Vita di Antonio Gramsci
Antonio Gramsci and the Origins of Italian Communism
A short time ago, in the Italian Chamber of Deputies, after announcing my party’s vote in favor of a Communist proposal for the abolition of movie censorship, I concluded, “It is superfluous to point out that Liberals have been against all kinds of censorship in all countries for centuries, while Communists are against it only when and where they are not in power.” I sat down as the extreme Left booed me. All this had happened before. Whenever the occasion warrants it, either the Communists or the Liberals make similar proposals, the Liberals more often than the Communists; a noble debate follows. The Liberals draw the neat distinction between permanent and occasional love of liberty; the Communists boo; then an overwhelming majority (Catholics, neo-Fascists, Monarchists, Republicans, and Socialists) buries us under an avalanche of nays. As I was leaving on that particular day, the young, erudite, and inexperienced Marxist-Leninist who had just spoken on behalf of his Party ran after me and said, “This you must admit, that the Italian Communists have always been in favor of liberty!” He was visibly hurt that doubts should be cast on the sincerity and intellectual consistency of his motives. I did not argue. I knew he had no doubts that liberty (real liberty, and not the trompe l’oeil variety which bewitched our grandfathers and is still held sacred by the bourgeois) could be secured in no other way than by serving one of the most tyrannical, bureaucratic, and dogma-ridden organizations ever invented by man. I reassured him. Yes, I said, the Italian Communists have always declared liberty was their ultimate goal. He looked relieved and thanked me.
This apparently contradictory belief, that pyromaniacs make the best firemen, that one can further the cause of the angels by joining the devils, is undisputed among Italian intellectual Communists. The rank and file do not worry about such metaphysical matters; they wholeheartedly belong to what they rightly think is a pitiless, centralized, and well-knit mass organization, which will destroy all class enemies, conquer the world, and run it autocratically, according to inflexible scientific rules, in the interest of the proletariat. They would like nothing better than a good bloody revolution tomorrow morning but they know they have to be patient. In the meantime they enjoy occasional street brawls and disorderly strikes, which are good for frightening the government, intimidating the American embassy, and extracting concessions from the capitalists. Few ordinary card-holding members ever felt qualms of conscience. They dearly loved Stalin; considered forced-labor camps a sad necessity; cheered the Soviet tanks in Budapest; and now are tempted to applaud Mao, the leader of a comprehensible form of paleo-Communism.
The intellectual elite, on the other hand, who have run the Party since 1924 with absolute power and no back talk, were continually tortured by secret doubts while Stalin was alive. Even loyal Palmiro Togliatti had to struggle with his conscience. He told Ignazio Silone in 1930: “The forms of the proletarian revolution are not arbitrary …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.
Gramsci Edition November 9, 1967