G. Zinoviev


How the Italian Socialist
Party Was Destroyed

(18 July 1922)

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 59, 18 July 1922, pp. 441–442.
On-line Publication: Zinoviev Internet Archive, May 2020.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Proletarian parties, workers’ organizations and all those who have the interests of the proletariat at heart beyond mere words, look at the fate of the Italian Socialist Party and try to find out how the I.S.P. was destroyed.

Only two years ago, the I.S.P. was a powerful and blooming Party. Only two years ago this Party seemed to be climbing upwards. And now we are witnessing the complete disintegration of this party; instead of one, well-knit and strong organization we see a pile of ruins. The most pessimistic prophecies of the Comintern proved true even sooner than was expected. As a Socialist Party the I.S.P. has gone out of existence, never to return.

How did this come about?

Two years ago, before the Leghorn split, this Party consisted of the following elements: several tens of thousands of advanced revolutionary proletarians, who were full of enthusiasm and ready for the fight; several tens of thousands of workers who were inclined to be revolutionary, but who were politically uninitiated and inexperienced and therefore an easy prey to pacifist illusions. Add to these, two groups of several thousand petty bourgeois followers; add further, a group of Parliamentary leaders, political functionaries and trade union and cooperative officials of the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia, five thousand all told, and you have the old Italian Socialist Party as it was before Leghorn.

Before the Leghorn split there were two well defined political formations within the party. On the one side were the Communists, on the other – the Reformists. Both of these groups, however, were in the minority. In the center were the “Maximalists” who at that time had the majority of the Party behind them, and whose magic slogan was “ unity . When the decisive moment came, this Centrist group, headed by Serrati, went over to the Reformists. That sealed the fate of the Italian Socialist Party.

The Reformists then mounted the high horse. Although the Centrists claimed that they only offeree the Reformists one finger, they were in reality bound by the latter hand and foot. The social significance of what took place was reflected in the following: the petty bourgeois intellectual group consisting of trade union bureaucrats, Parliamentarians, journalists and lawyers, had, as we have already pointed out, only five thousand members. But this small group was bound by a thousand ties to the bourgeoisie, it was a typical group of “labor lieutenants” in the service of the bourgeoisie. By itself this group of petty bourgeois officials is insignificant; but as the vanguard of the bourgeoisie in the camp of the workers, it can become a mighty force under certain circumstances.

And it is no other than Serrati and his fraction, who created these favorable circumstances for the petty bourgeois reformist group. A certain division of labor took place ... The Reformists served the cause of the bourgeoisie quite openly, while Serrati proclaimed loudly that he was against Reformism, but for unity in the workers’ ranks And all this at a time when the Italian proletariat was fired with the spirit of revolt that found expression in the seizure of the factories; all this at a time when the bloody Fascisti were raising their heads and capital was launching its raging offensive. The bourgeoisie aimed quickly and truly. In Leghorn the show-window was so dressed as to display the majority not with the Reformists, but with the “irreconcilable revolutionaries”.

The Reformists put on the airs of solemnity, and grimacing resigned sheep, they feigned “submissiveness” to Serrati’s Centrist majority. Already at that time the majority of the trade union and cooperative officials and of the Parliamentary fraction was on their side. Having achieved the virtual expulsion of the irreconcilable proletarian section of the Party, the Reformists, with the aid of Serrati, began to reinforce and fortify their positions in the trade unions, the cooperatives, and in the Parliamentary fraction. Barely more than a year has passed and the Reformists are now the masters of the situation. They succeeded in disorganizing and demoralizing the remaining section of the Party; they created the material dependence of almost the entire Party press upon themselves; all the bourgeois organizations and the trade union and cooperative officials are on their side.

The moment came when the Reformists removed their mask. Having the most important positions in the old party under their control, they could afford to disregard the vacillating Serratians, and entered into open “collaboration” with the bourgeoisie. They want more than a virtual cooperation with the bourgeoisie; they want their marriage with the capitalists recognized and legalized. Turati and Co., are not satisfied with mere ministries; they demand recognition de jure.

The Fascisti are on the offensive; they murder workers in every city; they have virtually organized a regular bourgeois army of murderers. The Fascisti are ruling Italy. But here come the Reformists and propose a very simple way of destroying the Fascisti. The matter is quite simple: In order to destroy the Fascisti ... it is necessary to enter into an alliance with them; it is necessary to enter into the bourgeois ministry and share the power with the actual instigator of Fascism, – the bourgeoisie ...

As long as there was the slightest opportunity for Serrati, and Co. to prove that “his” Italian Reformists were “different” from the Reformists of other countries and that they had nothing in common with Millerandism. Serrati fulfilled his task, not out of fear, but out of “conscience”. But very soon Turati, Modigliani and Company cruelly robbed their faithful servant Serrati of this opportunity. Serrati can no longer claim that the Italian Reformists are “no Reformists at all”. The myth of the immaculate conception of the Italian Reformists is exploded. Serrati was forced to remember his “intransigence”. Even he, about whom the revolutionary workers of Italy long ago said: “Spit in his face and he’ll say, it’s God’s dew”, even he could not wipe his face unnoticed. Nothing was left for Serrati but to promise to start some sort of a fight against the Reformists.

The Reformists in the meanwhile become so audacious, however, that they refused to conciliate even an opposition like that of Serrati. But since the formal power of the Party was still in the hands of the paper Central Committee, with Serrati at its head, the Reformists decided upon energetic action. Whenever it is a question of combating Socialism, the reformists are energetic enough. The reactionaries in the ranks of the Reformists are men of deeds, not words. The majority of the the “Socialist” fraction in Parliament decided not to obey the Central Committee any longer. Turati and Modigliani had had enough of party “discipline”. They were going to work unhampered now. They figured as follows: 107 Populists, 80 Socialists, 35 Nittians, 25 autonomous Reformists and 20 deserters from the Giolitti camp make a total of 267 deputies. These constitute a Parliamentary majority with which a new coalition ministry could be formed. What could the reminders of party discipline and the will of the majority of organized workers count against this estimate.

And the Reformists went to work. They who for years had been working under cover, they who had continually stroked the Centrists along the fur and had pursued a policy of “submissiveness” towards Serrati and Company, now showed their teeth. The Parliamentary group has virtually chased the poor Centrists; it chose a new leadership and appointed the Reformist Baldesi who is an Activist and one of the leaders of the Italian Federation of Labor, as its secretary. Baldesi is the darling of the bourgeoisie and should his time come, he will persecute the Communists with a greater fury than do the police and the Fascisti at present. D’Aragona and Company, who swore and reswore allegiance to the I.S.P., are now trampling their written agreement with the I.S.P. under foot, and are openly proceeding as an independent force. There is complete chaos in the Party. Serrati’s Central Committee split almost into equal parts, 13 against 12. As a result we find within the Party groups, subgroups, fractious, subtractions, etc. We find Maximalists, Concentrationists. Centrists, Reformists, etc., etc. Only one group, that of Maffi, Lazzari and Riboldi, three comrades who were present at the Third Congress of the Comintern and were convinced of Serrati’s betrayal, are now carrying on a more or less decisive struggle against the Reformists. The Centrists who only year ago considered themselves the masters of the situation are now confronted with the dilemma: to enter into the service of the Reformists or to quit the Party, which?

If Serrati only possessed an iota of revolutionary honesty, he would now admit his mistake. But the chances that he would do so are about 1 to 10,000. What is more probable is that the Italian Centrists will share their fate with international Centrism. They will continue to feed the Reformist mill in one way or another. the Reformist is for the capitalist, and the Centrist for the Reformist, such is the formula verified best by the history or the Italian Socialist Party.

Is this crying lesson to be lost on the international labor movement? Is it possible that it will not serve as a lesson at least to those of our French comrades who are not yet convinced of the necessity for breaking with the Centrist or semi-Centrist elements once and for all? Serrati chose the best and quickest method of destroying his Party. He could patent it it he so desired. He deserves a prize for having revealed the counter-revolutionary soul of Centrism in so unmistakable a light Kautsky is the theoretican of centrism; Serrati is its practitioner and politician. Both the one and the other feed the Reformist mill and, through it the bourgeoisie. One really has to be blind in order not to see this.

Of course, the Italian workers will gather enough strength and resistance to recover from the blows they have received at the hands of the Reformist and Centrist traitors. They will find a way out of the crisis that was brought upon them. They will now begin to join the Communist Party en masse, and in a few years, the Reformists and the bourgeoisie will be laid low by the proletarian dictatorship.

The I.S.P. episode should serve as a lesson to all true Socialists, and finally convince them that the real mission of the Centrists consists in delaying and postponing the day of victory, for the proletariat; in making the struggle a harder one for the workers; in increasing the number of victims, and in intensifying the misery and suffering of the proletarian masses. Let the proletarian revolutionary vanguard comprehend this and let it throw international Centrism into the garbage can of history.

Last updated: 5 May 2020