We shall begin by arguing on the form of the proletarian revolution, on how the working class prepares, carries out the seizure of power and consequently starts the socialist transformation of society. (1)
In the advanced countries, at the end of the last century and the beginning of Capitalism’s imperialist era, the social democrats parties had already fulfilled the historic task of establishing the working class as a class politically autonomous. By doing so, they put an end to an era where numerous individuals, talented, inept, honest or dishonest, attracted by the struggle for political freedom and the struggle against absolute monarchy, police and priests’ power weren’t able to see the conflicting interests between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Such people didn’t even remotely conceive that the workers could act as a socially autonomous force. Social democrats parties put an end to an era where many dreamers, talented at times, believed that it would be enough to convince rulers, and the predominant classes, about the existing social order’s injustice and precariousness, so as to establish with ease, peace and universal welfare. They have dreamed of accomplishing socialism without any struggle by the working class against the imperialist bourgeoisie. Social democrats parties put an end to an era where almost every socialist, and generally "working class friends", saw in the proletariat only a social plague, and recognised with terror its development, together with the pace of industrial development. Therefore they thought of how to keep in check the industrial and proletarian development, so as to hold back "the wheel of history".(2) Instead, thanks to Marx and Engels’ leadership the social democratic parties were able to establish, in the advanced countries, a political movement headed by the working class, that placed all its successes on the growing proletariat and on its struggle for the establishment of socialism. It was the start of the proletarian revolution.(3) The working class political movement was the subjective side, the superstructural expression of the proletarian revolution’s mature conditions, whereas, capitalism’s shift into imperialism represented the structural objective side.
The working class had already attempted the seizure of power: in France in 1848-50 (4) and in 1871 with the Commune of Paris (5) and in Germany, by taking part, in great numbers, in the political elections.(6) At this stage, it was possible and necessary to understand how the working class would be able to seize power and start the socialist transformation of society. There existed the conditions to tackle the problem of the form of the proletarian revolution. In the 1895 preface to a reprint of K. Marx’s article (Class struggles in France 1848-50), F. Engels has carefully drawn up the balance of the working class experiences up to then, and clearly stated the thesis that "the proletarian revolution doesn’t take the shape of an uprising by the popular masses that overthrow the existing government, during which the communists (taking part, together with other parties) seize power". The proletarian revolution takes the shape of a gradual building up of forces around the communist party, up to the reversal of those forces’ relations, the working class must prepare to a certain extent, "already within bourgeois society, tools and conditions for its power". The development of revolutions during our century have corroborated, explained and enriched F. Engels’ thesis.(7)
The socialist revolution’s process is a complex matter which has its laws and develops all along a certain period.
Those that believe the working class can’t overthrow the imperialist bourgeoisie and seize power, are mistaken (pessimists and opportunists are mistaken).
The successes achieved by the communist movement during the proletarian revolution’s first wave (1914-1949) have confirmed in practice what Marx and Engels have theoretically inferred from the analysis of bourgeois society.
Those that believe the working class can easily and in the short-term, win, overthrow the imperialist bourgeoisie and seize power, are mistaken. Adventurists are mistaken. In our country we have already seen militarists and subjectivists at work. The defeats suffered by the communist movement during the proletarian revolution’s first wave (in Italy, the "red biennium" -this year is the 80th anniversary), the collapse brought about by modern revisionism, after seizing, in the 50s, the leadership of the communist movement and, the defeat suffered in Italy by the Red Brigades at the beginning of the 80s, have also confirmed, in practice , this thesis.
The working class can win, overthrow the imperialist bourgeoisie, and seize power, though, through a long period of apprenticeship and hard struggles, various sorts of battles and the accumulation of every kind of revolutionary forces, particularly along the process of civil wars and imperialist wars that, during capitalism’s general crisis upset the world so far as to change it. To lead successfully such a struggle and minimise inevitable mistakes, it is necessary to understand the nature of the process, its determining contradictions and the laws that govern its development.
It is due to the inherent capitalism’s distinctive features that the process of mankind’s development has set itself thus: wars between the popular masses led by imperialist groups, or wars between the working class and the imperialist bourgeoisie. It is a fact, a reality we can’t avoid by our wishes or will power, but by putting an end to the imperialist era.(8) It is an obvious fact proven by 100 years of the imperialist era and by studies of our society’s current trends. The situation is further complicated by the fact that, in its war against the imperialist bourgeoisie, the working class must exploit the contradictions between imperialist groups. The two different kinds of war (the working class war against the imperialist bourgeoisie and wars between imperialist groups) substantially intermingle and develop.(9) Which will be the predominant one, that is the question. Communists must do everything possible in order that in the war, the antagonist factions will be the working class and the imperialist bourgeoisie, so as to make possible at the end of the war, the emergence of the working class as the new ruling class, as the class that has won the war. Communists must lead the war in such a way as to press the imperialist groups into a struggle between themselves, to prevent them joining against the working class. This, the problem of the relation between tactics and strategy within the proletarian revolution. In disagreement with Engels’ thesis (the working class may seize power only through a gradual building up of revolutionary forces), there are some people who describe the 1917 Russian revolution as a popular uprising ("Winter Palace assault") during which the bolsheviks seized power. The truth is that the establishment of the Soviet Government in November 1917 has been preceded by methodical accumulation of forces led by the communist party, that since 1903 was set up as an independent political force, existing and performing continuously and having as its final objective the seizure of power, despite its political rival aiming for its destruction. The establishment of the Soviet Government was preceded by the specific work done between February and October 1917, followed by a civil war and a war against the imperialist aggression that came relatively to an end in 1921. Relatively, because the attempts by the imperialist bourgeoisie to stifle the Soviet Union have been pursued by long and various anti-soviet manoeuvres in the 20s and 30s and by the Nazi aggression of 1941-1945. The 1905 Russian revolution took the form of a popular uprising without the previous accumulation of forces around the communist party which is why it didn’t lead to victory.(10) An exemplary proof of the correctness and depth of Engels’ thesis is given by the history of the 1919-1920 "Red biennium" in Italy. The omitted accumulation of revolutionary forces during the preceding period, the PSI’s "revolutionary inadequacy", prevented the transformation of the masses’ mobilisation into a socialist revolution, although the masses were largely oriented towards the PSI (affiliated to the Communist International) and towards the October Revolution and many had been trained in the use of arms during the first world war which was just over. There are people who maintain the idea that the unsuccessful attempt is ascribable to the reformist leaders (Turati, Treves, Modigliani, D’Aragona) active within the PSI and heading the CGL. There are others, who sustain that the reason for the failure was the lack of revolutionary leaders. We must consider that the whole of the trade union and socialist movement had developed within the limits imposed by revisionist and reformists, together with the majority of parties affiliated to the Second International. That development was limited to certain fields of the socialist movement, reserving to other subjects only verbal aspirations and grandiloquent declarations and programmes. It was a movement able to improve and increase the number of votes in elections, the number of elected representatives, magazines, cooperatives, trade union and cultural organisations etc., though unable to have even one armed detachment or some of the ruling class tools of power which, by law, are its exclusive rights. The whole of the Italian socialist and trade union movement had a lot of experience of claims and initiatives allowed by the law, but incapable of accumulating any experience within the ruling class’ exclusive domains. The movement overstepped the limits of the bourgeois state’s law only casually, along extemporaneous, spontaneous, limited initiative and during riots and tumultuous street battles springing from popular indignation or as a reaction to provocations by the forces of repression. A situation that involved wide participation by the socialist movement, although its leadership remained largely on the outside, so that it couldn’t possibly have been trained to work out its specific task, either on strategic or tactical fields. Reformists didn’t want a revolution and wished to avoid it with all their might. Maximalists (G. Menotti, Serrati, etc.) didn’t know what had to be done so as to shift from claims to revolution and were often willing to stand aside. Even communists (Gramsci, Bordiga, Terracini, Tasca, etc.) didn’t know what to do. They were fostering and spurring forward the movement of the masses requesting "the party", which they didn’t lead or aspire to lead, to start a revolution whose process had never been worked out or experimented with the various necessary stages and tools for its unwinding.(11) In Milan (during the 9-10 September, 1920 meeting of the PSI’s executive and the CGL’s general council), when Tasca and Togliatti (taking part as representatives of Turinese workers then occupying the factories) were asked if the Turinese would be able to make an offensive sally from the factory, the answer was a clear no. Likewise, (during the general strike and April 1920 lock-out) was the answer by Tasca and Terracini as spokesmen for the Turinese workers, during the PSIs national council assembly in Milan, April 20-21. Frequently, during the following years, A. Gramsci had to acknowledge that they didn’t know how to start the struggle for the seizure of power and they were asking the "party" to do it. On the one hand - the whole of the socialist movement was characterised (on the tactical level) by extremism and maximalism, as expressions of extemporaneousness and indignation by groups or individuals to whom the party didn’t devote any practical training or political ideological guidance, still less, leadership. On the other hand, the movement was characterised by reformism on the strategical plane. Therefore, the movement ’s general objectives assumed the shape of demands that the leadership directed to the government or the bourgeois state which, by its very nature, didn’t wish to meet, or could possible have met. There, didn’t exist (within the PSI) any party initiative or leadership with reference to training in the use of arms and military operations. Anything done about armaments or training, was the result of individual initiatives or the workers’ experience, derived from military service for the bourgeoisie. This situation implied that the party wasn’t able to devise any tactical or strategic military conceptions suitable to the character of the popular masses and the working class, conceptions different from those of the bourgeoisie and drawn by processing the military experience acquired by the masses during riots, uprisings and street battles. It’s worthwhile to recall that both crucial tests (the strike in April and September 1920 occupation of factories) were an answer by FIOM’s leadership to the employers’ action. This corroborates the lack of preparation for revolutionary action by the PSI.(12)
The absence of the gradual building up of revolutionary forces, of a process, during which the working class would, to a certain extent (already within bourgeois society), prepare tools and conditions for its power, appear also to be the reason for the defeat of the German, Austrian, Finnish and Hungarian 1918-1919 revolutions: popular revolutions that led to the disintegration of the old state, though not to a new one, until the bourgeoisie built it up. The same thing is proved by other sharp political crises (Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Turkey, USA, England, France, etc.) that mark the end of the first World War and the years immediately following.
The history of Europe’s 20th century (basically, the history of the war between the working class and the imperialist bourgeoisie) corroborates Engels’ thesis. All bourgeois political crises and disputes between imperialist groups are subordinated to this underlying war. Though communist parties don’t tackle the situation in this way.
In the 30s and 40s the French imperialist’s watchword (faced with the rise of Nazism in Germany and its expansion in Spain, Czechoslovakia, etc.) was "better Hitler than communists". "Better Hitler than Bolshevism", "better the Japanese than the communists". This was the rule within American and English imperialist groups. The political line-up by "Democratic States" (USA, England, France) against the republican government throughout the Spanish civil war (1936-1939), was brought about by the same reasons. Finally, the imperialist bourgeoisie, in spite of the war going on between imperialist groups, led the second world war in the function of its anti communism. It’s objective was the crushing of the communist movement in Europe, the crushing of the anti-imperialist movement for national liberation in the colonies and semi colonies and the choking of the Soviet Union. Strategically, the contradiction between the imperialist bourgeoisie and the working class was antagonistic, antagonistic, even if secondary was also the contradiction between imperialist groups. On the tactical domain the relations between the two contradictions was, throughout the second world war, of a variable nature.
On trying to answer the question: "Why, during capitalism’s first general crisis, the communist party in imperialist countries weren’t able to lead the popular masses to the seizure of power and the setting up of Socialism?" , the answer that we draw from weighing up experiences is the following: "Communist parties couldn’t lead the popular masses to seize power because they didn’t understand that the form of the socialist revolution was the long-lasting, revolutionary popular war". As a consequence of this misunderstanding, they wasted their forces on defeated uprisings (Hamburg - October 1923, Thallin - December 1923, Canton - December 1926, Shanghai - October 1926, February 1927, March 1927), or suffered the bourgeoisie’s initiatives and provocations (Germany 1919, Hungary 1919, Italy 1920, Austria 1934, Asturias 1934) or else had a doubtful and contradictory political line (Germany 1933, Spain 1936-1939).
The communist parties’ limits, in the imperialist countries, throughout capitalism’s first general crisis (1910 - 1945), in short, consist merely in the misunderstanding of the socialist revolution’s form, in the lack of understanding (and its necessary translation into political action) that civil war between the working class and the imperialist bourgeoisie, was the main form taken then by the class struggle. Communist parties (in imperialist countries) never paid much attention to this sphere as their principal strategic sphere with which to develop all their work, even the legal and pacific work. They faced with heroism and strength war and underground work when the political rival imposed it
(Italy and Yugoslavia in 1926, Portugal in 1933, Germany in 1933, etc.), but, as an exceptional event or a lull within a process that "should" have proceeded otherwise. Then, even communists believed that the proletarian revolution would take the shape of a war in the colonies and semi colonies. They didn’t believe it would develop within "civilised" imperialist countries, although the bourgeoisie in the "civilised" imperialist countries had repeatedly shown its readiness to raze to the ground towns and countries, to decimate thousands of unarmed men, to use any means so as not to lose power and to favour foreign occupation ("better Hitler than communism") rather than the working class holding power. As evidence, is France’s history in 1935 -1940. And yet, J.Duclos, one of the most important PCF’s representatives at the time, together with M. Thorez, thus summarises the task of the communist party in 1935 France: "To have, as the labour movement’s objective, the struggle for the defence and extension of democratic freedom in the face of Fascism".(13) The proletarian United Front and the anti Fascist Popular Front’s political line (approved by the communist international’s seventh congress, August 1935) was enforced in the imperialist countries as an alliance with political and trade union forces, without taking into account the need for the party’s autonomy and the communist party’s leadership within the United Front. As a consequence the communist party was exposed to continuous blackmail by the social democratic and bourgeois parties, made dependent (to a certain extent, in relation to its work towards the popular masses) on bourgeois parties and leaders, on their approval for its initiative, setting out tasks whose realisation was subject to their cooperation, unable to take the leadership and not conceiving the general movement as a war.
The fall of France May-June 1940, and the disposal of various National States facing Hitler’s advance after 1938 (Czechoslovakia, Austria, Poland, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Norway, Yugoslavia, Greece, etc.), the collapse of Fascism in Italy, July 1943, etc., didn’t lead to the proletarian dictatorship and the Italian communist party wasn’t even able to give leadership to the popular forces that the old state’s collapse released. The communist party didn’t place itself in a position so as to be able to head the political movement in the new situation, didn’t build up structures and gather experiences so as to be fit to lead the war. It did not conceive the proletarian revolution’s form according to its real nature. It was objectively under the influence of conceptions valid at the time of the second international (as a party to the far left of bourgeois society’s parties, as a party that struggles to assert the working class’ rights within bourgeois society and as spokesmen of the working class’ advanced section). Later on, during the Second World War, gradually and to a certain extent, communist parties took on the popular masses’ direction against Nazi Fascism through the Resistance.
In Italy, even as of September 1943, the party still lacked a political line to shift its action on the war’s plane. Moved only by individual initiative, for a few days, from the deserted or poorly defended barracks, communists recovered arms. To the soldiers (that scattered as a consequence of the shameful king’s defection together with numerous officers), the party, for a few weeks wasn’t able to give any organisation or instructions and only later, during September 1943, the party began to assume its duty as the antifascist war’s organiser, leader and promoter, thus achieving great results. For the first time in their history the Italian popular masses were witnessing the work of a communist party leading a broad political action on tactical as well as strategic and military planes. On this account, we have rightly stated that the Resistance has been, up to now, "the highest stage reached so far by the Italian working class in its struggle for power".
In weighing in the balance from the 1936-1937 Spanish Civil War’s experience, the (rebuilt) Spanish communist party has reached the following conclusion: "stating the long- lasting popular revolutionary war’s way as the one towards which the PCE’s experience was leading, though the PCE wasn’t aware of". It was within this unawareness by the PCE, that the PCE (r) discovered the main explanation for the Spanish popular masses’ defeat.(14)
In order that a state’s collapse leads to the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship what is required is a previous "revolutionary forces’ build up around the communist party" and that the collapse of the bourgeois state happens during a movement led by the party (the advance in Eastern Europe by the Red Army 1944-1945, China in 1949, Cuba in 1959 and the three Indo Chinese countries in 1975).
Mao Zedong has thoroughly developed all aspects, universally valid, as to the revolutionary forces’ build up around the communist party, within the party, within the revolutionary classes and the revolutionary armed forces. He has called this process the long-lasting, popular revolutionary war, during which the forces gradually produced by social life’s development are gathered by the communist party, trained, and engaged in the struggle (according to the principal "learn to struggle through struggle itself"), united and organised, having in sight their growth, so as to outnumber the imperialist bourgeoisie’s forces.(15)
Mao has also studied and indicated the various stages through which the long-lasting popular revolutionary war develops.
The defensive, strategic stage: the bourgeoisie’s forces are predominant, the revolutionary forces weak; the party’s task consists of gathering, training and organising its forces for their employment in the struggle, avoiding however being compelled to a decisive, frontal engagement, aiming for the forces preservation and accumulation. The bourgeoisie looks for a decisive engagement, the party avoids it, keeping the initiative on the tactical plane.
The Strategic balance: the revolutionary forces have caught up with the imperialist bourgeoisie’s forces.
The Strategic offensive stage: the revolutionary forces have attained superiority over the bourgeoisie’s forces. The party’s task consists of leading the revolutionary forces’ attack and thus, definitively eliminating the bourgeoisie’s forces and seizing power.
Obviously, it is up to us Italian communists to find out, after due consideration and verification in practice, the laws and concrete stages of the revolution in our country. Though we find explained in Mao Zedong’s works the universal, long-lasting popular revolutionary war’s laws, drawn from the experience of the proletarian revolution’s first wave, corroborated by the various episodes that make it up.
Maoism isn’t Marxism Leninism applied to China, or colonies and semi colonies. Maoism is the third communist thought’s higher stage, after Marxism (Marx-Engels) and Leninism (Lenin-Stalin). Stalin, rightly, in his work ’On Leninism’, 1924, proved that Leninism wasn’t Marxism’s application to Russia or backward countries, but Marxism belonging to the proletarian revolution’s era. Now it was no longer possible to be Marxist without being Leninist. Likewise, today, we can’t be Marxist Leninists without being Maoists: that would be equivalent to ignoring the proletarian revolution’s first wave, which Lenin obviously wasn’t able to draw the balance from. All attempts to assert Maoism as the communist thought’s third higher stage become vain, loquacious talk if not grounded on the thesis that "the long-lasting, popular revolutionary war is the proletarian revolution’s universal form". This thesis has been clearly formulated in the articles ’Marxism-Leninism-Maoism’, ’Maoism’ and ’The developing revolutionary situation’, published in Social Relations no. 9/10 (1991).
Mao Zedong, in the 1930s and the 1940s didn’t criticise the conception of the proletarian revolution then prevailing within the imperialist countries’ communist parties. Quite the contrary, he showed their political line "widening democracy" (statement by J. Duclos mentioned earlier), to be the right political line in their situation, except for criticising those Chinese communists that wished to apply to China the PCF’s watchword " everything by means of the Front", thus denying the Chinese communist party’s independence within the anti Japanese Front. All the above reasoning is in agreement with similar questions, on account of which, Lenin stood up for the strategic, clandestine, Russian party’s organisation, owing to the Russian particularity, until the Second International’s collapse in 1914 showed in practice its universal necessity. Marxists draw from practice lessons contained in it, they don’t fabricate theories. Ideas must prove valid in practice, negatively or positively, before turning down the former and advancing the latter. Communist parties in imperialist countries, have, during capitalism’s first general recession, accomplished great tasks, have mobilised large masses and given a great contribution to victory over Nazi-Fascism. It has been somehow necessary, that the limitations contained in all such work came to the surface through the inability to take advantage of the victory over Nazi-Fascism and seize power, in order to understand and criticise them, so as to make the Maoist theory of the proletarian revolution’s universal form an integral part of the communist movement’s theoretic wealth.
The concrete development of the proletarian revolution in 1914-1945 has made clear (even in the imperialist countries) that the communist parties have been able to unite the working class and assert leadership over the other popular classes, only when directing and organising the popular masses’ struggle against the imperialist bourgeoisie’s regime. As long as the parties’ action consisted of persuading social democrats, catholics etc. to form a common front, an antifascist common front, they achieved very few results. On the contrary, when they headed the war that the popular masses were to embark on, they were able to lead catholic workers, socialists etc.(and compelled their leaders to follow their line).
Does this mean to us Communists, that we have to proclaim a war not yet existent, so as to assert along its development the working class’ leadership? When we state that the present general crisis finds its solution in the battle between the masses’ revolutionary mobilisation and the reactionary mobilisation, we mean that the battle between classes and the battle between imperialist groups are more and more moving toward an armed conflict. In addition to declared wars, there is an undeclared one between the imperialist bourgeoisie (that must increase in value its capital, by crushing and subduing millions of people) and the popular masses, defending themselves in open order, as best as they can. The bourgeoisie fights this war by employing its available tools (money, economics’ "objective" laws, "normal" social relations, boss and priests’ prestige, current culture and the pressure of habits, the use of force, legal and illegal and state’s institutions, etc.) thus driving millions to become redundant, depriving millions of people of the basic needs - food, homes, clothing, schooling, social care, etc. -stripping millions of their hard won rights. Aiming to stop all emancipation and organisation, eliminating the working class leaders that are trying to promote, organise, and lead the masses’ resistance. Globally, victims of this widespread, undeclared war are numerous and greater than the declared war’s victims which are occurring at the same time, granting that victims of hunger are only 30 million a year. In the rich, imperialist countries, the victims of the same war are the countless men and women, social outcasts, physically and morally shattered, brutalised, perverted, prostituted, and in a thousand ways humiliated and vexed. It is the famous "no longer existing class struggle" expression we find in the imperialist bourgeoisie’s selfish declarations. It is the struggle that we communists must adopt, recognise, uncover its laws, get ready to successfully win it, driving on the battleground all forces aroused by life’s social flow and by the struggle itself. We must wage our struggle in accordance with the class that must lead it, with the classes that will take part in the fight, classes from which our forces will come in accordance with the general relations between classes and the mutual influences between our forces and the enemy’s forces.
Therefore the question is to be involved, being leading actors on this war’s fields and not being taken by surprise by events. Directing today’s work in view of this inevitable outlook, to always hold the initiative, even though today’s forces relations are largely in favour of our opponents, and to understand this war’s peculiar laws (that aren’t those of a war in general, neither past war’s laws nor imperialist war’s laws). On this concrete battle’s ground destiny will be settled, and all actions must be led in view of it. It is necessary to set up a right strategic hierarchy over our actions and then, step by step, settle the tactical hierarchy. As of now, we don’t consider it a priority to propagandise the war, or to persuade with propaganda the working class and the popular masses to prepare for the coming war. It is not a question of "raising the masses’ conscience" with our propaganda, it is mainly a matter of establishing a party able to work in relation to the war, able to lead and also promote the masses’ struggle for peace against the imperialist war towards which the imperialist bourgeoisie is dragging us, even though, mindful of its past experience, it recoils from and fears it. Obviously, so as to succeed in this task it is necessary among other things, that we learn to see the imperialist bourgeoisie’s economic, political and cultural concrete measures that are indeed leading toward an imperialist war (the reactionary mobilisation of the masses), able to see that the imperialist bourgeoisie is simultaneously waging a war of extermination against the popular masses. Those that aren’t able to see all of this clearly, are withdrawing to opportunistic conciliatory illusions ("there won’t be any war") or "declare war".
So as to avoid any misunderstanding, and taking into account the Red Brigades’ precedent, that from the armed propaganda (for building up conditions for the communist party’s reconstruction) have shifted to a "spread out war", which existed only in militarists’ reverie (where, they therefore, found themselves alone, deserted by the masses, to the point of their forces’ dispersal and corruption). We must state that war, as the proletarian revolution’s main form is a particular war, different from any previous wars known to humanity. It is a new kind of war, it has new objectives, distinct from other wars: the conquest by the working class of the leadership over the popular masses in their struggle against the imperialist bourgeoisie, the seizure of power and the establishment of socialism. This war has its proper form of development, and the new communist party’s specific task consists of the understanding of this war’s particular form in our country, of taking over its leadership, and devising and enforcing methods and lines of action.