From New International, Vol.XI No.7, October 1945, pp.212-23.
Transcribed by Daniel Gaido.
Marked up by
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
The following article first appeared in the Internal Bulletin of the Socialist Workers Party under the title, The Slogan of the Republic in Italy and Its Discussion in the SWP. Space limitations have necessitated the omission of the first part of the article, giving the author’s account of the background of the question in the SWP discussion and his own difficulty in securing timely publication of his articles in the party’s Internal Bulletin. Comrade Logan has long been a leading member of the international Trotskyist movement. – EDITORS
This is the common denominator of a great variety of arguments against the slogan of the republic in Italy: “We want socialism, not the republic!”, “We are for a workers’ republic, not a bourgeois republic!”, etc.
These arguments are not new. They are classical expressions of ultra-leftism. Arguments built on the same pattern have often been examined and refuted in our movement, and in the Bolshevik party and the Third International. In my article On the Situation in Europe and Our Tasks, I tried to show how alien that kind of argument was to our methods. Comrade Goldman dealt with them again in his article On the Question of the Slogan “For A Democratic Republic” (Internal Bulletin, Vol.VII, No.1, March 1945). I simply summarize again our conclusions.
The method of ultra-left arguments consists in opposing our goal to anything else. The method of those who want to follow Lenin is the direct opposite: it is to find a path of action from the present situation to socialism. The problem cannot be solved by simply stating whether or not we are “for socialism” (a strange thing in our movement!), but by analyzing how to get onto the road to socialism. And here the whole question of democratic demands is involved.
The fundamental defect of such arguments, when used in our ranks against the slogan of the republic, is the following: these arguments about “being for socialism” are so general that hey can equally be used against any democratic demand. That is why we have the right to say that the acceptance of a program of democratic demands by those who use such arguments against the republic is merely ritualistic. The struggle for democratic demands is so unquestionably a tradition of our movement that they cannot oppose it openly. But the kind of arguments they used against one specific slogan, being equally applicable to all, shows that they pay only lip-service to our traditions.
Of course, one can sincerely be for democratic slogans and at the same time be against the slogan of the republic in Italy now. But, in such a case, the reasons against the slogan of the republic must be specific, related to that one particular slogan, and not apply as well to all democratic slogans.
The inability of some members of the majority to grasp the handling of democratic demands at all is at times suddenly revealed by the surprising arguments they use. Thus a minor spokesman of the majority declared: “If you are for the republic in Italy, why not in England?” And a burst of laughter completes his argument.
This objection is remarkable for its method: if the slogan of the republic is correct in Italy, it should also be in England. Since nobody puts it forward for England, then it is clearly incorrect for Italy. Admirable logic!
However, more than the method is deficient here; the political acumen is not especially sharp either. Today, the existence of the monarchy is in England a tenth-rank question (which, however, should not be completely forgotten in our agitation.) But, when England enters a revolutionary crisis, the Court may become a focus of counter-revolutionary Bonapartist intrigues. Its existence may become a burning political issue. In that case the slogan of the republic will become for a time an important political demand of the revolutionary party. Our critic does not seem to suspect that, and thus reveals how much his thoughts are imbedded in the frame of present reality, how little he sees a political situation in its revolutionary dynamism.
Sometimes spokesmen for the majority tell us, not without a malicious tone: “But calling for a republic means your acceptance of the bourgeois republic!” Such an argument could be directed against any partial demand. Does it mean that we stop there? We support the struggle of a union for a ten-cent increase per hour. Does that mean we are against a twenty-five cent raise? More generally, does our support of a fight for a wage increase mean our acceptance of the capitalist wage system? Etc., etc. But enough about all these ultra-left ratiocinations. Here a clear answer must be demanded about our past.
Our movement had the slogan of the republic in Spain in 1930-31. In the pre-revolutionary period of 1934-36 Trotsky suggested its inclusion in the program of action of the Belgian section of the Fourth International, where it had incomparably less importance than now in Italy. That does not imply that the slogan is necessarily correct now in Italy. But it does imply that the slogan cannot be opposed for general reasons such as: “We are for socialism, not for the bourgeois republic,” etc. It also implies that the first task of the majority of the leadership should have been to explain what concrete, specific and new conditions, not existing in the past, prevented the use of the slogan in Italy now. As it did not fulfill this elementary duty, as it left the traditions of our movement in the dark, and instead of precise clarification, threw all kinds of general accusations at the opposition, it thus opened the door to the strangest misconceptions in the minds of its own followers. The result of such a policy did not take long to appear. A minor spokesman for the majority declared: “Yes, Trotsky was for the republic in 1931, but because Spain was a feudal country.” Not a voice from the ranks of the majority came to correct such political illiteracy.
It must be repeated once more: As long as the majority does not settle its political accounts with our past, as long as it does not clearly state what specific reasons prevent us today from using a slogan we used in the past, but simply opposes us with general arguments and accusations, the majority must be considered to be in a state of political insolvency.
The argument about our being “for socialism” was so shaky, so alien to our methods for solving such a question, that most of the spokesmen of the majority felt obliged to present something a bit more concrete. They discovered, although “more than three thousand miles away,” that the Italian masses “want Soviets,” and therefore ... we cannot call for the immediate proclamation of the republic.
Does that mean we are on the eve of the passing of state power into the hands of the Italian Soviets? In such a situation, of course, the problem of the monarchy would have been solved long ago, or would have been by-passed and would have lost any significance. Unfortunately, we are not yet at such a stage.
There are no Soviets in Italy now. The Italian masses still have very little practical experience about the functioning and the potentialities of such bodies. The present problem is, then, to get Soviets. How can we get them? By the revolutionary action of the masses. How can we help the masses to unleash their revolutionary energy and enter the road of action? On that point the majority keeps silence.
Soviets are not formed because the masses are intellectually convinced beforehand of their advantages, because the masses set the goal of forming them. Soviets appear at a certain state as a necessary instrument of the struggle. The objective aim of the struggle is, of course, to establish a duality of power and, later on, the power of the Soviets. Subjectively, however, in the consciousness of the masses, Soviets appear rather as a means than as an end. This is especially true at the beginning of the struggle. And we are still at the beginning in Italy.
What are the subjective aims or aims of the struggle at the starting point? There is a great variety of them. Experience in many countries, as far back as 1848, shows that many diverse issues may be incentives to action for the masses in the first stages of a revolutionary crisis. The touchstone of a revolutionary party is precisely its ability to seize upon such questions and use them as a lever to push the masses onto the road of action.
This does not at all mean that the immediate proclamation of the republic is the only or even the main slogan in Italy now. But even if the problem of the monarchy were secondary, that would be no argument for condemning the slogan of the republic. As a matter of fact, the problem of the monarchy, in my opinion, has been for the past nine months and is now one of the four or five major political questions in Italy. But, whatever may be the exact rank of the slogan of the republic in our program, it does belong to it. It is true that the problem may be solved very rapidly, in a few days of revolutionary struggle of the masses, especially if a military front ceases to separate the North from the South. However, the problem of the monarchy still exists today; it has existed since June, it existed at the time of the convention, and only those who voluntarily and obstinately closed their eyes could not see it.
If Soviets appear tomorrow in Italy with the monarchy still in power, will the fight against it lose all significance for revolutionary action? It depends on the tempo of events. If the tempo is not too quick, the duality of power will manifest itself as the opposition of the central authority of the Soviets to the monarchy. The court will become the center of reaction, the focus of Kornilovist intrigues. The question of its existence will be a burning issue, even with Soviets existing. There is the possibility, of course, if the tempo is very quick, that the Soviets will be confronted with the problem of power so rapidly that the issue of monarchy may be by-passed and as good as forgotten before being solved. This, however, seems to me the most unlikely perspective.
But, whatever the future variants may be, the present reality is still the absence of Soviets. The present problem is to enter the path of action, in order to form Soviets. There is not the slightest contradiction between the orientation toward Soviets and the demand of the republic. Quite the contrary, in fighting for that demand, along with many others, the masses will build Soviets.
I have heard the following argument repeated here and there in the party: “Did not Zinoviev, in October, 1917, threaten to lead the Bolshevik Party astray, with his orientation toward the constituent assembly?” The implication is that the use of democratic demands in general and of the slogan of the republic in particular may trammel the party in its offensive for power. Surprising as such an argument may be, its examination helps us to get at the heart of the question, which is: at what stage of the Italian Revolution are we now? Answering this question is an important part of the problem of determining whether the slogan of the republic is correct or not. The majority did not give any clear answer to the question, it did not even notice the existence of a question; but, by circulating or letting circulate such arguments as the one reported above, it confused the present situation in Italy with the eve of October.
I tried to answer that question about the present stage in my article On the European Situation and Our Tasks. Using the Spanish revolutionary calendar, I made a comparison with the Berenguer interlude, trying to show the similarities as well as the differences. If we want to use the Russian calendar, the question which arises is not “Are we on the eve of October in Italy?” but “Are we before or after February?” My answer to this question is as follows: Certain factors of the Italian situation put us after February. The most important of these factors has been the participation of the Stalinists and the Socialists in the government. But other factors place us before February: the Italian masses still have less experience of a generalized political struggle in the streets than the Russian masses had after February, the monarchy is still in existence and, because of that, the Italian ruling classes still have more centralization and cohesion than the Russian ruling classes had after February. The result of the analysis tends to prove the correctness of a vigorous offensive by the revolutionary party on the question of the monarchy.
Certain comrades have objected to this method of establishing points of comparison between Italy now and past revolutionary periods. This method, they say, may lead to the conception of necessary stages: Italy will ascend, one by one, the successive steps of the revolutionary ladder. The objection does not seem to me to be correct. In the period we have now entered, the masses will make, from time to time, tremendous leaps. Problems which have been stagnating for months, for years, will be solved in a few weeks, a few days, even a few hours of tremendous revolutionary passion. This is precisely the true character of every revolutionary period. Moreover, the tempo will not be the same everywhere and will not be the same as in past revolutions. Here slowly, there quickly, it will bear the mark of specific circumstances.
When all this is said, however, it does not mean that anything can happen at any time. Revolutions have their natural history. If not, what is the use of studying the past? We try to establish a correspondence between the different stages in Russia, in Spain, in Italy, never forgetting, of course, that the tempo may be slower or quicker, that whole stages can be skipped over, etc. Analyzing the May days in Barcelona in 1937, Leon Trotsky tried to determine whether they were the Spanish counterpart of the Russian July days or October days. We cannot dispense with such a method. It entails a certain relativity, for events are never exactly repeated, and we must always be on the lookout for possible differences; but to abandon the method of comparison altogether means to abandon all method in political thinking.
To the question: “At what stage are we in Italy now?,” I have given my answer, using either the Spanish or the Russian calendar. I only wish that arguments be presented against me, permitting me to change, to correct or to maintain my analysis, but, anyway, helping clarify the problem. The majority has not made the slightest effort in that direction, has not even considered the problem – which has not prevented it from throwing out the most brazen accusations at its opponents and from letting some of its members here and there argue about and the eve of October.
Certain comrades put the problem this way: We can very well propagate the negative slogan: “Down with the King!,” but to call: “For the republic!,” that is impossible! And they think they have thus avoided the sin of opportunism and saved their souls.
The main argument for the substitution is that on the morning after the proclamation of the republic the masses will be disappointed with the bourgeois republic; therefore we cannot call for anything positive. Unfortunately for the proponents of the negative slogan, exactly the same arguments can be directed against it: You called to fight against the King, the King is overthrown, and things are not much better! The solution is, of course, not in the petty trick of substituting a negative slogan for a positive one, but in a proper understanding and use of the slogan.
We call for the republic, but we never take the slightest responsibility for the republic arising out of the dirty compromises between the reactionaries, the liberals and the collaborationists. On the morning after the proclamation of the republic we tell the workers: “Is that the republic we fought for? Is it for this that we have fought in1- the streets and forced the King to flee? No!” And we will develop the next stage of our problem. The masses will lend an ear to us, because we have been with them in their first fight. Bolshevism, real Bolshevism, is precisely that way of going with the masses through all their struggles, and not the lifeless manikin which is presently being built in the central offices of the SWP.
I must say that, if the same place and weight are accorded to them in the agitation and action of the party, the difference between the two slogans – the positive one “For the republic” and the negative one “Against the King” – is very small. If the Italian comrades would for some practical considerations prefer the negative one, I would not spend a minute discussing the change and would accept it readily. However, the Italian comrades did adopt the positive slogan of the republic and put it as the first point of their program. And when some American comrades, on this continent, prefer the negative slogan, it is not for practical considerations on the Italian scene, but the distinction is for them a kind of shelter where they expect to be protected from the scarecrows of opportunism erected by the leadership of the majority. This is why we must discuss with them and force them to bring their reasons into the open.
Since last June, newspapers have reported dozens of incidents which indicate, even more than “three thousand miles” away, that the problem of the monarchy is a burning political question in Italy. These incidents show the wrath of the masses against the accomplices of Mussolini, the King and the Crown Prince. They show also the servility of the official parties, Stalinist and Socialist, on that question.
Here we may stop an instant to answer an argument of a minor spokesman for the majority. According to him, we cannot use the slogan of the republic because the Socialists and Communists are also calling for a republic and we must “differentiate ourselves.”
First, a question of fact. It is not true that the Stalinist party is now calling for the republic or even saying anything against the monarchy. For many months the Socialist Party kept silent on the issue. Last November, Nenni, a bit less cynical than Togliatti, felt obliged to utter a few phrases against the monarchy.
But even if the collaborationists were using the slogan of the republic, that would not in itself prevent us from using it. Very often we do not “differentiate ourselves” by the slogans, but we “differentiate ourselves” by the methods we advocate for their realization. We say clearly that, unlike the collaborationists, we prepare to solve the monarchic problem, as any other problem, by our own methods, through the revolutionary action of the masses. When in 1940 the Stalinists were denouncing the imperialist war, did we feel the necessity of “differentiating ourselves” by ceasing to oppose the war? But enough of that.
A great light has been thrown on the question by the November 12 meeting in Rome. It has, until now, been the greatest political demonstration in Italy since the fall of Mussolini. Let us reread a few sentences of the account in the New York Times:
The meeting was clearly anti-monarchy, as far as the sentiment of the public was concerned, although Signor Togliatti was again careful to avoid compromising himself on what has become Italy’s most delicate problem. Every possible reference to the monarchy, however indirect, was greeted with tremendous hoots, whistles and boos.
What a vivid picture of the situation!
The November meeting was such a blow at the shaky political structure of the majority that its spokesmen had to find some kind of explanation. Until now they have found nothing better than this: “The meeting was for the celebration of the anniversary of the Russian Revolution; the masses showed they were for socialism.” How revealing of their mentality is that explanation! Instead of trying to discover in the shouts, in the interruptions, in what the speakers said and in what they did not say, what questions preoccupy the masses, the spokesmen for the majority simply accepted the official Stalinist version of the meeting.
According to the New York Times’ account of the meeting,
“Signor Togliatti’s address was restrained. It was full of praise for the Russian Revolution ... Whenever possible the crowd shouted: ‘Down with the monarchy!’ But the Communist leader was careful never to mention the subject.”
The Militant was also careful not to mention the subject of the monarchy. Its account of the meeting, in the November 25 issue, simply repeated the official interpretation that “Italian Masses Celebrate 1917 Russian Revolution.” Not a word about the anti-monarchical character of the meeting! Can you imagine? The Italian masses confirming just in time by their action the prognosis of the opposition. What impudence! A letter from Comrade Abe Stein, reminding the editors of The Militant of the obvious anti-monarchical character of the meeting, was buried.
Yes the Italian masses want socialism. But how to get socialism? How to make the first step? On that, of course, the majority is as dumb as a fish. The whole problem is erroneously transferred from the plane of action to the plane of conviction. The question is not simply to convince the masses that socialism is very beautiful, but to help them to take the first step of political struggle, to find the issues on which they are ready to fight. I have said since last July that an important one of these issues was the monarchy. The November meeting confirmed my prognosis as completely as a political prognosis can ever be confirmed. The answer of the majority is: “The masses want socialism, and you are a literary man.” Everybody can appreciate the pertinence of the answer.
Since the November meeting, new incidents have further confirmed the importance of the problem. After the escape of the Fascist hangman Roatta, a big political demonstration took place in Rome on March 6. Where did the crowd go to express its wrath? To the Quirinal Palace, that is, to the residence of the royal family. The revolutionary instinct of the Roman masses was more correct than all the ultra-left ratiocinations. The whole demonstration clearly had an anti-monarchic character. 
The problem of the monarchy has taken on even more political weight than one could suspect last July, when I wrote my first article on the problem. Very likely, when the military front which separates the North from the South disappears, evens will take a quicker tempo. The fate of the Italian monarchy may be sealed in a few days and the Italian revolution will tackle new and higher tasks. But, until then, the question is on the order of the day.
It is not for us, of course, to decide here, in New York, all the details of the use of the slogan of the republic. We can leave that to the Italian comrades. But have not events thrown enough light upon that question in the last nine months to permit us to adopt the slogan in itself?
The majority of the leadership of the SWP has been prevented from accepting the slogan not by lack of information, but by political prejudices. Nothing reveals that more clearly than the fact that they have concealed information about Italy. The press of the SWP has kept silence on the anti-monarchic character of the November 12th meeting and other political demonstrations. The press of the SWP took four months – and then only after a minority motion for it – to publish the program of action of our Italian comrades, which was received in the latter part of November. The delay was for no other reason, as far as we can understand, than that the first point of that program is the demand for the republic.
When political misconceptions come into such conflict with reality, it is high time to abandon them. It is high time to reject all ultra-left ratiocinations. It is high time to come back to the traditions of our movement. It is high time to enter the road outlined by the opposition.
March 14, 1945
1. Most of the big newspapers were careful not to mention this aspect of the demonstrations. But a UP dispatch, reproduced for instance in Il Progresso Italo-Americano of New York, states:
“The demonstrators shouted ‘Death to the King!,’ ‘Death to Umberto!,’ ‘Down with the House of Savoy!’”
Last updated: 16.2.2006