The very interesting contribution to the history of Trotskyism in Italy in 1943-44 by Paolo Casciola (Revolutionary History, Volume 5, no 4) is an important addition to the history of our movement.
There are, however, one or two points in his article which I would like to question. I must emphasise that I rely entirely on my fading memory. When I first met Nicola Di Bartolomeo in 1944, he was undoubtedly under the influence of the Shachtmanite Workers Party. He had been isolated from the international movement during the years of his internment, first in France, then in Italy, and his first contact was with Walter Gourlay, a member of the Workers Party, a supporter of the Johnson-Forest tendency within that organisation. But he never, to my knowledge, committed himself to Shachtman or Johnson’s theoretical position. He firmly supported the Transitional Programme. He did have some doubts at the time about the physical existence of the Fourth International. ‘The important thing’, he said to me, ‘is the programme.’
After Charlie Curtis of the American Socialist Workers Party and Louis Sinclair contacted us, we succeeded in winning Nicola and Bruno over to the position of the International Secretariat. Later I was able to influence Villone, and win him over from his Bordigist position. What I seriously question is that Nicola and Bruno ‘chose the road of entrism into the Socialist Party and its youth organisation’. When I first met them, yes, they were in the Socialist Party, and, indeed, it was from an address given to the Socialist Youth organisation in Naples that they contacted me through Gourlay. But, as soon as they had made contact with the International, they opted for an independent party, the POC, and began publishing Il Militante. This was before we established contact with Mangano.
I, in fact, opposed this move. The Italian comrades were completely isolated from the working class, who in their overwhelming millions were supporting the Communist and Socialist Parties. Nicola was playing an important and influential rôle in the Confederazione Generale del Lavoro. I thought that this was a sound base from which we could begin building a Trotskyist cadre inside the Socialist Party and its youth organisation. I still think I was right.
It was only because of this isolation from the mass movement that they eventually made the compromise agreement with Mangano’s Apulian Federation. They also drew in someone who I think was called Secchi, who published Pensiera Marxista, which increased the Bordigist influence in the POC.
Charlie van Gelderen
Given the historical insignificance of Trotskyism in Italy compared to the much larger and politically important Left Communist current, your feature on the Italian left (Volume 5, no 4) was always going to be something of a test of whether Revolutionary History is genuinely open in its treatment of the history of the revolutionary movement, or, at root, is a sophisticated expression of Trotskyism.
In your editorial, you studiously adopt an open, non-sectarian tone, deciding to give a ‘say’ to ‘what stood on the left’ of the Communist Party. But then, in the very next sentence, you ‘naturally give pride of place to the Trotskyists’... ‘on the basis of the censorship from which they have suffered’. Why ‘naturally’? If you refer to the censorship of the bourgeoisie and its Stalinist servants, it is hard to see how Italian Trotskyists have suffered more than the Left Communists. This justification is unconvincing.
The main articles actually contain a lot of interesting material, but what is striking about this issue as a whole is the complete absence of contemporary texts from the Italian movement; in fact the only historical document included is a short manifesto from 1943 written by the Trotskyist Fourth International! (Even so, the material included is sufficient to reveal the dubious political origins of the Trotskyist New Italian Opposition, and the opportunist tactics of Trotsky himself, who used the NOI as a way of undermining the Left Communists, after the latter’s refusal to participate in attempts to create unprincipled and artificial coalitions.)
Then, as if to show that all the openness couldn’t last, immediately after the main articles Al Richardson is sent in to do a Trotskyist hatchet job on the only available history of the Italian Left in English, the pamphlet of the International Communist Current.
It would be a fruitless exercise to engage in a lengthy polemic with Mr Richardson; as if to emphasise just how far Trotskyism has travelled from its roots in the degenerating Communist International, in one of his wilder flights of sectarian rhetoric he ridicules the Italian Left for denouncing the Social Democratic parties as capitalist (after their betrayal in 1914), as akin to ‘1960s Maoism’ (p198). Can I refer him to the Communist International’s Manifesto of 1919, written by one Leon Trotsky in his revolutionary days, which clearly denounces these self-same parties ‘which had become transformed into subsidiary organs of the bourgeois state’? In the meantime, I would recommend all those genuinely interested in ‘learning about history in order not to repeat it’, to read the contemporary texts of the debate between the Italian Left and the Trotskyists, published in French as Le Trotskysme contre la classe ouvrière (International Communist Current, 1990), which show that before it finally betrayed in the Second World War, Trotskyism was an opportunist current in the workers’ movement.
Robert J Alexander’s book International Trotskyism, reviewed by you (Revolutionary History, Volume 4, no 4, pp169-83; Volume 5, no 2, pp164-5; Volume 5, no 3, pp239-46) has some blameworthy omissions in its chapter on Italy. Alexander’s only references for the whole period following the Second World War are to some letters by Livio Maitan. So we learn nothing about the attempt to regroup in Azione Comunista in 1956. And Alexander’s sole source for the history of Trotskyism in Italy in the 1960s and 1970s is a polemical pamphlet by the Spartacists.
Concerning the period of entrism, Maitan omitted to inform us that a Central Committee member of the Italian Communist Party, Silvio Paolicchi, who was the first to vote against Togliatti on the Central Committee, adhered to the Fourth International. The Gruppi Comunisti Rivoluzionari recruited many young militants in the FGCI, the youth organisation of the Communist Party. One of them, Gorla, afterwards a leader of Avanguardia Operaia and Democrazia Proletaria, was the Italian group’s delegate to the 1966 World Congress of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International. The Fourth International Tendency was in a minority during the crisis of 1968. The majority voted to dissolve the organisation and carry out joint activity in the broader movement. The amount of space devoted to the Lega Socialista Rivoluzionaria (p597) considerably underestimates its importance. It was formed when Dario Renzi, a young supporter of Moreno, split the GCR. The resulting LSR was strong in Naples and published Avanzata Socialista. They expanded on a national scale in 1979-80. Both the LSR and the Lega Comunista Rivoluzionaria (the new name of the GCR) ran in the 1980 elections, with very poor results. The Lega Operaia Rivoluzionaria (p598), which published Workers Politics, joined the LCR in the mid-1980s. It was not merely a continuation of the GBL, but the result of a fusion between the GBL (publishing The Militant) and the minority of the Communist League that had refused to join the DP along with Massari. In 1987 the LCR also united with the DP. The LCR had a large turnover of membership, and worked among the youth and in the alternative trade unions. They changed their name, firstly to Organizzazione Prospettiva Socialista (publishing the bi-monthly Prospettiva Socialista) and then in 1990 to Socialismo Rivoluzionario, publishing the bimonthly Altra Sinistra and the journal Socialismo O Barbarie.
There is another mistake on page 597. Roberto Massari’s Lega Comunista joined the DP in 1979, and Massari is now an editor and writer. A section of Pablo’s international, the TMR (Marxist Revolutionary Tendency), also existed in Italy in the 1970s.