A. Bordiga

In the International

The Significance of
the Socialist Split in Italy

(7 October 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 90, 17 October 1922, pp. 684–686.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive

The article by Comrade Bordiga, which was printed in l’Ordine Nuovo of October 7th, represents not merely his own personal opinion. As this question will now occupy the attention of the Third International, we desire to make the standpoint contained therein known to wider circles. – The Editor


The critical attitude which the Italian Communist Party exhibits towards the Socialist Party and its successive crises, follows from an objective theory and tactics which only foolish people could regard as constituting personal animosity and antipathy. This shall be established in view of the recent split in the Socialist Party of Italy.

It is the case here of a practical question with which our party is confronted; the question of its relations to the left wing of the present split party. This question cannot be dealt with without taking up a critical standpoint. It seems to us that on the basis of the constitution and organization of the Communist International, there is only one body competent to solve this question: the congress of the Communist Party of Italy. Problems of a “fundamental” nature, the structure of the party, and perhaps also its name, are items which stand noon the agenda (but certainly not in the sense of the ludicrous proposal to dissolve the party and “return” to the Italian Socialist Party), and only a congress can decide on the alteration of the general rule which permits only individual affiliations. At this congress and during its preparation the problem of eventual unification will be discussed. For the present moment we will not concern ourselves with the admissibility of fusion which would bring with it a complete change in the party organism.

On the other hand the Executive Committee of the Communist International has already dealt with this question and the next World Congress will also deal with it. This question can only form the topic of a prepared discussion at our congress after the approaching Fourth World Congress is over. It goes without saying that no Italian Communist would take up an altitude of opposition towards the proposals of the International regarding this question.

We shall restrict ourselves here to objective criticism of those political powers and resources constituting the Maximalist Party, and shall consider the question whether as a result of the split which has taken place, the Maximalist Party has changed in the sense of approaching the principles and methods of Communism. The question of its eventual incorporation into the Communist Party clearly depends upon this.

At Bologna, the whole of the I.S.P. affiliated to the Third International and made unity the basis of its programme. We observed clearly at the time that it was a gigantic error that the party remained in its theoretical outlook, in its methods and in its organization and leadership a traditional Social Democratic party. Right from the beginning there was formed in the lap of the old party a distinct Communist tendency which criticized the negative direction of the prevailing Maximalist method. This method — as events have proved all too clearly — was the method of a revolutionary burlesque in which a high sounding phraseology sought to conceal the terrible fact that the party was incapable of keeping pace with the events that followed the war by an effective development of revolutionary factors.

What share did the right wing of the Social Democrats have in the criticism directed against the Maximalists, which will not be expounded here in detail? Will Italian and international Communists perhaps say that the Maximalists were Communists, that they had to separate from the Social Democrats in order to be in a position to function on the field of Communist methods? That would be a vulgar and superficial view of the thing. In fact, we proved clearly and beyond a doubt that the Maximalists were not Communists, that they did not understand that they must separate from “those who rejected the dictatorship of the proletariat and the use of force”.

The lack of necessity for a clear statement of questions concerning theory and programme, by which the toleration of actions which ran counter to principles would have been impossible, was always a symptom that the actions of the party did not correspond to its academically accepted pledges. A clear theoretical basis is an indispensable condition for a movement capable of deeds and action; it is certainly not sufficient; the remaining conditions are yet more difficult of fulfilment; but if the first condition is lacking the rest of the structure collapses. And as a matter of fact the theoretical vagueness of Maximalism enabled us to foresee what subsequent facts have proved: its futility in practice and its anti-Communist attitude in all cases of proletarian action.

As the Communists very well foresaw, the Maximalists at Leghorn preferred unity with the. Social Democrats to unity with the Italian and International Communists.

The International plainly declared that after such an action the Maximalists had proved their opportunism even to the blind, and that they would go to the right and end finally with opportunism — a prophesy which was very soon fulfilled by the complete solidarity between the Maximalists and the reformists in the I.S.P., in their methods of action and chiefly in the campaign against the Communists.

Have later events come to light which would prove that the Maximalists set their course towards the right in order to swing it over to the left and to approach nearer to Communism? Our answer is: No!

We shall certainly not play with words. In regard to the Maximalists it is necessary to hear its authorized leaders so long as they retain control over the movement of the masses. When we shall speak of the workers who are in the ranks of the party, our critical attitude will certainly change. They can become Communists, but only when they forsake the traditions and the influence of their present leaders.

We assert that the latest attitude of the Maximalists towards the right wingers who are striving for collaboration with the bourgeoisie, affords no sufficient basis for pronouncing that it is now going more to the left.

One might say that it must be tested in the field of practical action. This method however would in the first place, be too protracted, and secondly, it has always, up to the formation of blocs with the reformists against the Communists and against the adherents of the Third International in the trade unions, given us a negative answer. We shall therefore confine ourselves merely to estimating the importance of the rupture in the I.S.P.

The split does not prove that the Maximalists have at last grasped the simple truth that a common existence with the Social Democrats is impossible. Serrati is right when he defends the consistency of his attitude. His present attitude does not contradict that of Bologna, Leghorn and Milan. In reality it is the Right that has altered its course. The Right has thereby realized its well-known principles, and there remains, now as before, the responsibility of the Serratians, who warmed the collaborationist serpent in their bosoms m spite of the fact that they knew that it would bite. The banished from Rome have now committed sins which they had not yet committed in Bologna; at Leghorn and Milan however, Serrati wished to shelter them. The recent conference gives us no document which is not a confirmation of the most brutal violation of discipline by the Right.

We see on the part of the Maximalists no formulation of programme, no acknowledgement of mistakes, no attitude which would prove that they desired to escape from the past snare. If the reformists had continued in the course of Bologna, the Maximalists would now still be with them. The symptoms are unchanged, the opportunist sickness shows no signs of improvement.

Serrati who insists upon his consistency and thereby repudiates every recognition of the theses of the Communist International plays upon a change in the situation which gives the present attitude of the Maximalists the appearance a left attitude The unchained reaction demands today a revolutionary purification of the party. This failure to critically grasp the situation and the task of the proletariat, signifies the continuation of the former vagueness and vacillation.

The chief argument of Serrati at Leghorn was that the situation was tending to the right, and that the strategic position for defending the proletariat also had to be maintained in those strongholds occupied by the reformists. But since the situation today is tending still more to the right, in which case the quality of the party must be opposed to the quantity, the bankruptcy of the method adopted at Leghorn is clearly revealed. This has to be admitted and one cannot claim to continue the former policy. The attitude of Serrati demonstrates his misunderstanding of the revolutionary task which led to the collapse of Maximalism. Serrati and his followers do not know and are less likely to know the relation between an altered situation and the tactics of a proletarian revolutionary party.

With the ascending line of the objective situation it was necessary to use the same to make clear the actions of the party in regard to theory and organization, and to abandon all vacillation, in order to rouse the maximum of revolutionary energy, in the masses—at the moment of the bourgeois offensive, even if it were only for the purpose of mere defence.

Maximalism today, more than ever, lacks every clear conception of revolutionary tasks and the practical capacity to lead the defensive struggle of the masses.

Maximalism has not come over to the left

It has, as was foretold by Moscow after Leghorn, gone to the right and approached the reformists. The latter, however, proceeded too quickly and have thus lost contact Hence the reason of the split which for an objective critic denotes no tendency to the left, but only shows a demagogic taking advantage of the efforts of the masses, which serve the reformist leadership not to build up a truly revolutionary political position, but is used exclusively for defending certain persons and certain groups.

The split is a result of the bankruptcy of Maximalism and of its general staff.

Every optimistic illusion would be a fault in the face of our tasks. The Communist Party has gone a long way forward in the last two years, and in spite of all unfavorable conditions it has reasons for satisfaction.

We must carry on with our work.

We require for this a consciousness of strict fidelity to our line of theory and practice, for which the comrades have sacrificed so much labor in the past two years and which they will under no circumstances relinquish.

Last updated on 2 December 2020