Antonio Gramsci 1919

Revolutionaries and elections

Source: L'ordine nuovo, 15 November 1919;
Translated: for by Michael Carley.

What do conscious revolutionaries expect of the elections, those workers and peasants who consider the Parliament of deputies elected by universal suffrage (of the exploiters and the exploited) according to territorial constituencies, the mask of the bourgeois dictatorship? Certainly, they do not expect the conquest of a half plus one of the seats and a legislature which is characterized by a shower of decrees and laws which tend to round off the corners and make easier and handier the cohabitation of the two classes, that of the exploiters and that of the exploited. They expect instead that the electoral strength of the proletariat will manage to bring into Parliament a solid core of Socialist Party activists, and that this will be numerous and hardened enough to form a stable and strong government, to thus force the bourgeoisie out of democratic equivocation, out of legality and bring about a rising of the deepest and widest layers of the working class against the oligarchy of the exploiters.

The conscious revolutionaries, the workers and peasants who are now convinced that the communist revolution will only come about through the dictatorship of the proletariat incarnate in a system of workers’ and peasants’ councils, have struggled to send many socialist deputies to Parliament, because they have reasoned in this way:

The communist revolution cannot be realized with a single blow. If even a revolutionary minority should manage, by violence, to take over power, this minority would the day after be brought down by the counter blow of the mercenary forces of capitalism, because the unabsorbed majority would allow the flower of revolutionary power to be massacred, would allow all the evil passions and barbarities excited by corruption and capitalist gold to overflow. It is thus necessary that the proletarian vanguard organize materially and spiritually this indolent and slow majority, it is necessary that the proletarian vanguard bring about, with its methods and its systems, the material and spiritual conditions in which the owning class will no longer manage to peacefully govern the great masses of men, but will be constrained, by the intransigence of the socialist deputies controlled and disciplined by the party, to terrorize the great masses, to strike blindly and to make them revolt. An end of such a kind can only be pursued today through parliamentary action, understood as action which tends to immobilize the Parliament, to rip the democratic mask from the double face of the bourgeois dictatorship and show it in all its horror and its repugnant ugliness.

The communist revolution is a necessity in Italy more for international reasons than for reasons inherent in the development of the apparatus of national production. The reformists and the whole gang of opportunists are right when they say that there do not exist in Italy the objective conditions for revolution: they are right in so far as they think and talk like nationalists, in so far as they conceive of Italy as an organism independent of the rest of the world, and conceive of Italian capitalism as a purely Italian phenomenon. They do not conceive of internationalism as a reality living and functioning in the history of capitalism as much as in that of the proletariat.

But if instead Italian reality is conceived of as inserted in an international system, as depending on this international system, then the historical judgment changes and the practical conclusion to which every conscious socialist must come, every worker and peasant who feels the responsibility of the revolutionary mission of his class, is this: it is necessary to be prepared, it is necessary to be armed for the conquest of social power. The fact that the revolution is imposed by the conditions of the international capitalist system makes the task of the Italian revolutionary vanguard more difficult and complicated, but these complications and these difficulties should push us to be better trained and prepared, they should not lead to illusions and scepticism.

Just so: the revolution finds the great Italian popular masses still unformed, still pulverized in an animal swarm of individuals without discipline and without culture, obedient only to the stimuli of the stomach and of barbaric passions. Just so the conscious revolutionaries have accepted the electoral struggle: to create a primordial form and unity in this multitude, to join it by a link of action to the Socialist Party, to give a sense and a glimmer of political conscience to its instincts and its passions. But also thus the revolutionary vanguard does not want these multitudes to be deceived, to make them believe that it possible to overcome the current crisis with parliamentary action, with reformist action. It is necessary to harden the separation of the classes, it is necessary that the bourgeoisie demonstrate its absolute incapacity to satisfy the needs of the multitudes, it is necessary that they be persuaded through experience that there exists a clear and raw dilemma: either death by hunger, the slavery of a foreign heel on the neck which forces the worker and the peasant to crumple on the machine or on the sod of earth, or a heroic effort, a superhuman effort of the Italian workers and peasants to create a proletarian order, to suppress the owning class and eliminate every cause of waste, low productivity, indiscipline, disorder.

Only for these revolutionary reasons has the conscious vanguard of the Italian proletariat descended into the electoral lists, has planted itself solidly in the parliamentary market. Not for a democratic illusion, not for a reformist tenderness: to create the conditions for the triumph of the proletariat, to ensure the right outcome of the revolutionary effort which is directed towards installing the proletarian dictatorship incarnate in the system of councils, inside and outside Parliament.