Leon Trotsky
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 (https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/897-to-the-masses), pp. 374-379
Translation: John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters & Andy Bluden for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission

Comrades, I shall not dwell on the past of the Italian Socialist Party. Enough has already been said on this subject.

The fundamental reality is the great crisis of last September, which produced the present state of affairs. Even a review from afar of the political situation leaves one with the impression and even the conviction that in the years following the War the Italian proletariat entered on a decidedly revolutionary course. The broad working masses understood everything written in Avanti and everything stated by the speakers of the Socialist Party as a summons to the proletarian revolution. This propaganda struck a responsive chord in the workers’ hearts and awakened their will, resulting in the September events.

Judging the party from a political standpoint, one can only conclude – for this is the only possible explanation – that the Socialist Party of Italy conducted a policy that was revolutionary in words, without ever taking into account any of its consequences. Everybody knows that during the September events no other organisation became as flustered as the Socialist Party of Italy, which had itself paved the way for these events. Now these facts are proof that the Italian organisation – and we should not forget that the party is not only a continuity of ideas, a goal, and a programme but also an apparatus, an organisation, which through its ceaseless action creates a guarantee of victory – in the month of September this organisation was the scene of a gigantic crisis for the proletariat and the Socialist Party of Italy itself.

What conclusions did the Italian proletariat draw from these events? It is very hard to estimate this, given that a class that breaks with its party immediately loses its sense of orientation. But the party: what conclusions has it drawn from this experience? For three years following the War, each and every comrade who came from Italy would tell us: ‘We are ripe, indeed overripe for revolution.’ Everyone there knew that Italy was on the eve of the revolution. When the revolution broke out, the party proved bankrupt. What lessons were drawn from these events? What was done?

Did they say, ‘We were unprepared because our organisation was composed of elements that were completely incompatible and that acted to paralyse each other. To create certain conditions, insofar as this depends on our will, one must have the will to create them'? This, Comrade Lazzari, is the crux of the matter; one must have the will to revolutionary victory. Only if this will exists can one then engage in discussion and undertake to analyse, because strategy is indispensable, and it is impossible to gain victory through a powerful will alone. Strategy is indispensable, but above all else one must have the will to revolution and to its victory. Turati and his friends are in this sense honest, because they declare daily, openly, and unambiguously that they do not want the revolution. They do not want it and yet they remain members of the Socialist Party, indeed a significant part of this party.

You lived through the September experience. But what course did you pursue after this tragic month? You moved further to the right. In your new parliamentary fraction, the reformists – that is, people who don’t want the revolution – constitute the majority. Your central organ Avanti has turned the helm sharply to the right. That is the present state of affairs. It is impermissible to boast about the past when the present situation is so clear and unmistakable. There is a contradiction between lip-service to the revolution and the cruel demands of the revolutionary situation, as we saw in your conduct in September. Out of this contradiction flows one of two things: Either you will renounce the portion of your past that was revolutionary only in its lip-service, and become truly revolutionary; in other words, you will break with the reformists who hinder revolutionary action. Or, on the other hand, you must say: ‘Since we did not want the September events we must likewise reject the methods that called them forth.’

Turati will not fail to make use of the lessons of September; he is shrewd enough to single out the obvious contradiction that it makes evident. So far as you, your party, and your Central Committee are concerned, you are only preserving the confusion that prepared and predetermined in advance the failure of the September events and that has produced the Socialist Party of Italy’s shift to the right. Serrati’s idea lay in bringing forces together. He wanted to keep the Communists, the centrists, and the reformists together within a single party. There was a time when this idea of concentrating forces could be justified by a hope of preserving the maximum of revolutionary forces in the party. That is what he wanted to do. He wanted to unite these three groups in order to be able later to say: ‘Here are the genuine contours of our party; whoever stands outside is hostile to us.’

You have gone through extremely bitter, clear, and tragic experiences. Only afterwards did this idea of ‘concentration’, which is somewhat abstract in and by itself, take on a definite political form.[1] This idea became utterly reformist and not centrist, because the party’s development has now definitely swung to the right.

Turati has declared: ‘In September the proletariat was not yet mature enough.’ Yes, it was not mature. But have you properly explained to the proletariat why the party was not mature? Did you say to the proletariat: ‘Yes, Turati is correct in this sense, that you, Italian workers, were not mature enough, before engaging in decisive action, to cleanse your party of all the elements that paralyse the party’s work. Turati is correct in this sense, that the Italian proletariat by its failure to expel him from its ranks has thereby demonstrated that it was not mature enough for the decisive September actions.’

What is the present situation of the Italian proletariat? I am certain that it has become much wiser after it was involuntarily betrayed by the party in which it had placed its full trust. Comrade Lazzari tends to interpret such expressions in a moral and personal sense. He said: ‘We are accused of treachery, but what did we get for it?’ But it is not a question of betrayal by corrupted individuals. It is a question of the bankruptcy of the party. And in political terms this is nothing else but a betrayal of the interests of the proletariat. I ask myself: What can the Italian proletariat possibly think? The party surely stands terribly discredited in its eyes. A new party has arisen – the Communist Party. We are certain that it will continue to grow even were it to remain as isolated in the future as it is today. This party turns to the proletariat and offers it its revolutionary Communist programme. Are you not afraid that the Italian proletarians will say after listening to you: ‘But we've heard this melody before, we've already been duped in September.’ Thus you have created quite a difficult situation in Italy for a period of time that, let us hope, will be a brief one.

Through energetic and audacious work, the new Italian party must conquer anew genuine revolutionary trust, which is indispensable not only for parliamentary activity – which is something else again – but also for a new assault against capitalist society. It is necessary to conquer anew the revolutionary reputation that the party squandered through its activity, or better said, through its inactivity in September.

You tell us that the followers of Turati submit to party discipline. Yes, it was quite correct to say that a plea had been delivered on behalf of Turati; it was a plea constructed in accordance with all the rules of juridical defence. What is the meaning of party discipline? There is formal discipline, and there is real discipline. Either I act in a certain way because circumstances leave me no choice or because I act of my own free will. In my opinion, there is a clear distinction between these two options. We submit to the discipline of the capitalist state, we submit to capitalist legality – but how? Only to the extent we are compelled to do so. But at the same time we mock bourgeois legality, we create underground organs to circumvent such legality, and we utilise every avenue to break through bourgeois legality or to extend its framework. And what is Turati’s attitude to your discipline? It is exactly the same attitude, Comrade Lazzari. He submits to your discipline as we submit to bourgeois legality. He creates his own illegal organisations, his own faction in your party. He instigates a conspiracy with the government, naturally on the sly and behind your backs. He does everything to extend and to break through the framework of this discipline and, above all, he mocks your discipline in his speeches and in his newspaper. He is therefore our conscious, systematic, and methodical enemy, just as we are the enemies of bourgeois society and its legality. This is the true state of affairs.

You say: ‘But Turati has not given us any real grounds for expulsion. We need facts; we have not got enough facts.’ Yes, it can be flatly stated that even if we continue to wait indefinitely we shall still lack these facts, since Turati knows exactly what he wants. Turati is no run-of-the-mill careerist, eager to become a minister in a capitalist government. Insofar as I can make him out, he has a policy of his own which he wants to carry through. He is not chasing after a ministerial portfolio. I can clearly visualise an interview between Turati and Giolitti. Giolitti says to him: ‘Here is a portfolio that you deserve.’ But Turati replies: ‘Haven’t you listened, my dear colleague, to the fiery speeches of Lazzari? The instant I accept this portfolio, I shall supply him with the pretext he has been waiting for. I will be expelled from the party, and once expelled I shall lose all political importance so far as you and the preservation of the capitalist state are concerned. Since what is at issue is not so much the installation of one more Socialist minister but the support of democracy, that is, the support of capitalist society, I cannot accept your portfolio; for I do not intend to play into the hands of my severe colleague Lazzari. In the interests of bourgeois society let us leave things as they are.’

You say: ‘Aren’t we paying too much attention to Turati, his speeches, his books, his prefaces? Isn’t this rather an isolated incident? It is a quantité négligeable [a trifle]! If that is the case, if so far as you are concerned all that’s involved is a loss of one or more individuals, the loss of a quantité négligeable, then why are you so intransigent? Let us imagine, dear comrades from Italy, that, while we are discussing here, Giolitti rings up Turati on the telephone to inquire: ‘Is there not a danger that Lazzari has left for Moscow to assume some obligations there?’ And Turati answers: ‘No, no! This is purely an isolated incident.’ As you know, capitalist society holds to the principle of division of labour; and by breaking with the Communist International for the sake of safeguarding Turati, you are doing a great service to that society.

You say that you are becoming extremely enthusiastic about the Russian Communist Party and about Soviet Russia. Permit me in this connection to speak somewhat freely, for the benefit not only of the Italian comrades but of all parties. When it comes to talking about us, it happens all too frequently that a very delicate tone is employed, as if to avoid picking a quarrel with us. As all of you know, our situation is extremely difficult. You were present at Red Square and you have seen not only our soldiers and our armed Communists who are ready to come to the defence of the Third International;[2] you've also seen our youth, our children, most of whom go around barefoot and undernourished. On visiting our factories each of you observes our economic and material breakdown, more severe than any other form of poverty.

Whoever arrives in Russia with the hope of finding a communist paradise here will be cruelly disappointed. Whoever comes here with the aim of gathering impressions for eulogising Russia is not a genuine Communist. But whoever comes here in order to collect facts pertaining to our poverty in order to employ them as evidence against communism is our open enemy. (Applause) And here, comrades, is what Turati, a member of your party, has to say about Russia: ‘The Russians have invented the soviets and the Communist International for their own profit and to further their own national interests.’ This is what he told the Italian worker who was dragooned into the War to defend supposed national interests and who was duped like all the others. Today another national bogey is being dangled before him – Soviet Russia, which is seeking to further her own national interests through the Communist International.

Go through the German press for the period of the March events, and you will find there the selfsame thought expressed about the condition of the soviets. It says there that the soviets found themselves terribly discredited at the time, and in order to save herself, Soviet Russia issued, through the Communist International, a command to launch revolutionary action in Germany. Today our perfidious enemies are spreading a legend – and one of its most fervent disseminators is your Turati – to the effect that to bolster up our domestic situation we are demanding of all other parties that they engage in revolutionary actions that have no connection whatsoever with the political and social development of the respective countries. If we permit people who spread such ideas to remain any longer in our International, we can very well bring it into a very difficult situation.

Yes, comrades, we have erected a bulwark of the world revolution in our country. The country is still very backward, still very barbaric. It offers a picture of poverty. But we are defending this bulwark of the world revolution, given that at present there is no other. When another stronghold is erected in France or in Germany, then the one in Russia will lose nine-tenths of its significance; and we will then stand ready to go to you in Europe in order to defend this other, more important stronghold. Comrades, it is absurd to believe that we consider this Russian stronghold of the revolution to be the centre of the world. It is absurd to assume that we believe it is our right to demand of you to make a revolution in Germany or France or Italy, whenever this is required by our domestic policy. Were we capable of such a betrayal, then all of us would deserve to be put against a wall and shot, one by one.

Comrade Lazzari, how can we remain in the same International with Turati who is a member of your party and who calls our International a ‘preposterous International'? These are his very words. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg are dead, but for this International they remain eternally alive. How can we combine within the ranks of our International Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, and Turati? Turati says that our organisation is preposterous. And just think of it, yesterday even he himself was still a member of it. Well, that episode in the life of the Third International is truly preposterous. (Loud applause)



1. The reformist wing of the Italian Socialist Party, the Socialist Concentration faction, held a conference in Reggio Emilia, Italy, on 10 – 11 October 1920.

2. A parade was held in Moscow’s Red Square on 17 June to honour the delegates to the Third Congress.