Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 5 No. 4

Arturo Peregalli

The Left Wing Opposition in Italy
During the Period of the Resistance

This account was especially written for our magazine, and since very little of its story has ever appeared in English, we are convinced that our readers will join us in thanking Arturo Peregalli for writing it, and Barbara Rossi and Doris Bornstein for translating it. It is based upon Peregalli’s Il Partito Comunista Internazionalista, and L’altra Resistenza: Il PCI e le opposizioni di sinistra in Italia, 1943–45, which first appeared as a series of fascicles in the Studi e Ricerche series of the Centro Pietro Tresso (nos. 2, 4, 5, 8, 16, 17 and 21) and later as a full length book published by Graphos (Genoa 1991).

Arturo Peregalli works in a library, and is an independent Marxist historical researcher. Apart from L’altra Resistenza, his publications include Il comunismo di sinistra e Gramsci (Left Wing Communism and Gramsci) (Dedalo, Bari 1978); Il patto Hitler-Stalin e la spartizione della Polonia (The Hitler-Stalin Pact and the Partition of Poland) (Erremme, Roma 1990); L’Urss e i teorici del capitalismo di Stato (The USSR and the Theoreticians of State Capitalism) (in collaboration with R. Tacchinardi) (Lacaita, Lecce 1990); Il declino dell’Urss (The Decline of the USSR) (in collaboration with P. Giussani) (Graphos, Genoa 1991); Stalinismo. Nascita e affermazione di un regime (Stalinism: The Emergence and Consolidation of a Regime) (Graphos, Genoa 1993).

Material on the Italian Left during this period has never been abundant in English. Two accounts that are accessible are those of the International Communist Current, The Italian Communist Left, 1926–45, pp. 150–1, 160–71 (cf. reviews section below); and Cleansing the Augean Stables: The ICC and the Italian Left, Revolutionary Perspectives, no. 22, pp. 30–3.

Good introductions to the general situation and the politics of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) at this time can be consulted in Resistance and Betrayal: Italy 1943–45, and The CIA in Cold War Italy 1948: How the Stalinists Rescued the Italian Bourgeoisie, Workers Vanguard (USA), 26 April 1991 and 26 June 1992; and Anna Libera, The Italian Communist Party at the End of the War, International (IMG), Volume 5, no. 2, Spring 1980, pp. 26–34. Joan Barth Urban’s Moscow and the Italian Communist Party (Ithaca 1986), and Livio Maitan’s From the PCI to the PDS: The Long March of the Italian Communist Party (Notebooks for Study and Research, no. 15, 1991) help to place things in context by providing an overall picture of the PCI’s evolution. Handy short summaries dealing with the wartime and immediate postwar periods can be found in Fran Cetti, Italy 1943: The Betrayal of Liberation, Socialist Worker, 10 July 1993; Ian Birchall, Workers against the Monolith (London 1974, pp. 29–30); Adam Westoby, Communism Since World War Two (Brighton 1981, pp. 21–4); and Gabriel Kolko, The Politics of War (New York 1990, pp. 436–9).

The first reports of the mass ferment and its effects upon the PCI available abroad are of varying worth, ranging from Fenner Brockway’s rather confused Further News About Italian Trotskyists, reprinted from the New Leader of 25 September 1943 in the US Militant, 27 November 1943, to the more accurate accounts of ‘Il Proletario’, In the Italian CP: Left Wing Opposition Emerging, Socialist Appeal, Volume 6, no. 6, October 1944, from La Parola, 19 August 1944; and Arthur Robinson, Italian Trotskyists Gaining Support: Masses Want Soviets, Socialist Appeal, Volume 6, no. 10, January 1945, from the US Militant. For those who wish to catch the flavour of the events as they took place there is ‘Private X’, A Soldier Looks at Italy, Socialist Appeal, Volume 5, no. 17, February 1944; ‘JB’, From a Soldier in Italy, Socialist Appeal, Volume 5, no. 21, Mid-April 1944; ‘Trotskyist Who Is There’, Italy: What Has Happened Since the Invasion, Left, no. 93, July 1944, pp159-65, from the US Labor Action; ‘Peck’, Italian Cabinet Shift, Socialist Appeal, Volume 7, no. 10, Mid-July 1945; Harold Metcalfe, The Background in Italy, Left, no. 117, July 1946, pp. 166–9); Carlo Bivanco, Italian Scene, Socialist Appeal, no. 28, August 1946; and Jack Armor, Report on Italy, New International (USA), Volume 12, no. 9, November 1946, pp. 282–4.

Reminiscences recorded much later include those contained in Sam Bornstein and Al Richardson, War and the International (London 1986, pp. 29–32, 86–7) (Charlie Van Gelderen and Pat McVeigh); Harry Ratner, Reluctant Revolutionary (London 1994, pp. 59–74); and Joe Higgins’ interview with a veteran of the PCI’s resistance, Italy: Return to the Marxist Path, Militant, 27 October 1978.

I. The Rise of Left Wing Opposition Currents

ON 10 June 1943 the Allied army landed in Sicily. This provoked a crisis in Italy, which was to bring Fascism to an ignominious end on 25 July. The task of the new monarchist government, headed by General Badoglio, was to guarantee bourgeois rule during an unstable period, and Badoglio intended to draw into this process the anti-Fascist parties, which at this juncture were reorganising themselves under conditions of semi-legality. He hoped to control the working class, which was showing signs of recovery, by appointing to the leadership of the ex-Fascist trade unions some prominent Communists, Socialists and Christian Democrats, who did their best to pacify the workers, especially during the strikes which erupted in August 1943.

The policies adopted by the left wing parties not only accepted the new monarchist institutions, but were also intended to contain the activity of the working class, which tended to go beyond purely economic struggles. The extremely moderate policies adopted by both the Socialist Party and the Communist Party (PCI) left a gap in which movements inspired by revolutionary Socialism could develop.

The PCI and the Socialist Party did not intend to fight against the whole ruling class, but rather to align with those sections of it which accepted the struggle for ‘democracy’. In practical terms, it was like re-enacting the wars of the Risorgimento [1] in order to re-establish the unity of the national territory, but with one essential difference: this time, the working class, which by now had become a ‘national class’, would act as a vanguard, and set an example to the other classes.

This class collaborationist strategy was strongly criticised by many left wingers, including rank and file members of these two parties. Moreover, the PCI had to justify the substitution of a ‘progressive’ and ‘democratic’ type of struggle for the concept of Socialist revolution. Militant workers, who had been waiting 20 years for ‘liberation’ — liberation, that is, from capital, not from the foreign enemy — could not understand why they should ally with capitalists who were continuing to exploit and oppress them in the factories.

In 1943 there was widespread evidence amongst the PCI’s rank and file of revolutionary politics reminiscent of the early years of Italian Communism. Many documents of the period testify to the ordinary militants’ lack of understanding of the new directives aimed at establishing national unity. One Communist leader, Giorgio Amendola, wrote that ‘as the Central Committee carried out its political activity along the lines of national unity, nearly all the groups with which it was in contact had a sectarian orientation, and, because of this, they tended not to understand or approve of the political initiatives taken by the Central Committee’. [2] For example, Velio Spano’s pamphlet, The Communists and National Unity, which appeared in Southern Italy towards the end of 1943, was denounced by many of the old militants as ‘a downright betrayal of Communism’. [3]

Left wing criticism of the PCI proved very easy at this juncture, as it coincided with the weak position of the Stalinists. To stifle these internal protests, the party’s leadership implemented the policy of ‘the parallel track’ — presenting the moderate course as a tactical manoeuvre, and implying that there was a radical hidden agenda — a policy to which Togliatti finally put an end only in 1956. [4] There were fears that the left wing tendencies within the party and the external opposition, which had emerged in the meantime, would link up. This concern was voiced in false accusations and ferocious attacks. This is the key to understanding the expulsions and the violence (including actual thuggery) directed against any manifestation of left wing opposition. The PCI’s leaders feared the rise of a sizeable left wing rival. One leading Stalinist, Scoccimarro, revealed his fears in a letter of 14 December 1943:

‘There is opposition in Naples ... there is opposition in Rome, in Milan, and undoubtedly elsewhere. There is opposition even in our rank and file ... These various and diverse trends could at some point start to coalesce and find fertile breeding ground in the political immaturity of the Italian working masses, especially amongst the young. Our present policies could offer them some pretexts of apparent justification if they are not conducted and developed with the necessary far-sightedness and with a strict sense of the limit which must separate them from any opportunistic deviations, the germs of which could easily develop, especially if we are to take on responsibilities in the government. So long as we strive towards unity with the Socialist Party, we must at all costs avoid the creation of a pseudo-Communist Party alongside us, a party which would represent a new element of division within the working class.’ [5]

This shrewd understanding explains the ruthlessness with which the official Communists attacked the left wing groups, and why they maintained that those who fought for the Socialist revolution were, in the last analysis, Fascists. [6]

When in September 1943 Badoglio signed an armistice with the Allies, German troops occupied Northern and Central Italy, and the Repubblica Sociale Italiana was created under Mussolini [7], the opposition to Fascism was very fragmented. There were divisions not only amongst the openly ‘democratic’ parties, which were nevertheless seeking unity in the fight against Fascism, but also amongst the political movements which were inspired by the historical experience of the working class.

A number of groups emerged which stood to the left of both the PCI and the Socialist Party, and they succeeded in attracting a significant number of followers, albeit for only a few months. This left wing opposition — if one can call it that — was widespread in the territory that was occupied by the Germans, and that which had been ‘liberated’ by the Allies. However, unlike the two historical left wing parties, this opposition did not appear uniformly across the whole country, but was fragmented into several movements, each with its particular and specific features. Moreover, although they came into existence around the beginning of 1943, they did not play any significant rôle until after the Armistice. Each of them took the form of an autonomous movement or party, with its own press and its own ideology. In the 20 months of war following the Armistice, they tried in vain to overcome their localism by attempting to make contact amongst themselves, or with the PCI and the Socialist Party. However, such was the force of attraction of the two historical parties that they managed to absorb these organisations before the end of the war, or at any rate to draw in many of their militants.

This was due to serious political weaknesses on the part of these groups. On the one hand, they were subjectively revolutionary, and the majority of the opposition considered that the strike wave that swept through many northern cities in March 1943 signified the growth of Socialist sentiments amongst the working masses, and that the collapse of Fascism would coincide with the disintegration of Italian capitalism. On the other hand, however, both the rank and file and the leaderships of these movements were mainly comprised of workers who had previously been active in the PCI, and who had not understood the full significance of the changes in Communist politics that were signified by the Seventh Congress of the Communist International in 1935.

The Partito Comunista Integrale

The Partito Comunista Integrale (Integralist Communist Party) emerged in Turin and its environs. Better known as Stella Rossa (Red Star) from the name of its paper, it had around 2,000 militants in June 1944. Working under conditions which made recruitment very difficult, Stella Rossa was as big as the PCI in Turin. It enjoyed a considerable presence in the big factories, and, according to a PCI leader, Pietro Secchia, in Fiat alone there were around 500 Integralist Communists. [8] Stella Rossa was a fervently Stalinist movement, and it considered that Stalin would assist the Italian working class to bring about a revolution. It believed that it was the real political and military arm of Stalinism in Italy, and argued that Togliatti had not correctly understood Stalin’s directives.

The dispute between Stella Rossa and the PCI was direct and violent, and the latter accused Stella Rossa of lending itself to the manoeuvres of the bourgeoisie, which had discarded their black shirts for ‘democratic’ garb in order to trick the working class more effectively, and to subdue it again. Stella Rossa argued that in calling for national unity, the PCI was betraying the working class, and reinforcing the power of the bourgeoisie. The working class was to maintain its independence from the ‘democratic’ forces grouped in the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale (CLN: National Committee of Liberation). In other words, it bluntly refused to engage in any kind of frontist political activities. [9]

The PC Integrale was vehemently anti-Nazi and anti-Fascist. It was organised into armed bands, and it also created some partisan brigades on the Piedmontese mountains. The fight against Nazi-Fascism was understood as the first stage of the Socialist revolution — after defeating the Fascists, the working class would reckon with the Italian bourgeoisie.

The PCI violently condemned this movement. Not only was it denounced as a movement in the pay of the Nazis, but it went so far as to call on workers to act strongly — that is, militarily — against its militants. The leader of the movement, Temistocle Vaccarella, was openly accused of spying for the Fascists. He was killed when he visited Milan, and his body was found riddled with bullets. He had gone there to meet the Lombard Communist representatives and members of the Socialist opposition with the aim of initiating joint political action. Various factors, most notably the death of Vaccarella and a shared tactical approach to the immediate anti-Nazi struggle, led to the absorption of Stella Rossa into the PCI during early 1945.

The Lavoratore Group

The Lavoratore group, named after its paper, emerged in the Legnano area (north-west of Milan). According to Carlo Venegoni, who together with his brother Mauro led the organisation, as early as 25 July 1943, that is, from the fall of Fascism, the movement had around 400 active supporters, mostly workers. By the start of 1944, Lavoratore had set up branches in Busto, Gallarate, Magenta, Saronno and in the surrounding areas. The paper, printed clandestinely in Milan, had at first a circulation of 10,000 and then 20,000. [10] Lavoratore competed with the PCI for the control of the factories in those areas, and its Executive had Trotskyist tendencies. It strongly criticised both Togliatti’s orientation towards the government and the ‘turn’ of Salerno. [11] Its policies, like those of Stella Rossa, tended towards a two-stage struggle, that the immediate task was to defeat the Nazi-Fascists, and only then to struggle for Socialism.

From the start, Lavoratore declared that it had the right to join the PCI, but it also demanded that the party be more democratic, with less bureaucracy and greater opportunities for political discussion. Unlike Stella Rossa, Lavoratore did not consider that the Soviet Union was central to the struggle for Socialism, because it was only one of the components of the general movement in that direction.

After a short and unsuccessful attempt to assimilate the group, the PCI unleashed a violent indictment of it. It published articles accusing the militants and leaders of Lavoratore of counter-revolutionary activities in the service of Fascism. Towards mid-1944, the Venegoni brothers capitulated to Communist demands, and delivered their movement into the hands of the PCI, which, in a short time, absorbed it organisationally.

The Movimento Comunista d’Italia

In Lazio and particularly in Rome, the most important left wing organisation was the Movimento Comunista d’Italia (Communist Movement of Italy), better known as Bandiera Rossa (Red Flag). This extremely heterogeneous movement came to the fore due to its vigorous fight against the Nazi-Fascists, and for a certain period its influence went unchallenged within the Roman borgate, [12] where poverty and hunger intensified the desire for social change. During the German occupation of Rome, the MCd’I succeeded in creating strong clandestine cells in various factories and many armed bands. Thanks to its wide organisational network, by the end of 1943 it had informers in the police, ministries and even in the army intelligence service. Its militants paid dearly for their struggle against Fascism, and many were tortured and killed. Of the 335 anti-Fascists executed by the Nazis at the Fosse Ardeatine in Rome on 24 March 1944, at least 52 belonged to the MCd’I. From the Armistice in September to the beginning of June 1944 Bandiera Rossa suffered 186 deaths, 137 arrests and deportations, and had 1,183 officially recognised fighters — five more than the Roman PCI, and 481 more than the Socialist Party. Unlike other political groupings, which carefully screened their recruits, the MCd’I’s quantitative increase brought into it suspect elements who did great damage to the movement. So, alongside a fine poet like Guido Piovene, we also find, at least for a short time, misfits like Giuseppe Albani, known as the Gobbo (Hunchback) of the Quarticciolo. [13]

Despite its professed Stalinist convictions, there were elements inside Bandiera Rossa who had little or nothing to do with Stalinism, such as Anarchists and activists very far removed from Socialism. The membership of the MCd’I stood at around 2500 in late 1943 and early 1944, roughly equal to the strength of the PCI in the areas in which the MCd’I operated. However, by this time the PCI was an expanding force, whereas the MCd’I was already starting to decline.

The MCd’I claimed that, unlike the PCI, it was implementing Stalin’s ‘true’ policy in Italy, and it believed that Togliatti was carrying out his own policies. Bandiera Rossa avoided the difficult problem of the Soviet recognition of the Badoglio government by claiming that Stalin would recognise the legitimate representatives of the Italian people as soon as they made ‘their strength felt’. [14] This fundamental political question was left unresolved, and it was to have a far greater effect on the movement than any temporary tactical error.

Claiming the mantle of ‘genuine’ Marxism, the MCd’I bitterly criticised the PCI, which, by accepting an alliance with bourgeois parties, no longer deserved the title ‘Communist’. Like the other opposition movements, Bandiera Rossa accused the PCI of being monolithic and bureaucratised. Nevertheless, at first Bandiera Rossa had considered that it would be able to clarify matters with the PCI, but attempts at cooperation were prevented by the latter’s intransigence and refusal to engage in political debate. However, although the Central Committee of Bandiera Rossa subsequently ruled out cooperation with the PCI, this did not prevent joint work occurring at a rank and file level, and militants of both organisations worked together in many struggles against the Nazi-Fascists. [15] After its failure to open discussions with the PCI, Bandiera Rossa continued to call for working class revolutionary activity, which it optimistically saw as leading to the Socialist revolution, and it maintained its bitter opposition to those who wished to cooperate with Badoglio and the monarchy.

Despite its claims to independence and autonomy, the position taken by this Roman trend seems typical of the efforts made by extreme left tendencies to overcome their isolation by advocating the creation of a broad front of proletarian organisations as an alternative to agreements between working class and bourgeois forces. Their critique of the unitary agreement of the parties in the CLN ran parallel with their call for the creation of a left wing front that was capable of splitting the ‘democratic’ front. Bandiera Rossa warned that any collaboration with the bourgeois forces in the CLN would result in the ‘representatives of the people’ playing a key rôle in the salvaging of the monarchy. No support was to be given to bourgeois forces, and the CLN was to be replaced by ‘a bloc of all anti-capitalist left wing parties which have never been subordinated to and never collaborated with the ruling bourgeoisie’, with the aim of ‘defending Italy, first from foreign domination, and then from bourgeois rule’. In October 1943 the creation of a united front of all such left wing groups was possible, but nothing came of it.

In the winter of 1943–44 Bandiera Rossa maintained its anti-German and sabotage activities. The borgate were firmly in the hands of the movement, and the Nazis simply stopped frequenting them. In the area of Tor Pignattara, for example, Uccio Pisino, a leader of the MCd’I (who later died in the Fosse Ardeatine) even trained his men in broad daylight.

In March 1944 Bandiera Rossa prepared a plan to free one of its leaders, Aladino Govoni, who had been arrested and imprisoned in the Regina Coeli, but the movement was hit by another wave of arrests. On 23 March the Roman Gruppi di Azione Patriottica killed 32 German soldiers in an ambush. In the ensuing exchange of fire, some MCd’I militants who were passing by, and who were unaware of the Resistance forces’ plans, became involved. The Germans’ retaliation, with the massacre of the Fosse Ardeatine, hit Bandiera Rossa heavily. In a desperate attempt to save their comrades, the movement sent the Nazis a document in which it politically dissociated itself from the partisans’ action. But the Germans had already executed them, and even if the appeal had arrived in time, it was extremely unlikely that the Nazis would have taken it into account, as they had already demonstrated their hostility towards the militants of Bandiera Rossa, by using them in trials that had been organised to intimidate the entire Roman resistance.

The Nazis’ arrests of the MCd’I’s militants and their retaliation to the attack in Rome had struck a terrible blow to the movement, which then strongly condemned all terrorist attacks. The first issue of its new publication Direttive Rivoluzionarie (Revolutionary Directives), issued on 29 March, argued that it was imperative to save human lives and to avoid any act which would lead to a retaliation disproportionate to the achieved result. Moreover, it stated that the MCd’I’s action was merely defensive, and had to remain so until a new orientation was elaborated. In the same issue it was evident that the leaders of Bandiera Rossa were reflecting on the weakness of their organisation: by now the Socialist revolution was no longer seen as an immediate prospect. After the ‘liberation’ of Rome in June 1944, Bandiera Rossa attempted to organise a ‘Red Army’ to fight Nazi-Fascism on a working class basis, but this was prevented by the Allies and the Italian government.

The ferocious attacks by the Fascists were complemented by a worsening of relations with the PCI. Its paper, Unità , accused the ‘irresponsible small groups’, whose extremist policies favoured ‘Hitler’s propaganda’, of having an ‘objectively provocative function’. By the end of the war, the PCI had become an irresistible pole of attraction, [16] and Bandiera Rossa survived as the paper of a very small group whose last traces were to be found at the close of the 1940s.

The Centro Marxista d’Italia

In Campania, apart from the Left Wing Faction of the Italian Communists and Socialists (with which we deal below), we find the Centro Marxista d’Italia (Marxist Centre of Italy), a small party founded in May 1944, a little after the ‘Salerno turn’. Its paper, Il Pensiero Marxista (Marxist Thought), posed the need to build within the proletariat a cadre capable of developing and maintaining a fighting spirit, in order to achieve both immediate aims and victory in the future. Its relationship to Marxism, perhaps due to its position in the Socialist and Anarchist movement, was indirect, and the group had a libertarian Socialist colouring.

The Centre criticised the leaders of the PCI and Socialist Party for their class collaborationist policy, and it turned its attention to the rank and file activists, whom it considered could be won to revolutionary politics. Its practical activities took place within the red Confederazione Generale del Lavoro (CGL: General Confederation of Labour), which it defended against the proposal to dissolve it into the Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro (CGIL: Italian General Confederation of Labour), which had been formed in June 1944 in Rome by the leaders of the PCI, the Socialist Party and the Christian Democrats.

It is difficult to establish the fate of this movement — whose traces are lost in August 1944 — and where its militants went. However, it is very likely that at least some of them joined the Socialist Party and the PCI.

Other Socialist Oppositions

Socialist oppositions surfaced in several organisations, of which two became especially important due to the high calibre of their leaders. One such movement was led by Lelio Basso, who in January 1943 had already founded the Movimento di Unità Proletaria per la Repubblica Socialista (Movement of Proletarian Unity for a Socialist Republic), which, in August 1943, fused with the old Socialist Party to produce the Partito Socialista Italiano di Unità Proletaria (PSIUP: Italian Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity), the official Socialist Party. Its frustration with the excessively moderate policies of this party, which anticipated merely a ‘democratic’ republic emerging from the war, led Basso and his followers to form the Fronte Proletario Rivoluzionario (Proletarian Revolutionary Front) — whose paper was also called Bandiera Rossa — in Milan at the end of October 1943. This movement had drawn together a mass of individuals who disagreed with the pro-‘democratic’ line of the Socialist Party, and it emerged with a fervently anti-front policy. [17] Whilst it did not rule out participation in the Resistance struggle, it sought to link it to a resolute struggle for a Socialist revolution. Its historical inspiration was Rosa Luxemburg rather than Lenin. The policies of this group stood well to the left of the PCI, and for this reason the Communists accused it of selling out to the Nazis. But, as is always the case, even if in certain historical moments the Socialists endorse maximalist attitudes, in the end they return to their real home. This was exactly what happened in the case of Basso, who returned to the Socialist Party in June 1944, and was to rise high in its apparatus, becoming its President in 1965.

Another left wing Socialist movement was the Unione Spartaco (Spartacist Union), which was led by Carlo Andreoni, who was also a former member of the MUP. This movement grew up in Central Italy, particularly in Rome. As a leader of the PSIUP, Andreoni argued after the Armistice that the Socialists should leave the CLN. As an alternative, he called for the creation of a wide front including all left wing forces and left opposition groups. In the winter of 1943–44, whilst still in the Socialist Party, Andreoni politically distanced himself more and more from it. He commanded a military wing that was totally separate from the party. In July 1944 he published a paper called Il Partigiano (The Partisan), with which he tried to capitalise on the dissent, long established in sections of the Roman resistance, against the subordination of the parties and the CLN to the monarchy. In November 1944 this informal movement became a genuine political group. In the meantime, it had changed ideologically, increasingly endorsing both open libertarian Socialist and nationalist ideas, and it proposed the creation of a Yugoslav-type ‘People’s Army’ in Italy. Andreoni’s new group succeeded in influencing some partisan brigades which were fighting in Central Italy.

By contrast, the Partito Italiano del Lavoro (Italian Party of Labour) was an essentially Lombard-Emilian movement. It was the product of the merging of two existing Socialist groups with similar politics to the Partito d’Azione (Action Party). [18] It adhered to an humanitarian Socialist orientation, and considered that the road to Socialism was through a struggle for the moral regeneration of the nation, in which the working class would play the leading rôle. The movement’s paper, La Voce del Popolo (The Voice of the People), at first advocated abstentionism in the fight against the Germans, as the war was led by the monarchy, and it was necessary to save human lives. Instead, it invited the population to take up arms and intervene when it became possible to drive out not only the foreign enemy, but also the internal enemy, that is, the Italian ruling class. This stance led the PCI to accuse the PIL of being at best ‘cowardly’, and at worst ‘pro-Fascist’. However, around mid-1944 this ‘non-collaboration’ became ‘active defence’. Whilst keeping its distance from the CLN, the PIL entered into genuine partisan activities, and its militants ended up in the Garibaldi Brigades. [19] A small core of individuals in Milan tried to continue along the lines of the original policies of the PIL by emphasising its class aspects, but the movement broke up at the end of the war, and its militants were dispersed inside the parties of the historical left.

The Partito Operaio Comunista (Communist Workers Party), which called itself Trotskyist, was established in Apulia and above all in Foggia, and is covered elsewhere in this journal. [20]

The Political Weakness of the Left Wing Currents

All the opposition movements, whilst relating in varying degrees to Marxism, and foreseeing a revolutionary outcome of the workers’ struggles in the immediate achievement of Socialism in Italy, differed in their theoretical foundations. Some, like Stella Rossa and the MCd’I, stemmed directly from Stalinism, and represented an extreme version of it. In reality, they created a Stalinist policy in their own image. Their polemics against the PCI were conducted in the name of Stalin. This stance showed its limitations after the ‘Salerno turn’ and Moscow’s recognition of the Badoglio government, yet they continued to delude themselves that Stalin was promoting a revolutionary policy. Other groups, whilst considering the Soviet Union as an important point of reference for the workers’ movement in their fight against Nazism, pointed to its limitations, albeit not openly. This was the case of Lavoratore, with its latent Trotskyism.

However, the attraction of the Soviet Union during these last years was so strong that even Basso’s Bandiera Rossa, always critical of Moscow, praised it as a ‘proletarian bulwark’ against Nazism, and for taking part in that ‘worldwide class struggle in alliance with the proletariat of the entire world’. [21] The Partito Comunista Internazionalista (Internationalist Communist Party) and the Unione Spartaco regarded the Soviet Union as a capitalist state, just like the other warring nations, whereas the Left Wing Faction of the Italian Communists and Socialists and the Centro Marxista d’Italia, whilst criticising Soviet policies, expressed less damning judgements.

Despite their differences on various issues, all the left opposition movements strongly criticised the policies of the PCI and the Socialist Party, which they considered to be repudiating any prospect of Socialism. They considered that the Italian bourgeoisie was responsible for the rise of Fascism, and declared that any alliance with it would mean giving it new life and the opportunity to regain the political and social initiative in the country. Stella Rossa, for example, argued fervently against this orientation:

‘Rather than proceeding correctly, without compromises, until the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, what are the Socialists and centrists of Unità doing? They utterly betray the proletarian tradition of class struggle, and adhere to the bloc of the national bourgeois parties ... The Italian masses have little to gain and all to lose from an alliance with capitalism. In fact capitalism, regaining power with a democratic government, would turn all its weapons against us.’ [22]

Lavoratore criticised the PCI:

‘Today — when Fascism is exhausted — taking an anti-Fascist attitude whilst washing one’s hands of the crimes of the past is simply not enough; the Italian bourgeoisie, guilty of so many crimes, so many deaths and so much ruin ... must perish together with the monarchy and Fascism.’ [23]

According to Basso, the proletarian revolution was an inevitable necessity because, from the moment when it had organised Fascism at a national level, the Italian bourgeoisie had shown that it was incapable of governing with civilised methods. The fusion between Fascism and the bourgeoisie had been so strong that its attempt to promote a democratic image by disposing of Mussolini was only partially successful. If it was absurd to think of a Fascism with a republican face, it was equally absurd to dream of a liberal bourgeois Italy.

For Bandiera Rossa in Rome, the ‘real’ Fascism was not dead, and the king of Italy and Badoglio did not intend to crush it, but merely to ‘change its face’.

Although the ‘sinistri’ [24] were often accused of having a ‘wait and see attitude’, in the main they constantly and resolutely fought Fascism and Nazism, as they thought that fighting Fascism to the finish would ignite a revolution. In fact, the majority accepted the war, not as a purely national event, but as the class struggle transposed onto an international plane. The military struggle was seen as the starting point for a social revolution after the defeat of Fascism. In practice, they were thinking of a ‘permanent’ revolution. For this reason the pseudo-Socialist mask worn by the Salò Republic did not decrease their anti-Fascist feelings, and they immediately started to demystify the ‘new’ Fascism and its ‘socialisation’.

Stella Rossa declared that it was ‘the same Fascists of the past, who after being royalists, capitalists, reactionaries and plutocrats’, now had the ‘nerve to call themselves republicans and Socialists’. Their ‘pseudo-Socialist programme’ was intended to attract the working masses, but could only appeal to ‘the naive’. [25] It was therefore necessary to ‘fight Fascism openly and with all possible means’, and to oppose in the most suitable way the war that Fascism had unleashed. Basso, accused by the Stalinists of playing a ‘wait and see game’, reminded them that he did not wait until 22 June 1941, the day on which Germany attacked the Soviet Union, to decide on his anti-Fascist stand. [26]

These movements were not surprised by the ‘Salerno turn’, they merely regarded it as a tactical adjustment that would extend the all-class alliance to the royalists. Their critique of the PCI’s policies covered more than just the changes after March 1944. Basso claimed that the turning point had occurred in 1936. However, they had difficulty in developing a systematic critique of Stalinism, for this would have necessitated a thoroughgoing reassessment, and consequently would have obliged them to endorse a considerably more radical standpoint, such as that of the PC Internazionalista. This explains both the theoretical weaknesses of these movements, and, to a certain extent, their organisational disintegration and absorption into the two parties of the historical left. The continuation of the war meant that the differences between them and the PCI in respect of the postwar situation was of decreasing significance. The struggle of the day became more pressing, and theory was increasingly replaced by discussions of a merely organisational nature. Communist and Socialist leaders easily convinced many militants that the situation after the war depended on the strength which they could exert during it. There were other reasons for the demise of the opposition movements; the harshness of their treatment and their isolation should not be underestimated. They were often denounced as ‘Gestapo agents’, and their life was made difficult not only by the Fascists, but also by the ‘democratic’ parties.

But the underlying reason of the failure of the left wing opposition is due to the fact that the working class did not achieve political independence. The height of workers’ autonomy was reached during the strikes of March 1943. From then on, and especially after the Armistice in September 1943, the ‘democratic’ parties succeeded in subordinating class demands to the military struggle, and in diverting proletarian militancy into a policy of ‘national liberation’. The opposition currents accurately predicted the consequences of the policy of national unity in respect of the postwar social structure of Italy. Nevertheless, the umbilical cord which still joined many of these movements to the ideology of the historical parties of the left had not been cut, and their assimilation by the latter was inescapable.

II. The Left Wing Faction of the Italian Communists and Socialists

THE HISTORY of the Italian Communist Left from 1943 to 1945 is still largely unknown, mainly because of the ferocious criticism that it has drawn from the Stalinists. In fact, in its fight against the left wing opposition, the Executive Committee of the Communist International had customarily equated so-called ‘Bordigism’ with Trotskyism, regarding the former to be the Italian expression of the latter. The Stalinists’ criticisms of the Italian Communist Left still influence the history of the official workers’ movement, which either ‘forgets’ its existence or repeats the accusations which the Soviet leadership and the PCI made against it in the past, if in a more restrained way.

The Italian Left, which started to revive in 1942–43, stemmed directly from the original PCd’I, [27] with a direct link which ran from the theories put forward by Amadeo Bordiga in 1922 to those drafted for the Congress of Lyon in 1926. There was also a link with the political experience of the left wing militants who were forced into exile in France and Belgium during the period of the Fascist dictatorship. The Left Wing Faction of the PCd’I (later to become the Faction of the Communist Left) published two papers, Prometeo (Prometheus), which started in 1928, and Bilan, which started in 1933 and appeared fairly regularly, surviving until the eve of the Second World War. [28]

Despite being seen as its ideal leader, Bordiga did not take part in the activities of the Faction. After prison and internal exile, he chose to remain in Italy, and he resumed his work as an engineer. However, there is no truth in the commonly heard claim that he had ‘abandoned the fight’. [29] The truth is far simpler: he thought that the working class had suffered a crushing defeat, and hence it was not worthwhile conducting any direct political activity until the situation had changed. For this reason he refused to join his followers abroad (who, together with Trotsky, had called on him to leave Italy), and he turned down the approaches of the new leaders of the PCI.

Bordiga considered that the Second World War was an imperialist conflict which had succeeded in involving the entire world proletariat, and this made any chance of its recovery on an independent basis even more remote. Not even the partisan movements, born at that time to oppose Nazi-Fascism, kept their class independence, since they took part in the military conflict, taking orders from a military command.

When the first left wing opposition movements were created during the war, Bordiga did not think that the time for reconstituting the ‘real’ Communist Party had come. He saw its reconstitution only in relation to a future resumption of general proletarian class struggle, and solely on the basis of a revolutionary process. In particular, this should be based on firm principles, and tied to a very precise programme. For this reason, although Bordiga offered his support and advice to the Left Faction of the Italian Communists and Socialists when it emerged in Southern Italy, he did not officially join it. [30]

After landing in Sicily in July 1943, the Allied army slowly moved northwards, and finally arrived in Rome in June 1944. The north was only ‘liberated’ in April 1945. Italy was thus cut in two by the military front line. Political life in the south resumed during these 10 long months, and trade unions and political parties were reformed. The CGL was spontaneously revived by rank and file left wingers, such as Trotskyists and Socialist and Communist oppositionists, and by members of the Partito d’Azione. The leadership of the PCI chose to keep its distance from this vast working class movement.

After taking a ministerial post in the government, one of the most pressing problems for the PCI was how to achieve theoretical and organisational homogeneity. Confused political concepts and uncontrolled organisational initiatives still existed within the party. A faction of radical PCI members in the CGL constantly clashed with the party’s Central Committee on all issues relating to the workers. On his return from the Soviet Union, Togliatti realised that this current had to be destroyed if its supporters refused to accept his new orientation, and they were duly expelled from the PCI. As a result, a large group of ‘excluded individuals’ was created, who, in the main, decided to organise themselves outside the party, but — at least for the time being — not in any alternative political organisation.

The formation of the Faction not only involved those who were expelled from the PCI at this time, but also activists who had previously been expelled because of their links with the left, such as Ludovico Tarsia and Antonio Natangelo, plus some comrades who, like Edoardo Magnelli, had supported the Faction of the Communist Left abroad with Enrico Russo. Unlike Russo, however, these comrades had not left Spain, but had remained until the war began. The main figure in the Faction was Renato Matteo Pistone, who had lived in Spain in the 1930s, and was in direct contact with the Trotskyist opposition. The convergence of these diverse individuals led to a theoretical discussion which, even in its disagreements, carried on the politics of the old PCd’I, and particularly its left wing. These exchanges brought the whole movement towards positions which were in complete opposition to Stalinism.

Because they considered that the time to create a ‘new’ Communist Party had not yet come, these individuals oriented to the existing left wing parties, the PCI and the PSIUP, which were attracting an ever-increasing number of workers. The Faction sought to draw the existing left wing parties back to a working class standpoint — if there was still any chance of doing so — and only to form an independent party if this task proved impossible, or if the situation demanded a clear demarcation between revolutionary and reactionary forces. [31] Although the movement called itself a faction, its structure was nevertheless that of a party, with Central and Executive Committees, and a democratic centralist constitution.

An immediate task was the formulation of a critique of the PCI’s strategy of national unity. The origins of these policies were to be found in the decisions of the Third Congress of the Communist International, which were seen as marking a shift away from a direct assault upon capitalism, and towards a compromise with reformist organisations. This had merely been a tactical error which could have been corrected, but the degeneration that had occurred since then had resulted in the PCI proposing unity with the bourgeoisie, and selling it to the workers as a necessary compromise.

Despite the intentions of its founder members to recruit only ‘selected elements’, the Faction soon became a mass organisation, expanding fairly rapidly in Naples, Campania and the other southern Italian regions, and most notably in Calabria. Many branches soon appeared in Naples and the surrounding areas, with over 1000 members and supporters. The movement grew larger with every new expulsion or voluntary resignation from the PCI. Members of the PCI sometimes resigned in protest against disciplinary action taken by the leadership against fellow comrades. For example, when Vincenzo Iorio, Secretary of the Chamber of Labour in Naples and a member of the Faction, was expelled, a group of Communists resigned from the party in solidarity. [32]

Branches of the Faction were established in Castellammare, Torre Annunziata, Avellino, Salerno and in countless other towns in Campania. Elsewhere in the south the movement expanded in Apulia, and, with the progressive ‘liberation’ of Italy, it expanded northwards, to Rome and Grosseto, and later Florence.

The PCI appeared to pay no attention to the Faction, and never directly referred to it in its official press. It preferred to work secretly, spreading damaging comments about individual members. However, it deeply feared this movement, and the liquidation of the CGL was part of its fight to break the Faction’s links with the working masses. Any expression of left wing opposition was contemptuously called ‘Trotskyist-Bordigist’, with the usual simple equation: ‘Trotskyism equals Fascism.’

The Left (as the Faction sometimes called itself) replied to these accusations almost as if it was a crime to be a ‘Trotskyist-Bordigist’, and it stated that it was simply a Marxist movement. It repudiated any affinity with Trotskyism, for defending Trotsky from the lies of Stalinism did not mean endorsing his theories and political views. [33] The Faction hoped thus to refute both the PCI’s accusations and the critique of the Italian Trotskyists in Naples, who were also active within the CGL.

The polemics in the Faction’s press were mainly directed against the PCI’s participation in the government, which was seen as a ‘sinister betrayal’. One of the papers published by the Faction, Il Proletario (The Proletarian), argued that the Communists had joined the government with the aim of establishing ‘progressive democracy’. But who did they enlist to ‘establish this progressive anti-bourgeois and anti-capitalist democracy, if not the same parties which were the offspring of these very classes’? [34] The Faction focused its attention upon the Christian Democratic Party, the party favoured in the PCI’s agreements, and its function in Italian society, and it correctly recognised this Catholic party as the axis around which all the other parties would soon revolve, because the close links between the Vatican and the big Italian capitalists were clearly visible. The Faction condemned the PCI’s pursuit of an alliance with the Christian Democrats as a total abdication of the defence of the working class. [35]

The main accusation against Togliatti was that it was his intention to eliminate class struggle from the political agenda, and to involve the proletariat in a military conflict which he represented as a fight to free ‘our oppressed brothers’. [36] In contrast to Stalin and Togliatti, the Faction considered that the war was an imperialist conflict for the repartition of the world into spheres of influence. Il Proletario then made a prediction which was soon to come true:

‘Next an army will be created under the banner of the king, and after this army has “liberated” the rest of Italy, the leader of the Communist Party will be faced with a dilemma: he will have to disarm the Communist partisans, or invite them to turn their weapons against the bourgeoisie once and for all ... We are certain that the Marxist Ercoli [Togliatti] will disarm the proletariat.’ [37]

The Faction criticised the participation of workers’ organisations in the CLN because it did nothing to defend the interests of the working class, and because it was decided upon by their leaders without any discussion amongst the rank and file.

The Faction had great hopes in the partisan forces, but not because it considered them to be a revolutionary Socialist movement. The left in southern Italy was well aware that this movement was divided into several tendencies. The Faction carefully monitored only the Communist bands, because it considered that once they had become disillusioned with the PCI, they would develop into ‘real’ Communists. [38] Togliatti, on the other hand, wanted to restrict these forces to the struggle between Italian and German capitalists for ‘national liberation’.

The Faction had scathing words for the new monarchical government, in which all the bourgeois forces took part, claiming that ‘the bourgeoisie knows very well on which forces it can rely, and which of these will, when the right time comes, have to be unleashed’. A short while ago there were generals and squadristi to keep the masses under the state, whilst ‘today we need democrats’. [39]

Fascism had been created by the bourgeoisie, but, on 25 July 1943, the latter had rejected it, and this marked a definite move in the game, a game which no one would have played if the pseudo-proletarian parties had not supported it. These parties were actively helping to divert attention from the real responsibility of the bourgeoisie, and located the basis of Fascism, not in capital and the bourgeoisie, but only in certain specifically reactionary sections of it.

The Faction reached the masses, as we have said, through its work within the unions. The CGL, with Enrico Russo as its Secretary, was the crucial link with the working class and peasant masses. Although other opposition movements of southern Italy were represented in the Naples union, such as the Centro Marxista d’Italia, the Partito Operaio Comunista and other groups of lesser relevance, the Faction undoubtedly played the leading rôle.

At the trade union congress held in Salerno in February 1944, ‘the left gained a notable success when it won two of the three posts which were reserved for the Communist Party’. [40] The Faction was confronted by the increasing hostility of the PCI, which took the form of attempts to break down the solidarity of its trade union leaders with despicable manoeuvres, and to isolate them with the use of vile slanders. The Faction considered that the creation of the CGIL was of great significance: ‘Trade unions no longer defend the working masses: they have been absorbed within the sphere of influence of the state, a bourgeois state which defends bourgeois interests.’ [41] Later on, to confirm this judgement, the Faction published Trotsky’s writings from 1940 on the rôle of the trade unions in the advanced phase of capitalism.

Faced with the decision of the ‘democratic’ parties to establish a new ‘united’ and class collaborationist trade union by disregarding the union which had been created by the working masses, the left closed ranks around the CGL in an intransigent defence of this organisation, even when its members were already resigned to its dissolution. On 28 October 1944 La Sinistra Proletaria (Proletarian Left) reported that the Allied authorities had withdrawn permission to publish Battaglie Sindicali (Trade Union Struggles), the paper of the CGL that was edited by the Trotskyist Nicola Di Bartolomeo. The Faction soon reached the conclusion that the only means remaining to defend the working class was by working within the CGIL.

The Faction’s general opinion of the other opposition groups in Italy was positive, and considered that these groups could help to build a working class alternative to the ‘centrist’ PCI, particularly because, as Il Proletario stated, their rank and file was insisting upon revolutionary unity. [42] The Faction wanted to establish contacts with other opposition groups as it considered that events in Italy were ‘increasingly taking on the character typical of a pre-revolutionary situation’, at a time when there still was no ‘compact and truly class-based party’. [43]

After reaching the conclusion that these groups represented positive forms of opposition, the Faction behaved towards them with some sectarianism on a theoretical level, and it refused to unite with any of them. The Faction agreed to discussions and debates, but its leaders refused to compromise on theoretical issues. This intransigence was above all due to the need to maintain the independence of the vanguard of the working class in view of the impending revolutionary situation. [44] The union of the masses in northern Italy with those of the south would transform Italy into a powder keg. This had not yet happened, but it would occur sooner or later. The strength of the Italian proletariat would then be complemented by the recovery of the European working class, which, after a long period of demoralisation, would spring back to life.

After the ‘liberation’ of Rome, the Allied armies advanced faster, and in October they reached a front line which ran from Pisa to Rimini, the famous Gothic Line, where they were halted until the spring. That month, the government formed by Bonomi and Togliatti refused to allow the legal publication of Il Proletario, [45] and a few months later La Sinistra Proletaria received the same treatment. Shortly before that, the same fate had befallen the paper Frazione di Sinistra salernitana (Left Wing Faction of Salerno), which the movement of that name published in the city. So, in a fully ‘democratic’ period, opposition papers were forced — as before — to circulate illegally.

Divided amongst themselves, the small left opposition groups were unable to oppose these repressive moves, and what strength did they have compared with the new state? The only opposition movement which could have become a unifying pole of attraction was the Faction. At the end of 1944, the Faction called for a congress to be held in January 1945 of all the representatives of ‘the left opposition centres’, as well as the representatives of ‘the other movements and factions of parties’. The congress, ‘private’ in character, ended with no practical conclusions, despite the importance ascribed to it by La Sinistra Proletaria. [46] In the end, after a motion was carried that called for the need to establish a working class party, a four-member committee drawn from each group was created, with the task of preparing the ‘first public congress of the left opposition of central and southern Italy’. [47] After a short while, however, nothing further was heard of this congress.

In the new year, the Faction entered into a period of intense and widespread activity. Branches were set up almost everywhere in the south. The Faction decided to publish a leaflet which would summarise its general views. Entitled Per le Costituzione del Vero Partito Comunista (For the Creation of a True Communist Party), this leaflet was drafted by Renato Matteo Pistone and Libero Villone, with help from Bordiga. It stated that by now it was quite impossible to steer the two traditional left wing parties towards revolutionary politics, and that the opposition movement must create a ‘true’ Communist Party. This ideological ‘strictness’ was illustrated by a reference to the recent experience of the Communist movement, based upon the critique developed by the Italian Left of the degeneration of the Third International and the Soviet Union. The exiled opposition under Fascism had considered that this was the central issue to be resolved, in order to pave the way for the recovery of the Socialist movement. The crucial political problems were rooted in the political transformation that had occurred in the Soviet Union. The victory of the ‘centrists’ over the Leninist forces in the Soviet Union had resulted in the triumph of bureaucratic interests, thus leading to the creation of two opposing and conflicting classes. Although the exploitative class relationship within the Soviet Union was recognised, no intelligible definition of its social character was provided, and it was unclear whether the Soviet socio-economic structure should still be considered as ‘degenerated Socialism’, or overtly capitalist.

The prime task facing the Faction was the building of the revolutionary party, as it considered that its absence in an objectively favourable situation would be a catastrophe for the workers’ movement.

In the same period, the PCI’s press intensified its attacks against ‘leftism’. In January the theoretical paper of the PCI, Rinascita, advocated that the Greek ‘Trotskyists’ be gassed. On 5 January in Rome L’Unità published an article entitled For The Purity Of Our Party: Revolutionary Alertness. Four days later an editorial by Velio Spano appeared under the title Empty Extremism and Reactionary Positions. And two weeks later the same Communist leader referred to opposition Communists as ‘political bandits’. [48]

After the end of the war, all prospects of unification with other groups in the south of Italy were abandoned. Nevertheless, the question remained open as to whether a party could be created on a national basis. Considerable differences of opinion emerged within the Faction, which led to the rise of two currents, one led by Libero Villone and Enrico Russo, and the other headed by Ludovico Tarsia, La Camera, Maruca and Pistone. The first current called for a less intransigent and more ‘flexible’ political stance, whereas the second increasingly shifted towards the rigid politics of the original PCd’I.

In the meantime, the ‘liberation’ of the north offered the Faction the opportunity of meeting the Partito Comunista Internazionalista, with which it agreed to merge in July. This political move quickly reduced the influence of the organisation, and caused many militants to leave: Enrico Russo went over to the PSIUP, some rejoined the PCI, and others, like Libero Villone, joined the Partito Operaio Comunista.

III. The Partito Comunista Internazionalista

THE PARTITO Comunista Internazionalista, more widely known from the title of its paper as the Prometeo group, differed radically from all the other Italian left wing movements of its time. Its character was so unique that the PCI used it as a yardstick when condemning the policies of the various organisations which stood to its left.

Although the party was formally launched on 8 September 1943, its organisational structure was in place long before then. The movement was at first centred in Milan, which was the main city in Lombardy and the centre of anti-Fascism in northern Italy, and steps were made to establish the party elsewhere. The Internationalists made their first contact with other left wing movements in Milan during 1942. This did not lead to any cooperation taking place, as the intransigent positions and the historical and theoretical traditions of this group meant that they had little in common with any of the other movements formed during the war.

Like the Left Wing Faction in the south, the PC Internazionalista claimed as its source of inspiration both the PCd’I of 1921 and the Italian Faction of the Communist Left formed in France in the period of the anti-Fascist emigration. However, this tradition was re-established by the militants who had remained in Italy and had filled the Fascist prisons and places of internal exile (confinos). One of its leading members was Onorato Damen, who had a long past as a militant, first in the PSI and later in the PCd’I. He had repeatedly been arrested and sentenced under the Fascist regime. Bruno Maffi had been in the radical anti-Fascist Giustizia e Libertà , and was won to revolutionary Communism in 1935 whilst in internal exile. Amongst other militants who helped form and develop the organisation were Mario Acquaviva, Secondo Comune from Asti, Fausto Atti from Bologna, Vasco Rivolti and Gian Carlo Porrone from Turin, and Attilio Formenti from Voltolina. Subsequently, many militants, including Mauro Stefanini, Gigi Danielis and Tullio Lecci, returned from abroad and gradually joined the evolving organisation, bringing with them their experience of the struggle in exile. Other militants were later freed from prison during the 45 days of Badoglio’s rule.

Studies of the Resistance have recognised the rôle played in the class struggle in northern Italy by the militants who helped form this movement, and their presence in the strikes of March 1943 has been confirmed by more than one source. [49] The party grew rapidly between the fall of Fascism and the Armistice, and it succeeded in publishing Prometeo, which appeared on a monthly basis until October 1944, and was printed in Turin on a press that was used by many other clandestine anti-Fascist groups.

The War and the Working Class

The militants who were to form the PC Internazionalista considered that a revolutionary period, similar to that which swept across Europe and Russia during and immediately after the First World War, was more or less imminent, and that the working class, acting autonomously and independent of other social classes, would be able to make a serious intervention. The Internationalists’ call for the complete autonomy of the proletariat derived not only from the political tradition from which they sprang, but also from their understanding of the social nature of the world war.

Whereas all the other left wing groups tended towards a struggle which at first was to be anti-Fascist and only later anti-capitalist, the Internationalists argued for the need for a joint struggle on both fronts, or, more accurately, a defence on both fronts, since the proletariat was temporarily in a clearly inferior position in respect of these two forces.

This position was in stark contrast to that proposed by the leaders of the PCI, for whom the war was a conflict of a unique character — a war between Fascist totalitarian rule on the one hand and democracy on the other — from which followed the necessity to unite all ‘progressive’ forces to fight ‘barbarism’, represented by Germany and the Mussolini regime, and to save both Socialism in Russia and Western civilisation. The PC Internazionalista counterposed to this an analysis which posed the war as the repetition — albeit in a different form — of the First World War. The Second World War was seen as the inevitable outcome of successive phases, or partial conflicts, which had followed one another — the invasion of China and Ethiopia, the Spanish Civil War, etc. — until they resulted in a general conflict. The Fascist and ‘democratic’ countries were equally responsible for the conflict: ‘There is no space for compromise between the proletariat and the war: no war fought in the name of Fascism and democracy is in the interests of the proletariat; all such wars are in the interests of the ruling class.’ [50]

Prometeo placed the war within a global framework in which in the last analysis the small powers were subject to the will of the bigger powers, and where the victorious states would share out the ‘loot’ of their spheres of influence amongst themselves. The Internationalists claimed that the struggle for national liberation had lost all meaning in this worldwide picture, for joining in the defence of the fatherland — even if allied with the ‘democrats’ — meant being subordinated to one of capitalism’s military commands. The proletariat was obliged to maintain a staunchly independent position to defend its very existence, even if only in the physical sense.

The difficulties caused by the war prevented Prometeo from elaborating a theoretical analysis of the real causes of the conflict. It defined the war as imperialist because both the Fascist and ‘democratic’ powers were fighting against the working class, and some articles even stated that the struggle against the proletariat was the primary objective of the war. [51] The Internationalists also denounced the social cost of the war, both in terms of the destruction of accumulated wealth and of the waste of human life. [52]

Finally, the Internationalists claimed that the conflict was not between democracy and totalitarianism, as the left wing parties argued, because the rulers of the Soviet Union had during the 1930s imposed a totalitarian system upon its people, and had liquidated both politically and physically almost all those who had fought alongside Lenin during the October Revolution.

The Internationalists harked back to Luxemburg and Lenin, and they deliberately used the term ‘internationalist’, not merely to distinguish themselves from the PCI and its nationalist policies, but also to show their continuity with those forces which had opposed the First World War from a revolutionary standpoint. They were not afraid of being a tiny minority, and they drew upon the experience of the Zimmerwald and Kienthal conferences. They often cited Lenin’s writings, applying them directly to the present war in order both to confirm the correctness of their theses, and to oppose the positions of the PCI.

The Internationalists considered that Fascism fell on 25 July 1943 because the ruling class had no more use for it. A leaflet distributed in Turin in August 1943 declared:

‘The bourgeoisie, the monarchy and the church, who created and supported Fascism, who today are throwing Mussolini to the people to avoid going down with him, and who don democratic and populist clothes in order to continue the exploitation and oppression of the working class, have no right to say a single word in today’s crisis. This right exclusively belongs to the working class, the peasants and the soldiers, who are the eternal victims of the imperialist octopus.’ [53]

At this juncture, the Internationalists considered that the leaders of the anti-Fascist parties — whom they called the Italian Kerenskys — were aiming to form a ‘democratic’ coalition government, but these hopes were dashed, at least for the time being, by the advance into Italy of German troops on 8 September, and their ensuing occupation of the country to the north of Naples.

During the period of the Badoglio government, the Internationalists’ propaganda called for an end to the war. Anti-war sentiments ran deep within the working class, and strikes against the continuation of the war took place, involving tens of thousands of workers. The strikes that erupted from mid-August 1943 had a profound class content, with demands for the freeing of all political prisoners, the release of all workers who had been arrested, wage increases, the removal of soldiers from the factories, and the adoption of measures for the establishment of factory committees.

In the meantime, factory committees had spontaneously reappeared. The Internationalists saw their creation as a very positive sign, for they had expressed, albeit in a limited and sporadic manner, the desire of the masses to go beyond purely economic struggles. Very soon, however, the committees were put under bureaucratic control, thanks to the efforts of the Socialist Buozzi and the Communist Giovanni Roveda, who were chosen by Badoglio to take over the former Fascist unions, in order, as Prometeo put it, ‘to channel the revolutionary impetus into bourgeois legality’. [54] The Internationalists campaigned against this attempt to institutionalise the factory committees, with the intention of preparing the working class for a new wave of struggles in the future.

The Internationalists found themselves in a rather difficult position after the Armistice. Many workers supported the intense campaign of the ‘democratic’ political forces for national unity, although they also felt that the ruling class was collapsing, and that the renewal of strikes and other struggles in Italy was leading to a revolutionary situation, as if the end of capitalism was in sight. They thought that the demise of Fascism would lead directly to the collapse of the capitalist state. This, however, was an illusion. The Internationalists’ propaganda emphasised that the call for national unity was incompatible with the demands that were being raised by the workers in the strike wave. They recognised that the workers’ optimism was misplaced, as the balance of class forces was clearly in favour of the capitalists, due to the overwhelming presence of the Nazi and Allied armies, and their determination to involve the proletariat in their war.

Whereas the ‘democratic’ parties posed the war as a moral issue, and, in propaganda which had racist undertones, saw Germany as the very incarnation of ‘evil’, the Internationalists argued that Nazism was in reality ‘the ultimate canker of the capitalist regime: the typical form of its final putrefaction’. It was a German phenomenon not because it had roots in the so-called ‘German character’ or in some obscure inherent racial trait, but because German capitalism had reached its ‘most parasitic manifestations’. Rather than supporting a war to fight German ‘barbarism’, the principle task was to oppose the war and the system which had unleashed it. It was necessary to return to Lenin’s strategy in the First World War — to ‘spread within the ranks of the German soldiers the seeds of fraternisation, anti-militarism and class struggle, and to spread the contagious disease of... proletarian class struggle’. [55]

The Internationalists appealed to the German proletariat as a potentially revolutionary force because they considered that it had a ‘very high degree of economic and social development’, and, above all, a ‘potential of revolutionary convictions accumulated in the hard years of dictatorship and war’. Once the German proletariat returned to open struggle — a return to which, according to Prometeo, would coincide with the arrival of the crisis that the war would create — it would not be ‘fooled a second time by centrism’, and would operate ‘on the basis of Communism’, that is, internationalist Communism.

In December 1943 the PC Internazionalista published a manifesto against the war and for the creation of a proletarian united front. The object of this exercise was to relaunch the class struggle, as the previous strikes ‘had ended up in the managers’ offices, leaving the workers bitter and forced to resume work to maintain the daily massacre of their brothers’. The united front was not intended to be an alliance of parties, but was essentially to create working class unity, irrespective of political ideology. The only response to this appeal, however, was from revolutionary trade unionists and libertarian Communists. This episode demonstrated the weakness of such left wing movements in the face of the continuing war.

As for the factory committees that had been set up under the Fascist regime, the Internationalists considered that they could only express the interests of the working class if they were allowed to ‘exist and operate on a strictly working class basis’. They were not, however, autonomous institutions. Once elected, they were unable to engage in effective activity, as they were part of the authoritarian trade union structures which operated ‘outside of and against the will of the workers’. [56] Moreover, the impossibility of using these committees was demonstrated by the experience of class struggles in the factories. They existed merely to implement the orders of trade union leaders, prefects and the German military authorities, and militants learned through their own experience that the purpose of the committees was essentially to spy on and to police the workers.

The Internationalists took part in the strike wave that broke out in northern Italy at the end of December 1943. They campaigned against the war, and attempted to transform what was a fight over economic issues into a wider political struggle against the proponents of both Fascism and ‘democracy’, who were in favour of continuing the war. The strikers managed to win economic improvements, but the victory was ephemeral, as it did not solve the deeper problems that the working class faced because of the war: the bombing, the loss of their homes, and the difficulty in obtaining food.

Reassessing the Soviet Experience

The Internationalists’ attitude to the war also forced them to reassess the historical experience and social nature of the Soviet Union, not least because the participation of that country in the war legitimised the policies and activities of the PCI. This was a crucial matter, as the rank and file of the PCI was sentimentally attached to Stalin and the Soviet state, which for them still represented the October Revolution and the building of Socialism. The respect for the Soviet Union grew dramatically during the war and for a short period afterwards. Most workers favoured a militant proletarian policy, and considered that the policy of an all-class alliance favoured by Moscow was merely a tactical move, which at the appropriate moment would be replaced by a genuinely anti-capitalist strategy. For all their anti-capitalist sentiments, however, the workers influenced by the PCI tended towards a ‘wait and see’ attitude, and their practical activity was confined within the framework of anti-Fascism.

The Internationalists drew the conclusion that by 1927 the proletarian vanguard in the Soviet Union had been defeated by ‘the ruling stratum which had brought the policies of the New Economic Policy to their most reactionary conclusions’, and that what was regarded as socialisation served as ‘a façade for an evolution which sacrificed the interests of the proletariat — that are necessarily bound to the fate of the world revolution — in favour of the reactionary formula of “Socialism in One Country”’. Socialism had been repudiated in favour of an isolated state, which, far from withering away, had repressed and neutered the soviets, the most genuine organisations of proletarian power. This state had permitted the rise of profound social inequalities, a ‘stratum of shareholders in nationalised property’ had appeared, whilst the proletariat, under a system of ‘socialisation’ that was promoted as Socialism, was forced ‘to work itself to the bone for the war’. [57] Soviet foreign policy had changed dramatically as well, with a definite shift away from the international orientation of the early years. The Soviet state with which the Internationalists identified was that of the revolutionary period, that of October. They considered that as the Soviet Union was by now no longer a revolutionary factor, and was no different from other capitalist states, its rôle in the war had nothing to do with Socialism. [58]

The Socialisation Fraud

When Fascist Salò donned its republican mask, the Internationalists not only vigorously exposed the ‘social’ façade with which it tried to disguise its real nature, but attempted to analyse the meaning of its proposals of ‘socialisation’. They recognised that Salò’s pseudo-Socialist demagogy was intended ‘to involve increasingly broader strata of the working masses in the war of the Axis powers’ [59], but it did not represent any real danger, as the strikes of March 1943 had demonstrated the hostility of the working class to the blackshirts. Moreover, the bulk of the Italian bourgeoisie had distanced itself from Fascism, and its only social support was the German occupiers. Nevertheless, the issue of ‘socialisation’ had to be addressed in relation to the general development of capitalism, and the Internationalists investigated the phenomenon of private property ‘in a collective sense’. Finally, they noted that the terms ‘nationalisation’, ‘placing under state control’ and ‘socialisation’ were commonly used in ‘all the programmes of the bourgeois parties, both right wing and left wing’, showing that it was merely the policy required by ‘a crisis economy’, which tended toward state capitalism. [60]

In April 1944 the PC Internazionalista returned to the subject of ‘socialisation’. Prometeo argued that the ‘democrats’ were as fearful as the Fascists of a revolutionary explosion, so ‘socialisation’ proposals had become a necessary part of the programmes of the ‘democratic’ parties as well. It may have seemed paradoxical to equate the economic proposals of the Fascists and the ‘democratic’ parties, but the end of the war would show that this parallel was only too real. The ‘democratic’ parties denounced the Fascists’ call for ‘socialisation’ as ‘demagogy’ only because it was proposed by the irrelevant Salò Republic, but the call for ‘socialisation’ would no longer be deemed ‘demagogic’ when it appeared in practically the same guise in a decree enacted by the CLN on 25 April 1945. [61]

For purposes of clarification, Prometeo reiterated that the socialisation sought by genuine Communists was diametrically opposed to the ‘socialisation’ of both the Fascists and the parties of the Congress of Bari: ‘Without a proletarian revolution there cannot be a genuine socialisation, and any collective experience within the bourgeois state must always be considered as being directed against the working class.’ [62]

National Resistance or Class Struggle?

The distinct and uncompromising political positions of the PC Internazionalista inevitably led to a violent response from the official Communist leaders. One of them, Pietro Secchia, actually denounced the Internationalists as being directly in the service of the Nazis. In particular, he accused them of spreading passivity and failing to participate in the struggle of the Resistance. [63] The latter accusation was quite true. The Internationalists did not regard the partisan struggle as an isolated issue, but saw it as part of an imperialist conflict, a war that was against the proletariat. They opposed any participation in the war, irrespective of the form it took, and called for social revolution. Those who supported the war were ‘clearly against revolution’. [64] Prometeo accused the partisan movement of being more or less subordinated to one of the two warring military commands, and of fighting the Germans without making any distinction between Nazism and the German proletariat. [65]

Contrary to Pietro Secchia’s claims, the Internationalists neither took an ‘abstentionist’ position, nor did they condemn all the workers who fled to the mountains. They understood how the course of the war had brought the partisan squads into existence. Prometeo suggested that the partisan forces should assert their political independence, and adopt a revolutionary standpoint. It urged their class conscious members to take their place at ‘the front of the daily class struggle where their working brothers ... [were fighting] their battles amid dangers and traps which were no less insidious’. [66] By positing the factories as the axis of their strategy, the Internationalists hoped to recreate working class unity in the big cities, where the working class was more concentrated and thus in an objectively stronger position.

However, as the majority of the partisans stayed in the mountains, the Internationalists suggested that they should separate ‘their action from that of the defenders of the bourgeois fatherland and the national war, and transform their armed cells into workers’ self-defence units, ready to resume tomorrow their place in the struggle ... for proletarian revolution’. The workers in the partisan bands had to change their methods of work, and organise themselves ‘in small groups in locations which were geographically suitable for a defensive struggle’. [67] The workers who had been forced to flee to the mountains were not lost to the revolutionary struggle. The Internationalists intended to establish contact with them, explain their strategy, and win them from the national ‘democratic’ parties which were using them in the war. Some links were made with the help of couriers, but very little progress was made.

This strategy was obviously fraught with difficulties, but it was rendered futile by the overt hostility of the PCI’s leaders, who depicted the Internationalists as ‘Fascist agents’ whose task was to disorganise the partisan movement. Two militants attempting to forge links with the partisans were murdered by PCI activists. Prometeo rather simplistically stated that the violent attacks launched by the Communist press against the left could be explained by the PCI’s ‘thrust for power’, which awakened ‘the basest instincts’.

The clash with the official Communists was direct and very violent, above all because the PC Internazionalista claimed the heritage which had brought the PCI itself into existence. Indeed, the Internationalists claimed to have founded the party in Leghorn in 1921, and they denounced the Stalinist leadership for having usurped the party’s leading positions by bureaucratic means. [68]

On 1 March 1944 a strike wave broke out in northern Italy and Tuscany. It was overtly political, with an anti-German emphasis. Although the strike involved almost the entire workforce and paralysed the factories for a whole week, it proved unsuccessful. Strikers were confronted by Nazi terror, and threatened with deportation to Germany. The workers were unable to win any concessions, despite the promises that had been made the previous November and December.

The Internationalists participated in the strike, but unlike the CLN, they raised their usual class-based demands: an end to the war, and the defence of the economic interests of the proletariat. They considered that this strike should not have been called in the absence of a solid base within the factories that would enable the masses to go onto the offensive. A manifesto distributed at the end of February declared that general strikes and armed uprisings were not to be played with. The ‘democratic’ forces were using the workers’ militancy in order to mobilise the ‘internal front’ during a lull on the military front. Prometeo attacked the perversion of an instrument of working class struggle, which had been turned into a weapon in the imperialist war: ‘The proletariat finds itself in an absurd and tragic situation, that of being at the same time the true protagonist of the active struggle, and a pawn manoeuvred without mercy by the warring factions.’ [69] Despite their criticism of the ‘military’ use of the strike, the Internationalists joined the action ‘in a disciplined way, like any other battle fought by the proletariat on a class basis’, and as always raised their slogans.

The echo of the strikes had not yet subsided when the ‘Ercoli bomb’ exploded. The news that Togliatti had agreed to join a monarchist government and to abandon all working class demands, swept across the entire country. The April issue of Prometeo was set up for printing, and a flyer was produced to be distributed with the paper. This ‘turning point’, which confirmed what left wing Communists had long been predicting, seemed to put an end to their customary calm. The Internationalists strongly urged the vanguard of the working class to break from this ‘centrist’ party, and to join the revolutionaries. Togliatti was seen as a mere pawn in Stalin’s hands. The Internationalists stated that the political evolution of the PCI had to be analysed if its entry into a monarchist government was to be understood. Togliatti’s actions were, however, merely denounced, and no analysis of the political situation was presented, although the Internationalists clearly understood how the PCI had succeeded through its ‘parallel track’ policy in drawing left wing workers behind the party’s class collaborationist strategy.

Prometeo claimed that the PCI represented a new and even more ruthless form of Social Democracy, as its capacity for undertaking audacious initiatives enabled it to be all the more capable of assisting the bourgeoisie in times of crisis. [70] But whilst the PCI did play a key rôle in ensuring the survival of the Italian bourgeoisie, it had not become a Social Democratic organisation. Its new orientation was not the decision of a nationally-based party, but was part of a vast strategy elaborated on a global level by the Soviet Union in collaboration with the main Allied powers.

The PC Internazionalista differed from the ‘democratic’ parties, and especially the PCI, not merely in respect of its political objectives, but also in its general tactical approach. It strongly disagreed with the terrorist attacks carried out by the Gruppi di Azione Patriottica (Groups for Patriotic Action) and other partisan squads, not because of any revulsion against violence, but because such tactics were alien to working class traditions and Marxism. The terrorist attacks perpetrated by individuals or small groups were understandable under the circumstances, ‘but to understand something does not mean accepting it, or, even worse, initiating a policy of violence, the formulation of which has always originated from petit-bourgeois “rebels”, and never from a healthy tradition of class struggle’. [71] In the main, these actions had caused great harm to the working class and particularly its most active elements, as the Fascists used them as a pretext to justify their repression, and on many occasions those who paid with their lives were revolutionary workers who had nothing to do with terrorism. The Internationalists proposed that the workers should be ‘fighting the war in the workplace, uniting in the class struggle, organising themselves closely in our ranks, and avoiding exposing themselves to the repressive apparatus of capitalism’. [72]

After the strikes of March 1944, despite enormous difficulties as the Fascist repression became more ruthless, and communications were becoming increasingly hazardous, the PC Internazionalista attempted to build a base within the working class by calling for the building of mass organisations to oppose the Fascist factory committees. However, the Internationalists’ propaganda work was hindered by the hostility of the official Communists, whose influence was growing amongst the workers, and by the rather abstract nature of their politics. It was difficult to link anti-war slogans with the day-to-day struggle in the factories. It was not accidental that Prometeo gave little space to trade union demands. The PCI, however, invariably started with the workers’ concrete needs — trade union demands, working shifts, indemnities, transport, lack of food, black market, etc — and linked them to the war for ‘national liberation’. In this way, workers’ demands were taken out of a class context, and were conflated with the war against the Nazi-Fascists. The Internationalists were convinced that the course of the First World War would be repeated, and that ‘two red years’ would follow the cessation of hostilities. They tended to undervalue trade union work and to overlook the link between it and revolutionary politics, and they did not publish any factory or trade union papers. This helped the PCI to increase its influence amongst militant workers.

The Formulation of a Programme

In September 1944, in ‘view of the critical situation in the war’, the PC Internazionalista decided to formulate a programme that would outline the key points of its political outlook. It stated that an Allied victory would strengthen world capitalism, and thus reduce the possibility of a successful proletarian revolution. The Socialist and Communist parties were accused of obstructing the revolutionary process, and acting within the Allied military alliance not as ‘right wing forces of the proletariat, but as real and conscious forces of the bourgeois left’ who represented the Allies’ war to the workers as ‘their own war’. Nevertheless, the left wing parties which were committed to defending capitalism would be unable to survive should the war continue. [73] This was an incorrect assumption, as far from declining, these parties increased their influence, and thereby marginalised the revolutionary opposition.

The Internationalists expected that the future state structure — or at least its outward appearance — would be democratic, but this would not alter their tactical approach. The party programme declared: ‘We do not believe in its elections, its constitutions, or its freedom of the press, of speech and of association.’ It considered that once the war had ended, the ‘democratic’ parties would attempt to derail any revolutionary advance by leading the workers into ‘the quicksands of partial demands’. This could only be countered by the immediate development of the party, especially within the rank and file organisations, and the programme emphasised the need to ‘create permanent organisations amongst the masses to carry out propaganda, agitation and recruitment’.

The revival of working class activity in the autumn of 1944 saw the Internationalists engaging in political work in the factories. On 21 September 100 000 workers struck in Milan. Once again, their aims were diverse but in general demanded wage increases, and opposed the deportation of workers to Germany. This strike was victorious, and two months later, in November 1944, the workers of Lombardy struck again. However, the political situation was generally bleak, and the winter presented many difficulties. The Allies delayed the invasion of the Po Valley until the following spring, and General Alexander urged the partisans to demobilise. By the winter of 1944-45 the PC Internazionalista was the only left wing opposition remaining in the north. Even so, the party was unable to publish Prometeo for the duration of the winter. Nonetheless, even in these months the organisation’s propaganda work continued, and leaflets and typewritten documents substituted for the lack of its paper.

In February 1945 the PC Internazionalista attempted to put into practice the strategy outlined in the manifesto that it had launched in June 1944. It called on all parties ‘with a working class tradition or base’ to form ‘joint agitation committees’ in the workplace in order to defend working class interests. Once again it proposed a united front ‘from below’ (as opposed to the united front traditionally advocated by the Communist International), and it was not aimed at political organisations, but directly at the workers, with a call for a united struggle in the workplace to defend their interests. The Internationalists had already formed some agitation committees or factory groups, composed of party members and sympathisers, with the aim of conducting united activity with the factory organisations of other political movements. On 10 February this appeal was sent to all left wing parties, including the PCI. However, the politics of the PC Internazionalista were still too distinct to be acceptable to the ‘democratic’ parties of the left, although there was a positive response from revolutionary trade unionists and the libertarian Communists, who had a certain following in Milan.

The Internationalists’ plans met with failure because the balance of power continued to shift in favour of the ‘democratic’ forces. Moreover, the PCI unleashed an offensive against the left and so-called ‘sectarianism’ in general as part of the preparations for a final anti-Fascist uprising. The PCI ‘replied’ to the Internationalists’ appeal with a few lines in La Fabbrica (The Factory), the paper of its Milan branch, very fittingly entitled ‘Provocatori’ (‘Provocateurs’). The Stalinist paper denounced the PC Internazionalista as a movement that was ‘tolerated by the police’. Moreover, Prometeo reported that the Communist branch in Milan had distributed a circular in which it invited the Squadre di Azione Patriottica (Squads for Patriotic Action) to ‘intervene resolutely for the necessary elimination’ of the left Communist militants. [74]

During the ‘liberation’ of the north at the beginning of April, Togliatti accused the Internationalists of ‘seeking gradually to intensify the political struggles amongst all classes, parties and social groups, in order to create obstacles, unrest and a situation similar to that of 1919–20, a situation which was largely created by reactionaries even then [sic!]’. [75] Togliatti claimed that a combination of extremist groups — within which he did admit some ‘honest’ workers could be found — and reactionary generals, who wanted to repeat the experience of Greece in Italy, were actively conniving to bring about this situation. Togliatti was denying not only the militant tradition of the workers’ movement, but his own past, as he had been actively involved in and had fervently supported this very sort of action during the ‘two red years’ of 1919-20.

So whilst the opposition actively worked to bring about a working class upsurge, the PCI intensified its fight against ‘extremist’ tendencies, both within and outside the party. The tension between the PCI and the PC Internazionalista had already escalated in March with the murder of Fausto Atti by Stalinist partisans, and in the following month Felice Platone repeated in Rinascita the slander that the ‘Bordigists’ were provocateurs in the pay of the Fascist secret police, the OVRA. [76]

The Final Phase of the War

In April 1945 the Allies launched a major offensive, and the end of the war in Italy was in sight. A month before, however, the Internationalists had declared that the war had already effectively finished, despite the continuing military conflict, because the fight against Fascism had ended with the ‘transfer of power from the Fascist bourgeoisie to the “democratic” bourgeoisie with no change in the structure of society or in the class relations between the workers and bosses’. [77] On the international level, victory had already effectively been achieved by the USA, the strongest capitalist power on both a military and an economic level, which made the development of any revolutionary process even more difficult. Obviously, the Internationalists had not favoured a Nazi victory, they were merely evaluating an accomplished fact, an analysis of the balance of power between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie on a world scale. But they did not despair. There were still revolutionary possibilities, as the working class would soon be confronted by a deep capitalist crisis that would ensue when the bourgeoisie attempted to shift to a peacetime economy. This would open up the possibility of the international proletariat engaging in the struggle for power. Now more than ever, the revolutionary party should reject any compromise or hybrid alliance, either political or parliamentary.

It is most likely that the participation of the PC Internazionalista in the huge uprising in the northern Italian cities of 24–26 April 1945 was due to this concept of an imminent deep social crisis. In the days prior to the uprising, its militants intensified the distribution of flyers at factory gates. On 25 April, ‘following the orders of the leadership’, they took part in the armed struggle. Together with libertarian Communists, the Internationalists urged the armed workers to fight for ‘class objectives’. [78] In places where the party’s orders did not arrive, the logic of events propelled the militants towards an insurrection, and on 25 April the Internationalists took up arms in Turin, taking part in the hunt for capitalists. [79]

The left wing militants were marginalised during the insurrection. Those who had called it had no intention of overthrowing capitalism. The insurrection had been strictly controlled and directed from the start, and even if a small number of left wing militants took part in it and called for working class objectives, they could not avoid being swept along with it, unable to change its general direction. [80] When the uprising had ended, Prometeo denounced the victorious anti-Fascist forces for demobilising the working class, and for calling it to order.

The general analysis of the PC Internazionalista, based upon the expectation of a mechanical repetition of the situation at the end of the First World War, turned out to be fundamentally flawed. The Internationalists lacked an analysis of the world economic cycle and the relationship between European and American capitalism, and it would be some time before they realised that the crisis which they had anticipated was not on the immediate agenda. The PC Internazionalista survived the end of the war, albeit as an increasingly tiny minority.


1. Wars of Italian unification in the nineteenth century. [Editor’s note]

2. Il comunismo italiano nella seconda guerra mondiale. Relazioni e documenti presentati dalla direzione del partito al V Congresso del PCI, Editori Riuniti, Rome, 1963.

3. Velio Spano, L’azione del partito nel Mezzogiorno fino al I Consiglio nazionale del partito (29 marzo 1944), Il comunismo italiano nella seconda guerra mondiale, op. cit., p. 49.

4. At the time of the fall of Fascism, the PCI was numerically weak, with around 5000 active members, and with little internal political cohesion. The ‘parallel track’ was the means by which the PCI’s leadership encouraged the more militant members to assume that the party’s moderate stance was merely a façade intended to hide a more radical policy that would be implemented at a suitable juncture.

5. Mauro Scoccimarro, letter to Milan, 14 December 1943, Luigi Longo, I centri dirigenti del PCI nella Resistenza, Editori Riuniti, Rome 1973, pp. 252-3.

6. Pietro Secchia, Il sinistrismo, maschera della Gestapo, La Nostra Lotta, no. 6, December 1943.

7. The rump Fascist state still ruled by Mussolini under German protection in those parts of Italy that they occupied, and sometimes called the Republic of Salò. [Editor’s note]

8. Rapporto d’informazione e direttive (30 gennaio 1945), P. Secchia, Il Partito Comunista Italiano e la guerra di liberazione 1943–45, Ricordi, documenti, inediti e testimonianze, Feltrinelli, Milan, 1971, p. 853.

9. The tradition of the Italian Communist Left (often regarded elsewhere as Bordigist, although this is only one part of this broad tendency) takes a much more critical line to political alliances than the Trotskyists, and so, although in this case ‘frontist’ probably means a Popular Front, it need not necessarily do so. The word used is ‘fronte unico’ not ‘fronte unito’. The political content is rather unclear, and this must be borne in mind when reading Peregalli’s criticism of ‘fronts’. The Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale was formed in Rome on 9 September 1943 by the PCI, the Socialist Party, the Action Party (note 18), Liberals and Christian Democrats. It was a classic Popular Front with a minimalist anti-Nazi, pro-Allied standpoint. [Editor’s note]

10. Cf. A. Peregalli, L’altra Resistenza. Il PCI e le opposizioni di sinistra, 1943–1945, Graphos, Genoa 1991, p. 298.

11. Cf. note 7, p. 114.

12. The poor working class neighbourhoods in the city of Rome. [Editor’s note]

13. In 1960 Carlo Lizzani made a film about him called Il Gobbo (The Hunchback), starring Anna Maria Ferrero and Gerard Blain. For a while Albani was active in the resistance, but left every party in turn as too ‘moderate’, as he wanted a savage fight against the Fascists. After the ‘liberation’ of Rome there was serious unemployment, and he fell in with criminal elements. He became one of those stealing from the Allies and extorting money until he was killed in a shoot-out with the police in January 1945. To start with he was a revolutionary, but he could not adjust to the changes.

14. Direttive Rivoluzionarie, no. 1, 29 March 1944. Whilst Bandiera Rossa praised the discipline, political processes and Stalinist dictatorship within the Soviet Union, its conception of a Socialist society was essentially democratic.

15. Il Fronte Proletario Rivoluzionario, Bandiera Rossa, no. 3, 8 December 1943.

16. The membership of the PCI had grown dramatically, standing at 400,000 in April 1945, and 1.7 million in December 1945, and it reached two million in 1946. The membership of the Socialist Party stood at 800,000 at the end of 1945. [Editor’s note]

17. Presumably a reference to a Popular Front. Cf. note 8. [Editor’s note]

18. The Partito d’Azione (Action Party) was formed in July 1942. Its membership was largely middle class, and its programme called for radical social reform, including the nationalisation of big industries, division of agrarian estates, a republic, and profit sharing for the workers. Although it played a major rôle in the Resistance, and had a membership of 250,000 at the end of 1945, it did not last long once the war had ended, and, beset by sharp policy disagreements between radicals and moderates, it disintegrated in 1946, with its activists moving to parties of both the left and right. [Editor’s note]

19. These volunteer units, originally formed out of some pro-PCI partisan bands, were armed, trained and equipped by the Allies and fought after December 1944 with some military distinction as a regular force in the north of Italy. [Editor’s note]

20. For the POC, see Paulo Casciola’s article below, pp. 179-89

21. Il Fronte Proletario Rivoluzionario, Bandiera Rossa, no. 3, 8 December 1943.

22. Lo stato operaio, Stella Rossa, unnumbered, November 1943.

23. Il Congresso di Bari, Il Lavoratore, no. 8, 3 March 1944.

24. This was a colloquial term meaning ‘those of the left’. It originated in the divisions within the PCd’I in 1923–24, when three factions existed, the right wing around Tasca, the centre around Gramsci, and the left wing around Bordiga.

25. Il dovere del proletariato, Stella Rossa, no. 14, December 1943.

26. Noi e la guerra, Bandiera Rossa, no. 1, 8 January 1944.

27. The PCI was known as the PCd’I (Communist Party of Italy) up until the dissolution of the Communist International in 1943. The change was made in order to give the party a more national image. [Editor’s note]

28. Bilan took its name from the French word meaning balance sheet. [Editor’s note]

29. Cf., for example, Paolo Spriano, Storia del Partito Comunista Italiano, Volume 3, Einaudi, Turin 1975, p. 346.

30. Letter sent in June 1978 by Otello Terzani to the author of this article.

31. Il pericolo della sinistra, Il Proletario, 15 July 1944.

32. Il Proletario, 28 May 1944.

33. La sinistra, il trotzskismo e l’opportunismo, Il Proletario, 16 June 1944.

34. Un uomo e un programma piccolo borghese, Il Proletario, 28 May 1944.

35. I partiti proletari e la Democrazia Cristiana, Il Proletario, 15 July 1944.

36. Un uomo e un programma piccolo borghese, Il Proletario, 28 May 1944.

37. Ibid.

38. In tema di violenza e di partigianesimo, La Sinistra Proletaria, 28 October 1944.

39. Nuovo governo, Il Proletario, 16 June 1944.

40. Tradimento sindacale, Il Proletario, 30 July 1944.

41. Ibid.

42. La situazione dopo Roma, Il Proletario, 15 July 1944.

43. Il Convegno di Napoli della Frazione di Sinistra dei Comunisti e Socialisti Italiani, Il Partigiano, no. 25, 30 December 1944.

44. In tema di violenza e di partigianesimo, La Sinistra Proletaria, 28 October 1944.

45. La Sinistra Proletaria, 28 October 1944.

46. La Sinistra Proletaria, 19 February 1945.

47. Il Partigiano, no. 27, 12 January 1945.

48. Cf. Velio Spano, Banditismo politico, L’Unità , 26 January 1945.

49. G. Pansa, Guerra partigiana tra Genova e il Po, Laterza, Bari, 1967, p. 6; and G. Vaccarino, Gli scioperi del marzo 1943, Aspetti della Resistenza in Piemonte, Quaderno dell’Istituto Nazionale per la Storia del Movimento di Liberazione in Italia, p. 143.

50. La guerra civile da noi, Prometeo, no. 2, December 1943.

51. Il proletariato vincerà la guerra, Prometeo, no. 7, 1 May 1944.

52. Quanto costa la guerra?, Prometeo, no. 10, 15 August 1944; and Fasti della società borghese, Prometeo, no. 11, 15 October 1944.

53. Leaflet distributed in Turin in August 1943, reproduced in L’Italia dei quarantacinque giorni. 1943, 25 luglio-8 settembre, Studio e documenti, National Institute of National Liberation Movement History, Milan, 1969, pp. 283–4.

54. Sulle Commissioni Interne, Prometeo, no. 3, January 1944.

55. Sulla via giusta, Prometeo, no. 5, 1 March 1944.

56. Sulle Commissioni Interne, Prometeo, no. 3, January 1944.

57. Messe a punto. Socializzazione e socialismo, Prometeo, no. 6, 1 April 1944.

58. [O. Damen], La Russia che amiamo e difendiamo, Prometeo, no. 2, 1 December 1943.

59. Demagogia democratica e fascista e realtà di classe, Prometeo, no. 2, 1 December 1943.

60. Messe a punto. Socializzazione e socialismo, Prometeo, no. 6, 1 April 1944.

61. According to the Communist historian Roberto Battaglia, this shows ‘quite clearly the anti-rhetorical character — we would say almost the ruthlessness — of the Resistance, which had no problem in using the instruments created by its enemies for very different ends’ (R. Battaglia, Storia della Resistenza Italiana, Einaudi, Turin 1964, p. 645).

62. Il proletariato tra l’incudine e il martello, Prometeo, no. 5, 1 March 1944. [The Conference of Bari was held in January 1944, and brought together delegates from the main anti-Fascist parties. It called for the abdication of the king and for a congress to act as a representative assembly until the election of a constituent assembly, but nothing was done to put this into effect. Editor’s note]

63. [P. Secchia], Il “sinistrismo” maschera della Gestapo, La Nostra Lotta, no. 6, December 1943.

64. Il proletariato vincerà la guerra, Prometeo, no. 7, 1 May 1944.

65. In fact, the accusation that the partisan movement was wholly part of the Allied military machine has been proved correct. With the ‘mission to the South’ of the representatives of the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale Alta Italia (CLNAI: Northern Italy Committee of National Liberation), and with the signing of the ‘Rome protocols’ in December 1944, the partisan movement was explicitly placed under the direct orders of the Allies. The agreement between the representatives of the CLNAI and the Allies’ General Maitland Watson placed the partisan movement within the Allies’ military strategy, while the Comando Volontari della Libertà (Command of Volunteer Freedom Fighters) was recognised ‘on the military level, as executor of the orders and instructions of the Allies’ Commander-in-Chief’ (Franco Catalano, Storia del Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale Alta Italia, Bompiani, Milan 1956, p. 333).

66. Sulla via giusta, Prometeo, no. 5, 1 March 1944.

67. Leaflet distributed amongst the partisan forces, in the author’s archives.

68. Che cos’è e che cosa vuole il Partito Comunista Internazionalista, PC Internazionalista leaflet, March 1945.

69. Un esperimento e il suo bilancio, Prometeo, no. 8, 15 June 1944.

70. Il centrismo alla sbarra, Prometeo, no. 8, 15 June 1944.

71. Violenza individuale e di classe, Prometeo, no. 4, 1 February 1944.

72. La manovra borghese e la classe operaia, Prometeo, no. 11, 15 October 1944.

73. Schema di programma del Partito Comunista Internazionalista (settembre 1944), Documenti della sinistra italiana, no. 1, Milan.

74. Appello del Comitato di Agitazione del PC Internazionalista, Prometeo, no. 1, April 1945.

75. P. Togliatti, ‘Il PCI nella lotta contro il fascismo e la democrazia’, Discorso pronunciato al 2 Consiglio Nazionale del PCI (Rome, 7 April 1945), reproduced in Politica comunista (discorsi dall’aprile 1944 all’agosto 1945), Rome 1945, pp. 248ff.

76. Vecchie e nuove vie della provocazione trotskista, Rinascita, no. 4, April 1945.

77. Che cos’è e che cosa vuole il Partito Comunista Internazionalista, op. cit..

78. MC, Sguardo Panoramico sul movimento di massa nelle fabbriche, Prometeo, no. 2, 1 May 1945.

79. A veteran militant wrote a self-criticism in 1948 in respect of this. Cf. Gigi Danielis’ speech at the First Congress of the PC Internazionalista (Resoconto del I Congresso, Firenze, 6–9 May 1948, p. 21).

80. Indeed, this insurrection could have proved fatal for the left wing militants. The new Prefect of Milan, Riccardo Lombardi, a member of the Action Party, later testified that a representative of the PCI had asked during a meeting of the CLN to be given a ‘free hand’ against the Internationalists. This request, Lombardi explained, was rejected by the other parties in the CLN (G. Zaccaria, 200 comunisti italiani tra le vittime dello stalinismo, Azione Comune, Milan 1964, p. 113).

Updated by ETOL: 25.9.2011