Source: Published in To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921 (https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/897-to-the-masses), pp. 382-386
Translation: Translation team organized by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission
Comrade Maffi said that the Italian reformists’ activity gives expression to their opinions. That is absolutely true. We are anxious to learn about the Italian Socialist Party’s conduct. Its activity shows that it is not just the Italian reformists whose work expresses their opinions. Rather the entire party takes its direction from the reformists’ opinions – a much more significant phenomenon.
I have taken the floor in order to give an example. At the Livorno Congress of the Italian General Confederation of Workers (CGL), it was decided to establish very close ties between the CGL and the [Socialist] party.1 The nature of the two organisations’ unification was to be determined by the party’s Central Committee and the CGL. Italian comrades are familiar with this. Comrade Lazzari will confirm that the policies of the CGL are generally the same as those of the Socialist Party of Italy. At the [CGL’s] Livorno Congress a resolution on the Red International of Labour Unions was put to a vote. Here is the text of this resolution.
1.) Affiliate wholeheartedly to the initiative to found a red trade-union International, subject to the condition that the ties between the Labour Confederation and the Socialist Party remain in place and that the principle of unification of the Italian trade-union movement in the Confederation be recognised.
2.) Break from the Amsterdam trade-union alliance, in accord with the decisions to be taken by the Moscow congress.
Comrades, when the congress states that it is breaking with Amsterdam and will accept the decision of the Moscow Congress, this quite obviously means that relations between the Italian CGL and the Amsterdam trade-union alliance will no longer be so close. But what we see is that since the Livorno Congress the Italian CGL has moved closer to the Amsterdam alliance and further away from the red trade-union council. In April, the national CGL council decided to turn to the Amsterdam International regarding the question of Fascism. The Italian CGL is thus turning to an organisation that, as it very well knows, is unwilling and unable to do anything, an organisation whose role is to sabotage the world revolution. I am sure there is not a single comrade who does not grasp the nature of the actions by Jouhaux, Huysmans, and company – the leaders of this ‘International’. And nonetheless, the Italian CGL turns to the Amsterdam trade-union International, which responds with a friendly letter, in which it announces a contribution of fifty thousand lire for the struggle against Fascism. What could that possibly mean? And how did the CGL respond? It sent the Amsterdam trade-union alliance an affirmation of friendship, which states, ‘We thank the trade-union International that has come to the aid of our movement at a difficult moment, thus demonstrating that the international proletariat stands in solidarity with us.’
The Italian comrades know very well that the very gentlemen who sent them fifty thousand lire take part in the International Labour Office side by side with Italy’s industrial magnates, such as Alberto Pirelli, and Michelis, who represents Italy’s monarchical government. They act as good neighbours in the International Labour Office with those who are organising Fascism and its pogroms in Italy. With their left hand they send the Italian proletariat fifty thousand lire, while their right hand reaches out to those who organise pogroms in Italy. This exchange of courtesies between the CGL and the Amsterdam trade-union bureau shows that the CGL has gone much further than was intended by its Livorno Congress.
What did the party decide on this matter? A declaration on this show of solidarity appeared in Avanti, which read:
The Amsterdam trade-union International, which recently sent our Confederation the message of solidarity printed below, is not in complete agreement with us regarding the urgent needs of the proletarian movement. Some of their leaders are, indeed, quite distant from our ideals. If this was an appropriate time for polemics, we could reproach some of them for having solidarised during the War with forces that were then and still are among the most unrepentant representatives of reaction. Still, we are far from wishing to minimise the importance of this expression of international solidarity, which has touched us deeply.
Is it possible to reproach the people who lead the Amsterdam trade-union bureau for their traitorous and perfidious activity during the War? No. But we can reproach them for what they are doing now in France, Britain, and Germany. We must reproach those who lead the trade-union movement for the fact that they are the worst enemies of the revolutionary movement. Did they not contribute to strangling the March Action in Germany? Why does the party’s official publication write that they can be reproached only for their activity during the War? Well, what are they doing now? When they send money to the CGL, does that make their activity beyond reproach? Is this perhaps an isolated case? Not at all. When the party carries out reformist policies, it pushes the CGL closer to the Amsterdam trade-union alliance.
In order to demonstrate the spirit that prevails among the CGL leaders, let me give you another example. A few days ago, we received a telegram from the Italian CGL that reads as follows:
The CGL proposes holding the [red trade-union] international congress in Stockholm or Reval [Tallinn] and postponing its date to August, so that the resolution of the Third International congress can be placed before it. After taking up the general questions, the congress must deal specifically with the international position of trade unions as well as with their programme and that of the Communist International.
We responded that we stood ready to hold a congress not only in Stockholm but in Italy itself, but the congress we had already called could not under any circumstances be cancelled. It was a mystery to us what they wished to achieve by moving the congress to Stockholm or Reval. However, just then we received a letter from D’Aragona dated 25 May. The telegram had been sent later than the letter, which contained an explanation of the proposal to shift our congress to Stockholm. D’Aragona wrote as follows:
In order to ensure that all delegates are able to maintain unbroken contact with those they represent and to enable their mandates to be carefully scrutinised, we consider it desirable that the congress take place in a city suited to these purposes. In order to also do justice to your interests, we would propose Stockholm or Reval.
It is questionable whether the Swedish government would permit the holding of such a congress. Could we be certain that the government would not throw the delegates in jail? And what is the meaning of this ambiguous sentence stating that the validity of mandates can be better scrutinised in Stockholm or Reval? They are suggesting that here in Moscow representation could be faked and that we could arrange for phony delegates. In order to permit ‘scrutiny’, you want to meet in Stockholm, under the patronage of a bourgeois government. What is that supposed to mean, Comrade Lazzari? Well, this is certainly a dexterous form of politics, but I do not consider it to be very wise. It seems to me that the comrades in the CGL leadership are manoeuvring here with the intention of going through a different door.
The money received from the Amsterdam trade-union bureau, the cordial exchange of letters between the CGL and the Amsterdam bureau, and finally the ambiguous letter sent to us, which carries a distinct odour of diplomacy – this entire procedure tells us that the Italian CGL is preparing to enter the Amsterdam bureau through the back door.
I can hardly believe, comrades, that the Italian workers will permit their leaders to carry out this ambiguous policy. The resolution adopted in Livorno is reasonably clear. It says that they will remain with the Red International of Labour Unions. But what do we see? Instead of moving toward the RILU or turning to us, they are turning to Amsterdam, which is morally linked to the people organising pogroms in every country. These facts give us a clear indication that the Italian Socialist Party has become caught up in the mechanism of reformism.
There is a logic in this conduct. You cannot break free of all the facts. If you fight against the Left, you cannot avoid moving closer to the Right. You cannot always dance on the tightrope, you will fall either on the left or the right side. What did the Italian comrades do during the Livorno Congress? They shifted to the right in every field of activity. I am focusing on the trade-union movement. Now, Comrade Lazzari, what do you make of the Italian CGL’s proposal to move our congress to Stockholm? Can the CGL guarantee us that we will be able to hold our sessions there? From a diplomatic point of view, the proposal is a clever move, but it is Machiavellian, to use an Italian term. Hundreds of delegates have already arrived in Moscow, and those from America and other distant points had to leave their homeland two months before the congress, in order to arrive on time. Given knowledge of that fact, such a proposal is impermissible from both a class and a revolutionary point of view. In my opinion, this proposal, and the attempt to move away from the international trade-union organisation, show quite clearly that the Italian party is trying to enter through the trade-union door of the Amsterdam bureau in order then to return through the political door into the Two-and-a-Half or the Second International. It is not possible to separate off the trade-union movement from politics.
Take care, Comrades Lazzari and Maffi. Together with other loyal comrades, you want the party to turn left. You need to examine these facts closely. They are not isolated incidents but rather an overall political course showing that since the Livorno Congress the Socialist Party of Italy has shifted right in the trade-union movement and in its activity as a whole. This is an extremely great and urgent danger for the Italian proletariat.
The Fascists are demolishing labour halls,2 carrying out pogroms, destroying trade unions, and murdering militant proletarians. This is happening because the comrades of the Italian Socialist Party are not carrying out effective resistance. I have read a report on a socialist meeting that took up the question of resistance against Fascism. The speeches made there had a Tolstoyan colouration. But this is no time for Tolstoyism, no time for passivity. In order to combat Fascism, the Italian party must expel the reformists from their midst. Failing this, you will be driven to the right, while the Italian proletariat will move to the left and make the revolution without you and against you.
1. The Fifth Congress of the General Confederation of Labour (CGL), held in Livorno from 26 February to 3 March 1921, a month after the PSI Livorno Congress.
2. The labour hall (camera del lavoro) was a local union centre that played a large and militant role in the Italian labour movement, going back to the 1890s. These centres became a major target for Fascist attacks. Between January and May 1921, 243 labour halls were attacked, with 202 workers killed and over a thousand wounded.