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PSI 1919-1920 - Biennio Rosso

The history of the Italian Socialist Party has been one of divisions and regroupings. In 1892, at the Congress of Genoa, Socialism triumphed over Anarchism ; while in 1907, in Florence, the majority broke up into Marxists and Syndicalists, with a victory for the former. Six years later, at the Congress of Reggio-Emilia, the international character of Marxian Socialism was saved by the formation of the ' Official' Socialist Party and the secession of the Reformist Socialists.

It is generally considered that as a party the Italian Socialists approached more closely to the Bolshevik type than any other European section of the party. The attitude of the Italian Socialists toward Lenin and Trotzky was one of consistent approval and co-operation. The propaganda in the army was modelled on that of the Bolsheviki to disrupt the Russian army's morale, discipline and patriotism. Their efforts since the Great War turned in the direction of gaining control of labor and of bringing on mass strikes. They planned a universal strike throughout Italy on July 20-21, 1919, to protest against interfering with the Bolsheviki in Russia and Hungary. They celebrated, on November 7, 1919, the anniversary of the Bolshevist revolution in Russia, by demonstrations in the principal cities of Italy. The extraordinary success of the Socialist candidates at the polls, due largely to the discontent with the high cost of living, has made the party a formidable element in the Italian Chamber.

At the 1918 convention, the party decided to withdraw from the International Socialist Bureau and declined to send delegates to the Berne International Conference. The National Executive Committee later decided, however, to send two of its members to Beme to observe the activities of the Conference. At the same convention, the party reiterated its anti-war position, called the Socialist deputies to task for failing to take a more aggressive stand in the Chamber of Deputies, and gave the Executive Committee power to expel recalcitrant deputies. It also refused to send delegates to the Inter-Allied Socialist and Labor Conference in London on the ground that it admitted the American Federation of Labor, while delegates from the Socialist Party of America and the Russian Communist Party were not present. The party also repudiated both the mission from the American Federation of Labor and the Social-Democratic League of America, which visited Italy.

The National Executive Committee submitted a proposition in December, 1918, to the party subdivision favoring the elimination of all minimum demands from the party program which is used in electoral campaigns. The proposition met with almost unanimous approval of the different sections of the party. It also issued a declaration in which it sponsored the establishment of a Socialist Republic and the dictatorship of the proletariat, with the following scope: (1) The socialization of the means of production and transportation, land, mines, railroads, steamships operated and managed directly by the peasants, sailors, miners and workers; (2) distribution of commodities through co-operatives or municipal agencies exclusively; (3) abolition of military conscription and universal disarmament following the union of all Socialist proletarian international republics of the world.

The declaration also vigorously advocated the withdrawal of troops from Russia, and announced that the Socialist Party "would not join in the homage to the representative of the United States," so that when President Wilson addressed the Chamber of Deputies, he found nearly forty seats, usually occupied by the Socialists, empty. The party convention also went on record against readmission of all those former members of the party who supported the government in the prosecution of the war and instructed its subdivisions to strictly observe this mandate.

The Socialist Party of Italy was not as powerful as its numbers indicate. Since the signing of the armistice the membership of the party had trebled. It became the numerically largest party in the Chamber. Much of this following was sentimental, not class-conscious - a jumbling together of the pacifist sentiment which caused the disastrous military strike of Cappretto, the vague discontent resulting from post-war adjustment, and above all from the precipitate demobilization which flung millions back into civil life almost simultaneously, with no attempt to insure their industrial assimilation. At the very beginning of the "occupations" revolutionary enthusiasm was dissipated in factional bickering.

The Italian Socialist Party was the first Socialist Party of power and influence to ally itself with the Third (Moscow) International, and which openly endorsed the program and manifesto of the Moscow Conference. This important step was taken by the National Executive Committee of the party which met in March, 1919, at Milan, by a vote of ten to three, and which was later endorsed by an overwhelming vote at the National Convention of the party.

During 1919 the party continued its agitation for amensty for political prisoners, and secured the release of several of its leaders, among whom were Constantino Lazzari, veteran secretary of the party, his assistant, Nicola Bombaoci, and the editor of the party organ "Avanti," Giacinto Serrati. In June, 1919, the International Socialist Bureau sent a committee consisting of Ramsay Macdonald and Jean Longuet to discuss with the Italian Party the reconsideration of the withdrawal from the Second International. The negotiations proved of no avail.

Preparatory to the next congress of the Socialist Party, the National Executive Committee issued a draft of a program, in which the party was called upon to prepare for the coming revolution by the formation of agencies which would be in a position to direct the course of the revolution, with the aim of establishing a Soviet form of government. The program even went as far as to promulgate certain fundamental principles underlying the dictatorship of the proletariat, such as the disenfranchising of persons who do not do any socially useful work.

In the Parliamentary elections of November 1919, the Socialist Party scored a tremendous victory, receiving about 3,000,000 votes as against 883,409 in 1913, or more than a third of the votes cast, and increasing its representation in the Chamber from 44 to 159. The campaign was waged on an anti-war and revolutionary program, which included unqualified support to the Russian Soviet Government.

The industrial labor movement was divided into two distinct groups, one co-operating closely with the Socialist Party, and the other consisting of the syndicalist organizations, which were not interested in political action. At a national conference in April, the Italian labor unions demanded the convocation of a constituent assembly for a revision of the form of government favoring the transformation of the national parliament as constituted at present into a national soviet. The membership of the Italian labor unions was estimated to be about 1,000,000, which was an increase of almost 300,000 since 1917, and an organization campaign was on throughout the country to enroll more workers into the unions.

The National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party arranged for a Congress in October, 1919, at Bologna. There were four groups within the Socialist Party which prepared four distinct programs that were considered throughout Italy by the members several weeks before the meeting. These four programs were as follows:

  1. The first was that of the Reformists led by Turati, who was the founder of the party in Italy and had been its leader until 1918. Turati had been consistently opposed to the war but was opposed also to revolutionary direct action, and was not among those who favored the Soviet program. He wanted the party to keep co-operating with the present government in Italy with a program of conquering public power through the ballot and meanwhile securing reform measures. He was of the same type of Marxian Socialist as the German Socialists led by Kautsky.
  2. Opposed to Turati were the Maximilists led by Serrati. This section of the party had gained control at the Congress in Rome in 1918 and had pledged themselves to absolute sympathy and co-operation with the Soviet government in Russia. Serrati himself had come from the United States where he had directed a Socialist newspaper and the organization of an Italian Socialist Party. He was the coming man in the Italian group. The only difference between the program of Serrati and that of Lenin was that Serrati believed the party should take part in the present government; should send as many deputies to Parliament as possible; should use the parliamentary platform for spreading Socialist ideas and keeping out pseudo Socialists. Meantime, the program of the party was to be a Soviet program, including arming of the proletariat, disarming of the bourgeoisie, and establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat. This was to be done while ostensibly supporting the parliamentary regime through the progressive establishment of Soviet workers' organizations throughout the country, and educating the proletariat for its coming supremacy.
  3. A third party of Centrists was headed by Lazzari. It was a rather colorless timid party, which coalesced with the Reformists when the Congress opened, reducing the groups from four to three before it came to the voting.
  4. The last of the parties was that of the Abstentionists, headed by the young leader named Bordiga, who was even more extreme than Serrati and the Maximilists, preaching of course abstention from parliamentary action and immediate direct action to bring about the revolution. The voting on the three programs was:
For the Maximilists of Serrati, 48,411; for the Unitarians of Lazzari aud Turati, 14,886; and for the Abstentionists of Bordiga, 3,417. This meant an even greater triumph for the Soviet section of the Socialist Party than in the Congress of 1918. The party had then to decide on its policy in the approaching elections; and it nominated its candidates from all three of the above groups in proportion to their voting strength, on condition that all elected candidates should follow the policy, not of their group, but of the whole party. A very characteristic and important condition was that no one could be a candidate of the party who had in any way favored or aided the late war.

It must be remembered that Serrati had taken part in the Turin uprising during the war, which was considered by the government an act of treason of the Socialist Party behind the lines, and had led to his imprisonment for eight months. This incident also had led Premier Orlando in Parliament to state that after the Caporetto diaster, Italy had been in worse danger from traitors behind the lines than from enemies in front, and to agree with a speech of one of the former Socialist leaders that he would be ready to shoot down any traitorous Socialist.

The pronounced Soviet character of the Congress, it was thought, might bring about disagreement with the great Italian labor organization which was largely Syndicalist. But this break did not occur and the elections were very successful from a Socialist point of view. They secured almost one-third of the membership of the Chamber of Deputies, electing 156 candidates. On the day of the opening of the Italian Parliament, they asserted their lack of loyalty to the Royal government by remaining seated while the King ascended the throne, and by rising from their seats and shouting, "Long live Socialism," and leaving the chamber as soon as the Royal address was delivered.

This action led to disturbances and strikes throughout a large part of Italy. The Italian Socialists were as a body very levelheaded and did not expect to bring about an immediate revolution until two things had occurred. In the first place, a very much wider education of the people and its organization in Soviet form; and in the second place, a wider international diffusion of adherence to the Soviet idea; because they feel that only as an international movement can Communism succeed. The program of the Italian Socialist Party as declared in 1892 was retained practically intact, except for the details of Soviet organization and the preparations for direct action.

At the meeting of the 'Centrist' Socialists at Reggio-Emilia in the middle of October 1920, Russian revolutionary methods were repudiated; and the foundations were laid for the secession of the Communists from the Socialist Party which was to follow later.

The Italian Socialist Party was the strongest socialist organization in the country and represented the extreme left of the movement. This party was opposed to participation in the government and favors, with reservations, the Third International. In 1921 it was represented in the Chamber of Deputies by 156 members out of a total of 508, the largest representation of any single party in Italy. The split in the Party which followed came as the Congress opened at Leghorn on Jan. 15, 1921. At the congress of Livorno, January 1921, a split occurred over the issue of accepting unreservedly the conditions of the Third International. The congress was confronted by three resolutions: that of the majority endorsing the Third International with certain reservations; that of the Communists; and that of the Right wing favoring the Third International with maximum reservations. The vote was as follows: 98,029 for the first; 58,790 for the second; 14,212 for the third.

Henceforth, it was thought, Socialism would be torn by internal divisions, and would be rent by the great struggle for mastery between the two radically opposed groups, the partisans of progressive evolution and of violent revolution respectively.

At the Congress of Leghorn in March 1921, when the twenty-one conditions of Moscow were rejected, the Communists, controlling about a third of the delegated vote, seceded to form a separate party - the Communist Party of Italy.. The split which occurred at Leghorn was not an unusual event in the history of Italian Socialism. The peculiar feature was the fact that the group which came out with a majority could not be stable, but, as is already apparent, would eventually be absorbed in the ranks of either the Marxists or the Communists. The group which secured this ephemeral victory at Leghorn was that which had clustered round Menotti Serrati, editor of the 'Avanti!'

The Socialist Party had since been receding from its more rabid tactics. Meanwhile the advocates of social reform consolidated their position. The social-reform wing was led by Filippo Turati, who advocated collaboration in the Cabinet with other parties. His speeches showed a consistent willingness to enter - perhaps head - a coalition Cabinet. He argued that voting is collaboration with a bourgeoisie Government, that holding a seat in Parliament is collaboration, that the tacit support of Premier Bonomi was collaboration; that, therefore, the logical course is " to enter the camp of realization-thus securing a little socialism-without sacrificing the party's independence of thought and action." In the Congress of Milan, which threatened to disrupt the party a second time, the collaborationists - Frazione di Concentrazione - controlled a third of the vote.

This faction largely dictated the signing of a peace pact with the Fascisti. That pact had disastrous effects upon the Fascisti organization. Many local members - especially in the agricultural districts, where the Socialists still exercised practically autonomous colony-control of the land - refused to abide by the pact. This insubordination caused the resignation of Signor Mussolini, the head of the Fascisti movement.



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