Italian Workers Movement at the Time of the Red October

Guido Ricci, member of the CC Political Bureau, and Alberto Lombardo, member of the CC Political Bureau for the review “Critica Proletaria”, Communist Party (Italy)

November 7th (October 25th, according to the old Orthodox calendar) 1917, the volleys by the cruiser Avrora and the storming to the Winter Palace, the residence of the interim government, open a new era, in which the proletarian masses, under the leadership of the working class, requiring the entire state power, and its vanguard - the Bolsheviks, victoriously come to the fore of history not as modern slaves of capitalist production, or cannon fodder, but as masters of their historical destiny of liberators of the humankind from exploitation of man by man.

Proletarian victory had - and has even today, when the first workers' state, born of it, no longer exists - an irreversible impact: the world and history will never be the same as before. The concrete evidence that the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and the construction of socialism are possible, the fall of the colonial system, the victory over fascism, the active political struggle of the working class and its larger social and civic gains in many capitalist countries after World War II are indelible part of the heritage of the Red October. The creation of a world system of socialist countries after World War II left an indelible mark in the minds and the historical memory of the working people of those countries. Paradoxically, this mark is even stronger today, when this system, overthrown by a temporary victory of counter-revolution, no longer exists and it is missing in terms of preserving peace and strategic balance, support of the struggle of the world proletariat, guarantee of its gains, example of social justice and real freedom. To remember this is not nostalgia, but a source of inspiration and a reference point to start a new stage in the class struggle between wage labor and capital, and restore socialism in the light of the topical than ever teachings of the October Revolution.

The theoretical and practical legacy of the Red October is equally important in terms of the specific development of the strategies and tactics of the socialist revolution, the organization of the revolutionary party of the working class, the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship as the most progressive and democratic political system, the construction of public and collective economy to create the material basis of communism, the running of a foreign policy based on proletarian solidarity, the systemic antagonism between socialism and capitalism, the preservation of peace.

The October Revolution and the creation of the Communist International determined also a deep transformation of the Italian workers' movement, its political parties and trade union organizations and the conditions of the class struggle.

The economic situation in Italy at the end of World War I

At the end of World War I, the Italian economy is in deep crisis. The “victory”, which was rather the result of secret diplomatic agreements than military successes, [1] cost 1,240,000 soldiers and civilian victims (3.48% of the population), excluding deaths from the Spanish flu epidemic. [2] Table no. 1 shows the dynamics of GDP and public debt, before, during and after World War I.

Table no. 1 – GDP, public debt and debt / GDP ratio


Real GDP* at constant prices

Nominal public debt** at current prices

Value in 1913 lira


Variation %

Value in lira


Variation %

Debt/GDP %








































































* Bank of Italy, A. Baffigi, Il PIL per la storia d'Italia, our processing

** ISTAT, Serie storiche del debito delle Amministrazioni Pubbliche, our processing

As we can see, in the period under review Italy does not go out of a severe economic downturn, with the exception of the two years of the war period, when the temporary rise is due to the doping effect of government military orders. Despite this temporary growth GDP in the period under review will never reach the level of 1913, the year the crisis began. In 1918 public debt, with an average annual variation of + 31.09% for the entire period, increased by almost 3 times compared to 1913 and will continue to increase in the following years to almost 9 times the amount of base year debt. The ratio of debt to GDP also increased, due to the reduction of the latter and the concurrent more than proportional growth of the debt. In addition, significantly increased the negative balance of payments, which helped the rapid drop of the lira value. Table no. 2 shows the dynamics of industrial wages and inflation in the period under review.

Table no. 2 – Nominal and real wages per day and inflation, 1913-1921


Wage at current prices in lira

Wage at constant prices in 1913 lira

Real wage Index

Yearly variation %

Consumer prices Index

Inflation %
































































Source: V. Negri Zamagni, Salari e profitti nell'industria italiana tra decollo industriale e anni '30, Изд. Vita e Pensiero, Milano, 2002

At the end of the war in 1918, wages in real terms decreased by a total of 21.87% compared to 1913_losing during the whole period almost 4% of their value in average every year, mainly due to high inflation.

The evident sharp deterioration in the living conditions of the urban and rural proletariat, arising from this economic situation, caused an explosion of class conflict. The wave of strikes that spread throughout the country will culminate with the seizure of factories in the industrial centers of north and lands in Po Valley and southern Italy. Historians call this period “the Italian red biennium” (1919-1920).

Compared to turmoils prior to 1917, the new fact is the transition from a purely economic struggle to a more political one. In addition to the claims to improve the living and working conditions, an explicit claim of workers' power, organized on the basis of factory councils on the example of Russian Soviets, is now put forward. Socialism, in the eyes of the masses, from an ideal prospect with a vague outline becomes a historical reality, in the forms and with the content that emerged from the October Revolution. This new character of the proletarian struggle spread almost spontaneously, at least at the beginning, more thanks to the powerful ideal charm of the October Revolution, turning class instinct into the germ of class consciousness, than as a result of an organized revolutionary activity of the Socialist Party. The official socialist propaganda, in the columns of the newspaper Avanti! [In English: Forward!], directed by Serrati, and in its other press organs controlled by maximalists, was limited only to a verbal formal praise of the October Revolution and the young Soviet Russia, but actually the leadership of the Socialist Party and the General Confederation of Labor were devoid of any consistent tactics and strategy and unable to manage the revolutionary crisis and lead the proletariat to victory.

The Red Biennium in Italy

Gramsci, in the so-called “Lyon Theses”, adopted by the 3rd Congress of the Communist Party of Italy, illegally held in Lyon in January 1926, precisely explains the historically established situation of the Italian workers' movement at that time: "In Italy, the conditions of birth and development of the labor movement before the war did not allow the formation of a Marxist left trend of constant and long-lasting nature. The original character of the Italian workers' movement was very confused; different trends merged in it, from Mazzini's idealism and the undefined humanitarianism of cooperators and supporters of Mutualism, to Bakuninism, asserting that even before the development of capitalism in Italy there were conditions for a rapid transition to socialism. Due to the late formation and weakness of industrialism, the clarifying factor of the existence of a strong proletariat was lacking; because of that, also the anarchists' split-off from socialists occurred with a twenty years delay (1892, Congress in Genoa).

In the Italian Socialist Party, after Genoa congress, there were two main trends. On one side, there was a group of intellectuals, which represented nothing more than a tendency towards the democratic reform of the state: their Marxism did not go beyond the intention to raise and organize the proletarian forces for serving the establishment of democracy (Turati, Bissolati, etc.). On the other hand there was a group, more directly related to the proletarian movement, representing the labor trend, but devoid of any proper theoretical consciousness (Lazzari). Until 1900 the party did not put before itself any purposes other than democratic. After the conquest of the freedom of organization in 1900 and the beginning of the democratic period, the inability of all its constituent groups to give it the physiognomy of a Marxist party of the proletariat became evident.

In addition, the intellectual elements were increasingly detaching from the working class, while the attempt by another group of intellectuals and petty bourgeois to create a Marxist left wing in the form of syndicalism was not successful. As a reaction to this attempt, in the party triumphed the fundamentalist fraction. With its conciliatory empty verbosity, it was an expression of the main characteristic features of the Italian labor movement, also explainable with the weakness of industrialism and the lack of critical consciousness of the proletariat.

Revolutionarism of pre-war years also maintained this feature and never managed to go beyond its indefinite popularism towards the construction of the party of the working class and the application of the method of the class struggle. Inside this revolutionary trend, even before the war, began to stand out an “extreme leftist” group that supported the theses of revolutionary Marxism, but was not able to have a real impact on the labor movement because of its inconstancy.

This explains the negative and ambiguous nature of the opposition to the war by the Socialist Party. It also explains why, after the war, the Socialist Party was facing the growing revolutionary situation, without having decided or set none of the major issues that the political organization of the proletariat must decide in order to achieve its goals: first of all, the question of “choosing the class” and a suitable organizational form; then, the question of the party program, the question of its ideology and, finally, the strategic and tactical questions, whose solution leads to a cohesion around the proletariat of those forces, which are its natural allies in the struggle against the State, and leads it to the conquest of power. A systematic accumulation of experience, capable to contribute positively to the solution of these questions, in Italy started only after the war. Only at the Livorno Congress the foundation was laid for the creation of the class party of the proletariat. To become a Bolshevik Party and to fully carry out its function, it must eliminate all the anti-Marxist tendencies that traditionally affect the [Italian] labor movement”. [3]

In the 16th Congress (Bologna, October 5-8, 1919), the Socialist Party decided to join the III International, but kept a formal internal unity, which actually prevented the adoption of a clear and coherent policy. At the congress four draft of resolution were colliding: Maximalists, led by Giacinto Menotti Serrati, were setting the goal of establishing a socialist soviet republic and, with an undeniable mechanistic determinism, were asserting the inevitability of the socialist outcome, without excluding the participation in elections; the proposal by Costantino Lazzari set the same goal, but argued that action should be limited to legal methods of struggle; the right wing of the party, Left Reformists with Filippo Turati at the head, on the contrary, were not sharing the applicability of the Soviet model to Italy and were not believing in a revolutionary way out of the crisis, therefore the struggle had to be limited to requirements of higher wages and improved living and working conditions, while socialism remained the final but distant goal, towards which Socialists should strive by the gradual penetration into the State and the other bourgeois bodies through elections and a parliamentary tactic; last, the draft of resolution by the leader of Communists-Abstensionists, Amadeo Bordiga, also set the goal of the socialist soviet republic, but unlike the Maximalists was considering the socialist outcome not inevitable, but achievable only by an active revolutionary struggle with no participation in elections and bourgeois democracy; moreover, it was requiring the Reformists to be expelled and the party's name to be changed into Communist Party. After a three-day discussion, primarily about the attitude towards the right wing of the party, the resolution by Serrati won the majority.

Because of the concerns of Serrati and Lazzari, the Congress approved the alleged unity of the party and did not solve the question of the exclusion of Left Reformists, as the internal Communist minority was claiming in compliance with the conditions for the admission to the Comintern. "Any organization wishing to join the Communist International must consistently and systematically remove from any positions of responsibility in the labor movement (party organizations, editorial staffs, trade unions, parliamentary fractions, cooperatives, municipalities etc.) Reformists and supporters of the “center” and replace them by trusted Communists, without being embarrassed by the fact that sometimes it is necessary first to replace “experienced” leaders by ordinary workers”. [4] Further: "Parties wishing to belong to the Communist International must recognize the need for a complete and absolute break with reformism and the policy of the “center” and promote this rupture in the widest circles of party members. Without this, a consistent communist policy is impossible.

The Communist International unconditionally and categorically demands to implement this rupture in the shortest term. The Communist International can not accept the fact that notorious reformists, such as Turati, Modigliani and others, had the right to be considered members of the III International. Such a procedure would lead to the fact that the III International to a large extent would be like the deceased II International”. [5]

Participation in bourgeois institutions led opportunists and reformists to class collaboration and the perception of parliamentary democracy as the only existing political horizon, and this disorganizes the workers' class and undermines the trust of the working masses in the Socialist Party. Lenin, who had already welcomed the exclusion of the right-reformist group of social-chauvinists (Leonida Bissolati, Ivanoe Bonomi, etc.) at the 13th Extraordinary Congress of the Party (Reggio Emilia, 1912), has repeatedly emphasized the need to decisively break with them.

In fact Serrati and Lazzari did not understand that exactly the preservation of the formal unity was paralyzing and weakening the party, while a rupture, by removing the party elements who were sabotaging the revolution and collaborating with the bourgeoisie, would have made it politically stronger.

The actual inactivity of the Socialist Party, swinging between the inconclusive revolutionary phraseology of Maximalists and the conciliatory, law-abiding and opportunist practice of Reformists and the GCL [General Confederation of Labor] leadership, led to the formation of an embryo of Marxist revolutionary organization of Leninist orientation even before the XVI Congress. The most organized cores were formed in Naples, where in December 1918 Amadeo Bordiga founded the weekly magazine “The Soviet”, and in Turin, a city with a large number of metalworkers and mechanics, where on May 1 1919 a group of young socialists (among them Antonio Gramsci, Palmiro Togliatti, Umberto Terracini, Angelo Tasca) founded “L'Ordine Nuovo [The New Order], weekly magazine of socialist culture”. Around the two editorial boards workers, intellectuals and young socialists gather, on a position of criticism of the GCL and Socialist Party's leadership.

From the initial intellectualistic and anthological formulation, set by Angelo Tasca, [6] that Gramsci auto-critically portrays as a “review of abstract culture, abstract information ... a product of mediocre intellectualism, disorderly looking for a realistic approach and a way to action[7], “L'Ordine Nuovo” changed its character. Joining the fire of real struggle and establishing close links with Turin proletariat, it became the center of the theoretical analysis and practical organization of the class struggle, focusing on what will become one of the major strategic questions of the proletarian revolution in Italy: the development of factory councils, as the fundamental core of the socialist state. "The question of the development of the Factory Committee became the central question, the [central] thought of L'Ordine Nuovo; This was posed as the main issue of the workers' revolution; it was the question of proletarian freedom L'Ordine nuovo became for us and our followers the journal of factory councils”. [8]

In the meantime, the III International and Lenin, who followed with great attention the developments of the situation in Italy, took a well-defined position on the debate in the Socialist Party: "… We just have to tell the Italian comrades that the direction corresponding to the direction of the Communist International is the one of “L'Ordine Nuovo” members , rather than the one of the present majority of the Socialist Party leaders and their parliamentary fraction”. [9]

Already in the spring of 1919 a massive wave of strikes and unrest swept the peninsula. Initially aimed generically against the rise of food products prices, unrest gradually gained greater sharpness and started to lay more specific claims: an eight-hour workday and higher wages. More and more often, solidarity with Soviet Russia and the intention to follow it model was being expressed during demonstrations. The government of Prime Minister Francesco Saverio Nitti gave the prefects of the Kingdom the order to allow economic strikes, but firmly repress any political strike. Before the powerful workers and people's protests manufacturers almost immediately gave way to reduce working time to eight hours a day.

On 20-21 July of the same year a general strike, involving all categories of workers including state employees, was declared in support of Soviet Russia and against the military intervention of the Entente and its allies. The internal left wing of the Socialist Party and the anarchists wanted a strike of indefinite period of time with an insurrectional nature, but the moderate GCL leadership imposed the observance of legality, rejecting any revolutionary development of the strike and refusing to proclaim its time indefiniteness. This is one of the clearest examples of cooperation between the trade union leadership with the state and government of the bourgeoisie, in accordance with the instructions of the Prime Minister Nitti. The Government's position is clear: promoting the collaboration by the “parties of order”, repressing “subversive elements”, using in repressions private armed groups as the newly formed fascist movement. [10] The moderate and complicit position of the reformist trade union leadership, which was disorienting and demoralizing the masses of workers, tearing their revolutionary mood, is less clear. Nevertheless, the ability to mobilize and the fighting spirit of the Italian proletariat considerably frightened the bourgeoisie.

While landowners and industrialists, with the complicity of the government and the Crown, were stepping up their support to the newly formed fascists, used against the workers and peasants' movement, the Catholic Church also mobilized against the spread of socialist ideas among the people. The indication of Pius IX non expedit [it is not advisable], formulated in 1874, was expanded and tightened by the Holy Office in 1886, under the pontificate of Leo XIII (non expedit prohibitionem importat [inadvisability implies a ban]), forbidding Catholics to participate in the political life of Italy in response to the end of the secular sovereignty of the Pope, due to the country's unification into the Kingdom of Italy. In 1919 the ban was canceled by Benedict XV and, in the same year, the priest Luigi Sturzo along with other Catholic intellectuals founded the Italian People's Party, catholic and inter-class oriented, based on the social doctrine of the Church, marking in such a way the return of Catholics to active political life. Gramsci exactly understood the role of the new party: "Catholicism by this does not compete neither with liberalism nor with the secular state; it competes with socialism, it stands on the same ground of socialism, as socialism it addresses to masses”. [11]

In the elections of 1919, held for the first time in the history of Italy with the proportional system, the Socialist Party became the first party in the kingdom, obtaining 32.28% of votes. The newborn People's Party, which received 20.5% of votes, became the second party. Traditional liberal democratic and radical parties lost their majority of seats in the parliament. This meant the sunset of parties of the Risorgimento era [Resurrection, the period of liberation from foreign domination and formation of the national state], which were representing just electoral committees of the leaders of the various sectors of the bourgeoisie, and the rise onto the political arena of modern mass parties. Governments in this parliamentary term, however, still remain under the control of the traditional parties, but with the participation of the People's Party and the Socialist Reformist Party, founded by Bissolati after their exclusion from the Socialist Party in 1912. The Communists of L'Ordine Nuovo clearly indicated how it was necessary to take advantage of the electoral success, and what they had to strive for: "It is impossible to carry out the Communist revolution through a coup ... it is necessary the revolutionary vanguard by its own means and ways to create material and spiritual conditions under which the owners' class will no longer be able to peacefully manage broad human masses, and will be forced by the intransigence of the socialist members of the parliament, controlled and disciplined by the party, to terrorize the masses by blind strikes, bringing them to revolt. Today, this goal can be sought only through parliamentary activity, understood as an activity which tends to immobilizing the Parliament, to tearing off the democratic mask from the ignoble face of the bourgeois dictatorship, revealing all its horror and disgusting monstrosity”. [12] It comes to participation only in elected institutions of the bourgeoisie in order to avoid the possibility that the proletarian masses "were deceived and made believe that it is possible to overcome the present crisis by parliamentary activity and reforms. It is necessary to aggravate the gap between classes, it is necessary that the bourgeoisie proved its absolute inability to meet the needs of the masses, it is necessary that the latter became convinced by their own experience that there is a sharp and merciless dilemma: either death by starvation or ... a heroic superhuman feat of the Italian workers and peasants to build the proletarian order … Only because of such revolutionary motivations the conscious vanguard of the Italian proletariat plunged into the electoral contest and firmly established itself in the parliamentary fair. Not because of democratic illusions, not because of reformist softening, but in order to create the conditions for the victory of the proletariat and ensure the success of the revolutionary efforts aimed at the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship, embodied in the system of Soviets, outside and against the Parliament”. [13]

Nevertheless, the Socialist Party did not satisfy the requirements by L'Ordine Nuovo Communists, and proved to be unable to develop effective tactics to successfully take advantage of the success the elections in favor of the proletariat. Instead of developing the parliamentary struggle in the direction indicated by Lenin and Gramsci, the Socialist Party will continue to waver between revolutionism in word and “parliamentary cretinism[14] in facts.

On the other hand, the indecision of the Socialist Party, its reformist leaders' open collaboration with government and class enemy, the moderation and inertia of GCL were irritating the working class. In early August, the workers of Fiat-Center factory removed the old Factory Committee and elected a new one, which was including advanced workers. It was a clear challenge to the GCL leadership and, at the same time, a first step towards the formation of factory councils.

The Confederation of Industry at this time was preparing a revenge and looking for a pretext for confrontation with the working class, with the intention to win by any means and totally. For this reason they provocatively refused to discuss the issue of wage increases.

On March 22, 1920, in connection with the entry into force of the daylight saving time, the Factory committee of FIAT-Metallurgical Plants asked the management to correspondingly move the beginning of the working day one hour later. Having received a refusal, workers on their own initiative moved the clock hands one hour back. In revenge the management fired out three members of the Factory committee and demanded six members of the trade union committee to be deprived of the right of eligibility for one year, provocatively violating the “proletarian civil rights” and the independence of internal decision-making of the working class. The clock hands were just a pretext: in fact, the conflict was related to the powers and the role of factory committees that were turning into factory councils. The real goal was to smash workers and cancel their class autonomy and the institutions in which it was embodied.

In response, a strike of solidarity was declared on March 29, which will go down into history as the “clock hands strike”. On April 14, the struggle spread all over the region of Piedmont, turning into a general strike involving workers of other sectors. The Socialist Party and trade union leaderships, this time too, rejected the request by the factory councils and the group of “L'Ordine Nuovo” to expand the fight, involving into it all the categories of workers all over the national territory and bringing it up to a revolutionary outcome. With no support from the the Socialist Party, and under the threat of 50.000 soldiers intervention, sent by the government to protect the city, on April 24 the workers ended the strike without having achieved anything and came out of the confrontation defeated. Gramsci commented on this conflict's result: "Turin working class was defeated and could not fail to be defeated. Turin working class was drawn into the fight; it had no freedom of choice, it could not postpone the day of battle, because the initiative in class war still belongs to capitalists and the bourgeois state power … The wide capitalist offensive had been carefully prepared, and the “general staff” of the working class did not notice, did not take care of it: this lack of organizational center became a condition of the struggle, a terrible weapon in the hands of industrialists and the government, a source of weakness of local leaders of the metallurgical sector. Industrialists carried out actions with the utmost skill. Industrialists are divided among themselves due to profit, economic and political competition, but before the working class, they become a steel block ...”. [15] Workers suffered a heavy blow, but did not hang their head: "Turin working class has already proven that it did not came out of the fight with a broken will, with a broken conscience. It will continue the struggle on two fronts. The struggle for the seizure of state and industrial power; the struggle for the conquest of trade union organizations and proletarian unity … It is necessary to coordinate Turin with the revolutionary trade union forces throughout Italy, to establish an organic plan of renewal of the trade union apparatus, which would allow the masses to express their will and push the trade union itself into the field of struggle of the III Communist International”. [16]

In the aftermath of proletarian demonstrations on May 1, brutally repressed by the Royal Guard, and a new strike against the rise of bread price, on June 9 1920 Prime Minister Nitti resigned and the king charged eighty-year-old Giovanni Giolitti to form a new government.

On June 18 1920, IFMW [Italian Federation of Metal Workers] dispatched a request for adjusting wages to the increased cost of living. Following the example of IFMW, other professions' trade unions did the same. Industrialists replied with a categorical refusal and, on August 13, interrupted the negotiations, whereupon IFMW decided to apply the tactics of white strike: production rate and output slowdown, abstention from piecework, strict application of the rules of labor safety, without resorting to sabotage.

Determined to fight until victory, industrialists took counter measures. On August 30, 1920 Mechanical Plant Officine Romeo & Co. implemented a lockout. The same day, workers reacted by the armed seizure of metallurgical and mechanical factories in Turin. On August 31, the Confederation of Industry declared the lockout all over Italy. From that moment on, plants seizures quickly spread from Turin to Milan, Genoa, Florence, Bologna and Naples factories, meeting the spontaneous solidarity of other sectors' workers, particularly railway workers, dockers, farm hands and rural wage workers. In seized factories workers assumed the production management, formed the first detachments of the Red Guard, entrusted with protecting plants and, if necessary, fighting against the army, and started to produce military weapons to continue the fight.

This time the government took a course of mediation between workers and industrialists, with the purpose to move the conflict to a purely trade union level and avoid armed clashes, pending the exhaustion of the fighting mood of the movement, counting on the help of the reformist leadership of the GCL.

At this time, the Socialist Party and the GCL were forced to address the question of how and to where to lead the movement, which in fact turned out to be much more advanced than its leaders.

From September 9 to 11, the Estates General of the Proletariat gathered in Milan. On September 9, the Executive Committee of the GCL discussed the issue of the general insurrectionary strike. The reformist majority of trade union leaders voted against this hypothesis and insidiously suggested their own resignation in lock step and the transfer of their executive mandates to revolutionary-oriented leaders, if they agree to take this responsibility. The Communist fraction, there represented by Togliatti, did not fall into the trap, clearly understanding the purpose of this plan: to provoke a revolutionary initiative, isolate and sabotage it, allowing to crush it by force of arms, and then accuse the revolutionary leaders of irresponsibility and adventurism, displaying them to the masses, as the culprits for the failure. Actually an expectation of success of an insurrectionary attempt could be ensured only by a widespread and organized presence, coordinated at the national level, what the Communist fraction in the Socialist Party did not have yet.

The offer of resignation was reiterated at the joint meeting of the GCL Executive Committee and the Secretariat of the Socialist Party, held on September 10. In it, the secretariat of the Socialist Party, like Pilate, decided to leave the decision to the GCL National Committee , scheduled for the next day.

Consequently, two resolutions were submitted to the National Committee: one was proposing to transfer the leadership to the Socialist Party, for it to lead the movement to a revolutionary outcome for the fulfillment of the socialist program-maximum, while the second, promoted by the GCL Secretariat, was setting the sole goal of achieving an increase in salaries and the acceptance by the owners of the trade union supervision in factories. The latter resolution got the overwhelming majority, ratifying the refusal to turn the factories seizure into the proletarian revolution. The Socialist Party, on the basis of the Pact of alliance with the GCL signed in 1918, could still take on the leadership of the movement by an act of authority. On the contrary, it refused to use this right, as its secretary Egidio Gennari openly stated, de facto getting out of the match and the struggle.

Realizing that the Socialist Party and the GCL had left aside any revolutionary intent, Prime Minister Giolitti deployed his mediation activity and on September 19, 1920 GCL and Industry Confederation signed a preliminary agreement, providing for salary increases and regulatory improvements on the subject of vacations and layoffs, in return for ending the seizure of factories, and continuing production. It was also provided for the government to prepare a bill on workers' supervision, which, among other, was never completed. The final agreement was signed in Milan on October 1, 1920, after the return of the seized factories to their owners.

The workers' struggle was the main, but not the only social turmoil of the Red biennium. In the agricultural areas of the country, including South, there were numerous cases of land seizures by farm hands and permanently hired laborers with violent clashes with landowners, who were increasingly using the fascist black-shirts for intimidation and repression of the rural proletariat. Unrest spread even to the army, which was frequently used as a reinforcement of the Royal Guards to contain and repress riots. There was a lot of cases of ordinary soldiers siding with strikers. In Ancona, during the night of June 25, the soldiers of the 11th Bersaglieri Regiment [high mobility elite infantry in the Italian Army], after disarming and capturing their officers, revolted against sending troops to Albania according to the London Pact. Violent battles started with Carabinieri and Royal Guards, who were tasked with the suppression of the rebellion. Ancona workers rose up on the side of Bersaglieri and soon fights spread to the Marche and Umbria Regions. While railroaders were blocking the way to Ancona, in Milan a two-day strike in solidarity with Ancona workers and soldiers was declared, and in Rome a termless strike started, despite the contrary opinion of the GCL. To suppress the rebellion, the government decided to use the navy. On June 28, after a heavy naval bombardment, the rebellion was suppressed. However, the Bersaglieri's revolt contributed to the withdrawal of Italian troops from Albania and the signing of Tirana treaty.

A few years later, Gramsci will comment the heavy political defeat, which the Red biennium ended with: "Italian workers, by seizing factories, as a class have coped with their tasks and functions. All questions posed to them by the needs of the movement, were brilliantly solved. They could not solve the issues of supplies and communications because the railroads and the fleet had not been captured. They could not solve financial problems because banks and trading companies were not seized. They could not solve major national and international issues because they did not seize state power. The Socialist Party and the trade union had to deal with these issues, but they, on the contrary, shamefully capitulated, invoking the backwardness of the masses as an excuse; in fact, the leaders, not the class, were undeveloped and incapable. Because of this in Livorno the split occurred and a new party, the Communist Party, was founded”. [17]

The formation of the Communist Party of Italy

It is evident from the presentation of the historical events, that the ideological push imparted by the October Revolution to the Italian workers' movement, increased the intensity of the class struggle, but also showed the weakness and unpreparedness of the worker's party at that time. From the victory of the revolution in Russia and, in parallel, from the defeat of the labor movement in Italy, as well as in Hungary, Bavaria, Germany and Poland, the Italian revolutionary Marxists derive an important lesson: a complete rupture with opportunism and reformism of social-democracy, which brakes and sabotages the revolution, is a prerequisite of victory of the revolution itself. Another truth follows from the experience of the victorious Red October: the rupture with social democracy is necessary, but not sufficient; in order to win, the class vanguard must be organized in a party of a new type, different from the old workers' parties, strictly centralized, united by a voluntarily and consciously accepted iron discipline and a verticality of military type, consisting of a staff of professional revolutionaries, strongly linked with the masses and able to set for them an effective strategy and specific tactical goals as steps of the revolutionary path.

This necessity follows immediately from the example of the Red October, and is the basis of Gramsci's self-criticism on how the movement of the “red biennium” was managed, also by the communist groups within the ISP, and certainly is the catalyst for unification of the different trends of Italian communism, despite the differences among them in some views and tactical approaches. The process of separation / unification was neither quick nor devoid of internal clashes, even dramatic. The “intransigent” front, however, was very various and, in addition to the “Communist-abstentionists” of Bordiga, the group “Communist Education” of Gramsci and the “Communist-Unitarianists [for unity]” of Serrati, included also the so-called “Communist electionists” (Togliatti, Terracini , Tasca), Milan radical “workerists” (Repossi, Fortichiari) and the group of left-wing maximalists of Anselmo Marabini. Already during the last two years of WWI these groups shared the intention to make the ISP move from its ambiguous slogan in regard to the war “not to participate, nor to sabotage” and answer Lenin's call to turn the imperialist war into a civil revolutionary war, as it was done in Russia. After the war their common intention was to join the Communist International and become a part of the world revolutionary explosion, breaking with the practice of the already defunct II International. The differences in positions begin to soften in the process of formation of a true fraction. Although the differences in the understandings of party, state and revolutionary tactics between Bordiga and Gramsci remained clear, the other tendencies were gathering together either around the magazine “Soviet” under the leadership of Bordiga, or the magazine "L'Ordine Nuovo” under the leadership of Gramsci. The main question is to break with reformism, as required by the Comintern, but since the communists-unitarianists are against the expulsion of Turati and the reformists, the rupture with Serrati also becomes unavoidable and Serrati becomes the main target of the critics by the forming communist fraction. Now it is necessary to break not only with the right wing of the party, but also with its center. The sharpening of the fight against maximalists-unitarianists, whose most merciless mastermind is undoubtedly Bordiga, is characterized by rigid ideological features that go far beyond the more tactical and political requirements by the III International. As Togliatti will remember later: "The split in Livorno was essentially and primarily a manifestation of struggle against centrism … We were thoroughly fighting against Turati and Modigliani, but we hated Serrati … The main obstacle was not reformists, but maximalist centrism”. [18] A year later, Lenin will call Italian Communists to reunite with the maximalists loyal to III International, but the new party will offer a strong resistance; this explains both the great influence of Bordiga in the party, and the difficulty of Gramsci to make the party accept the tactics of the “united front” the Comintern adopted in 1923. Polemics with the ISP are so acute in the early years of the CPI, that even the maximalists, who joined it from 1922 to 1924, will conduct the deepest self-criticism, actually repudiating their own past affiliation with the socialist party, which was considered responsible for the defeat of the “red biennium”. Even Serrati, after joining the CPI, not long before his death will define the position he adopted in Livorno as "the only big mistake in my life: I have supported, as I was able and in good faith, a movement I considered on the positions of revolutionary proletarian unity, while on the contrary it was fraught with everything except revolutionarism”. [19]

The unification of the Communist fraction starts on October 15, 1920 in Milan, after Bordiga gave up on the precondition of abstentionism, accepting Gramsci's proposal to draw up a joint platform. The approved programmatic manifesto is the doctrinal translation of the decisions of the II Congress of the Comintern, in the typical strictly precautionary style of Bordiga. In it, the concept of discipline is stressed, as well as subordination to the Central Committee and centralism, without the adjective “democratic” and the mention of the leading bodies to be elected by the party's rank and file, according to the concept of “organic” centralism typical of Bordiga . Nothing is said on the relationship between the party and the class, on councils democracy as a form of proletarian dictatorship, on the party committees at workplaces as the basis of the party organization (in fact they will not be established). Even if his doctrinal rigidity and extreme positions have already been widely criticized by Lenin, especially in his work “The Infantile Sickness of ''Leftism'' in Communism”, Bordiga is the head, the inspirer and organizer of the fraction, what Gramsci also recognizes. Bordiga sets the propaganda tone, the youth is with him, but only the methodical and steady activity in the factories by the militants of "L'Ordine Nuovo” will create the first cores of genuine workers for the future party. The Communist fraction is formally formed at the Conference in Imola on November 28, 1920. The conference was held immediately after an important assembly of the Turin organization of the ISP, where the merger with the Communists-abstentionists takes place. Gramsci and “L'Ordine Nuovo” took a decision: without Bordiga and the abstentionists it is impossible to create the Communist Party, for the sake of this merger any principled discussion about the differences has to be sacrificed. The resolution adopted in Turin did not only unify the Communist fractions in the spirit of breaking with “centrism”, but was the analytical and programmatic outcome of the revolutionary movement of the “red biennium”. In it, the demarcation line was drawn between Communists and Social-Democrats, defined as "those, who believe that it would be possible to seriously implement the transition from the capitalist regime to the integral communist regime through a coalition with the bourgeoisie, that is before the seizure of political power by the proletariat”; [20] the role was emphasized of factory councils, as the Soviet power bodies of the Italian working class, the construction process was planned of the Communist Party, as a process, carried out from factories to trade unions, of attraction of the workers, clearly marking the separation from Anarchists; “educational clubs” were indicated as the natural location of the Communist Party organizations and the District Commissariats of Factory Councils. In short, the resolution reflected the program of “L'Ordine Nuovo”. From all this in the Imola platform only the anti-centrist orientation remained and the awareness of the need to act immediately, as the defeat of the movement of the “Red biennium” showed that too much time was wasted before starting to organize the revolutionary forces. Everything else was sacrificed to unification with Bordiga who, among other things, highly appreciated the support provided by Gramsci on that occasion. Regardless of what will occur in the near future, either a social-democratic experiment of coalition of Socialists with the bourgeois parties to overcome the crisis, as erroneously Bordiga was believing, or a revolutionary outcome as more people were thinking, or the unleashing of reaction and terror, as the III International and Gramsci were beginning to foresee, in any case it was necessary to regroup the revolutionary forces, to provide the proletariat with that “combat unit” was missing at the time of the “red biennium”. The Conference also elects the Central Committee of the fraction, where all the trends are represented, including youth in the face of their Secretary Polano, with a predominance of Bordiganists. The new Communist Party actually was already formed two months before the opening of Livorno Congress. Somebody was still thinking that the fraction might get the majority of the delegates' votes at the upcoming XVII Congress of the ISP, in the belief that the revolutionary orientation was prevailing in the party and the class. History proves that it was not true, but that could no longer change the course of events at that point: from right or left, by the minority or the majority, the split is already a matter of fact.

The XVII Congress of the ISP is held from January 13 to 21, 1921 at the Goldoni Theater in Livorno. Centrists of Serrati in their draft resolution confirm their intention to join the III International and the adoption of the 21 points, but demand autonomy in the pace and methods of their implementation, citing the circumstances of the situation in Italy. The confrontation between communists and centrists is extremely fierce. Despite the full and unequivocal support of the Comintern and its representatives (Hristo Kabakčiev, Mátyás Rákosi, Angelica Balabanova), Communists did not achieve the majority: the centrist resolution received 98,028 votes, the reformist one 14,695, and the communist one 58,783. On January 21, after the announcement of the results, Bordiga announces the split and calls to the I Congress of the CPI in the near San Marco Theater, while the communist delegates leave the socialist congress singing the “International”. The unexpected occurs after they leave Goldoni Theater. The delegate-maximalist Bentivoglio submits a resolution on the ISP joining the Comintern with the unconditional acceptance of its decisions and the method of their implementation, applying to its Executive Committee as an appellate court for it to friendly resolve, in the forthcoming meeting in Moscow, the conflict with Communists, and the ISP commits to abiding by its final and unappealable decision. Surprisingly, the resolution was adopted unanimously, receiving even the votes of Turati and the reformists. Even they did not dare to challenge the authority of the Comintern.

At San Marco Theater the meeting of Communists looks more like a demonstration than a real congress. After the greetings of foreign delegations and the speeches by Bordiga and some delegates, the CC is elected, in its majority consisting of Bordiganists. Gramsci does not even take the floor. This shows that at that time neither Gramsci, nor Togliatti could compete with Bordiga's popularity and authority. The process of foundation of the new party is completed on January 27, when the Socialist Youth Federation, standing on Bordiga's positions, joins the party ranks almost unanimously (35,000 members out of 43,000) and is renamed as Communist Youth Federation. “L'Ordine Nuovo”, directed by Togliatti, becomes the official press organ of the Party. The party leadership outwardly looks unanimous, but it is not, as well as the party itself, whose ranks will decrease in the subsequent years. The party statute emphasizes a strict discipline and the subordination of individuals to the organization and the leading bodies; a six-month period of candidature is established for new members, but all members undergo periodic inspections of appropriateness; those members who omit to attend meetings more than three times without justification are expelled from the party; the press and the youth are monitored by the CC; local executive committees directly respond to the Central Executive Committee, a collegial body of 5 members (the figure of the Secretary General will be instituted a few years later); the secretaries of local party committees are not elected, but appointed by the CC; primary organizations are territorial, as Bordiga was concerned that the party committees at the workplace could become a kind of corporate trade union cells, easily permeable by non-Marxists and anarchists.

 Thus was born the CPI, under the direct influence of the October Revolution. The new party, however, had no opportunity to develop in peaceful conditions, as the reaction of capitalists and landowners was pushing Italy into civil war. In 1923 Gramsci, defending the Comintern line of the “united front”, will correlate the rise of fascism not with the split as such, but with the conditions of its implementation. The split was the inevitable result of national and international development of the historical struggle of communism with social-democracy, but the amount of proletarian forces, which in those days Communists had been able to lead onto Comintern position, was still not enough to successfully withstand reaction. This is the meaning of self-criticism, which Gramsci proposes the party: to acknowledge and correct the shortcomings and the delay, accumulated during the “red biennium” in the construction of a strong Communist fraction, and abandon the abstractness of the doctrinal approach of Bordiga, who had restricted the Communists- activity to "insistence on formal matters of pure logic, pure coherence and, after the foundation of the new party, was unable to continue the specific mission of attracting the majority of the proletariat”. [21] This consideration at that time was dramatic, but not pessimistic, on the contrary it was a reason for pride and preparation for the upcoming fight: "... overwhelmed by the events, we became, unwittingly, one of the aspects of the general decay of Italian society … We had the comfort, which we tenaciously clung to, that everyone was at fault, that we could say that we had mathematically predicted the cataclysm at a time when others were lulling in the most careless and stupid illusion. Only by this can we excuse our behavior, our activities after the split in Livorno: by the necessity, brutally arising in the most severe form from the dilemma of life or death, cementing our Party organizations with the blood of our most devoted activists; we were forced to turn our groups, at the very moment of their establishment, of their recruitment, into combat units for guerrilla war, the most violent and difficult war, which the working class had ever fought in. We succeeded, however: the party was founded and strengthened; it is a steel phalanx…”. [22]

[1] The territorial expansion of Italy was already secretly agreed by the London Pact of 1915, in exchange for its withdrawal from the Triple Alliance and its entry into the war on the side of the Entente (France, Britain and Russia). The London Pact provided the expansion of the Italian boundaries at the expense of Austria-Hungary and Turkey and the strengthening of the Italian supremacy in the Adriatic Sea. London Pact is a typical example of the secret diplomacy of imperialism. Like all other secret agreements, it was made public by the Bolshevik government after the October Revolution.

[2] Giorgio Mortara, La Salute pubblica in Italia durante e dopo la Guerra, G. Laterza figli, 1925, p. 28-29, 165, from official data of the Italian government.

[3] A. Gramsci, Scritti Politici, v. 3, Annex, p. 172, La situazione italiana e i compiti del Partito Comunista

[4] V.I. Lenin, CW, v. 41, p. 206, Theses for the II Congress of the Communist International, Conditions for the admission to the Communist International, point 2

[5] Ibidem, point 7, p. 207

[6] Angelo Tasca (1882-1960) will be banned from the CPI in 1929г. as a right-wing deviationist

[7] A. Gramsci, L’Ordine Nuovo, August 14, 1920

[8] Ibidem

[9] V.I. Lenin, CW, v. 41, p. 248—254

[10] On March 23, 1919, in the conference room of the Union of Industry of San Sepolcro Square in Milan, Benito Mussolini founded The Italian Combat fasces

[11] A. Gramsci, L’Ordine Nuovo, November 1, 1919, I Popolari

[12] A. Gramsci, L’Ordine Nuovo, November 15, 1919, I rivoluzionari e le elezioni

[13] Ibidem

[14] This expression was used for the first time by K. Marx and F. Engels. As Engels wrote, parliamentary cretinism «is an incurable disease, an illness, whose unfortunate victims are permeated by the solemn conviction that the whole world, its history and its future are directed and determined by the majority of votes exactly in that representative institution, which was granted the honor to have them as members». (K. Marx, F. Engels, Works, 2 ed., v. 8, p. 92)

[15] A. Gramsci, L’Ordine Nuovo, May 8, 1920

[16] Ibidem

[17] A. Gramsci, L'Unità, October 1 1926, Ancora delle capacità organiche della classe operaia

[18] P. Togliatti, La Nostra Esperienza, “Lo Stato Operaio”, г. V, no. I, January 1931, p. 6

[19] G. Menotti Serrati, Vane difese massimaliste, “L'Unità”, April 25, 1926

[20] The resolution is fully given in the report of the Prefect of Turin of November 28, 1920 (State Central Archive, Home Office, General Directorate of Public Order Protection , G. I, b. 63)

[21] A. Gramsci, Contro il pessimismo, “L'Ordine Nuovo”, 15 марта 1924г.

[22] Ibidem