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13 The Revolutionary Party Differences with Borcliga Gramsci's views on a revolutionary party were developed in the course of the prolonged struggle which he led from 1923-26 to overcome the leftist in8uence of Amadeo Bordiga, the founder and the first leader of the Italian Communist Party, who dominated the party in the early years of its existence. The party came into existence despite the extraordinary difficulties created by the conditions ofpolice persecution and semi-legality in which the members had to work. Gramsci's views on the party are set out in his writings in this period and in particular in the 'Lyons Theses' which were drafted by him and Togliatti and adopted by an overwhelming majority at the third congress ofthe party held at Lyons in France in January 1926 (SPW2 364-75). In the Theses the Italian Communist Party is seen as the political organisation of revolutionaries, in other words it is the 'vanguard of the proletariat'. Its task is to organise and unify all the forces necessary for the revolution and to lead an 'insurrection' against the bourgeois state and for the foundation of a workers' state. With its strategy and tactics, the party 'leads the working class' in major historical movements and in day-to-day struggles alike. Its members participate in all the organisations in which the working people are assembled, with the aim of winning a majority for Communist leadership. While the leading bodies of the party were elected, the organisation of the party should be centralised under the 100 THE REVOLUTIONARY PARTY leadership of the central committee. The centralisation and cohesion of the party 'require that there should not exist organised groups within it which take on the character of factions'. Gramsci contrasted the Communist Party with the Italian Socialist Party and other social-democratic parties in which 'factional struggle is the normal method of working out a political orientation and selecting a leading group', and in which much was discussed but little resolved. Instead, the Communist parties chose as the norm of their internal life 'the organic collaboration ofall tendencies through participation in all leading bodies'. The organisation of the party is determined by the task confronting it, that ofleading an insurrection for the overthrow of the fascist state. The differences with Bordiga centred around the relations of the party with other organisations of the workers and peasants, and the relation of the party leadership to the rank and file. Bordiga took the view that the Communist Party lived in perpetual danger of being infiltrated by reformist and petty-bourgeois ideas; in order to remain immune from these influences it had to hold itself strictly apart from other political parties and movements, and concentrate on perfecting its organisation and discipline. Then, when the conditions for revolutionary action had matured, it would be able to lead the working class in a successful assault on the capitalist-state. Gramsci argued that this approach was the result of the economism that was deeply rooted in the Italian labour movement, and had influenced the leaders ofthe Italian Socialist Party as well as Bordiga. The form taken by this economism was a 'mechanical determinism' which considered that capitalism was developing inexorably towards economic collapse as its central contradictions became greater. (Economism was discussed in Chapter 1, p.13.) This kind ofmechanical determinism tended to promote a passive attitude ofwaiting for the inevitable economic collapse, and prevented the party from taking political initiatives and developing close links with the workers and peasants and their organisations. 101 GRAMSCi'S POLITICAL THOUGHT Gramsci also considered that Bordiga had been wrong in according priority in an abstract fashion to party organisation, 'which in practice had simply meant creating an apparatus of functionaries who could be depended on for their orthodoxy towards the official view. It was believed ... that the revolution depended only on the existence of such an apparatus' (SPW2 197-8). This approach resulted in the withering of all individual activity and in the passivity of the mass of the members, who tended to develop 'the stupid confidence that there is always somebody else who is thinking of everything and taking care of everything'. In the Prison Notebooks the theme ofindividual activity of the members is pursued. In one passage he says that the active participation of the members is vital 'even if this provokes an appearance ofbreak-up and tumult: A collective consciousness, in other words a living organism, is not formed except after multiplicity has been...


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