Pietro Secchia 1973

The Masses Join in the Struggle

Source: Il partito communista e la guerra di Liberazione. Feltrinelli, Milan, 1975;
Translated: by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2008.

On November 15 1943, in all of the metallurgical factories of Turin the first general strike under the German occupation occurred. There then followed others in Genoa, in Milan and many other locales during the winter and until the end of the war of independence, until the April insurrection.

The Italian Resistance, unlike that of other countries, was characterized by the combining of the working masses with the military action of the partisans. The one supported and was presupposed by the development of the other.

The class struggle was a key propelling element that gave impulse to the development of the fight for national liberation. In every era the national struggle has had a class character, and in every historical period there were determined men, determined social classes that represented the interests of the nation.

There were men and political groups, also within the CLN (Committee for National Liberation) who had doubts about the possibility of successfully conducting the fight for national liberation if, at the same time, the parties of the workers favored and gave impulse to the developing of the class struggle, to the organization of strikes and to agitation in factories and fields.

On the contrary, we Communists thought it was possible to give a just start and give a powerful impulse to the fight for national liberation only if at the same time there the defense of immediate, economic and social interests, as well as the more general ones of the working classes were brought to the forefront. We never contented ourselves with or underestimated the class struggle, (which in any case would have been impossible); this was expressed not only in the actions against the German occupier, but against the big Nazi-fascist collaborationist industrialists. This was the political line, the constant goal of the leadership of the PCI in upper Italy, profoundly persuaded as we were that the interests of the working class were not in contrast with those of the nation.

All of the political strikes organized during the Resistance had economic demands as their point of departure and foundation. These were directed against the Nazi-fascists and the big collaborationist industrialists. The struggle for bread, for wages, against exploitation, in defense of dignity became at the same time national struggles for the chasing out of the German invader and the defeat of fascism. The workers were stimulated to action by the very conditions of their existence, but in its turn the thrust of the class struggle every day impelled and carried along an ever larger number of men to participate in the fight for liberation.

Economic demands were placed to the forefront either to “cover” as far as possible the strikers from German-fascist reaction, or because they touched all strata of the workers, from those who were in the vanguard to those who were most backwards, less evolved and who weren’t interested in politics but wanted to defend their own right to live.

But it would be a mistake to say that since economic demands were at the base of the agitation and propaganda for the strikes, the workers were led to act mainly because they were moved by economic interests. Most workers knew full well the risks they were running striking and sabotaging production. German and fascist terrorism made their weight felt and exerted their influence, even if in different amounts, throughout the period of the war of liberation. Wages, piece work, working hours, a greater amount of food and fuel were important things, but not to the point to drive the most advanced part of the workers to jeopardize their lives, to risk deportation in order to obtain an increase in their salary of a few liras or a slightly larger ration of awful olive oil. If they did this it was because they were moved not only by economic necessity but by idealist, social and national motives, by profound sentiments of hatred of fascism, of love of liberty and the conquest of independence; in many cases it was the aspiration for socialism, economic, political and idealist motives intermingled and were melded into one sole thrust in the same way that many streams debouch into one great river.

The fact that the working class managed to exercise its leading function in the struggle for national liberation, taking as its starting point the defense of its interests and aspirations, demonstrates the way the national struggle was something profoundly real, inseparable from the very conditions of the workers’ existence. In defending its own positions and affirming itself, the working class, at the head of the laboring masses, affirmed the interests of the people and the entire nation. This gave the Italian Resistance not only a mighty verve, but a progressive imprint that characterized it and distinguished it in a more marked way than that of other countries.

In Italy the Resistance was antifascist, and more than elsewhere fought against those groups of big capital that gave birth to fascism, supported its policies, and led the country to wars of aggression and catastrophe. And more than elsewhere the Resistance had a class character: there was at one and the same time a national and a social struggle both because of its content and because the working class was the main leading force.

And it was from the working class, from the parties and men who represented it, that there came the most advanced watchwords, proposals, the most correct indications and solutions, those which best corresponded to the interests of the whole people and the nation. During the Resistance as well the laboring classes fought against the groups of finance capital, against big capital, fought to conquer liberty for all citizens, for the workers, the peasants, for the oppressed classes; fought to give birth to a new political and social regime that would realize profound structural reforms and a true, effective, new democracy.

They fought to extirpate the roots of fascism, to liquidate the most iniquitous privileges of capital and large landowners. They were the representatives of the working class and laborers who, within the CLN, proposed and supported those programmatic demands that expressed profound popular aspirations; aspirations and objectives that, to be sure, didn’t correspond to the will and the designs of all the movements that more or less directly participated in the Resistance. Aspirations for a profound, radical economic and social renewal for which the workers, the most advanced sectors of the peasantry, of laborers, of progressive intellectuals fought that , to be sure, didn’t constitute the whole of Italian reality. Other classes, other parties acted in this situation within and outside the Resistance, and fought with varying and contrasting objectives for liberation solely through the work of the Anglo-Americans, aiming at the restoration of capitalism, the return to a regime of conservative democracy. From which came the discord in unity, and the continuous struggle within the CLN to have determined solutions and carry the movement as far forward as possible.

Initially the CLN was indifferent to the strike front, failing to assume a position of active solidarity and support; such an attitude corresponded to a different conception of the action to be carried out in order to reinforce the Resistance and the war of liberation.

The CLNAI indeed voted an order for a day of solidarity with the powerful movement pf the workers of Turin of November to December 1943, but did nothing to give concrete assistance to the movement itself and its development.

The representatives of some of the parties within the CLN maintained that the strikes touched on and hurt certain interests, weakened national unity and alienated from the CLN certain capitalist forces which at that moment were disposed to assist the war of national liberation.

Decisively rejecting these arguments, and maintaining that instead of braking we had the obligation to encourage the organization of the strikes , up to the general political strike in all of German-occupied Italy, up to an insurrectional strike.

We openly criticized the position of certain members of the CLN: for us unity was not a holy arc, an altar before which the interests of the working class and laborers must be sacrificed.

The CLN, if it really wanted to be the leading center of the war for national liberation had to be able not only to be in solidarity with, but had to also organize, assist, support, and strengthen to the highest degree the fight of the working class; had to be able to extend this struggle and other strata of the population participate in it...It was necessary that the CLN become a true combat organization, a truly leading organization of the war of national liberation.

Without denying that here and there were strikes that were relatively spontaneous, the majority of the strikes and agitation were organized.

Initially the Germans allowed the internal commissions to continue to exist; in this way they attempted to keep in their hands the means to control and put a brake on the working masses. The directive was given to all Communists and workers to hinder the internal commissions, to refuse to participate in them and not to participate in their elections. It was obvious that the Germans and the fascists, recognizing the internal commissions, held the workers participating in them responsible for all that occurred in the factories, the production rhythm, for the workers’ protests, for sabotage. The internal commissions were obliged to be true “collaborationist” organisms with the bosses and the Nazi-fascists.

We proposed to the workers to instead name in every factory a secret agitation committee of a unitary character. The task of every agitation committee was to see to the needs and demands of the workers, to organize agitation, to lead strikes, and to strengthen the struggle against the collaborationist industrialists and the Germans and fascists.

In the face of this just position, here and there we found opportunist attitudes which, under the mask of intransigent and extremist positions, claimed that the internal commissions should continue to exist because “’they represented a conquest of the working class.” We decisively rejected such positions; these were conquests which at a given moment had a progressive and revolutionary character, but susceptible in a different situation to being transformed into instruments of collaboration with the class enemy.

In their overwhelming majority the workers understood the directive of the PCI. After just a few days the internal commissions, despite the enticements and threats of the Germans and fascists, resigned. In the main factories there arose secret agitation committees, unitary organisms which at that moment took as their principal task the organization of strikes and agitation against the German invaders and the fascist traitors.

Our directive said that it was expected of Communists to promote the formation of these committees of clandestine agitation and to be their animators, to have them supported by all the workers so they be up to their tasks, which went from immediate, daily demands to the supreme political duty: the preparation of armed action for the driving out of the Germans, for the radical elimination of fascism.

The strikes moved quickly, growing day by day until they reached the general strike in Upper Italy of March 8, 1944 and the days of national insurrection of April 18-25, 1945 ...

We repeat: the strikes were not, except for a few exceptions, “spontaneous.” On the contrary, a great amount of energy was invested in organizing them. The fantasist picture put forth by those who didn’t know the period or participate in the struggle that it was the working class and the masses who from the base called for the continuous struggle at the front against a Communist leadership that intervened to brake, limit, and derail the struggle, does not correspond to reality.

It is precisely the contrary that is true, which is obvious and natural. For us it was relatively easy to elaborate political and organizational directives for the preparation of strikes, attacked by the armed partisan groups of the GAP, for the development of the great mass struggle and larger scale partisan battles. Much more arduous and difficult were the tasks to which these directives applied, translated into action. The workers, and in the first place our comrades, who in the cities and the factories had to apply our directives, knew full well that every strike, even when it was victorious, was followed by arrests, deportations, and executions; they knew they would have to pay, and pay dearly.

In this mass struggle, as in the conduct of the partisan guerrilla war, we certainly made mistakes; there were weaknesses, hesitations even among the most advanced parties in the democratic ranks who had always to confront opposing forces, even within the CLN, and with a complex, harsh and difficult reality. But we never found ourselves following the masses, we never committed the error of being a brake; we only took into account the difficulties the working masses would encounter in applying each of our directives for a bolder, broader and more advanced action. To be sure, we didn’t close our eyes to objections, to observations coming from the base; we weren’t indifferent to the cost, to losses. All of which led us to elaborate directives for actions that corresponded to their possibility of being realized, and not castles in the air. The impression shouldn’t be given that they were elaborated by incompetents or visionaries. The directives were always an incentive to do more, to move ever forward.