Gramsci: The problem of power

A new translation of The Problem of Power, L’ordine nuovo, 29 November 1919

The historical position currently reached by the Italian class of the exploited is summarized in these general terms:

Public order. An assembly of about three and a half million workers,peasants and employees, corresponding to about fifteen million of the Italian population, represented in Parliament by one hundred and fifty five socialist deputies. In the political order the Italian class of producers who do not possess the instruments of labour and the means of production and of exchange of the national economic apparatus, has managed to bring about a concentration of forces which places an end to the function of Parliament as the base of state power, as a
constitutional form of political government; the Italian class of the exploited has thus managed to inflict a tremendous blow on the political apparatus of capitalist supremacy, which is founded on the circulation of conservative and democratic parties, on the
alternation, in government of various political firms which paint in unvarying colours the capitalist brigandry, the rule of the bank vaults.

Economic order. The corporatist movement in its various tendencies:

the movement of the industrial workers in the vanguard because salaried in the most advanced modern industry, and of the agricultural workers in the zones of intensive farming, which is concentrated in the Confederazione Generale del Lavoro;

the movement of workers in the backward industries, thus eternally restless and indisciplined, which replaces permanent concrete revolutionary action with revolutionary phraseology, and camps under the nomad tents of the Unione Sindacale Italiana;

the railway workers’ union; an amorphous mass of vanguard industrial workers, of petit bourgeois employees, of self-centred technicians, and of an uncertain and indistinct group of waged and salaried workers, attached to state pay as only the Italian petit bourgeois and small peasant can be;

the Catholic unions of peasants; they stand in the same relationship to the confederated land workers as the workers of the Unione Sindacale do to the conferated workers: masses of backward proletarian elements, which introduce into unionism extraneous and contradictory principles (religion; vague and chaotic libertarian aspirations).

leagues of peasants and Camere del Lavoro spread here and there in the whole of Italy, but especially in Southern Italy and the islands;

these are a characteristic of the lack of cohesion in the national economic political apparatus; they are born from an individual effort, and survive from day to day, exhausting their activity in chaotic movements and without a permanent concrete aim;

proletarian leagues of war-wounded and veterans, free associations of veterans and ex-combatants; they represent the first, grandiose attempt to organize the peasant masses;

the corporatist movement, in its various tendencies and forms, has concentrated a mass of at least six million Italian workers (corresponding to about twenty five million of the national
population) and has caused the disappearance from the economic field of the “free” worker, has caused, that is, the paralysis of the capitalistic labour market. The conquest of the eight hour day and of the minimum wage are due to these general conditions of the labour
market. The capitalistic order of production has been deeply perturbed by it, the “freedom” of exploitation, the freedom to extract surplus value from the workforce (profit or return to the capitalist and to the principal owner, state taxes, tribute to the newspapers and to the
hired thugs of the banks) has been limited, has been subjected in an indirect way, also, to proletarian control; the economic bases of capitalist organization, which culminate in the highest association of capitalism, the parliamentary-bureaucratic state, have been split, by
the sabotage of the first source of capitalist power: the freedom to extract surplus value.

the electoral triumph of the Socialist Party, the returning to parliament of 155 socialist deputies who immobilize the functioning of parliament as a constitutional form of political government, is a simple reflex of this fundamental and primordial economic phenomenon, through which has been immobilized the functioning of the workforce market as a constitutional form of the economic-capitalistic government, of the power of the capitalists over the process of production and exchange.

The workers and peasants of the vanguard have understood that a situation of this kind was being formed in Italy during the war and it was consolidated in this first post-war period. They have understood that the conquests achieved can be held only if they go further; if
the eight hour day becomes law for workers and peasants, becomes a widespread “custom” of communist society; if the minimum wage becomes a law which recognizes for workers and peasants the right to be able to satisfy, with the fruits of their labour, all the needs of
a certain standard of civil and intellectual life, a law which emanates from the power of the workers and peasants, a power which, in its turn, is the political reflex of a renewed order of the process of industrial and agricultural production; if the control of the coalesced worker and peasant masses over the source of bourgeois power (the formation of surplus value) comes from the current form, brutal and indistinct, of mass pressure, of mass resistance, to become economic and political technique, to be embodied in a hierarchy of economic and political institutions which culminate in a state of workers and peasants, in the government of workers and peasants, in a central power of workers and peasants; and the conquest of the earth by the peasants becomes, from a simple possession of the elementary instrument of labour, conquest of the fruits which that instrument can produce, and thus control of the forms in which the produced wares circulate, and control of the economic organisms which represent the stages of this circulation: the banks, the bank associations, the commercial centres, the network of rail, river and maritime transport. If a worker state does not guarantee to the peasants immunity from the predatory assaults of capitalism and high finance,
war will be opened through a “grandiose” agrarian revolution conducted by the bourgeois state and by the minor capitalistic organizations: the introduction of machines into agriculture, with the expropriation of peasants and their reduction to the rank of waged agricultural workers, without union experience and thus more brutally exploited and expropriated of their wealth of labour power than are the workers of urban industry. Progressing in the path of revolution until the expropriation of the expropriators and the foundation of a communist state is the immediate interest of the two most numerous orders of the class of Italian producers: it means for the city workers keeping the gains made up to now and not seeing them
overturned in a bankruptcy of the apparatus of industrial production and in a collapse of society into permanent disorder and terrorism, without a predictable outcome; beyond meaning the taking of possession of the apparatus of national production to turn it to the end of well
being and spiritual betterment of the working class: it means for the peasants keeping the land gained, expanding their own funds, freeing the earth from the capitalistic impositions of mortgage and tax and beginning the industrial revolution with communist methods and
systems, in close collaboration with the urban workers.

The vanguard workers and peasants have understood these necessities immanent in the present economic situation, in the catastrophic balance of forces and of the organisms of production. And they have done all they can do in a democratic society, in a politically configured society; they have indicated the Socialist Party, which represents the ideas and programme to carry out, as their natural political hierarchy and they have shown the party the way to power, the way to government, which is based constitutionally not on a parliament elected by universal suffrage, by the exploited and the exploiters, but on the system of workers’ and peasants’ councils, which embody the government of industrial power, as much as the
government of political power, which are thus instruments of the expulsion of capitalists from the process of production and instruments of the suppression of the bourgeoisie, as the dominant class of all the institutions of control and economic centralization of the nation.

The immediate concrete problem of the Socialist Party is thus the problem of power, it is the problem of the modes and forms in which it might be possible to organize the whole mass of Italian workers in a hierarchy which culminates organically in the party, it is the problem
of the construction of a state apparatus, which internally functions democratically, that is guarantees to all anticapitalist tendencies the freedom and the possibility of becoming parties of proletarian government, and externally as an implacable machine which grinds the organs of industrial and political power of capitalism.

There exists the great mass of the Italian working people. Today it is politically divided into two prevalent tendencies: the mass of Marxist socialists and the mass of Catholic socialists—and in a multiplicity of secondary tendencies: the anarcho-syndicalist, that of the democratic socialist ex-combatants, and the various localist groupings of revolutionary inclination. This mass represents more than twenty five million of the Italian population, that is a stable and secure base of the proletarian apparatus. There exists a series of union
organisms and of semi-proletarian associations, which represent a distinction of technical and political capacity in the great mass of the working people. There exists the Socialist Party, and in the party the revolutionary communist tendency, which represents the phase of
maturity of actual historical consciousness of the proletarian mass.

The major concrete problem of the present moment, for revolutionaries, is this:

1) to fix the great mass of the working people in a social configuration which might conform to the process of industrial and agricultural production (formation of factory and village councils with voting rights for all workers);

2) to obtain in the councils a majority of representation for party comrades, workers’ organizations and sympathetic comrades, but without excluding that it might, temporarily, in the first moments of uncertainty and immaturity fall into the hands of populists, anarcho-syndicalists, reformists, in so far as they are waged workers and elected in their place of work, and in so far as they adhere to the worker state.

In the higher urban and district (in the country) hierarchy, representation in the urban or district council must be given, as well as to centres of production, that is as well as to the working mass as such, to party sections, circles, unions, proletarian associations, cooperatives. The socialist majority would be notable in these local powers and would be overwhelming in the large industrial cities, that is where the workers’ state is truly a proletarian dictatorship (of the factory workers) and overcomes the most arduous difficulties,
because it takes over the capitalistic centres, the capitalistic organisms which vibrate their tentacles throughout the nation.


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