Christian Rakovsky 1921

Third Congress of the Communist International
Speech in Discussion of Italian Question

June 29, 1921

Source: Published in To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921 (, pp. 366-371
Translation: John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters & Andy Bluden for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission

Comrades, no one can miss the great significance of the events in Italy. Before us is a proletariat that split in two, just at the moment that the Italian bourgeoisie – which during the previous year had so well concealed its true face – threw off its mask and went over to a vigorous offensive against the proletariat. Listening to the speeches of Lazzari and Maffi, I wondered what motives they might have had to carry out this split in the Italian proletariat. For there is no doubt that this split resulted from the Socialist Party of Italy’s refusal to comply unconditionally with the decisions of the Second Congress. Responsibility cannot possibly be foisted on the Communist minority that remained true to the instructions of the world proletariat gathered in Moscow. I wondered what political motives lay behind the paradoxical fact, which Comrade Lenin highlighted here yesterday, that the Socialist Party of Italy preferred to follow the 14,000 reformists rather than the 58,000 Communists.

I listened closely to the speech by Comrade Lazzari. I must add that I have been in Italy and have some knowledge of the events there. I know Italy. Anyone who has followed the socialist movement during the last thirty years knows that not only did reformism in Italy really exist, but also that it was actually a precursor of reformism in Germany. Turati was a predecessor of Bernstein. After the Zurich international Congress in 1893,[1] Turati never attended another such event.

I recall how he left the Zurich Congress in 1893 together with Comrade Anna Kuliscioff, protesting as he exited against German hegemony. This hegemony was then represented by [Wilhelm] Liebknecht and Bebel. When I went to Rome in 1915, invited by the Italian party to take part in their initiative for neutrality,[2] the same attitude prevailed there. I met Turati and Treves then, and they told me, ‘The fact is, we have put an end to German hegemony.’ They were pleased that the former revolutionary movement had been poisoned by opportunism and had freed itself from international hegemony in general.[3] Moreover, the traditions of the Risorgimento[4]found expression more than once in Critica sociale. This old social-patriotic tradition is expressed in Turati’s conduct as a whole.

Anyone familiar with the history of Italy’s socialist movement knows very well that reformism has always existed in Italy. The party leadership could not conceal it. I would like to ask Comrade Lazzari: How much diplomacy did you engage in over the last twenty years to hide the scandalous character of Turati’s politics? We can be sure that the Entente took fewer diplomatic initiatives to draw Italy into the War than the party took to keep the scandal of Turati’s activity in parliament well hidden. Avanti always ran Critica sociale’s advertisements, claiming it was a journal sponsored by the party. When you asked the party leadership how they could tolerate that, they replied using the same words that we have just heard spoken by Maffi: ‘It is read only by a few thousand intellectuals, and the workers do not even know about it.’

After Caporetto we had the famous embrace between Bissolati and Turati. But Turati – let us give him credit for this – never denied his past. He has remained a reformist and a nationalist. He is an enemy of the Russian Revolution. Yesterday the opinion was expressed that Turati’s foreword to the book of the two delegates who slandered the Russian Revolution is not an important matter.[5] No, comrades, it is not a petty matter. What is at issue is not the Russian Revolution, which towers above the things said by Turati and his friends. (Applause) The Russian Revolution does not need to justify itself in face of the reformists’ slanders. Nonetheless, to present the proletarian revolution as a whole as a wedding, free from terror, hunger, and war, is to administer poison to the Italian proletariat, drop by drop. This recalls the way revolution was presented, in the style of Montecitorio[6] and the reformists. (Applause)

Theories have been devised ad hoc to defend Turati – in the press, in Italian socialist literature, in Serrati’s newspaper. We even heard them expressed here last year. These theories sought to demonstrate that the Italian centrists, even Comrade Serrati, are much more advanced than the Communists of the Third International – all this merely in order to keep Turati within the Italian Socialist Party. A web of true Communist metaphysics was spun on the agrarian and national questions as well as the Communist parties’ policies in Britain and the United States.[7]

Serrati, one of the Italian party’s leaders, succumbed to abstract formulas, which take no account of context with respect to time or location. He imagines that a Communist Party that holds power is the same thing as a Communist Party in opposition. He and his friends say, ‘We are against the Communist International’s revolution on the nationalities question because we are opposed to nationalism. We are opposed to the entry of the British Communist Party into the Labour Party because this stands in contradiction to what the International asks of the General Confederation of Labour.’ Serrati fails to understand the most elementary concept, namely, that the tactics and strategy of the Communist Party are not dogmatic but dialectical, and they must adjust to circumstances. What is appropriate for Britain and the United States, where the Communist movement is not yet solidly on its feet, is not appropriate for Italy, where the Socialist Party declared for communism last year and where it must stand ready to take hold of power and point out the road forward for the trade-union movement. Yes, the Italian proletariat has been poisoned, and is poisoned even today by these false teachings. And all this is being done purely in order to defend Turati and the reformists.

I see a psychological problem here. You exhaust all of Italy’s reserves of lime in order to whitewash Turati; why do you find him so indispensable? Because the Italian comrades of the Socialist Party have placed all their hopes – not on the working class – but on an intellectual elite of specialists. They are saying, ‘The Italian workers are not mature enough; they are not sufficiently politically developed. That is why we need specialists.’

They say that Turati is a very poor Communist but a marvellously skilled parliamentary strategist. Rigola is a reformist.

Lazzari: He was overthrown.

Rakovsky: Yes, he was overthrown, but only to be replaced by another reformist, D'Aragona. They are popular in the General Confederation of Labour. They tell us, further, ‘We are doing all this in order to preserve the unity of our party and avoid splitting our forces. We control three thousand municipalities.’ I am not saying anything here that cannot be found in the official Italian documentation. ‘We need collaborators; we need competent trade unionists, people who have practical experience in trade-union work; we need political figures who have a grasp of parliamentary strategy.’ The Italian party clings to this illusion of unity. ‘We need unity at any cost’, they tell us, ‘even at the cost of revolution’. Comrade Lazzari, one must be true to oneself. In Bern, in Kienthal, in Zimmerwald, you helped deal the death blow to this doctrine of unity.[8] If this doctrine was not an abstract principle but a force for revolution, you would have remained true to it and not destroyed the infamous Second International bureau led by Vandervelde and Huysmans in Brussels. You would not have approved the split among the Social Democrats and later between the Communists and the Independents in Germany. If you find the policy of splitting unacceptable, you would not have approved of it in other countries. And now you claim that this policy of splitting applies to other countries but not to Italy. That is a contradiction. Are there then no reformists in Italy? Your reformism is more consistent. It is tied by a thousand strings to the Italian intelligentsia, who play a quite special role in the life of your party. Where does this Communist nationalism come from – this ambition, which claims that everything in Italy must be done differently than in other countries? That is an argument that all opportunists have made use of.

The French opportunists say that the German opportunists are nationalists, while Renaudel, by contrast, is said to be continuing the best traditions of French socialism. The German opportunists said during the War that the French socialists were nationalists, while they, by contrast, were students of Marx. That is an old story. You created a theory of specialists. Your deputies, Montecitorio, and all that – they may be the best strategists and with them you can form an excellent government, but you will never carry out a revolution. Together with Rigola and D'Aragona you are able to sabotage the marvellous metalworkers’ movement, but you cannot carry out a revolution. With a party leadership that attempts to hide its internal disagreements from the workers, that heeds the principle that dirty linen should be washed indoors, you can formulate the best of intentions, but they will simply remain platonic, because you cannot carry out a revolution with such leaders.

You forget that the Communist Party must be a mass party. You do not place your hopes on the forces arising from the depths of the working masses, workers organised in trade unions, or members of the party sections. You have your traditional core, men who have remained in their posts unchanged for twenty years. You have Turati, Treves, and so on. But now this question has been disposed of, once and for all. The attempt to defend the Italian reformists has resulted only in making the charges against you all the more serious. The question that concerns us at this time is what will you, Italian Socialists, do now? How will you conduct yourselves? Will you follow the revolutionary proletariat, the Communist International, or will you turn back to Vienna, to Amsterdam? Do you perhaps want to found a Two-and-Three-Quarters International? No, you yourselves have protested too vigorously against the Scheidemanns, the Independents, and the French opportunists. If you propose to the Italian proletariat some day to go back to the betrayers, the proletariat will turn away from you.

Comrades, you have been given a period of grace, and I will utilise it to say that for me, you are not yet outside the Communist International. You are here; we are listening to you; and we extend all our personal friendship to the comrades who play an important role in the Socialist Party of Italy. The interjection, ‘Out, out!’, of which Comrade Maffi spoke, did not refer to you or even to your party. No, we would be very happy if you would come to us as individuals, as Frossard and Cachin did last year, but you must tell us that you promise to accept unreservedly the International’s conditions; that you will, if necessary, oppose your party; that you will support these conditions within it as well.

Fusing the parties is a technical question. When I learned that the recent Livorno Congress decided to accept unconditionally the [Second] Congress resolutions, I thought, ‘There is no need to call a new congress. All that is needed is for the party leadership to submit to the decisions of the International.’ But let me return to my theme and reiterate that the question is posed not to you personally or to the party but to the proletariat, to the conscience of every Italian worker, who must ask, ‘Whose side am I on? Am I for the revolutionary world proletariat, or for the International that has become disloyal to my cause?’ You have no other choice. You must state here, before the best representatives of the proletariat, that you, as Italian Socialists, will submit unconditionally and unreservedly to the decisions of the Third International, of the world proletariat gathered in Moscow. If you want the Italian proletariat to gather its forces and stride forward toward the victory of communism, you must make a decision without delay to restore to the Italian proletariat its organisational strength and its belief in the revolution.


1. The Second International’s Zurich Congress was held 6–12 August 1893.

2. Beginning in the fall of 1914 with a conference in Lugano, Switzerland, the PSI and the Swiss Social Democratic Party had taken the initiative in campaigning to convening a conference of socialists in different countries who opposed the War. Meanwhile, the Italian Socialists campaigned to preserve Italy’s neutrality in the conflict. Italy went to war the following year.

3. Prior to World War I, the German SPD was considered the principal bulwark of Marxist orthodoxy within the Second International, restraining reformist currents in each country. With the SPD’s betrayal of revolutionary internationalism in August 1914, these right-wing currents were given free rein.

4. sorgimento was a nineteenth-century national movement for Italian unification, which led to the establishment of the Italian kingdom in 1861.

5. Gregorio Noffri and Fernando Pozzani, La Russia com'è, preface by Filippo Turati. The preface was also published in Critica sociale, 2 (1921), pp. 16–30.

6. Montecitorio is the palace in Rome that houses the Italian parliament.

7. Serrati’s disagreements on the agrarian question at the Second Comintern Congress can be found in Riddell (ed.) Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite!: Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress, 1920, vol. 2, pp. 653–4. His disagreements on the national question can be found on pp. 234, 235, and 276–7.

8. Bern was the site of the 5–8 February 1916 meeting of the International Socialist Commission elected at the Zimmerwald conference of September 1915, an international conference of socialists opposed to the social patriotic position of the leading parties of the Second International that took place in Zimmerwald, Switzerland, 5–8 September 1915. Attended by 37 delegates from 12 countries, the conference adopted a resolution and manifesto against the War. Lenin attended the conference and headed the Zimmerwald Left, which favoured responding to the War with class struggle for social revolution. A second conference of the Zimmerwald movement took place in Kienthal, Switzerland, 24–30 April 1916.