Trotskyism, workerism and autonomism in Italy

Submitted by martin on 11 January, 2004 - 9:47 Author: Martin Thomas

A postscript to my review of Steve Wright's Storming Heaven and my article on Autonomist Marxism.

Other material on this site:

Review of Negri and Hardt's "Empire"

Autonomism, workerism, and Trotskyism in Italy;

Review of Steve Wright's book on the history of autonomism in the 1960s and 70s.

On other sites:

A compact summary of autonomism, in the form of an interview with the American autonomist Harry Cleaver by Massimo De Angelis:

Other texts, including the historic ones like Mario Tronti's "Lenin in England":

How did workerism/ autonomism, in Italy in the 1960s and 70s, interact with Trotskyism? It's a sorry but instructive story.

I owe the information to an Italian comrade, Yurii Colombo, who told us about his history of Italian Trotskyism, and a French comrade, Vincent Presumey, who summarised that history in French (I don't read Italian).

There was a division in the Italian Trotskyist movement as it re-emerged at the end of World War 2. The first Trotskyist group to emerge was repudiated by the American SWP because of its refusal to categorise the USSR as a workers' state, and apparently drifted off towards Bordigism. (See "The Fate of the Russian Revolution", p.437-8).

A new Trotskyist group, the GCR, was founded in 1949, around Livio Maitan, who had been active in the youth movement of the PSI (Italian Socialist Party). It included some members of the earlier group, notably Libero Villone, who remained an oppositionist within the GCR until he died in 1970.

In the early 1950s those neo-Trotskyists who had come to define Eastern Europe, China, etc. as "deformed workers' states" adopted a general policy of seeking to work as a faction within the mass Communist Parties where they existed. Italy had the biggest Western Communist Party, the PCI, and the GCR followed that general policy.

Maitan, however, "applied it with great prudence, not forcing any individual activist to enter the PCI... the GCR remained mainly outside the PCI".

After 1956, as the PCI loosened up, the GCR's "entrism" increased, and produced "apparently substantial results" in Sicily, Rome, and, more importantly for this story, Milan and Turin.

In Milan, the GCR recruited "publicly to the PCI and, at the same time, secretly to the GCR, the leader of the Young Socialists, Massimo Gorla. A 'left tendency of Trotskyist inspiration' came to dominate the PCI Youth in Milan, with the newspaper Falcemartello".

In Turin, the GCR was in pole position as the "workerist" tendency emerged. "The dissident Socialist Raniero Panzieri launched a magazine, Quaderni Rossi, which is considered to have established the cultural matrix of the future 'New Left'; the backbone of the magazine and its distribution network was provided by the GCR and its sympathisers in the PCI, but Panzieri refused 'with tact and courtesy' an invitation to join the GCR".

"This impressive picture suffered from one major problem: in theory, no-one knew about it... The Trotskyist-entrists were in tow to a diffuse current which was larger than them and which tended to lead them, rather than them leading it".

In 1966-7 the GCR made a feeble attempt to "make its independent activity visible". It launched a monthly, La Sinistra, with the philosopher Lucio Colletti; but by 1967 this journal had "turned to Castroism and Third-Worldism". The GCR pushed Falcemartello, the journal of the left-wing PCI Youth in Milan, to be bolder. "Result: at the end of 1967 it came out as... Maoist!"

A huge student radicalisation developed in late 1967 and 1968. Workerism became more influential. "Colombo remarks on the great ignorance or lack of interest in this current shown by the GCR in 1968" - despite the fact that they had been in on it at the start, in the early 1960s.

"The GCR activists intervened directly in the class struggle or in the student movement, no longer respecting the discipline of the PCI... or of the GCR".

May 1968 and the Prague spring "convinced the majority of the organisation that the GCR must be 'dissolved' or 'transcended', and the Chinese condemnation of the Russian intervention in Prague also brought some of them, such as Augusto Illuminati, closer to Maoism" (orthodox Maoism, rather than the "soft Maoism" of Gorla).

In September 1968, a congress of the GCR voted by a majority to dissolve the organisation. In Milan, notably, Gorla took the paper Avanguardia Operaia which had been started by the GCR - "but which, as always, absolutely avoided openly identifying itself as Trotskyist" - and around it launched a new organisation of the same name. AO became an organisation of tens of thousands of members. After it collapsed in the late 1970s, activists from AO became the core of a new organisation, Democrazia Proletaria.

For Gorla and his comrades, "Trotskyism was part of the bureaucratic straitjacket which must be broken in order to fuse its ideas in the 'movement' with those of Castroism and Maoism. The 'movement' was genetically anti-Stalinist, through its practice, and so there was no point giving it lectures on anti-Stalinism..."

Others went to orthodox Maoism, and yet others to PDUP-Manifesto.

Maitan and a few others reconstituted a new GCR in March 1969, with maybe 50 members. (It had had 250 at its pre-1968 height). Meanwhile Avanguardia Operaia and the other new semi-Maoist groups, Lotta Continua, PDUP-Manifesto, Potere Operaia, and later, Autonomia Operaia, had tens of thousands of members.

In the 1970s the GCR "opposed the anti-unionism and spontaneism then widespread" on the revolutionary left, and warned against the ultra-left talk of "armed struggle". But it was weak alongside the big neo-workerist and autonomist groups. It could not influence their development or regroup the activists dispersed by their crises. The GCR grew in the huge radicalisation of the early 1970s, to some hundreds of members by 1973, but it produced many splits.

First, in 1970, Franco Grisolia split to form the first Lambertist group in Italy. Grisolia later had links with Alan Thornett's group in Britain, including part of the time (1981-4) when Thornett was in a common organisation with the AWL. Grisolia now leads what is, de facto, the biggest avowedly-Trotskyist current in Italy, a left opposition in Rifondazione, on a neo-"campist" line.

In 1973, Roberto Massari initiated another opposition current, called the Revolutionary Marxist Faction and later Communist League. We had links and discussions with it around 1976, but it soon collapsed.

In 1975, Dario Renzi launched what is now Socialismo Rivoluzionario, the most visible revolutionary group in Italy outside Rifondazione. This was a "Morenist" (ultra-"campist") variant of neo-Trotskyism. Today SR calls itself Luxemburgist and libertarian, but still has a great deal of the old "Morenism".

Soon, "about half the GCR had left, and the organisation survived on a federalist basis, city by city".

The ex-GCR is now a grouping in Rifondazione scarcely distinguishable from the leadership around Fausto Bertinotti.

The fiasco of 1968 must rank as a decisive turning point. The GCR fell apart at precisely the moment when tens and hundreds of thousands of young people took up the general ideas of revolutionary struggle against capitalism and Stalinism (against Russian Stalinism, anyway) which it had defended "against the current" in bleak years before then.

Its chronic cuckoo-ism - always wanting to shelter and nurture itself in others' nests, rather than speaking out directly in its own name - must have played a large part.

Theoretical confusion, too. Maitan was the "expert" on China for his international neo-Trotskyist current, the USFI. He wrote a book on it, "Party, Army and Masses". His view was that "the revolutionary process in China... despite ambiguous formulations by the Communist leading group, developed rapidly and uninterruptedly from the bourgeois-democratic to the socialist phase... Since the beginning of their polemics with the Soviets, the Chinese Communists have begun to emphasise an interpretation of Lenin's concept of uninterrupted revolution which is closer to the conception of permanent revolution..." No wonder he was unable to restrain young activists carried away by the rhetoric of Mao's Cultural Revolution.

Maitan's chronic fudging on questions of organisation and orientation seems to have played a role, too. The "easy" course of continuing to defend some stock-Trotskyist ideas - but without sharpening them, or counterposing them in any pointed way to other leftish ideas - and encouraging anything semi-, demi-, or quarter-Trotskyist that comes along, does not produce the desired result of ensuring that you're always influential and as near as possible to the centre of the movement.

Sometimes, as in Italy in 1968, it can isolate you. Definiteness, initiative, and sharpness are always risky, but sometimes necessary in order to have any grip.


Submitted by martin on Sun, 13/01/2008 - 11:58

Things have since moved on, with Rifondazione's turn to the right to support Romano Prodi. Both Franco Grisolia's current and the ex-GCR are now outside Rifondazione. Click here for an update; and here. for what the ex-GCR now say.

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