J.R. Johnson

How the Italian Workers Seized
the Factories in Their Strike Wave

(5 August 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 31, 5 August 1946, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

On Thursday, July 18, the workers of Turin and Milan, Italy, seized the factories in a general strike. Some of them were armed. They ejected the owners and the managers. By Friday the strikes had spread over the area so that all activities throughout Piedmont and Lombardy had been brought to a standstill. The strike seems to have petered out. News of it disappeared from the press. But on July 25, De Gasperi, Prime Minister of Italy, complained that the workers in Mantua had refused to let people enter or leave the city without union passports.

These are remarkable happenings and show the completely disordered conditions in one great European country. Milan and Turin and the areas surrounding them form the industrial center of Italy. They have always been the vanguard, first of democracy and then of revolutionary socialism in Italy. In the last months of war these were the workers who carried out tremendous strikes against Mussolini’s “social republic.” In collaboration with Partisans, they drove out the Germans. They executed thousands of fascists, including Mussolini. By the vigor and speed of their actions they saved the factories from being demolished and wrecked by the retreating Nazis. They held on to the factories for months, running them with joint committees of workers and technicians.

Role of the Occupation

The capitalists, however, were protected by the occupation forces of Britain and the United States. The Stalinists worked hard to restore “peace.” Order, i.e., capitalist order, was restored. Of course in the recent plebiscite North Italy voted overwhelmingly for the republic and against the monarchy. But the social and political chaos remain and once more the struggle has been transferred to the factories. We haven’t much information, but such as it is it cannot be overlooked.

The workers in Turin demanded an immediate bonus of 2,000 lire a person. The employers said that they could not pay it unless the government gave them a loan. Note that they did not say the demand was preposterous. They were ready to make a loan for the purpose. Presumably the government would not or could not supply the loan because the strike followed. It was complete. Even mail delivery was suspended. The New York Times correspondent, after describing the completeness of the shut-down, goes on to say:

“A particularly alarming feature of the strikes in Milan, Turin and the surrounding area is that the workers who took possession of factories have automatic weapons.”

These workers have obviously learned a great deal during the past period. Ordinary strikers do not begin their strikes with machine guns and tommy guns. Nor do they begin by ejecting owners and managers from the factories. Yet all this happened on the first day.

These details, meager as they are, are particularly significant when seen against the background of the general situation in Italy. The new Christian Democratic Party, which won the largest number of seats at the last election, has been as powerless to form a stable government as the previous coalition of Socialists, Stalinists and Liberals. Economic recovery, in fact any semblance of economic order, is dependent upon charity from the United Nations. Italy is incapable of recreating a functioning economy by her own strength. The forces of occupation are a burden and a drain. Finally, the compromise between Byrnes and Molotov over Trieste is a bitter blow to the Italian people. It seems to them that they have been betrayed by Britain and the United States.

Under these general circumstances the strikes in northern Italy represent a serious threat to the fragile stability of the young republic. The workers in northern Italy are the most powerful and the most dynamic social force in the country. Not only did the strike have complete support in northern Italy, but the printers followed with a general strike that closed down every newspaper in Italy. For weeks now the oil workers have been on strike. And all this is taking place despite the presence of occupation forces in the country.

The decisive question for any observer at a distance is: Who leads the Italian workers and what is their policy? The Italian Stalinist Party is the most influential party in the Italian working class, especially in the organized union movement. Yet such is the treachery, the betrayal of Stalinism in Europe today that nobody has so far reported in the press what is its policy on the actions of the Italian workers.

Have the Italian workers acted on their own initiative? Were they encouraged by the Communist Party? If so, was it carrying out its usual policy of trying to bring pressure on the Italian government for its own political purposes? Do the Italian Stalinists propose to support the workers against the government, or support it against the workers?

In France the Communist Party controls the union movement of over five million members. For months the party, like some national association of manufacturers, drove the workers to produce to their limit in order, according to them, to help economic recovery. Today, with the CP losing influence, the party has been leading an agitation for a 25 per cent increase in wages.

But if the CP and the government were to agree on some urgent issue of foreign policy favorable to Stalinist Russia, the CP in all probability would call off or moderate the wages agitation. In the U.S., in France, in Italy it is the same.

Writing about the sharp strike situation in Italy, a Times reporter said recently: The Socialist Party supported the strike, the attitude of the Communist Party is not yet known. Imagine that. Their attitude was not known! They were busy working out whether it suited them to support a strike which the Socialist Party had endorsed. That is Stalinism today. And that is why these great events in northern Italy have such little repercussions either in Italy, in the countries around Italy, or in the U.S.

When There Was a Choice

In the old days of 1919–23 at least the workers could choose between reformist or revolutionary leadership. The Socialist Party was for the maintenance of the capitalist system. The Communist Party was for its overthrow. The Socialists met a political or an industrial crisis with their reformist policy. The Communist Party came before the workers with a revolutionary policy adapted to the stage of development of the crisis. But all militant workers, at home and abroad, understood clearly their revolutionary goal and revolutionary methods. With such events as have taken place in northern Italy, the Communist Parties of the old days, inside and outside of Italy, would have used all their resources to bring them to the notice of the workers of the world.’

Today, however, the workers move into large-scale action and the political world as well as the workers wonders whether the CP is for or against them. The masses of the workers can never be clear where this party is leading them.

The Socialist Parties continue their reformist policies. When the workers break away from them and look to the so-called revolutionary party, the Stalinists welcome them with propaganda about Marx, Engel, Lenin and Stalin, They organize these workers, they penetrate into their unions and control them with a tight hand; they inject them with anti-Trotskyism, i.e., hostility to the genuine revolutionaries.

But where exactly are they themselves leading the workers? Nowhere. They are concerned with one thing – how to exploit the situation for the benefit of Stalinist Russia. In that the essence of the situation not only in Italy but in Western Europe as a whole. Not only do the Stalinists fail to lead, they actively repress the revolutionary instincts of the masses. The day that the European workers understand their role not only capitalism but Stalinism as well is doomed.

Last updated on 8 July 2019