The Tactic Of Failure
by Antonio Gramsci
First Published: L'Ordine Nuovo, 22 September 1921
Isn’t the Italian Socialist Party a ‘responsible’ party, a party that knows what it wants, a party that directs and guides the masses in the struggle against the ruling class?
No-one can deny that they once had this last function – that of guiding and directing the Italian proletariat in the anti-capitalist struggle. The Socialist Party must be made responsible for the actions it performs in this role. It cannot escape from the judgement and condemnation of history.
Lately, the party has repeatedly shown that it is unfit for such a function, for its historic mandate. It failed to fulfil its duty during the war, during the events at Caporetto. It also failed in the following period – during the armistice, the revolts over rising prices, the factory occupations and the land seizures.
This incapacity of the Socialist Party to be a party of the masses is starkly revealed today – by its discomfort when confronted with the activities of Italian fascism.
The party believed that their ‘politics of compromise’ would be sufficient to put an end to the terrible civil war that has soaked Italy in blood – unleashed when the owners of land and industry went on the offensive, organising a wave of violence with their white guards.
To what degree this politics of compromise has been in vain, workers themselves are in the best position to judge – as fascism regains its vigour everywhere.
If the tactic of compromise adopted by the Socialist Party has been of use to anyone, then clearly it has been to the fascists themselves.
The Pact of Rome only had this effect: to dampen the indignant reactions that fascism had provoked among wide layers of the population with its violent outrages. It was just at the moment when the people were revolting, and seemed disposed to put an end to their martyrdom, that the Socialist Party launched its slogan of ‘peace’ – and resignation.
What results can possibly arise from such an attitude? The workers can’t live every day in a state of continuous tension. They are not a clock to be wound up, that can strike each hour, on the hour.
Whoever is unable to understand the character of the masses is absent from their lives, and is living outside the reality of the class struggle. This is precisely the position of the Socialist Party. They have always been absent from the lives of the masses. They have never understood a thing about the lives of the Italian proletariat, and the party’s activities have never taken their starting point as the actual needs of the workers – of their specific interests.
In the daily battles borne by the workers, the Socialist Party has always played the role of one who merely perceives the surface of things. So it was natural that the tactics of the party when confronting fascism would spread confusion and uncertainty among the masses – whom, disgracefully, the party still lead. But the consequences of this confusion and uncertainty rain down solely on the heads of the working class themselves.
The Socialist Party is responsible for whatever happens next, as only its blind and idiotic tactics have led us here. However, we are not only dealing with idiotic tactics. For example, what happened in Pavese is not simply the consequence of an erroneous method, but rather of its political content – whose essence is pure wickedness.
And we mustn’t forget that the faction fight in the heart of the Socialist Party has repercussions on the methods with which the daily battles of the workers and peasants are conducted.
The majority of the workers’ and peasants’ organisations are currently led by reformists, whose political practice we are familiar with: collaboration, participation in government and so on. How can they demonstrate that collaboration is necessary, and that participation in government is inevitable? The reformists need to show that today the proletariat has no other means of escape from its plight.
It doesn’t matter if the experience of the Popolari has demonstrated that once in power they'll be just as impotent. The aim of the reformists (pushing the party towards collaboration) can only be achieved by inflicting a series of defeats on the workers.
That is why they called a strike of peasants in Pavese – and then cancelled it. That is why they rejected the proposal to set up a communist union committee – and instead insist on stumbling blindly from one dispute to the next. The defeats only serve to validate once again their reformist tactics. The defeats open the road to power. That is to say, they smooth the road to Noskism.
Thus the celebrated ‘intransigence’ of the Socialist Party is revealed in practice to be nothing more than a duplicitous slogan. But the Socialist Party, a prisoner of reformism, cannot act otherwise. The intransigence that it’s leadership proclaims in every statement is a pure swindle that will only serve to make the liberation of the masses from these traitors more difficult.
But it is for this eventuality that the masses are preparing themselves. It may be a slow process, but the masses cannot fail to realise that they have been deceived.
The peasants of Pavese, before cursing the fascists who use violence to break their strike, must recognise that their true enemies are their own leaders, who have knowingly disarmed them.
Today, no worker or peasant should march into battle unless they are sure their leaders won’t stab them in the back during the fight. However, this is the inevitable outcome of all disputes that are initiated separately, in isolation from each other.
But the workers and peasants already have the examples of previous disputes. They'll draw lessons from them. They will no longer be willing to serve the aims of reformism, or to be the instruments of all the ‘revolutionary’ opportunists.
The facts clearly demonstrate that the proposal of the communist union committee for a united front – to prepare the workers and peasants for a defence against the capitalists’ assault – offers the only likely chance of victory.
The appeal of the communist union committee acquires a particular urgency now we are on the eve of fights by the chemical workers and the metal workers – and with other groups such as the wool-makers also engaged in battle.
Only the workers are capable of halting the Socialist Party’s disastrous and bankrupt tactics. It is their interests which are directly at stake. In the fight against the white terror and attacks on their wages they must demand that the appeal of the communist union committee becomes the basis for the united action of the proletariat.
1. Caporetto was the site of the Italian army’s worst ever defeat. It was so bad, it became a byword for catastrophe. Although the causes of the defeat were fiercely debated for years afterwards, there is strong evidence that large numbers of the demoralised soldiers mutinied – and willingly surrendered to the enemy.
2. There was a wave of significant revolts against rising prices in the spring and summer of 1919. They included the looting of shops where price rises had been sharpest. In Livorno the revolt was so serious that the local trades union council intervened to save the shopkeepers from themselves. It requisitioned their goods, and sold them at controlled prices (with discounts of 50-70%).
3. The Italian People’s Party. Founded in 1919, for a short period it was the second largest party in Italy, after the socialists.
4. After Gustav Noske. On the right-wing of the German Social Democratic Party, Noske served as the Weimar Republic’s first minister of defence in 1919-20. He is best known for his leading role in the counter revolution – making extensive use of both regular troops and the Freikorps paramilitaries to bloodily suppress workers’ uprisings.
End of The Tactic Of Failure by Antonio Gramsci