Felix Morrow

Some Arguments Heard Against the Slogan
of the Republic in Italy

(30 July 1945)

Source: Socialist Workers Party Internal Bulletin, Vol. 7 No. 10, October 1945, pp. 1–3.
Transcription: Daniel Gaido.
Mark-up: 2020 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Felix Morrow Internet Archive 2020; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

On June 18th and 19th [1945], I lectured in the East-side and West-side branches in New York in favor of the slogan of the republic for Italy and Belgium. Five Political Committee members (Burton, Wright, Collins, M. Stein, Warde) spoke against my position. This article will discuss their main arguments. Since I have already written on Belgium, I shall limit myself here to Italy.

It would, of course, be much better if I could argue against written positions. The minority position has been defended in writing during the past year in two articles by Comrade Logan and another by Comrade Goldman. But the majority leaders, though very vocal during the pre-convention discussion and again recently in the branches, refuse to put anything in cold print.

ARGUMENT No. 1: “The decision as to whether to raise the slogan of the republic should be made by the comrades on the spot and not by us at a distance.” (Collins, Burton, Warde.)

Suppose I agree. But our Italian comrades have put this slogan in their program of action. [Program of Workers Communist Party of Italy, Il Militante, October 1944, reprinted in Program Published by the Italian Trotskyist Party, The Militant, Vol. IX, No. 11, March 17, 1945, p. 3]. And they have asked us to give our opinion of the correctness of this and other slogans. They are a young party, and want international consultation and guidance. We are confronted by the need and the duty to judge whether their slogan is a correct one.

The Political Committee majority’s argument does not mean that they are willing to leave the decision to the Italian party in the sense that they are willing to endorse the decision of the Italian party. On the contrary, the P.C. has refused to vote on a motion to endorse the Italian party’s slogan of the republic.

So the Political Committee majority’s argument comes down to a denial that they can pass judgment on the slogan at a distance.

One way they justify this is indicated by Comrade Wright’s indignant declaration that if Morrow and Goldman want the Political Committee to give day-to-day directives to the Italian party, he will fight them tooth and nail.

Is the slogan of the republic a “day-to-day” directive? Some of the majority even go to the length of making an analogy between the slogan of the republic and a strike and say, “If I, from five hundred miles away, can’t be sure that X plant should strike, how can I decide whether to call for the republic 3,000 miles away?”

The answer is that the slogan of the republic is not at all a “day-to-day” directive. Of course, we cannot decide at a distance when this slogan should be in the forefront, and when it recedes for a time into the background, when demonstrations shall be called under this slogan, etc. But, given certain information, we can decide at a distance of 3,000 miles whether or not it is a correct slogan.

Comrade Marcy, Brooklyn branch organizer, argued that “we do not have enough information” to decide. I asked him to state what kinds of information he needed in order to decide. He said it is “impossible to formulate”. His method reduces politics to local mysticism. When I reminded Comrade Marcy that Trotsky, at goodly distances, had proposed the slogan of the republic for Spain in 1930-31 and for Belgium in 1934–36, Comrade Marcy replied that Trotsky was a great genius and Morrow and Goldman are not.

Nevertheless we try to apply Trotsky’s METHOD. Here is how we determine the correctness of the slogan for Italy today:

  1. For two years, since the downfall of fascism in July 1943, Italy has been gripped by a revolutionary crisis. The question of the state structure to replace fascism is up for decision.
  2. But the politically active proletariat is almost entirely in the Communist and Socialist parties, while the party of the Fourth International is only being born and is as yet unknown to the great masses. This situation, despite the objectively revolutionary conditions present, gives an extremely slow tempo to the development of the class struggle of the Italian proletariat which is being held back by its parties.
  3. The task of tasks, therefore, is to break the hold of the Communists and Socialist parties over the masses and to win them to the Fourth International. It is (or should be) an axiom among us that this task cannot be carried out directly by winning the masses to our whole program, that is by propaganda for a Soviet Italy and the Socialist United States of Europe. By propaganda you win cadre elements, but not the elements for a mass party; indeed, even cadre elements do not come to us, very often, on the basis of our propaganda; they are won by seeing that the party has the flexibility to conduct agitation successfully among workers who are not yet revolutionists, or who, if revolutionary-minded, do not see what next to do; that is, that the party is able to get the workers to take a step forward.

    The task of our Italian party on the agitational plane is to show to the Communist and Socialist party members a series of steps which ought to be taken by their parties. These steps must appear reasonable to the masses, possible of fulfillment. We know that their parties, reformist and class-collaborationist, will resist carrying out these steps. But their members don’t know it. By convincing them of the need for these steps, by inspiring them to demand these steps by their leaders, we will teach the masses to be critical of their parties and open their minds to the party of the Fourth International.
  4. The masses evidence a fierce hatred of the monarchy as the accomplice of Mussolini. This is not the same thing as hating the monarchy as one of the institutions of capitalism. We know that the monarchy is no better or worse than the big capitalists, but obviously the masses at this moment feel a hatred of the monarchy, are ready to tear down the monarchy, in a sense that they are not yet ready to tear down capitalism as a whole. We can cite, if the Political Committee majority should challenge this, numerous instances where, in spite of no encouragement from their leaders, the masses have expressed the desire to finish off the monarchy immediately. Nenni is compelled to give lip-service to this feeling, and even Togliatti has to do so increasingly. Our Italian party has correctly seized upon this situation and urges the Socialist and Communist party members to demand of their parties immediate proclamation of the democratic republic. Our Italian party exposes the sham hostility to the monarchy of Nenni and Togliatti, showing how their actions do not lead to the overthrow of the monarchy but help it save itself while it is building an army controlled by royalist officers for eventual use against the masses.

Such, briefly, is the method by which our Italian comrades, and the minority here, arrive at the correct slogan of the immediate proclamation of the republic.

ARGUMENT No. 2: “The masses are organized in the Socialist and Communist parties. Why? To achieve the republic? Ridiculous. They want socialism.” (Collins, Burton.)

The Spanish masses in 1931 followed the anarchist-led CNT and the Socialist-led UGT. The Belgian proletariat has been socialist-minded since 1910. Nevertheless, Trotsky raised the slogan of the republic for those countries. It is not a question of what the workers want to achieve finally; it is a question of what we can convince them can be done next and which will tear them away from the reformists and deepen the class struggle.

Comrade Collins’ and Burton’s argument is the classical one of the ultra-leftists which they, more consistently than Collins and Burton, apply against all slogans short of the proletarian revolution.

ARGUMENT No. 3: “Our demand is for a Socialist-Communist government which would settle the question of the monarchy.” (M. Stein, Collins.)

The slogan of a Socialist-Communist government and that of a democratic republic are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, they go together in Italy today, and are together in the program of action of our Italian party.

What would a government of the Socialist and Communist parties be? It would still be a government based on private property, i.e., a bourgeois-democratic government. Its assumption of office would not automatically liquidate the monarchy, no more than the Labor Party government in England has done so. That is why liquidation of the monarchy is made a separate demand by our Italian party. What would a government of the Socialist and Communist parties be, after it had abolished the monarchy? It would be a democratic republic – and that is why the slogan calls for it.

Some comrades say they are for demanding the abolition of the monarchy but not a republic. We have seen that abolition of the monarchy means a republic, if it is to be a government of the Socialist and Communist parties. If the comrades (who object to the republic slogan will concede that their demand for the abolition of the monarchy means in effect a republic, then we can come quickly to an agreement with them on the actual content of our agitation on this question. There is no real difference between saying “abolition of the monarchy” or “immediate proclamation of the republic”. One is a negative and one a positive way of saying the same thing. In the case of this particular demand there is a negative way available for saying it, but other demands of the same character do not have a negative form available. For example, there is no negative form of saying, “For immediate convocation of the Constituent Assembly”. Any sensible comrade who recognizes the correctness in principle of the slogan of the Constituent Assembly should not be afraid of the positive form of the slogan of the republic. In any event, we could easily come to an agreement with any comrade who insisted on the negative form, “abolition of the monarchy” so long as he recognized that it meant in, fact the republic.

But if anybody means by “abolition of the monarchy” something else, namely its replacement by a Soviet republic, then he must also reject the slogan of a government of the Socialist and Communist parties, for such a government would obviously not be a Soviet republic. Anyone who insists that “abolition of the monarchy” should only mean its replacement by a Soviet republic is obviously reduced to one slogan – the slogan of proletarian revolution.

ARGUMENT No. 4: “The Social Democrats are for a republic in Italy, and Morrow says we should chime in. He ignores the danger of identifying our slogans with those of the reformists.” (Collins, Burton et al.)

The trouble with practically all the arguments of the Political Committee majority is that they ignore our traditions and thus drag the party down with them into a morass of ignorance. In 1931 in Spain the principal party of the proletariat, the Socialists, was for the republic yet Trotsky did not therefore hesitate to issue the slogan. The revolutionary party need have no difficulty in distinguishing, its use of a slogan from the use of an apparently identical slogan by the reformists. Today in Italy we can easily point out:

  1. The immediate proclamation of the republic is for us simply the finishing off once for all of the monarchy, merely a necessary step toward the struggle for socialism whereas for the reformist parties the democratic republic is an end in itself. The day they proclaim the republic we shall condemn the content they give it as a betrayal of the workers’ aspirations for a better life. On a plane of propaganda, we already now warn the advanced workers that the republic is no solution for the workers’ problems; this will become agitation – i.e., really reach any sizeable group of workers – only when they have the republic before their eyes. Those workers- who really listen to us attentively today can see that we spread no illusions about what the republic will do for them, whereas the reformists hold out the republic as the solution for the workers’ problems.
  2. We call for immediate proclamation of the republic, we demand that the Communist and Socialist parties act immediately, whereas they are putting it off indefinitely. We urge the masses to force their parties to get rid of the monarchy by whatever means are necessary, i.e., by revolution, whereas the reformists propose to do it only by legal means. We expose the acts of Nenni and Togliatti which are aiding the monarchy to strengthen itself: their oath of office pledging not to do anything against the monarchy until the Constituent Assembly, their failure to expose the way in which the army is being put entirely into the hands of royalist officers, etc., etc. In a word, we call for class struggle against the monarchy, whereas the reformists promise to remove it eventually by means of class collaboration. Is it so difficult to make this distinction clear?

ARGUMENT No. 5: “Such slogans are transitory. At any moment they can lose their progressive character and become filled with a reactionary content. Hence it is impossible for us in America to decide when to use it, when to withdraw it.” (Wright et al.)

The fact is that all slogans are transitory. But when a slogan is progressive and when it becomes reactionary or inappropriate can be fairly well determined even at a distance, when the slogan deals with such a major question as the monarchy.

The slogan will, it seems fairly certain, remain progressive until:

  1. The monarchy is overthrown and the slogan is fulfilled; or
  2. Soviets arise and extend their authority to the point where the issue becomes one between the power of the monarchy and Soviet power.

ARGUMENT No. 6: “I would never raise the slogan of the republic in a revolutionary situation.” (Wright.)

I put it exactly the opposite way. The slogan of the republic can have real meaning in monarchical countries only in the first stages of a revolutionary situation. The slogan would be a tenth-rate question in a non-revolutionary period, when the party’s agitation would deal primarily with immediate economic demands and the party’s propaganda would not make a distinction between the monarchy and the capitalist class and its institutions generally but would contrast capitalism as a whole with socialism.

It is only in a revolutionary situation that questions of changing the state structure become burning issues of the day and the slogan of the republic can have actual significance.

ARGUMENT No. 7: “Why does the minority emphasize this democratic slogan?” “Why does it give this slogan such exaggerated importance?” “The minority is preoccupied with democratic demands to the exclusion of socialist demands.” “The minority makes this its principal slogan.” (M. Stein, Wright, Warde, et. al.)

All this is completely untrue. We give the republic slogan the same weight that it is given by our Italian comrades, whose program of action includes it as one among twenty-five demands, which range from the demand for a Communist-Socialist government and a republic to the slogan of the Socialist United States of Europe. The only sense in which the minority has emphasized this demand is that it has insisted on discussing it in cold print, whereas the majority has refused to do so; and the verbal majority arguments against the slogan have so badly miseducated the party that it has been necessary to return again and again to this question.

July 30, 1945.


Last updated on: 9 May 2020