Ignazio Silone


My Political Faith

(January 1956)

From Labor Action, Vol. XX No. 5, 30 January 1956, pp. 6–7.
Abridged version copied with thanks from the Workers’ Liberty Website.
Additional transcription by Einde O’Callaghan (indicated by square brackets).
Marked up by A. Forse & Einde for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Rome, January 15

[In these last two months I have received several letters from American friends as a result of articles of mine, or articles about me, appearing in the press of their country, in which were posed some questions of a philosophic and political nature to which I have no difficulty at all in replying with clarity and conciseness, since I believe that in this way I may also clarify the questions in regrd to my conduct in practice in recent years.]

1. My Faith

I do not adhere to any system of philosophy, to any ideology, or to any orthodoxy. I think that all the ideological systems inherited from the last centuries, like the society that produced them, are in crisis at present – which does not mean that they do not contain some partial truth. I think that this has been the lot also of Marxism, in all of its variants. All metaphysics has lost its self-evidency.

Despite that, I remain a socialist. My principal criticisms of the existing social order are of a moral and politico-economic character. Only socialism can create a true democracy. An essay of mine, with the title The Choice of Comrades, which appeared some months ago in Dissent, reflects more or less faithfully my way of thinking. My way of understanding of socialism is fairly closer to the Proudhonists’; my way of considering men, and their “foolishness,” comes from the Christian-Popular tradition.

At this point one could ask me how it was possible for me to carry on practical political activity and participate in the leaderrship of socialist parties and groups, while having so individual a mental set, with such strong extra-political and even anti-political bents, as my novela reveal. My reply will be frank and candid: indeed, it was not easy; in fact it has been ever more difficult, both for me and for my comrades; all the more so in a situation like that of post-war Italy, in which the rules of the political game have become more and more degenerate.

2. The Third Front

In 1931 I left the Italian Communist Party, having firmly decided to keep far away from political parties for the rest of my life, and to continue the struggle alone, as a writer and an independent socialist. I remained faithful to that aim until 1941, when I yielded to the vigorous insistence of some friends, so that at least for the duration of the war I might help the underground organisation of Italian socialism that was about to be absorbed by the Stalinists, with Nenni as accomplice. [I have related in a chapter of some twenty pages, which will appear in a volume in honor of U.G. Mondolfo, with what political conditions I finally accepted this; a good documentation of these events is to be found in aldo Garosci’s book, History of the Exiles.

The recollection of this period gives me the opportunity to set down the significance I attributed to the formula of the “Third Front” which I had already pointed to in an interview with Clement Greenberg that appeared in the Partisan Review (Autumn 1939) and in another with Jean-Germain Tricot that appeared in Nouvelles Litteraires (Paris, 26 August, 1939). Having adhered to socialism in the midst of the First World War, at the age of 17, attracted to it by the Zimmerwald Manifesto, my problem was this: could one assume the same attitude toward the Second World War? I tried to formulate the answer in 13 points which I called Theses on the Third Front. The first three points give a general idea of it, and they are simply:

“1. The Italian socialists affirm that the present war, besides being like the war of 1914–18 an imperialist and capitalist war to corner raw materials and markets, bears very grave consequences for the internal regime of every country, and on its outcome will depend to a considerable degree the future situation of humanity and in particular of the working classes.

“2. The attitude of the Italian socialists towards the present war is therefore dominated by their anti-fascist position, and by their firm conviction that democratic liberties constitute very useful premises for all future progress by humanity.

“3. The decisive front on which fascism can be halted and destroyed is the home front of each country. Only on this third front can the social and political problems from which fascism has sprung be resolved. The only adversary capable of defeating fascism on the third front is socialism. The military defeat of the fascist powers must be considered only as a prelude to the decisive struggles which will take place on the third front. The democratic character of the powers presently at war against the fascist states is neither homogenous nor unalterable. The state of war, especially if prolonged, can also modify in a totalitarian direction the internal structure of the democratic states. The Italian socialists are therefore determined to safeguard liberty of criticism and autonomy at all times even against the democratic governments. The politics of the Italian socialists takes its inspiration solely from the interests and ideals of the Italian and international working class ...”

Of the points that followed, the most important were those on anti-colonialism and on the condemnation in advance of any division of the world into spheres of influence. These theses were accepted by the foreign centre of Italian socialism, and served as a guide for our action during the war. The quotation above should clarify: first in what sense we had departed from the position of Zimmerwald; second, in what way our support of the war was conditioned. This distinction recurs later under the new conditions created in European socialism by the formation of military blocs and by power politics.

3. The PSU and the Atlantic Pact

When the war was over, with the defeat of fascism, my withdrawal from practical politics was delayed by the necessity of preventing the Communist Party from capturing Italian socialism. The objective was partly realised by us, but under quite confused and contradictory positions.

[One of the outstanding episodes of that struggle was the founding at Florence, in December 1949, of the Partito Socialista Unitario (United Socialist Party), into which the various democratic socialist groups merged, with the exception of teh social-democratic Right (Saragat-andreoni). The PSU lived for little more than a year alongside the two other parties that called themselves socialist, one headed by Nenni and the other by Saragat, and led a very hard life.

Its difficulties were as much material as political. It was the only Italian political party that had decided it would exist solely by the support of its own members; these were about 12,000 in number, and they did not succeed in paying the party headquarters rent or the printing of a weekly. All of us of the leading committee worked without pay.

But the political difficulties were much greater: I have tried to analyze them in a piece that I called Cinque Tesi sui Movimenti d’Opinione nell’Epoca della Politica di Massa (Five Theses on the Movement of Opinion in the Era of Mass Politics). In this piece I condensed the precepts of my political experiences in the second post-war period.]

As compared with the past, our political life is now radically transformed. The general insecurity pushes individuals towards mass organisations. Small groups can still have some importance inside mass organisations: isolated their function can be of a cultural nature at most.

[Since the differences between the PSU and the PSDI (Saragat) were not on questions of principle but of tactics, it was necessary to unify the two parties. Moreover, the Socialist International exerted pressure on us in this direction. The previous aversion of teh PSU for the Atlantic Pact seemed the major obstacle to rapprochement and unification.]

On 13 October 1950 the leadership of the PSU approved a long statement on the policy For Peace and Democracy, [which appeared in print in a pamphlet under the title Peace and Liberty, and which contained a partial tactical revision of the policy followed up to then. I pass over the proliminary statements in which the document reiterated the correctness of the socialist criticism of Soviet foreign policy as well as American and particularly bitterly criticized the policy that had prevailed at Yalta and Potsdam, and I reproduce the part concerning the Atlantic Pact:

“They (the socialists of the PSU) have fought for a long time for the formation of a European federation which would permit socialism to defend peace on its own positions; but the continuing soviet pressure has brought about the conclusion of an Atlantic Pact which has forced European socialism, without renouncing its federalist aims, to continue the struggle for peace on positions withdrawn further back, like those constituted by the Atlantic Pact; and on this pact they are obliged to exert a tenacious and organic action together with the comrades of teh other European countries, in order to keep it purely defensive and to ensure that the resurgent military power does not encourage militaristic and reactionary tendencies ... At] each difficult conjuncture, in the face of any threat of conflict, we socialists will therefore always be for recourse to negotiations, mediation, arbitration and any other democratic procedure that may preserve peace and permit the solution of international problems in accordance with justice. But in order to be able to fulfil our peace-making function without misunderstandings, we feel the duty to make very clear to all that we do not intend in any way to compromise on the defence of democratic institutions or on resistance to all armed aggressions.”

[The declaration ended by criticizing the plan for a European armed force that was not made subject to a European political authority. After this, to facilitate the unification of the PSU with the PSID (Saragat), I reisigned as secretary of the former, and at the same time I announced to my friends that I would retire from active political life, continuing my struggle as an independent writer. So closed for me the parenthesis opened in 1941.

4. The Crisis in the CP and Its Perspectives

After my retirement from active politics and party life, the press at various times took note of my solidarity with some Communists who had broken with Stalinism. This happened with Ceslaw Milosz, whom I presented, at his request, to a press conference in Paris at which he stated the reasons behind his political and spiritual crisis; and this was repeated with Elinor Lipper, whom I had known as a girl, and whom I met again in Zurich after 11 years of deportation in Siberia.

The motives for this solidarity of mine seem to me so obvious and comprehensible that it would be idle to try to explain them: it is a matter of human solidarity toward those who pass through the same experiences as I did, knowing as I do how hard and painful they are; and it is also sympathy toward all those who escape from prison. These same sentiments, even before any political rationalization, inspired me to undertake the defense of Cucchi and Magnani, as well as of Seniga, at the time when they were made the targets of threats and slanders by the Stalinist apparatus. These are situations that can be understood only by those who have gone through them.

But the very fact that my solidarity is extended to friends who escape from the Stalinist apparatus in the most diverse directions (from Titoists to left extremists) should suffice to reduce its importance to true proportions. There are, however, little would-be politicians who cannot conceive of a disinterested act; and, each time, they thought I would return to active politics on the fortuitous platform of thr deviationists of Communist origin with whom I solidarized myself; and when the realized after a while that they were mistaken, they charged me with being confused. The truth is that on the day when even those little imbeciles may be persecuted for their opinions, I would undertake even their defense, because I am for liberty for all and even for imbeciles.]

The Communist Party is at present going through a serious political and organisation crisis, specially among the workers and intellectuals; to a lesser degree among the peasants but even there are clear symptoms of disaffection. The little groups of ex-Communist deviations of various tendencies (in Italy we have at least five) have lived until now in expectation of the Stalinist thaw that would bring the still-absent worker masses into their ranks. But the crisis of the Communist Party has already assumed grave forms and this mass influx to the groups of ex-Communists is not taking place.

Why? The explanation lies in the social and ideological composition of the Communist Party and in particular the dynamism of each stratum that forms a part of it. I want only to recall that the Communist Party is an amalgam in which, around the Bolshevik nucleus, are grouped the most diverse and heterogeneous elements: revolutionary peasants, free-thinking intellectuals, nationalist ex-partisans, vaguely socialist workers, etc. The tearing away of all these very diverse elements cannot, however, take place in a single direction.

[Why have the extremists of the Azione Comunista (Communist Action) group not taken the road toward cucchi and Magnani’s USI (Independent socialist Union)? Is it my fault? what nonsense! The dissidents of Azione Comunista are quasi-Trotskyist internationalsits who reproach the Communist Party for its petty-bourgeois nationalism and its parliamentarian opportunism; while the accusations made by Cucchi and magnani were the reverse. It appears to my mind that Azione Comunista still remains independent of the Trotskyist group only because it does not mean to prejudice the internal struggle in the Italian Communist Party by assuming a critical position toward the Russian Communist Party.

But these are concenrns that have nothing to do with me.] In my opinion an intensification of the crisis in the CP will be of use to all parties except the small groups of ex-Communists, who will continue to tear themselves apart in their impotence and blame fantastic scapegoats for their own sterility. They are daily ridiculed, slandered and threatened by the Stalinist bureaucracy and they think to take revenge by using the same methods themselves. Having read a collection of truculent and acid phrases directed against opponents in the pamphlets of Lenin and Trotsky, they have ended up believing that this is the essence of revolutionary thought. Thus one sees excellent men grow old corroded by anger, their precious energies wasted.

5. Anti-Communism

[Since one of the letters which I promised to reply to mentioned also] the orientation of the Italian Committee for Cultural Freedom, of which I am one of the supporters, I have to clarify this last point too.

Writers and artists of all liberal Italian tendencies make up the organisation. Four-fifths of the activities of this organisation is devoted to the defence of cultural freedom in Italy, which is endangered by the remnants of fascism, by the clerical right, and by a part of the state apparatus. We are in fact convinced that the duty of democrats is, above all, concern themselves with liberty in their own country. But within the limits of our possibilities we try, above all in our publications, to make Italian intellectuals aware of the dangers that menace us on the international plane.

On this point also, however, I want to make things clear: we reject the sophism of equidistance (he refers to equidistance from the two world blocs – Ed.). In the first national assembly of our organisation on 18 January 1953 a declaration was adopted in which one could read as follows.

“It would be an error to judge our open and irreconcilable opposition to totalitarian regimes of any kind and our critical vigilance over the imperfections and contingent tendencies that exist in the democratic regimes as a position of equidistance. In reality, in totalitarian regimes we condemn that political structure which does not permit the least expression for the individuals and classes that suffer under it, while in democratic countries we consider ourselves responsible citizens.”

Without taking back the approval I gave this formulation at that time, I would now be more cautious in affirming that in totalitarian countries the oppressed are not able to protest: the facts of 17 June in East German and the Vorkuta strikes have demonstrated the contrary. For the liberation of oppressed countries, I put my hopes in revolution and not in war.

Last updated on: 24 February 2015