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Albert Gates

World Politics

Another Example of Reactionary Stalinism –
This Time in Italy

(2 September 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 35, 2 September 1946, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Stalinism represents a degeneration from socialism. Its forms are infinite and deep-going; it is thoroughly reactionary in principle and counter-revolutionary in practice. Because it has emerged from the Russian Revolution and the historical movement of the working class, its actions are sometimes written about as “betrayals” of the principles of socialism. Yet the betrayals occurred long ago – in the destruction of the world socialist goal and the revolutionary achievements of the Revolution, and the physical annihilation of all the great leaders of the Russian Revolution. To speak today of the actions of the Stalinists as “betrayals” of the interests of the workers loses all sense. For, whatever Stalinism does, it is natural and normal to its system of ideas and practices as a nationalist counter-revolutionary force representing a new type societal development between capitalism and socialism.

Thus, the cry, “betrayal,” which is periodically hurled at Stalinism by people who believe that Russia is “a degenerated workers’ state,” or that the Kremlin dictator and his organizations are part of the socialist and workers’ movement, becomes utterly ludicrous. The very concept creates the idea that Stalinism is able to act progressively in the interests of socialist policy. It is a disarming concept capable of doing great harm to the working class and the movement for socialism.

The reactionary nature of Stalinism is manifested in large questions of principle and mass struggle, as it is in small questions. And not only in Russia, but in world events, in the economic, political and social struggles that take place in the various nations. For in those countries there are the international representatives of Stalinism, the Communist Parties, whose degeneration has paralleled their tutor’s. These foreign detachments of Stalinism have one controlling arm: the Kremlin. By and large, and in general, their policies are born of the needs of Stalin’s Russia; they have been faithful servants to this day.

An Italian Example

Here is one of the latest wrinkles in this pattern: Since the overthrow of Mussolini in Italy and the collapse of the fascist regime, new parties and new movements have arisen under the impulse of the democratic urge of the masses. This takes immense social, economic and political form in the seizure of factories, the demand for genuine national independence, a Constituent Assembly, and for a series of “socialist” measures for the reorganization of the country in the interests of the people. The democratic desires in a country oppressed for twenty-five years by fascism inevitably extend beyond pure economic and political measures to their relatively less important by-products, but important nevertheless.

A case in point is the issue of the right of divorce. As a predominantly Catholic country and for a number of historical reasons, the right of divorce does not exist in Italy. Through the Lateran Treaty of 1929, the fascist state “followed the law of the church.” This “law” may have allowed an annulment of marriage from time to time, but never a divorce. Thus, the reactionary position of the church and the fascist state served as an additional force to maintain the domestic enslavement of women.

In recent months, one Augusto Francale, a Neapolitan lawyer, organized a league to write a divorce law for the new Italy. His proposal was met with powerful resistance by the church through sermons, editorials, posters and street demonstrations. The “Christian Family Defense Front” warned the people to “Beware of saboteurs of home and family – Down with divorce.”

The Stalinist Madam Speaks

This issue of divorce is clearly a democratic one, and it would appear that as against the church all other forces of Italy Would be allied. But not so. Time magazine reports that the church has found a new ally in the form of the Communist Party of Italy. It appears that Rita Montagnana, wife of the Stalinist boss, Palmiro Togliatti, joined the campaign of the Catholic hierarchy, which Time called “an effort to live down its (Communist Party) principles.” (This should read: principles attributed to the Communist Party but which they have long ago surrendered). Time goes on to quote Stalinist Montagnana:

“The majority of women, particularly women of the people, are against divorce ... Why should we Communists (read: Stalinists) – who are for democracy (!) – endorse this aspiration of a minority?” (As if that would make the aspiration wrong.)

It would be an error to discuss this question from the narrow plane of divorce. What is involved is the “slave” status of women in capitalist society. The drudgery and meanness of poverty and exploitation fall with heavy force upon women. When the German fascists hurled the slogan for women: church, children, kitchen, they merely organized efficiently what is normally the place of women in society at large. The fight for socialist freedom is, therefore, in large part a fight for freeing women from the social enslavement of capitalism. It is not an accident that Lenin acclaimed as one of the main achievements of the Russian Revolution that it gave freedom to women, freedom from domestic slavery, the right to divorce, the right to equality with men.

The View of Socialism

In his discussions on the national question and the struggle for democracy and freedom as a struggle for socialism, Lenin once wrote against some of his own party comrades:

“We would remind the reader that this problem was first raised by Rosa Luxemburg (founder of the Polish Socialist Party and murdered by Prussian officers in collusion with counter-revolutionary. German Social-Democratic government officials in 1919) in the discussion on the national question. Rosa Luxemburg rightly expressed the view that while advocating autonomy within a state ... we Social-Democrats (Bolsheviks), as centralists, must insist that the most important questions of state, among which she included DIVORCE legislation, be decided by the central state authority, the central parliament. This question of divorce is a striking illustration of the fact that one cannot be a democrat and a socialist without immediately demanding full freedom of divorce, for the absence of such freedom is an additional burden on the oppressed sex, women – although it is not at all difficult to understand that the recognition of the RIGHT of women to leave their husbands is not an INVITATION to all wives to do so!

“Under capitalism it is usually the case, and not the exception, that the oppressed classes cannot ‘exercise’ their democratic rights. In most cases the right to divorce is not exercised under capitalism, because the oppressed sex is crushed economically; because, no matter how democratic the state may be, the woman remains a ‘domestic slave’ under capitalism, a slave of the bedroom, nursery and kitchen ... The right to divorce, like ALL democratic rights under capitalism without exception, is difficult to exercise, is conventional, restricted, formal and narrow. Nevertheless, no respectable Social-Democrat would consider anyone who repudiated this right a democrat, let alone a socialist. This is the whole point. ‘Democracy’ is nothing but the proclaiming and exercising of ‘rights’ that are very little and very conventionally exercised under capitalism. But unless these rights are proclaimed, unless a struggle for immediate rights is waged, unless the masses are educated in the spirit of such a struggle, socialism is IMPOSSIBLE.” (Emphasis in original – A.G.)

These quotations are cited for two reasons: 1. to show what the genuine socialist position is on this question; 2. to point out that those who still think in the terms of Stalinism being a degenerated socialist movement, are entirely mistaken; that there is nothing in common between socialism and Stalinism. If the struggle for the right of divorce in Italy is not one of those “big” political questions, it is sufficiently big to reveal the reactionary character of Stalinism. For Stalinism is not merely an aberration, but a system of thought and practice, expedient though it may be, that flows from the interests of Russia’s new ruling class of bureaucrats. It reflects itself in this small affair in Italy as a tactic to increase the reactionary influence of the native Stalinists for the purpose of making Russian, Stalinism dominant in the country.

The crowning touch to Madame Togliatti’s sentiments is provided by an editorial note in Time magazine which points out that the countries without any divorce law whatever are: Spain, Portugal, Eire, most Latin American countries and ... South Carolina!

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