Antonio Gramsci 1919

The price of history

Source: L'Ordine Nuovo, 7 June 1919;
Translated: by Michael Carley;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2011.

What does history still demand of the Russian proletariat in order to legitimize and make permanent its conquests? What further price of blood and sacrifice does this absolute monarch of destiny claim of men?

The difficulties and objections which the proletarian revolution must overcome have shown themselves immensely superior to those of any other revolution of the past. These tended only to correct the form of national and private property in the means of production and exchange; they affected a limited part of assembled humanity. The proletarian revolution is the maximum revolution: since it wishes to abolish private and national property, and abolish classes, it involves all men, not just a part of them. It obliges all men to move, to take part in the struggle, to participate openly. It fundamentally transforms society: from a multi-cell organism; it places at the base of society the organic nuclei of that same society. It constrains all of society to identify itself with the State, it requires that all men be spiritually and historically conscious. Therefore the proletarian revolution is social: therefore it must overcome unprecedented difficulties and objections, therefore history demands for its successful outcome monstrous prices such as those the Russian people is constrained to pay.

The Russian revolution has triumphed up to now over all the objections of history. It has revealed to the Russian people an aristocracy of statesmen which no other nation possesses; they are a couple of thousand men who have dedicated their lives to the (experimental) study of political and economic science, who for decades in exile have analyzed and dissected all the problems of revolution, who in the struggle, in the unequal duel against the power of Tsarism, have tempered their characters like steel, who, living in contact with all the forms of capitalist civilisation of Europe, of Asia, of America, immersing themselves in the world currents of trade and history, have acquired a consciousness of exact and precise responsibility, cold and cutting like the sword of the conquerors of empires.

The Russian communists are a leading caste of the first order. Lenin has shown himself, testify all who have approached him, to be the greatest statesman in contemporary Europe; the man who freed the prestige, which inflames and disciplines peoples; the man who manages, in his vast brain, to dominate all the social energies of the world which can be turned to the service of the revolution; who holds in check and beats the most refined and vulpine statesmen of the bourgeois routine.

But something else is the communist doctrine, the party which propagates it, the working class which consciously embodies it, something else is the immense Russian people, broken, disorganized, cast into a dark abyss of poverty, barbarism, anarchy, of dissolution by a long and disastrous war. The political greatness, the historical masterpiece of the Bolsheviks consists exactly of this: in having raised the fallen giant, in having given back (or given for the first time) a concrete and dynamic form to this debacle, to this chaos; in having known how to weld the communist doctrine with the collective consciousness of the Russian people, in having laid the solid foundations on which the communist society has begun its process of historical development, in having, in a word, historically translated into experimental reality the Marxist formula of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The revolution is such and not an empty bladder of demagogic rhetoric, when it embodies itself in a type of State, when it becomes an organized system of power. A society does not exist if not in a State, which is the source and the end of all law and of all duty, which is the guarantee of permanence and of the success of every social activity. The proletarian revolution is such when it gives life to a typically proletarian State, keeper of proletarian law, which develops its essential functions as emanation of proletarian life and power.

The Bolsheviks have given state form to the historical experiences of the international working and peasant class; they have organized in a complex and flexibly articulated organism its most intimate life, its tradition and its deepest and most loved spiritual and social history. They have broken with the past, but they have continued the past; they have split a tradition, but they have developed and enriched the lively tradition of the proletarian, worker and peasant, class. In this they have been revolutionary, because they have instilled new order and discipline. The break is inevitable, because the essence of history enters, it is without the possibility of turning back, for otherwise an enormous disaster would fall on Russian society. And so begins a formidable duel with all the necessities of history, from the most elementary to the most complex, which it is necessary to incorporate into the new proletarian State.

The new State needed to win the support of the loyal majority of the Russian people. It needed to reveal to the Russian people that the new State was its State, its life, its spirit, its tradition, its most precious asset. The State of the Soviets had a leading caste, the Bolshevik Communist Party; it had the support of a social minority representing the consciousness of the class, of the vital and permanent interests of the whole class, the industrial workers. It has become the State of the whole Russian people and thus the assiduous and incessant work of propaganda, of enlightenment, of education of the exceptional men of Russian communism, led by the clear and direct will of the master of all, Nikolai Lenin [sic], has gained the tenacious perseverance of the Communist Party, the trust and the enthusiastic loyalty of the workers. The Soviet has shown itself immortal as the form of organized society which adheres flexibly to the multiple permanent and vital (economic and political) needs of the grand mass of the Russian people, which embodies and satisfies the aspirations and hopes of all the oppressed of the world.

The long and wretched war had left a sad inheritance of poverty, of barbarism, of anarchy; the organization of social services was broken; human society itself had broken down into a nomadic horde of those without work, without will, without discipline, a dull material in decomposition. The new State is collecting from the ruins the worn fragments of society and is reassembling them, rewelding them: it is recreating a faith, a discipline, a soul, a desire of work and progress. A task which could be the glory of a whole generation.

It is not enough. History is not satisfied with this proof. Formidable enemies are lined up implacably against the new State. False coin is struck to corrupt the citizen, his hungry stomach is tantalized. Russia has been cut off from every exit to the sea, from all traffic, from any solidarity; it has been deprived of the Ukraine, of the Donetz basin, of Siberia, of every market for raw materials and foodstuffs. On a front of ten thousand kilometres armed bands threaten invasion: uprisings, betrayals, vandalism, acts of terrorism and sabotage have been bought. The most acclaimed victories are transformed, by treachery, into sudden reverses.

No matter. The power of the Soviets resists: from the chaos of the disaster it creates a powerful army which is becoming the backbone of the proletarian State.

Squeezed by immense antagonistic forces it finds in itself the intellectual vigour and the historical flexibility to adapt to the necessity of the situation, without yielding, without compromising the happy process of development towards communism.

The State of the Soviets thus shows itself to be a fatal and irrevocable moment of the fatal process of human civilization, to be the first nucleus of a new society.

Since other states cannot coexist with proletarian Russia and they are powerless to destroy it, since the enormous means at the disposal of capital – the monopoly of information, the possibility of slander, corruption, the land and sea blockade, boycott, sabotage, shameless disloyalty (Prinkipo), violation of human rights (war without declaration), military pressure with technically superior means – are powerless against the faith of a people, it is historically necessary that the other states disappear or that they make themselves similar to Russia.

The schism of the human race cannot last long. Humanity tends towards internal and external unification, it is tending to organize itself in a system of peaceful coexistence which will allow the reconstruction of the world. The form of the regime must make itself able to satisfy the needs of humanity. Russia, after a disastrous war, with the blockade, without aid, alone with its own strength, has survived for two years; the capitalist states, with the aid of the whole world, aggravating colonial exploitation for its own life, continue to decay, adding ruins to ruins, destruction to destruction.

History then is in Russia, life then is in Russia, only in the regime of the Councils do the problems of life and death which afflict the world find a sufficient solution. The Russian revolution has paid its price to history, a price of death, of poverty, of hunger, of sacrifice, of untamed will. Today the duel arrives at its climax: the Russian people has stood on its own feet, a giant terrible in its ascetic thinness, dominating the crowd of pygmies which attack it furiously.

It has armed itself all for its Valmy. It cannot be beaten; it has paid its price. It must be defended against the hordes of drunken mercenaries, of adventurers, of bandits who want to bite out its red and beating heart. The allies are natural, its comrades from the whole world, who must raise a warrior roar which will make its shock unstoppable and open the paths for it to reenter the life of the world.