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Charles Van Gelderen

Trotskyism in Italy

(Winter 1995/96)

From Revolutionary History, Vol. 6 No. 1, Winter 1995/96, pp. 208–9.
Transcribed by Alun Morgan for the Revolutionary History Website.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Dear Editor

The very interesting contribution to the history of Trotskyism in Italy in 1943–44 by Paolo Casciola (Revolutionary History, Volume 5, no. 4) is an important addition to the history of our movement.

There are, however, one or two points in his article which I would like to question. I must emphasise that I rely entirely on my fading memory. When I first met Nicola Di Bartolomeo in 1944, he was undoubtedly under the influence of the Shachtmanite Workers Party. He had been isolated from the international movement during the years of his internment, first in France, then in Italy, and his first contact was with Walter Gourlay, a member of the Workers Party, a supporter of the Johnson-Forest tendency within that organisation. But he never, to my knowledge, committed himself to Shachtman or Johnson’s theoretical position. He firmly supported the Transitional Programme. He did have some doubts at the time about the physical existence of the Fourth International. ‘The important thing’, he said to me, ‘is the programme.’

After Charlie Curtis of the American Socialist Workers Party and Louis Sinclair contacted us, we succeeded in winning Nicola and Bruno over to the position of the International Secretariat. Later I was able to influence Villone, and win him over from his Bordigist position. What I seriously question is that Nicola and Bruno ‘chose the road of entrism into the Socialist Party and its youth organisation’. When I first met them, yes, they were in the Socialist Party, and, indeed, it was from an address given to the Socialist Youth organisation in Naples that they contacted me through Gourlay. But, as soon as they had made contact with the International, they opted for an independent party, the POC, and began publishing Il Militante. This was before we established contact with Mangano.

I, in fact, opposed this move. The Italian comrades were completely isolated from the working class, who in their overwhelming millions were supporting the Communist and Socialist Parties. Nicola was playing an important and influential rôle in the Confederazione Generale del Lavoro. I thought that this was a sound base from which we could begin building a Trotskyist cadre inside the Socialist Party and its youth organisation. I still think I was right.

It was only because of this isolation from the mass movement that they eventually made the compromise agreement with Mangano’s Apulian Federation. They also drew in someone who I think was called Secchi, who published Pensiera Marxista, which increased the Bordigist influence in the POC.


Charlie van Gelderen

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