Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 1

Speech on the Italian Question [1]

At the Third Congress of the Communist International

Ninth Session, June 29, 1921

COMRADES, I shall not dwell on the past of the Italian Socialist Party. Enough has already been said on this subject. The key question is the crisis of last September which has produced the present state of affairs. Even a cursory review of the political situation leaves one with the impression and even the conviction that the orientation of the Italian proletariat in the years following the war was purely revolutionary. Everything written in Avanti [2] and everything uttered by the spokesmen of the Socialist Party was taken by the masses as a summons to the proletarian revolution. And this propaganda struck a responsive chord in the hearts of the working class, awakened their will and called forth the September events.

Were one to judge the party from the political standpoint, one would have to conclude – for this is the only possible explanation – that the ISP verbally conducted a revolutionary policy, without ever taking into account any of its consequences. Everybody knows that during the September events no other organization so lost its head and became so paralyzed by fear as the ISP which had itself paved the way for these events. Now these facts are proof that the Italian organization – and we should not forget that the party is not only ideas, a goal and a program but also an apparatus, an organization – this Italian organization could have secured victory by unswerving activity. September was the month of the great crisis for the proletariat and for the ISP. What were the consequences of these events for the proletariat? It is very hard to estimate this, in view of the fact that a class which breaks with its party loses immediately its sense of orientation. And the partywhat conclusions has it drawn from this experience? For three years following the war, each and every comrade who arrived from Italy would tell us: “We have everything ready for the revolution.” The whole world knew that Italy was on the eve of the revolution. When the revolution broke out, the party proved bankrupt. What then were the lessons of these events? What was done? We’ve been told: “We were unprepared because our organization was composed of elements which were manifestly incompatible and which acted to paralyze each othei. To create certain conditions, insofar as this depends on our will, one must have the will to create them!” This, Comrade Lazzari [3], is the crux of the matter; one must have the will to revolutionary victory! Only if such will exists can one then engage in discussion and undertake to analyze; because strategy is indispensable, because it is impossible to gain victory by means of a powerful will alone. Strategy is indispensable, but most indispensable is the will to revolution and to its victory! Turati and his friends are in this sense honest, because they declare daily, openly and repeatedly that they do not want the revolution. They do not want it and yet they remain members of the Socialist Party, even its prominent members.

You have lived through September. But what course did you pursue after this tragic month? You have moved further to the right. In your new parliamentary fraction, the reformists, that is, people who don’t want the revolution, constitute the majority. Your central organ Avanti has turned the helm sharply to the right. This is the present state of affairs. It is impermissible to boast about one’s past when the present situation is so clear and unmistakable. Between lip-service to the revolution and the cruel demands of the revolutionary situation there is a contradictionwhich became manifest among you in September. Out of this contradiction flows one of two things: Either you will renounce that portion of your past which was revolutionary only in its lipservice, in other words, you will break with the reformists who hinder revolutionary action; or you must say: “Since we didn’t want the September events we must likewise reject the methods that called them forth.”

Turati will not hesitate to make use of the lessons of September; he is shrewd enough to single out the obvious contradictions which flow therefrom. So far as you, your party and your Central Committee are concerned, you are only adding to the lack of clarity which prepared and which predetermined in advance the failure of the September events and which has produced the ISP’s shift to the right. Serrati was in favor of preserving a maximum concentration of forces; he wanted to keep the Communists, the centrists and the reformists together within a single party. In some specific instances this idea of concentration of forces might be justified by a hope of preserving the maximum of revolutionary forces in the party. He wanted to do this, he wanted to unite these three groups in order to be able later to say: “Here are the genuine bulwarks of our party; whatever and whoever stands outside our ranks is hostile to us.”

You have gone through one of the bitterest, clearest and most tragic experiences. And only afterwards did this idea of concentration, which is somewhat abstract in and by itself, take on a definite political form. This idea became utterly reformist and not centrist, because the party’s development has now definitely swung to the right.

Turati has declared: “In September the proletariat was not yet mature enough.” Yes, it was not mature. But have you explained to the proletariat why the party was not mature? Did you say to the proletariat: “Yes, Turati is correct in this sense, that you, Italian workers, were not mature enough to cleanse your party, before engaging in decisive action, of all those elements who paralyze the party’s work. Turati is correct in this sense, that the Italian proletariat by its failure to expel him from its ranks has thereby demonstrated that it was not mature enough for the decisive September actions.” What is the present situation of the Italian proletariat? I am certain that it has become much more cautious after it was involuntarily betrayed by the party in which it had completely confided. Comrade Lazzari tends to interpret such expressions in a moral and personal sense. He said: “We are accused of treachery, but what did we get for it?” It is not a question of individual or venal treachery. It is a question of the bankruptcy of the party. And in political terms this is nothing else but a betrayal of the interests of the proletariat. I ask myself: What can the Italian proletariat possibly think? The party surely stands terribly discredited in its eyes. A new party has risen – the Communist Party. We are certain that it will continue to grow even were it to remain in the future as isolated as it is today. This party turns to the proletariat and offers it its revolutionary Communist program. Aren’t you afraid that the Italian proletarians will say after listening to you: “But we’ve heard this melody before, we’ve already been duped in September.” This is the whole gist of the extremely difficult situation that you have created in Italy for a period which, let us hope, will be a brief one.

The young Italian party must through energetic and audacious work conquer anew a genuine revolutionary reputation which is indispensable not only for parliamentary activity – which is something else again – but also for a new assault against the capitalist society. It is necessary to conquer anew the revolutionary reputation which the party has squandered through its activities, or better said, through its inactivity in September. You tell us that the followers of Turati submit to party discipline. Oh yes, the speakers were absolutely right who said that a plea had been delivered here in Turati’s defense; it was a plea that was constructed in accordance with all the rules of juridical defense. What is the meaning of party discipline? There is formal discipline, and there is real discipline. It seems to me that there is a difference whether I act in a certain way because circumstances leave me no choice or whether I act of my own free will. We submit to the discipline of the capitalist state, we submit to capitalist legality – but how? Only to the extent to which we are compelled to do so. But at the same time we laugh at bourgeois legality, we create underground organs to circumvent such legality, and we utilize every avenue to break through bourgeois legality or to extend its framework. And what is Turati’s attitude to your discipline? It’s exactly the same attitude, Comrade Lazzari. He submits to your discipline as we submit to bourgeois legality. He creates his own illegal organizations, his own faction in your party. He carries on negotiations with the government, naturally on the sly and illegally. He does everything to extend and to break through the framework of this discipline and, over and above this, he mocks your discipline in his speeches and in his newspaper. He is therefore our conscious and methodical enemy, just as we are the enemies of bourgeois society and its legality. This is the true state of affairs.

You say: “But Turati hasn’t given us any real grounds for expulsion. We haven’t got enough facts.” Yes, it can be flatly stated that even if we continue to wait indefinitely we shall still lack these facts inasmuch as Turati knows excellently just what he wants. Turati is no run-of-the-mill careerist, eager to become a minister in a capitalist government. Insofar as I can make him out, he has a policy of his own which he values highly and which he wants to carry through. He is not chasing after a ministerial portfolio. I can clearly visualize an interview between Turati and Giolitti. Giolitti says to him: “Here is a portfolio that belongs to you.” But Turati replies: “Haven’t you listened, my dear colleague, to the speeches of Lazzari? The instant I accept this portfolio, I shall supply him with very convenient data which he will not hesitate to use. I will be expelled from the party, and once expelled I shall lose all political importance so far as you and the preservation of the capitalist state are concerned. Since what is at issue is not so much the installation of one more Socialist minister but the support of democracy, i.e., the support of capitalist society, I cannot accept your portfolio; for I do not intend to play into the hands of my severe colleague Lazzari. In the interests of bourgeois society let us leave things as they are.”

You say: “Aren’t we paying too much attention to Turati, his speeches, his books, his prefaces? Isn’t this rather an isolated incident? It is a quantité négligeable! If that is the case, if so far as you are concerned all that’s involved is a loss of one or more individuals, the loss of a quantité négligeable [a trifle], then why are you so upset? Let us imagine, dear Comrades from Italy, that while we are discussing here Giolitti rings up Turati on the telephone to inquire: “Can it be that Lazzari left for Moscow to assume some obligations there?” And Turati answers: “No, no! This is purely an isolated incident.” As you know, capitalist society holds to the principle of division of labor; and by breaking with the Communist International for the sake of safeguarding Turati, you are doing a great service to this society. You say, that you are becoming more and more enthusiastic about the Russian Communist Party and about Soviet Russia. Permit me in this connection to speak quite freely, not only for the benefit of all the Italian comrades but for the benefit of all parties. When it comes to talking about us, it happens all too frequently that a very delicate tone is employed, as if to avoid picking a quarrel with us. As all of you know, our situation is an extremely difficult one. You were present on the Red Square and you have seen not only our soldiers and our armed Communists who are ready to come to the defense of the Third International; you’ve also seen our youth, our children, most of whom go around barefoot and undernourished. On visiting our factories each of you will see our economic and material poverty which beggars description.

Whoever arrives in Russia with the hope of finding a Communist paradise here will be cruelly disappointed. Whoever comes here with the aim of gathering impressions for eulogizing Russia is not a genuine Communist. But whoever comes here in order to collect facts pertaining to our poverty in order to employ them as an argument against Communism is an open enemy of ours. [Applause] And here, Comrades, is what Turati, a member of your party, has to say about Russia: “The Russians have invented the Soviets and the Communist International for their own profit and to further their own national interests.” This is what he told the Italian worker who was dragooned into the war to defend fictitious national interests and who was duped like all the others. Today another bogey is being dangled before him – a national bogey. Today Soviet Russia, mind you, is seeking to further her own national interests through the medium of the Communist International. If you go through the German press for the period of the March events, you will find there the selfsame thought expressed about the position of the Soviet power. It says there that the Soviets found themselves terribly discredited at the time; and in order to save herself, Soviet Russia issued, through the Communist International, a command to launch revolutionary action in Germany. Today our perfidious and wily enemies are spreading a legend – one of whose most fervent disseminators is your Turati – a legend to the effect that to bolster up our domestic situation we are demanding of all other parties that they engage in revolutionary actions, which have no connection whatsoever with the political and social development of the respective countries. If we permit people who propagandize such ideas to remain much longer in our International, we can very well create a very difficult situation for the International.

Yes, Comrades, we have erected in our country the bulwark of the world revolution. Our country is still very backward, still very barbaric. It unfolds before you a panorama of unheard – of poverty. But we are defending this bulwark of the world revolution since at the given moment there is no other in the world. When another stronghold is erected in France or in Germany, then the one in Russia will lose nine-tenths of its significance; and we shall then go to you in Europe to defend this other and more important stronghold. Finally, Comrades, it is sheer absurdity to believe that we deem this Russian stronghold of the revolution to be the center of the world. It is absurd even to claim that we believe it is our right to demand of you to make a revolution in Germany or France or Italy, whenever this is required by our domestic policy. Were we capable of such perfidy, then all of us would deserve to be put against a wall and shot, one by one.

Comrade Lazzari! How can we remain in the same International with Turati who is a member of your party and who calls our – International a “fantastic International”? These are his very words. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg are dead, but for this International they remain eternally alive. How can we combine within the cadres of our International Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg and – Turati? Turati says that our organization is fantastic. And just think of it, even yesterday he himself was still a member of it. Well, that really is a fantastic episode in the life of the Third International. [Loud applause]


1. The Italian question was a special point on the agenda of the Third World Congress. The majority of the old Italian Socialist Party refused at the 1920 Livorno Congress to accept the “21 conditions.” As a consequence, a split occurred. But inasmuch as the Italian Socialist Party still declared that it had no differences with the CI on all principled questions, and sent three delegates to the Third World Congress (Lazzari, Maffi and Riboldi), the ECCI voted to seat them in the Congress. This was done in order to help educate 100,000 workers who remained in the Italian Socialist Party and who were anxious to be members of the world Communist movement. Seating these three delegates exposed the Italian Centrists who had split with the Communists for the sake of unity with the reformists under the cover of the argument that the Communists were dictatorial.

2. The reference here is to the Italian Socialist Party and its central organ, Avanti. In the ’twenties Avanti temporarily passed into the hands of the trade union movement of Italy. It was suppressed by Mussolini. Since the latter’s downfall, it has reappeared in Rome edited by Pietro Nenni and other Italian Socialists.

3. Lazzari – veteran of the Italian labor movement, one of the founders of the Italian Socialist Party. In the pre-1914 days and during the First World War Lazzari remained with the Left Wing of the Socialist Party but when the split occurred at the Livorno Congress he remained with Serrati. After the Third World Congress Lazzari loyally fulfilled the promises he had made to agitate for the fusion of the Italian Socialist Party with the Communist Party.

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Last updated on: 20.1.2007