Writing on the eve of the April 1920 Turin general strike led by factory councils, Gramsci attacks the Italian anarchists in a rather patronising way, claiming that anarchists expressed only empty abstraction and ideal 'absolute truths' and that in the course of a revolution anarchist workers would overcome their 'illusions' to realise the necessity for the existence of the mythical 'proletarian state'.
According to Gramsci, the loyal pro-Bolshevik, "For anarchist workers the advent of the workers' state will be the advent of the freedom of their class, and thus also of their personal freedom..."; this was written only a year before the Bolshevik regime massacred Russian sailors and workers at Kronstadt, and at a time when anarchists and other working class critics (including the veteran Bolshevik Miasnikov) were already being persecuted and thrown into Cheka jails in the new 'workers state' of the USSR.
Despite Gramsci's claims here of his Socialist Party being the true representative of working class interests, in the aftermath of the workers' defeat he was soon obliged to denounce the "betrayal" of the general strike by the Socialist Party and the General Confederation of Labour (CGL), the main trade union body; "...the leaders ... spurned the Turin workers, and did everything possible to prevent the workers and peasants of Italy from undertaking any revolutionary action by which they might have planned to show their solidarity with their brothers in Turin, and to bring them effective assistance."
An Address to the Anarchists
The Italian anarchists are very touchy, as well as arrogant: they have always been convinced of being the repository of revealed revolutionary truth; this conviction has become 'monstrous' since the Socialist Party, under the influence of the Russian Revolution and Bolshevik propaganda, has taken over certain fundamental points of Marxist doctrine, and is spreading them in a simple and popular way among the mass of workers and peasants. For a while now the Italian anarchists have been doing nothing but letting off steam with the satisfied observation:
"We have said it all along. We were right!"
without ever posing themselves these questions:. Why, if we have been right, have we not been followed by the majority of the Italian proletariat? Why has the majority of the Italian proletariat always followed the Socialist Party and the Union bodies allied to the Socialist Party? (Why has the Italian proletariat always allowed itself to be 'fooled by the Socialist Party and by the Union bodies allied to the.Socialist Party'?) The Italian anarchists could only answer these questions exhaustively after a great gesture of humility and contrition: only after having abandoned the anarchist point of view, the point of view of absolute truth, and after having recognised they were wrong when...... they were right: only after recognising that absolute truth is not enough to bring the masses to action, to infuse the masses with revolutionary spirit, but that a determinate 'truth' is needed: after having recognised that for the purposes of human history, the only 'truth' is that which is embodied in action, which swells present awareness with passion and drive, which is translated into profound movements and into real conquests on the part of the masses themselves. The Socialist Party has always been the party of the Italian working people: its mistakes and weaknesses are the mistakes and weaknesses of the Italian working people: the material conditions of Italian life have developed, as has the class-consciousness of the proletariat: the Socialist Party has acquired a greater political identity, has tried to win for itself a specific doctrine of its own. The anarchists have stood still, are continuing to stand still, hypnotised by the conviction of having been in the right, of being still in the right: the Socialist Party has changed itself together with the proletariat, has changed because the class consciousness of the proletariat has changed: in this movement lies the profound truth of the Marxist doctrine, which today has become its doctrine: in this movement is also contained the 'libertarian' characteristic of the Socialist Party which should not escape the notice of intelligent anarchists, and which should give them food for thought. The anarchists could, through reflection, reach the conclusion that freedom, understood as a real historical development of the proletarian class, has never been embodied in libertarian groups, but has always sided with the Socialist Party.
Anarchism is not a concept proper to the working class and to the working class alone: there we have the reason for the permanent 'triumph', for the permanent 'rightness' of the anarchists. Anarchism is the elementary subversive position of any oppressed class, and is the prevailing consciousness under any ruling class. Since every class oppression has taken form in a State, anarchism is the elementary subversive position which finds in the State in se and per se the cause of all the sufferings of the oppressed class. Every class, as it becomes a ruling class, has realised its own concept of anarchy, because it has realised its own freedom. The bourgeois was anarchic before his class conquered political power and imposed on society the ideal State regime for defending the capitalist mode of production: the bourgeois continues to be anarchic after his revolution, because the laws of his State are not a constraint on him: they are his laws, and the bourgeois can claim to live without laws, can claim to live as a libertarian. The bourgeois will become anarchic again after the proletarian revolution: then he will again become aware of the existence of a State, of the existence of laws foreign to his will, hostile to his interests, to his habits, to his freedom: he will become aware that 'State' is synonymous with 'constraint', because the workers' State will deprive the bourgeois class of the freedom to exploit the proletariat, because the workers' State will be the bulwark of a new mode of production, which, as it develops, will destroy every trace of capitalist ownership and every possibility of its rebirth.
But the concept proper to the bourgeois class has not been anarchism: it has been the doctrine of liberalism, just as the concept proper to the working class is not anarchism, but Marxist communism. Every given class has its own given ideology, belonging to that class and to no other. Anarchism has been the 'fringe' position of every oppressed class: Marxist communism is the specific ideology of the modern working class, and of that class alone: the revolutionary theses of Marxism become a cabalistic cifer if you think outside of the modern proletariat and the capitalist mode of production, of which the modern proletariat is the consequence. The proletariat is not hostile to the State in se and per se, just as the bourgeois class was not hostile to the State in se and per se either. The bourgeois class was hostile to the despotic State, to the power of the aristocrats - but was favourable to the bourgeois State, to liberal democracy: the proletariat is hostile to the bourgeois State, to power in the hands of the capitalists and bankers, but is favourable to the dictatorship of the proletariat, to power in the hands of the workers and the peasants. The proletariat is favourable to the Workers' State, as a phase of the class struggle, the final phase, in which the proletariat has the advantage as an organised political force; but classes continue to exist, as does the society divided into classes, and the form proper to any society divided into classes, the State, which is in the hands of the working class and the peasants, and which is used by the working class and the peasants to guarantee their own freedom of development, to completely eliminate the bourgeoisie from history, and to consolidate the material conditions in which class oppression can no longer be brought about.
Is it possible to reach a reconciliation in the polemic between communists and anarchists? It is, for anarchist groups formed from class-conscious workers: it is not possible, though, for groups of anarchist intellectuals, for professional ideologues. For the intellectuals anarchism is an idol: it is a raison d'etre for their particular activity, present and future: effectively, for anarchist agitators the workers' State will be a 'State', a limitation of freedom, a constraint, for them as for the bourgeoisie. For libertarian workers anarchism is one weapon in the struggle against the bourgeoisie: revolutionary spirit overcomes ideology: the State which they are fighting is really and only the bourgeois capitalist State, and not at all the State in se, the idea of the State: the ownership that they wish to abolish is certainly not ownership in general, but the capitalist mode of ownership. For anarchist workers the advent of the workers' State will be the advent of the freedom of their class, and thus also of their own personal freedom; it will open the way for every experience, for every attempt at the positive realisation of the ideals of the proletariat; the work of creating the revolution will absorb them, and will make of them a vanguard of devoted aid disciplined militants.
In the positive act of proletarian creation, no difference will exist between worker and worker. Communist society cannot be built on domination, with laws and decrees: it springs spontaneously from the historic activity of the working class, which has acquired the power of initiative in industrial and agricultural production and is impelled to reorganise production in new modes, on a new basis. The anarchist worker will then value the existence of a centralised power, to guarantee him permanently the freedom he has acquired, and to permit him not to have to interrupt the work he has undertaken to run to the defence of the revolution at every moment: then he will value the existence of a great party of the better part of the proletariat, of a strongly organised and disciplined party, to give a spur to the creation of the revolution, to give the example of sacrifice, to draw the great masses of the workers by example, and to lead them to transcend more rapidly the state of humiliation and prostration to which capitalists' exploitation has reduced them.
The Socialist concept of the revolutionary process is characterised by two basic features which Romain Rolland has summed up in his watchword:
''Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will."
But the ideologues of anarchism declare that they "are interested in" repudiating Marx' pessimism of the intellect (cf. L. Fabbri - Letters to a Socialist-Florence 1914 - P 134), "inasmuch as a revolution occurring through extremes of misery or oppression would require the institution of an authoritarian dictatorship which could perhaps(!) bring us to State Socialism(!?), but never to anarchist Socialism."
Socialist pessimism has found a terrible confirmation in the recent events: the proletariat has been plunged into the purest abyss of misery and oppression that the mind of man could conceive. The ideologues of anarchism have nothing with which to face such a situation, bar an external and empty pseudo revolutionary language, interwoven with the stalest motifs of a foolish and vulgar optimism. The Socialists bring to bear energetic action to organise the best and most conscious elements in the working class: the Socialists strive in every way to prepare, through these vanguard elements, the largest masses to conquer for themselves freedom, and the power capable of guaranteeing this same freedom.
The proletarian class is at present scattered at random through the cities and the countryside, around machines, or bent over the soil: it works without knowing why it works, forced into servile labour by the ever-pressing threat of death by starvation and cold. It does group together in the unions and the cooperatives, but through the necessity of economic resistance, not through spontaneous choice, not following impulses freely born in its spirit. All the actions of the proletariat mass necessarily move in forms established by the capitalist mode of production, established by the State power of the bourgeoisie. To expect that a mass that is reduced to such conditions of spiritual and bodily slavery should express an autonomous historical development, to expect that it should spontaneously initiate and sustain the creation of a revolution, is pure illusion on the part of ideologues.
To depend only on the creative capabilities of such a mass, and not to work systematically to organise a great army of disciplined and conscious militants, ready for any sacrifice, educated to carry out an instruction immediately, ready to take upon itself effective responsibility for the revolution, ready to become the agents of the revolution, is complete and utter betrayal of the working class, is the beginnings of unconscious counter revolution.
The Italian anarchists are touchy because they are arrogant. They lose their tempers easily when faced with proletarian criticism: they prefer to be adulated and flattered as champions of revolutionary ideas and absolute theoretical coherence. We are convinced that, for the revolution, collaboration in Italy between socialists and anarchists is necessary, a frank and loyal collaboration between two political forces, based on problems of the proletariat. But we believe that it is necessary for the anarchists too to submit their traditional tactical criteria to a revision, as has the Socialist Party, and that they should justify their political assertions with real reasons, defined in time and space. The anarchists should become freer spiritually: it's a claim that should not seem excessive to those who claim to want freedom and nothing but freedom.
L'Ordine Nuovo - 3-10th April 1920
Source; Turin 1920 - Antonio Gramsci - Factory Councils and General Strike; Moulinavent Press, 1970.