Guido Baracchi October 1920
Source: "Reason in Revolt", Source documents of Australian Radicalism;
First Published: in The Proletarian Review, Editorial “Proletarian Comment” by the Editor (Guido Baracchi), October 1920;
Transcribed: by Chris Clayton.
ON our front page we reproduce from the Socialist paper, “Avanti,” a cartoon and some advice that paper gave to the Italian workers at the end of last April. The advice these workers, or, rather, a considerable number of them, have lately followed, and the cartoon accurately depicts the recent upheaval in Italy. News of the seizure of factories and lands by Italian workers and peasants had barely reached us when some syndicalists proclaimed that, whatever might have been the case in Russia, Italian “experience” showed that the direct lock-out of the capitalists by the workers was sufficient to accomplish revolution. On the other hand, no sooner had word come through that the workers who had seized the factories were evacuating them on terms of an “equal economic partnership” with their exploiters, etc., etc., than certain Socialists began to denounce the futility of factory-seizing, and to reiterate that the first step in the social revolution was the conquest of political power by the proletariat. The inadequacy of the first view is equalled by the pedantry of the second. The conquest of the State-power IS the first step in the social revolution, but the seizure of lands and factories by the workers and peasants is an act of the greatest importance in relation to such conquest. Here in Italy was a situation of high revolutionary potentiality: here was mass action of the workers on a wide scale in a country seething with revolt. It was the splendid mission of the Socialist Party of Italy to generalise this mass action to the broadest possible limits, to direct the struggle definitely against the bourgeois State, to hold the factories against it as the forts of revolutionary workers, and, circumstances permitting, to lead the workers on from the seized factories to the seizure of the public power itself. The Socialist Party should at least have developed this crisis to the uttermost. But did it, in fact, do so, or did it, too, fail to appreciate the revolutionary possibilities of factory seizing? We do not definitely know. But we know this. During the present year, Italy has been racked by similar though smaller crises. Did the Socialist Party develop these to the uttermost? Did [Fransesco Saverio] Nitti, Italian Premier preceding [Giovanni] Giolitti, bear witness. In a revolutionary situation, speaking of the 156 Socialist parliamentary Deputies, Nitti congratulated international capital on these as “hostages to constitutionalism”!!!
IT is necessary that the use and, on the other hand, the uselessness of capitalist Parliaments to the workers should be studied in a concrete manner. The situation in Italy during the present year provides valuable material for such study. An analysis of this situation reveals the fact that the Italian Parliament, as a propaganda field for revolution, as a field for obstructive tactics and as affording an opportunity to expose the ruling class, had been exhausted. In reply to Nitti, the Italian Socialist Party loudly protested that [he] only intended using Parliament for revolutionary propaganda. Its proper answer was to quit the bourgeois debating club altogether. With the social crisis in Italy irresistibly driving the proletariat — and even the peasantry — the sporadic, bloody, leaderless revolt, the only place for Socialists was outside Parliament, in the heart of this revolt, leaving it from a vain frittering of its strength into the channels of revolutionary victory. Instead, we have seen 158 Socialist Deputies clinging to their parliamentary seats, and a Socialist Party thereby doing Socialism a great dis-service. If the Italian Socialist Party has displayed the same lack of courageous revolutionary leadership during the latest upheaval, it is little wonder that this upheaval culminated in an arrangement which the Italian capitalist economist[s] describe as a “safety valve through which the dangerous gas will leak harmlessly,” and as an “illusory participation in control which will rejuvenate the men’s joy in work” — for their real masters, of course. The executive of the Italian party has since decided, in accordance with the wish of the Communist International, to expel the reformist minority, and it is to be hoped that this action will result in a greater display of revolutionary initiative when a grand opportunity next presents itself. At any rate, for us the lesson is plain. We must look to it that such an hour as found revolutionary Italy leaderless, finds us fully prepared. We must realise in particular that at such an hour parliamentary action lags on the stage superfluous, and must take its farewell.
THE “Socialist Standard” for August tells us that “the report of the Executive of the Communist Party of Russia to the 1920 Congress of the Third International lays down the position that we should get inside the Parliamentary Labor parties,” and that Lenin “says that by supporting the pro-capitalist Labor Party government, the workers will learn the uselessness of the Labor parties.” Truly this Lenin is a most surprising fellow; he proposes tactics which throw our rigid minded revolutionists literally on their beam ends, tactics so audacious that they almost seem to coincide with some of the counter-revolutionary antics of the pseudo-Socialists. The combination of two qualities, however, distinguishes Lenin both from the rigid-minded revolutionists and from the opportunists. He has very great fixity of purpose in the matter of the revolutionary end; in the matter of the means to this end, his mental attitude is as flexible as possible. It may be said that he proposes against Labor parties a line of action which is dangerous; the answer is that all revolutionary action is dangerous. But just as Lenin approaches every problem from the standpoint of dialectics, so we must ourselves be dialectical in applying his advice to Australian conditions. In the present circumstances of England, Lenin thinks that Communists should help to establish a Labor Government as a means of showing the workers its futility. Where, as in Australia, Labor Governments have been actually established over a number of years, other methods of demonstrating their uselessness to the workers must be adopted. Again, no one denies that there is plenty of good material for Communists to work on in A.L.P. branches. Only the method of seducing this material from its allegiance to reactionary leaders by a Communist Party affiliating with the Labor Party must be abandoned in Australia as impracticable. The A.L.P. would certainly refuse such affiliation; moreover, for a Communist Party even to apply for affiliation at a moment when the A.L.P. is actually using the capitalist political machinery in several States to oppress the workers, would be to mislead those workers and do a poor service to the cause of Communism.
A MANIFESTO and program of the Communist Party of Australia, the Central Executive Committee of which has been lately formed, has reached us from Sydney. We wish the new party well. We also wish well to the conference the Australian Socialist Party is calling in Sydney this month with a view to arriving at unified Communist activity. Besides the C.P.A. and the A.S.P., there are at least two other Communist tendencies in Melbourne which have to be reckoned with, and we understand that there are still other such tendencies elsewhere. All these groups claim adherence to Third International principles, but owing to the different stress each of them in practice seems to lay on the different aspects of the Communist program, it is impossible to say how far they are capable of unified activity at present. At least we shall say nothing to prejudice whatever chances of Communist unity there be. We know that the Third International lays it down that there should be but a single Communist Party in each country. We know that it has said that the present hour calls for the maximum of Communist unity attainable. We know how the childish bickerings of the different Communist sects in Britain and America disgusted the International, and how, with considerable success, it strove to unify those sects. We know that if all the Communist elements in Australia were united, they would still form only an utterly insignificant party, but that disunited the insignificance of these elements baffles description. We know that in a revolutionary situation, all these groups would unite within an hour. But in the existing situation, we do not know whether any of them will unite. We can only hope for and work for the best.