Antonio Gramsci 1919

The events of 2-3 December (1919)

Source: L'ordine nuovo, 6-13 December 1919;
Translated: by Michael Carley.

Petit bourgeois

The events of 2-3 December are a final episode of the class struggle. The struggle was not between proletarians and capitalists (this struggle develops organically, as a struggle for wages and hours and as a tenacious and patient labour for the creation of an apparatus of government of production and of the masses of men who might replace the present apparatus of the bourgeois state); it was between proletarians and small and middling bourgeois. The struggle was, in the final analysis, for the defence of the liberal democratic state, for the liberation of the liberal democratic state from the confinement in which it is held prisoner by a part of the bourgeois class, the worst, the vilest, the most useless, the most parasitic: the small and medium bourgeoisie, the “intellectual” bourgeois (“intellectual” because in possession, through a simple and cursory career in middle school, of low and middle certificates of general study), the bourgeoisie of father-son public functionaries, shopkeepers, small industrial and agricultural proprietors, businessmen in the city, usurers in the country. This struggle developed in the only form in which it could develop: disorderly, tumultuous, with a raid in the streets and the squares with the aim of freeing the streets and the squares of an invasion of putrid and voracious locusts. But this struggle, be it indirectly, was connected to another struggle, to the higher class struggle between proletarians and capitalists: the small and medium bourgeois is in fact the barrier of corrupt, dissolute, putrefying humanity with which capitalism defends its economic and political power, servile, abject humanity, humanity of goons and lackeys, today become the “boss servant” which wants to take from production a larger slice not only of the salary earned by the working class, but of the same slice taken by the capitalists; to expel it from the social field, as a swarm of locusts is expelled from a half destroyed field, with fire and iron, means freeing the national apparatus of production and exchange of a leaden bridle which suffocates it and stops it functioning, means purifying the social environment and finding oneself against the specific adversary: the class of capitalist owners of the means of production and exchange.

The war has increased the wealth of the small and medium bourgeoisie. In the war and for the war, the capitalist apparatus of economic government and political government militarized itself: the factory became a barracks, the city became a barracks, the nation became a barracks. All the activities of general interest have been nationalized, bureaucratized, militarized. To bring about this monstrous construction, the state and the minor capitalist associations made a mass mobilization of the small and medium bourgeoisie. Without having a cultural and spiritual preparation, tens and tens of thousands of individuals were made to flow from the depths of the southern villages and towns, from the workshops of family firms, from the vainly warmed benches of the middle and upper schools, from the editorial offices of the blackmail journals, from the ranks of the city suburbs, from all the ghettos where rot and decompose idleness, cowardice, the boasting of the social shards and detritus deposited by centuries of servility and dominion of foreigners and priests over the Italian nation; and they were given a wage as indispensable and irreplaceable, and they were trusted with the government of masses of men, in the factories, in the cities, in the barracks, in the trenches on the front.

Well armed, well foddered, not subject to any control, with the possibility of satisfying with impunity the three passions which the pessimists believe fundamental and unsuppressible in human nature: the passion for absolute power over other men, the passion to possess many women, the passion to possess much money to buy pleasure and luxury, these tens and tens of thousands of corrupted men, of idlers, of dissolutes kept themselves close to the monstrous bureaucratic-military apparatus constructed during the war. They want to continue to govern the masses of men, to be invested with an absolute truth over life and death of masses of men; they organize _pogroms_ against the proletarians, against the socialists, they keep the squares and the roads under a regime of terror.

The parliamentary elections have demonstrated that the masses of men want to be led and governed by socialists, that the masses of men want a social constitution in which whoever does not produce, whoever does not work, does not eat. These masters, who continue to take from the output of national production and from the external credit of the state a slice of a billion a month, who scream from the rooftops their nationalist passion and have themselves maintained by the fatherland, who in order to keep themselves in idleness, in luxury, in pleasure sell themselves to the Americans, these masters, terrified by the imminent danger, have immediately organized the _pogroms_, against socialist deputies. And from the factories, from the sites, from the workshops, from the arsenals of all the Italian cities, immediately, like a watchword, just as happened in Russia and in Poland when the Black Hundreds tried to unleash _pogroms_ against the Jews, to drown in a pond of barbarity and vice every little breath of liberty, immediately the workers erupted into the central streets of the city and swept away the petit-bourgeois locusts, the organizers of the _pogroms_, the professionals of idleness.

This was an episode, at root, of “liberalism.” There was formed a mode of earning without work, without responsibility, without risks; today this mode of earning also has its risks, its worries, its dangers.

Class struggle, peasant war

Chance required that the days of strikes and serious disorder throughout northern and central Italy coincide with the spontaneous outbreak of a people’s insurrection in a typical zone of southern Italy, in the territory of Andria. The attention which was given to the insurrection of the city proletariat against that part of the petit-bourgeois caste which during the war had acquired a militaristic physiognomy, and now does not want to lose it, and against the police, deflected the gaze from Andria, impeded the giving of an exact account of the events of down there, of having them appreciated in their true value. We hope to be able to furnish our readers with important news from direct observation of the causes and development of the facts, and we limit ourselves for now to noting how chance, making the outbreaks coincide, has furnished almost a model of that which should be the Italian revolution.

On one hand the proletariat in the strict sense of the word, that is the workers in industry and in specialized agriculture, on the other the poor peasants: the two wings of the revolutionary army. The workers of the city are revolutionary by education, made such by the development of their consciousness and formation of their person in the factory, cell of exploitation of labour; the workers of the city look today at the factory as the place in which liberation must begin, the central point of the fightback: thus their movement is whole, it is strong and it will be victorious. The workers are destined to be, in the city insurrection, at once the extreme and the orderly element, that which will never allow the machine set in motion to stop and will keep it on the right path; they represent from now on the intervention in the revolution of the great masses, and personify in a living way the interest and the will of the same masses.

In the countryside we have to count most of all on the action and support of the poor peasants, of the “landless.” They will be pushed to move by the need to resolve the problem of life, as yesterday the peasants of Andria, by the need to struggle for bread, not only, but by the same continuous need, by the ever present danger of death from hunger or from lead, will be obliged to pressure the other parts of the agricultural population, to require them to also create in the fields an organism of control, the peasants’ council, though allowing to continue the intermediate forms of private appropriation of the land (small owners), it will carry out work of coordination and of psychological and technical transformation, it will be the basis of the common life of the countryside, the centre through which the revolutionary elements will be able to exercise their will in a continuous and concrete manner.

Today it is necessary that the peasants too know what is to be done, that their action lay deep and tenacious roots, adhering like that of the workers, to the process of wealth production. As one looks to the factory, the other must start to look to the field as the future community of labour.

The outbreak in Andria tells us that the problem is mature: it is the problem, at root, of the whole of the Italian Mezzogiorno, the problem of the effective conquest of the earth by those who work it. Our party has the obligation to pose it and solve it. The conquest of the earth is being prepared today with the same weapons as those with which the workers prepare the conquest of the factory, that is forming organisms which allow the working mass to govern itself by itself, in the place of work. The movement of the workers and of the peasants flow together naturally in a single direction, in the creation of the organs of proletarian power.

The Russian revolution found its strength and its salvation exactly in the fact that in Russia workers and peasants, starting from opposite points, moved by different feelings, found themselves united by a common aim, in a single struggle, because they were both convinced that they could not free themselves from the oppression of the bosses, except by giving their organization of conquest a form which would directly permit the elimination of the exploiter in the field of production. This form was the council, it was the soviet. The class struggle and the peasant war thus united their destinies in an unbreakable manner and had a common outcome in the constitution of an organism directing all the life of the country.

With us the problem is posed in the same terms. The worker and the peasant must collaborate in a concrete manner, combining their strengths in a single organism. The riot found them united and in agreement. The control of the factory and the conquest of the earth must be a single problem. Northerner and Southerner must accomplish together the same work, prepare together the transformation of the nation into a productive community. It must appear ever clearer that only the workers are today capable of resolving in a “unitary” way the problem of the Mezzogiorno; the problem of unification which three generations of bourgeois have left unsolved, will be resolved by workers and peasants collaborating in a form of common politics, in the political form in which they will succeed in organizing and making victorious their dictatorship.