Antonio Gramsci: The ape peoplePosted: 6 July, 2013
The ape people
A new translation of The Ape People, from L’ordine nuovo, 2 January 1921.
Fascism has been the latest “show” put on by the urban petit bourgeoisie in the theatre of national political life. The end of the miserable Fiume adventure is the final scene of the show. It can take its place as the most important episode in the process of intimate dissolution of this class of the Italian population.
The process of splitting of the petit bourgeoisie begins in the final decade of the last century. The petit bourgeoisie loses any importance and gives up any vital function in the field of production, with the development of large industry and financial capital: it becomes a pure political class and specializes in “parliamentary cretinism”. This phenomenon which takes up a large part of contemporary Italian history, takes many names in its various phases: originally it is called “the coming of the left to power”, it becomes Giolittismo, it is the struggle against the Kaiseristic efforts of Umberto~I, it fades away as socialist reformism. The petit bourgeoisie has ossified in the parliamentary institution: from organism of control of the capitalist bourgeoisie over the crown and the public administration, parliament becomes talking and scandal shop, it becomes a means of parasitism. Corrupt to the bone, completely at the service of the governing power, parliament loses any prestige amongst the popular masses. The popular masses are persuaded that the only instrument of control and opposition to the caprices of administrative power is direct action, is external pressure. The red week of June~1914 against the massacres, is the first great intervention of the popular masses in the political scene, to directly oppose the caprices of power, to truly exercise popular sovereignty, which no longer finds expression in the representative chamber: it might be said that in June~1914 parliamentarianism, in Italy, took the path of dissolution and with parliamentarianism the political function of the petit bourgeoisie. The petit bourgeoisie, which has definitively lost any hope of reacquiring a productive function (only today does a hope of this sort show itself, with the attempts of the Partito Popolare to restore importance to the small agricultural proprietor and with the attempts of the functionaries of the Confederazione Generale del Lavoro to galvanize the dead infant of union control) seeks in every way to maintain a position of historical initiative: it apes the working class, and takes to the streets. This new tactic is used in the ways and forms proper to a class of bigmouths, sceptics, crooks: the outcome of the deeds which have taken the name of “bright days of May”, with all their journalistic, oratorical, theatrical, spectacular reflexes, is like the projection into reality of a story from Kipling’s Jungle Book: the story of Bandar-Log, of the ape people, which believes itself to be superior to all the other peoples of the jungle, to possess all the intelligence, all the historical intuition, all the revolutionary spirit, all the sense of governance, etc., etc. This had happened: the petit bourgeoisie, which had served the governing power through parliamentary corruption, changes the form of its working practice, becomes antiparliamentary, and seeks to corrupt the streets.
In the period of the war, parliament decays completely: the petit bourgeoisie seeks to consolidate its new position and fools itself that it has killed the class struggle, has taken the leadership of the working and peasant class, has replaced the socialist idea, spread through the masses, with a strange and extravagant ideological mix of nationalist imperialism, of “real revolution”, of “national trade unionism”. The direct action of the masses on 2–3 December, after the violence carried out in Rome by officials against socialist deputies, places a brake on the political activity of the petit bourgeoisie, which from that moment seeks to organize and align itself around bosses richer and more secure than official state power, weakened and exhausted by the war.
The Fiume adventure is the sentimental motive and the practical mechanism of this systematic organization, but it appears immediately evident that the solid base of the organization is the direct defence of industrial and agricultural property from the assaults of the revolutionary class of workers and poor peasants. This activity of the petit bourgeoisie, officially become “fascism”, is not without consequences for the state machine. After having corrupted and ruined the institution of parliament, the petit bourgeoisie corrupts and ruins all the other institutions, the fundamental underpinnings of the state: the army, the police, the judiciary. Corruption and ruin carried out for their own sake, with no precise aim (the only precise aim would have to have been the creation of a new state: but the “ape people” is characterized exactly by its incapacity to set itself a law, to found a state): the proprietor, to defend himself, finances and support a private organization, which in order to mask its true nature, must take on “revolutionary” political trappings and break up the most powerful defence of property, the state. The owning class repeats, towards executive power, the same error which it made towards parliament: it believes it can best defend itself from the assaults of the revolutionary class, abandoning the institutions of the state to the hysterical caprices of the “ape people”, of the petit bourgeoisie.
The petit bourgeoisie, even in this last political incarnation of “fascism”, has definitively shown itself in its true nature of servant of capitalism and of landed property, of agent of counter-revolution. But it has also shown that it is fundamentally incapable of carrying out any historical task: the ape people fills the press, it does not make history, it leaves a trace in the papers, it does not offer material to write books. The petit bourgeoisie, after ruining parliament, is ruining the bourgeois state: it substitutes, on an ever larger scale, private violence for the “authority” of the law, exercises (and cannot do otherwise) this violence chaotically, brutally, and raises against the state, against capitalism, ever wider layers of the population.