Antonio Gramsci 1920

Workers and peasants

First Published: L'ordine nuovo, 3 January 1920;
Translated: for by Michael Carley’

Industrial production must be controlled directly by the workers organized by company; the activity of control must be unified and coordinated through purely worker trade union organisms; the workers and socialists cannot consider useful to their interests and to their aspirations a control of industry exercised by the (corrupt, venal, unaccountable) functionaries of the capitalist state, which can only signify a resurgence of the committees for industrial mobilization, useful only to capitalist parasitism.

The slogan “the land to the peasants” must be understood in the sense that agricultural companies and modern farms must be controlled by agricultural workers organized by agricultural company and by farm, must mean that land under extensive cultivation must be administered by councils of the poor peasants of the villages and the agricultural districts; the agricultural workers, the revolutionary poor peasants, and conscious socialists cannot consider useful to their ends of proletarian education, indispensable for a communist republic, propaganda for the “uncultivated or ill-cultivated land.” This propaganda can only have as a result a monstrous defamation of socialism. What does a poor peasant obtain by invading uncultivated or ill-cultivated land? Without machinery, without housing at the place of work, without credit to last until the harvest, without cooperative institutions to buy the harvest itself (if the peasant gets to the harvest before hanging himself on the strongest bush in the scrub, or on the least feeble wild fig, on the uncultivated land!) or to save it from the usurers, what can a poor peasant gain from the invasion? It satisfies, in one moment, his instincts as proprietor, sates his primitive greed for land; but in a second moment, when he notices that his arms are not enough to break a land which only dynamite could split, when he notices that seeds and fertilisers and tools are necessary, and thinks that nobody will give him these indispensable things, and thinks of the future series of days and nights to be spent on land without a house, without water, with malaria, the peasant feels his impotence, his solitude, his desperate condition, and becomes a brigand, not a revolutionary, becomes an assassin of the “masters,” not a fighter for communism.

Thus the revolutionary workers and peasants and the conscious socialists have not seen a reflection of their interests or their aspirations in parliamentary initiatives for the control of industry and for “uncultivated or ill-cultivated” lands; they have seen in these initiatives only parliamentary “cretinism,” the reformist and opportunist illusion, they have seen the counter-revolution. And yet parliamentary action could have been useful: it could have served to inform all the workers and peasants of the exact terms of the industrial and agricultural problem and of the necessary and sufficient means to resolve it. It could have served to explain to the great mass of peasants of all Italy that the solution of the agricultural problem can be brought about only by the urban workers of northern Italy, can be brought about only by the proletarian dictatorship.

The northern bourgeoisie has subjugated southern Italy and the islands and has reduced them to colonies to be exploited; the northern proletariat, emancipating itself from capitalist slavery, will emancipate the southern peasant masses subjected by the bank and the industrial parasitism of the North. The economic and political regeneration of the peasants must not be sought in a division of the uncultivated or ill-cultivated lands, but in the solidarity of the industrial proletariat, which has need, in turn, of the solidarity of the peasants, whose “interests” are that capitalism not be reborn from landed property and that southern Italy and the islands not become a military base of capitalist counter-revolution. Imposing worker control on industry, the proletariat will turn industry to production of agricultural machinery for the peasants, of clothing and shoes for the peasants, of electric light for the peasants, will stop industry and the bank exploiting the peasants and subjugating them like slaves at the safes. Breaking the autocracy of the factory, breaking the oppressive apparatus of the capitalist state, installing the workers’ state which subjects capitalists to the law of useful work, the workers will break the chains of their poverty, of their desperation; installing the workers’ dictatorship, having in their hands industry and the banks, the proletariat will turn the enormous potential of state organization towards sustaining the peasants in their struggle against the owners and against nature and against poverty; it will give credit to the peasants, it will institute cooperatives, it will guarantee the safety of persons and goods against the looters, it will start public works of restoration and irrigation. It will do all this because it is in its interest to increase agricultural production, because it is in its interest to turn industrial production towards useful work of peace and fraternity between city and country, between north and south.

In this sense the workers and conscious peasants must seek to have advanced socialist parliamentary action: to conduct work of revolutionary education amongst the great masses, to unify the feelings and aspirations of the great masses in understanding the communist programme, to distribute incessantly the conviction that the current problems of the industrial and agricultural economy can be solved only outside parliament, against parliament, by the workers’ state.