Gramsci’s Political Writings, 1921-26
A fascinating collection of Gramsci’s writings from the time of the split from the Italian Socialist Party and the foundation of the PCI. It includes Gramsci’s theorisation of fascism (a petit-bourgeois movement to destroy worker’s democracy), his slow transition to the ‘united front’ strategy, debates between him and his collaborators about the first PCI leader Bordiga and his group, his excellent ‘Lyons theses’, his famous essay on the Southern Question, and the first theorisations of many of the themes he would continue in his famous Prison Notebooks. The minutes of the PCI meetings before the Como and Lyons conferences are particularly fascinating: you almost feel like you can hear the arguments between Gramsci and Bordiga, the tension in the air, the feeling that there was so much at stake. In any case, it’s an extraordinarily rich collection, sometimes uneven, but at other times brilliant.
The book might be best to read in conjunction with one of the biographies, because at times the debates can be rather hard to make sense of – 1920s Italy is a long way away. Some things are hidden too: for example, one wouldn’t necessarily know that Gramsci disagreed with Bordiga’s line quite a time before he was prepared to come out an argue against it.
In some ways, this book is a picture of the Comintern at the time, through the lens of Gramsci. The first impression one gets is of just how confused the movement was in the early 1920s. It also seems, alas, that the Comintern was pretty flawed from the beginning. Gramsci seems slow on many things, but then events are moving at such a pace. For example, he initially supports Stalin in the debate with the Left Opposition, but later comes to a much more critical position (and if we believe Victor Serge, had himself sent away from Russia to escape the coming conflagration). By the time Gramsci was arrested by Mussolini, he had made himself into one of the preeminent leaders of the workers movement. Extraordinarily creative and original.