let them not make futile attempts to hide behind a hastily concocted theory that it is impossible for them to take power. The democracy will not accept these theories. At the same time, the advocates of coalition must guarantee them full support” (the Socialist-Revolutionary newspaper, the newspaper of their party, Chernov’s newspaper Dyelo Naroda, September 21, 1917, quoted in my pamphlet Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?, Petrograd, 1917, p. 4).[6]

It would be just as fatal a mistake for the revolutionary workers to believe in the loyalty of such statements as it was to believe the Hungarian Turatists, who promised Bela Kun their help and joined the Communist Party, but, nevertheless, proved to be saboteurs of the revolution and wrecked it by their vacillation.

*   *   *

To sum up:

1) The party of the revolutionary proletariat in Italy should display the utmost self-restraint, circumspection and coolness for a correct appraisal of the conditions in general, and the appropriate moment in particular, in the impending decisive battles for political power between the Italian working class and the bourgeoisie.

2) At the same time, all propaganda and agitation conducted by that party should be imbued with the firmest determination to wage that struggle to a victorious conclusion, come what may, in a united and centralised manner, and with supreme heroism, ruthlessly eliminating the vacillation, indecision and wavering with which the Turati supporters are so thoroughly imbued.

3) The propaganda conducted by the Milan edition of Avanti!, which is edited by Serrati, does not prepare the proletariat for the struggle, but brings disintegration into its ranks. At a moment like the present, the party’s Central Committee should give the workers leadership, prepare them for the revolution, and challenge wrong views. This can (and should) be done, while allowing all trends to express themselves. Serrati is giving leadership, but doing so in the wrong direction.

4) The expulsion from the party of all who attended the Reggio Emilia Congress on October ill, 1920, will not weaken the party but strengthen it; such “leaders” are capable only of wrecking the revolution in the “Hungarian style”, even if they do remain loyal. The whiteguards and the bourgeoisie will be able to utilise the hesitation, vacillation, doubts, uncertainty, etc., of even quite “loyal” socialists, Social-Democrats, etc.

5) If people such as Baratono, Zannerini, Bacci, Giacomini and Serrati display vacillation and resign, they should not be asked to remain; their resignations should be immediately accepted. They will return after the period of decisive battles and will then be of greater use to the proletariat.

6) Comrades, workers of Italy, do not forget the lessons of the history of all revolutions, the lessons of Russia and Hungary in 1917-20. Great battles, great difficulties and great sacrifices await the proletariat in Italy. Victory over the bourgeoisie, the assumption of power by the proletariat and the consolidation of the Soviet Republic in Italy all depend on the outcome of these battles, and. on the solidarity, discipline and devotion of the masses of the workers. The bourgeoisie of Italy and of all countries of the ’world will do their utmost and resort to any crime and atrocity to prevent the proletariat from taking power, and to overthrow its power. The hesitation, vacillation and irresolution of the reformists and of all who attended the Reggio Emilia Congress on October 11, 1920, are inevitable, because, even though many of them are quite honest, such people have always and in all countries, wrecked the cause of revolution by their vacillation. It was such as these who wrecked the revolution (the first revolution; it will be followed by another ...) in Hungary, and would have wrecked the revolution in Russia had they not been removed from all responsible posts and surrounded by a wall of proletarian distrust, vigilance and surveillance.

The toiling and exploited masses of Italy will follow the revolutionary proletariat. It will prove victorious in the end, for its cause is that of the workers of the whole world, and there is no way to avoid the continuation of the present imperialist wars, the advent of the new imperialist wars that are being prepared, and the horrors of capitalist slavery and oppression, otherwise than in a Soviet Workers’ Republic.

4.11. 1920

False Talk On Freedom
(Instead Of An Epilogue)

Comrade Nobs, editor of Volksrecht, the Swiss LeftSocialist newspaper in Zurich, recently published a letter by Zinoviev on the need to break with the opportunists, together with his own lengthy reply to this letter. Nobs ’s reply amounts to an emphatic rejection of the twenty-one conditions and of affiliation to the Communist International, this, of course, being done in the name of “freedom”the freedom to criticise, freedom from excessive demands or the dictatorship of Moscow (I have not kept Nobs ’s article and am therefore obliged to quote from memory; I can vouch for the idea, but not for the exact wording).

Incidentally, Comrade Nobs has enrolled Comrade Serrati as an ally, who is also known to be displeased with “Moscow”, i.e., particularly with the Russian members of the Communist International’s Executive Committee and who also complains that Moscow violates the “freedom” of the constituent sections, the individual parties and individual members of the Communist International. It will not be superfluous, therefore, to say a few words about freedom.

After three years of the dictatorship of the proletariat, we may safely say that the most common and popular objection to it all over the world is its alleged violation of freedom and equality. The entire bourgeois press in all countries, including the press of the petty-bourgeois democrats, i.e., of the Social-Democrats and socialists, among them Kautsky, Hilferding, Martov, Chernov, Longuet, etc., etc., rail against the Bolsheviks for the latter’s violation of freedom and equality. From the standpoint of theory, this can be readily understood. The reader will recall Marx’s celebrated and sarcastic words in Capital:

“This sphere [of the circulation or exchange of commodities], within whose boundaries the sale and purchase of labour power goes on, is in fact a very Eden of the innate rights of man. There alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham.” (Capital, Vol. I, Part II, end of Chapter 4, Russian language edition, 1920, p. 152[7]

This sarcastic remark has a profound historical and philosophical meaning. It should be compared with the popular explanation of the same question given by Engels in Anti-Duhring, particularly with what Engels said about the idea of equality being a prejudice or an absurdity, if it does not mean the abolition of classes.[8]

The abolition of feudalism and of its vestiges, and the establishment of the foundations of the bourgeois order (one may quite correctly say: the bourgeois-democratic order) occupied an entire epoch of world history. It was inevitable for freedom, equality, property and Bentham to become the slogans of this epoch of world history. The abolition of capitalism and its vestiges, and the establishment of the fundamentals of the communist order comprise the content of the new era of world history that has set in. It is inevitable that the slogans of our era are and must be: the abolition of classes; the dictatorship of the proletariat for the purpose of achieving that aim; the ruthless exposure of petty-bourgeois democratic prejudices concerning freedom and equality and ruthless war on these prejudices. Whoever does not understand this has no understanding of the dictatorship of the proletariat, Soviet government, and the fundamental principles of the Communist International.

Until classes are abolished, all talk about freedom and equality in general is self-deception, or else deception of the workers and of all who toil and are exploited by capital; in any case, it is a defence of the interests of the bourgeoisie. Until classes are abolished, all arguments about freedom and equality should be accompanied by the questions: freedom for which class, and for what purpose; equality between which classes, and in what respect? Any direct or indirect, witting or unwitting evasion of these questions inevitably turns into a defence of the interests of the bourgeoisie, the interests of capital, the interests of the exploiters. If these questions are glossed over, and nothing is said about the private ownership of the means of production, then the slogan of freedom and equality is merely the lies and humbug of bourgeois society, whose formal recognition of freedom and equality conceals actual economic servitude and inequality for the workers, for all who toil and are exploited by capital, i.e., for the overwhelming majority of the population in all capitalist countries.

Thanks to the fact that, in present-day Russia, the dictatorship of the proletariat has posed in a practical manner the fundamental and final problems of capitalism, one can see with particular clarity whose interests are served (cui prodest?-“who benefits?”) by talk about freedom and equality in general. When the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks. the Chernovs and the Martovs, favour us with arguments about freedom and equality within the limits of labour democracy (for, you see, they are never guilty of reasoning about freedom and equality in general! They never forget Marx!) we ask them: what about the distinction between the class of wage-workers and the class of small property-owners in the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat?

Freedom and equality within the limits of labour democracy mean freedom for the small peasant owner (even if he farms on nationalised land) to sell his surplus grain at profiteering prices, i.e., to exploit the workers. Anyone who talks about freedom and equality within the limits of labour democracy when the capitalists have been overthrown but private property and freedom to trade still survive is a champion of the exploiters. In exercising its dictatorship, the proletariat must treat these champions as it does the exploiters, even though they say they are SocialDemocrats or socialists, or admit that the Second International is putrid, and so on and so forth.

As long as private ownership of the means of production (e.g., of agricultural implements and livestock, even if private ownership of land has been abolished) and freedom to trade remain, so does the economic basis of capitalism. The dictatorship of the proletariat is the only means of successfully fighting for the demolition of that basis, the only way to abolish classes (without which abolition there can be no question of genuine freedom for the individualand not for the property-owner-of real equality, in the social and political sense, between man and man-and not the humbug of equality between those who possess property and those who do not, between the well-fed and the hungry, between the exploiters and the exploited). The dictatorship of the proletariat leads to the abolition of classes; it leads to that end, on the one hand, by the overthrow of the exploiters and the suppression of their resistance, and on the other hand by neutralising and rendering harmless the small property-owner’s vacillation between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

The falsity of Comrade Nobs’s and Comrade Serrati’s statements does not, of course, consist in their being falsely or insincerely meant. Nothing of the kind. They are quite sincere, and there is nothing subjectively false in what they have said. However, their statements are false objectively, in content, for they are a defence of the prejudices of petty-bourgeois democracy; they amount to a defence of the bourgeoisie.

The Communist International cannot under any circumstances recognise freedom and equality for all who wish to subscribe to certain statements, irrespective of their political conduct. To Communists this would be no less suicidal both as regards theory and practical politics than the recognition of freedom and equality “within the limits of labour democracy”, etc. To anyone able to read and willing to understand what he reads, it must be quite clear that none of the decisions, theses, resolutions and conditions of the Communist International recognise the absolute “freedom and equality” of those who desire to affiliate to the Communist International.

What is our stipulation for recognising “freedom and equality”, the freedom and equality of members of the Communist International?

It is that no opportunists and “Centrists”, such as the well-known representatives of the Right wing of the Swiss and Italian socialist parties, shall he able to become members. No matter how these opportunists and “Centrists” may claim that they recognise the dictatorship of the proletariat, they actually remain advocates and defenders of the prejudices, weaknesses and vacillations of the pettybourgeois democrats.

You must first break with those prejudices, weaknesses and vacillations, with those who preach, defend and give practical expression to those views and qualities. Then, and only on this condition, can you be “free” to join the Communist International; only then can the genuine Communist, a Communist in deed and not merely in word, be the “equal” of any other Communist, of any other member of the Communist International.

Comrade Nobs, you are “free” to defend the views you hold. But we, too, are “free” to declare that these views are petty-bourgeois prejudices, which are injurious to the proletarian cause and of use to capitalism; we, too, are “free” to refuse to join in an alliance or league with people who defend those views or a policy that corresponds to them. We have already condemned that policy and those views on behalf of the Second Congress of the Communist International as a whole. We have already said that we absolutely demand a rupture with the opportunists as a first and preliminary step.

Do not talk of freedom and equality in general, Comrade Nobs and Comrade Serrati! Talk of freedom not to carry outthe decisions of the Communist International on the absolute duty of breaking with the opportunists and the “Centrists” (who cannot but undermine, cannot but sabotage the dictatorship of the proletariat). Talk of the equality of the opportunists and “Centrists” with the Communists. Such freedom and such equality cannot be recognised by us for the Communist International; as for any other kind of freedom and equality-you may enjoy them to your heart’s content!

On the eve of the proletarian revolution, the liberation, the freedom, of the parties of the revolutionary proletariat from opportunists and “Centrists”, from their influence, their prejudices, their weaknesses and vacillations, is the main and essential condition of success.

11.12.1920


Endnotes

[1] This work consists of two articles on a single subject. The first article, whose title covers the two articles in the present edition, was written on November 4, 1920, and first published in Pra ucla No. 250 on November 7, 1920. In the note to the article, the editors wrote: “Comrade Lenin wrote the article before he received the news of the despicable behaviour of D ’Aragona and the opportunist trade unionists, Party members, who insisted on their policy in opposition to the Central Committee of their own Party and, acting in collusion with Minister Giolitti, frustrated an immense movement of the working class. These facts, of which we shall speak in greater detail in one of our next issues, confirm still more strikingly that Lenin is right.” The second article, which Lenin entitled “False Talk on Freedom (Instead of an Epilogue)” was written on December 11, 1920. The following note is to be found in the MS: NB:“if you are going to publish it at all, then publish it as an epilogue to the article on the struggle in the Italian Socialist Party.” (Central Party Archives at the Institute of Marxism-Leninism of the C.C. C.P.S.U.). Both articles were published in issue No. 15 of the journal The Communist International in December 1920 under a common title “False Talk on Freedom”.

[2] See pages 280-82 in this volume.

[3] l’Humanité—French daily founded by Jean Jaurès in 1904 as organ of the French Socialist Party. During the First World War it was the mouthpiece of the extreme flight wing of the Party and took a social-chauvinist stand. Shortly after the split in the Party at the congress in December 1920 and the formation of the Communist Party, it became the organ of the latter and has since then been published as such.

[4] Here is the principal passage in this letter: “We all stand for the Moscow conditions. The question is how they are to be applied. I assert that the party must be purged of harmful elements, and I proposed that Turati be expelled; but we must not lose the masses belonging to the syndicates [trade unions] and co-operative societies. Others want a radical split.That is where we differ.” (l’Humanité, October 14, Serrati’s italics.)—Lenin.

[5] See p. 191 of this volume.

[6] See present edition, Volume 26, pp. 91-92.

[7] See Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, Marx-Engels Internet Archive

[8] See Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring, on the Marx-Engels Inernet Archive