Antonio Gramsci 1926

Letter to Palmiro Togliatti

Source: Gramsci a Roma, Togliatti a Mosca, edited by Chiara Daniele. Giulio Einaudi Editore, Turin, 1999;
Translated: by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2007.

October 26, 1926
Dearest Ercoli:

I received your letter of the 18th. I’m responding on a personal basis, though satisfied that I express the opinion of the other comrades.

Your letter seems to me too abstract and schematic in its reasoning. Our point of departure – which seems to me to be accurate – is that in our countries there exist not only parties – understood as technical organizations – but also the great working masses, politically stratified in a contradictory way, but on a whole inclining towards unity. Among the most energizing elements of the unitary process is the existence of the USSR, combined with the real activity of the CPUSSR and the wide-spread conviction that the USSR is on the road to socialism. Insofar as our parties represent the entire complex of activities of the USSR they have a determining influence on all political strata, representing the unitary tendency progressing on a historical terrain fundamentally favorable, despite the contrary superstructures.

But there’s no need to believe that this element, which makes of the CPUSSR the most potent mass organizer that has ever appeared in history, has already acquired a stable and decisive form: on the contrary. It is still unstable. We shouldn’t forget that the Russian Revolution has already been in existence for nine years, and that its current activity is an amalgamation of partial political and governmental acts that only a highly developed theoretical and political consciousness can grasp as a whole and in its overall movement towards socialism. Not only for the great laboring masses, but for a notable part of the members of the western parties – who are differentiated from the masses only by the radical initial step towards a developed political consciousness which is entry into the Party – the overall movement of the Russ. Rev. is concretely represented by the fact that the Russian party advances in a unitary fashion; that the representative men that the masses know and have gotten used to knowing work and move forward together. The question of unity, not only of the R.P., but of the Leninist nucleus, is therefore a question of the greatest importance on an international level. And from the point of view of the masses this is the also the most important question in this historical period of an intensified, inconsistent process towards unity.

It is possible and probable that unity can’t be preserved, at least in the form it was in the past. It is also true that nonetheless the world will not collapse, and that it is necessary to prepare the comrades and the masses for the new situation. This doesn’t take away from that which is our absolute obligation, which is to energetically draw to the attention of the political consciousness of the Russian comrades the dangers and weaknesses that their attitudes are about to cause. We’d be poor and irresponsible revolutionaries if we passively allowed the fulfilling of a fait accompli by justifying their necessity a priori.

That the fulfilling of such an obligation on our part would – in a subordinate way – also be useful to the Opposition should only worry us up to a certain point. In fact, it is our objective to contribute to the creating and maintaining of a unitary plan in which the diverse tendencies and personalities could gather and meld together ideologically as well. But I don’t think that in our letter – which obviously must be read in its entirety and not in bits and pieces – there is the least danger of weakening the position of the majority of the CC. In any case, taking into account the possibility of such an appearance, in an attached letter I’ve authorized you to modify the form. You can quite well separate the two parts and place our affirmation of the “responsibility” of the Opposition at the beginning our affirmation. This mode of reasoning of yours has made a very distressing impression on me.

And I’d like to say to you there is not in us the least shadow of alarmism, but only a well-thought out and cold reflection. We are sure that in no way will the world collapse. But it seems to me that it would be foolish to move forward only if the world were about to collapse. Nevertheless, no phrases spoken can turn us from the idea that we are following the correct line – the Leninist line – in the way we consider the Russian question. The Leninist line consists in fighting for the unity of the P., but not only for external unity, but for a unity a bit more intimate, one that consists in there not being in the P. two political lines completely divergent on all questions . When dealing with things having to do with the ideological and political direction of the Intern., with that which concerns the hegemony of the prolet., that is the social content of the state, not only in our countries, but also in Russia, the unity of the P. is the existential condition.

You confuse the international aspects of the Russian Question – which are a reflection of the historical fact of the ties of the laboring masses with the first socialist state – and the problems of international organization in the area of unions and politics. The two orders of fact are strictly coordinated, but nevertheless distinct. The difficulties that are encountered, and which were constituted on the most restricted organizational level, depend on the fluctuations occurring on the larger plain of the idea spread among the masses of the reduction of the prestige of the R.P. in some popular areas. As a method we have only sought to speak of the more general aspects. We wanted to avoid falling into the scholasticism which too often surfaces in some documents of other parties, and that remove all seriousness from their interventions.

It thus isn’t true – as you say – that we are too optimistic about the real Bolshevization of the western P. The process of Bolshevization is so slow and difficult that every obstacle, however small, stops it or slows it down. The Russian discussion and the ideology of the Oppositions play a greater role in this slowing down and halting insofar as the Oppositions represent in Russia all the old prejudices of class corporatism and syndicalism that weigh on the traditions of the western proletariat and slow down their ideological and political development. Our remarks were totally against the Oppositions. It’s true that the crises of the P. and also of the R.P. are linked to the objective situation, but what does that mean? Perhaps that we should thus end the struggle and stop our efforts to favorably modify the subjective elements. But Bolshevism also consists precisely in keeping one’s head and in being ideologically and politically firm in difficult situations as well. Your remark is thus idle and void of any value, like that contained in point 5, since we spoke of the great masses and obviously not of the proletarian vanguard. Subordinately, therefore, the difficulty also exists for this, which is not an idle question but is tied to the masses; and it exists all the more insofar as reformism – with its tendency towards class corporatism: that is to say to the non-comprehension of the leading role of the vanguard, a role we must preserve even at the price of sacrifices – is much better rooted in the west than it was in Russia. You forgot the technical conditions in which the work of many parties developed, which don’t permit the diffusion of the most elevated theoretical questions other than in small circles of workers. All of your reasoning is corrupted by “bureaucratism:” today, nine years after October 1917 it is no longer the fact of the seizing of power by the Bolsheviks which can revolutionize the western masses – because this has already been taken into account and has produced its effects; today ideologically and politically the conviction is active (if it exists) that once power is seized the proletariat can construct socialism. The authority of the P. is linked to this conviction, which can’t be inculcated in the great masses with scholastic pedagogical methods, but only through revolutionary pedagogy, that is by the political fact that the R.P. is its entirety is persuaded and fights unitarily.

I’m sincerely sorry that our letter wasn’t understood by you in the first place, and that you, on the outline of my personal letter didn’t seek to better understand. Our letter was in its entirety a requisition against the Oppositions; one not done in demagogic terms, and precisely for this reason more effective and serious. I ask you to include with the proceedings, aside from the Italian text of the letter and my personal letter, this one as well.

Cordial greetings.