One of the most dramatic, yet shadowy, events touched upon by Guiseppe Fiori in his Antonio Gramsci: Life of a Revolutionaryfootnote1 is the disagreement between Gramsci on the one hand and Togliatti and the Italian Communist Party on the other, after the political ‘turn’ brought about by the Sixth World Congress of the Communist International. To prevent any speculation, it should immediately be added that the revelation of this dispute does not date from Fiori’s book. Already Rinascita of December 1964, in a brief comment following the publication of Athos Lisa’s report on Gramsci in Prison, pointed out that between 1928 and 1933 the positions of Gramsci at Turi ‘showed a way of thinking not only objectively inconsistent with the policy of the Party but actually critical of it on a whole range of questions that had emerged from the Ninth Plenum of the Executive Committee of the International, its Sixth World Congress and later its Tenth Plenum’ and to which ‘the politics of the Italian Party adapted itself.’ Fiori’s undoubted achievement, is not so much to have actually discovered this disagreement, as to have made the first attempt to set it explicitly into its historical context and to give it a historico-political evaluation (from which we, however, disagree on a crucial point). He has also enriched and clarified its nature with new information, of which one of the more important items is the decisive testimony rendered by Gennaro, Gramsci’s elder brother, shortly before his death.

We shall assume total ignorance on the part of the reader and resume briefly Fiori’s account. In 1928–30 Stalin, who was then engaged in a violent struggle against Bukharin, imposed a sharp turn on the International. The line of this turn, soon to be reinforced by the great economic crisis of 1929, can be summed up in the following terms. Capitalism is in its death-throes and the destruction of bourgeois power will be immediately followed by the dictatorship of the proletariat, without a period of transition and intermediate objectives. Social-democracy is not only a non-revolutionary force, an instrument with which the bourgeoisie tries to arrest the revolutionary impetus of the masses, but is itself a form of bourgeois rule: it is, in effect, social fascism. Communist parties should, therefore, conduct isolated struggle for the destruction of capitalism, outside any system of alliances. Their aim should be frontal clash of classes and, in the specific instance of the Italian Party, all-out struggle against the ‘Justice and Freedom’ group and against catholic and republican anti-fascist forces.

The crude and sectarian character of this Stalinist line is quite clear. It was sectarian because it maintained an equivalence between social-democracy and fascism and because it failed to base its policies on any serious analysis of the concrete situation. It was simply absurd in the case of Italy, where fascist reaction and terror had long ago succeeded in breaking up and decimating the organized power of the proletariat. Gramsci’s theses, put forward at the Congress of Lyon, were thereby turned upside down.

How did the pci respond to the new Stalinist directive? It split at the top. In the leadership, Togliatti, Camilla Ravera and Longo adapted themselves to the turn. Alfonso Leonetti, in charge of the clandestine press, Paolo Ravazzoli, leader of the trade-union movement, and Pietro Tresso, in charge of the underground organization, rejected it. All three were expelled for this: first from the leadership, then from the Central Committee and finally from the Party.

It is here that Gennaro Gramsci’s testimony must be introduced. He was an exile, living in Paris, when he was charged by Togliatti to go and visit Antonio in prison in Turi, to inform him of the recent vicissitudes and to find out his point of view. According to Fiori Gennaro told him that he had found Antonio actively hostile to the expulsions and sharing the opposition to the turn. Altogether, Gramsci was in agreement with Leonetti, Tresso and Ravazzoli on the question of the turn, thought their expulsion unjustified and rejected the International’s new policy to which, he thought, Togliatti had agreed too hastily.

However, on his return to Paris, as he was later to recall to Fiori, Gennaro went to Togliatti and told him: ‘Nino is in complete agreement with you.’ The reason for this move, as Gennaro explained, was his fear that the accusation of ‘opportunism’, given the heat of the struggle and the determination of the group around Togliatti to suppress all dissent, would have been levelled even against his brother. ‘Had I told a different story, not even Nino would have been saved from expulsion.’footnote2

But even Gennaro’s prudent move turned out to be not quite sufficient. Towards the end of 1930 Gramsci had decided to start a new political education class among his prison comrades and to give a series of talks during the exercise hour in the courtyard. Some comrades (Athos Lisa among others), who were already aware of the new policy of the International and the Party, contended with and combated his theses. Left to himself and subjected to slanderous accusations, Gramsci decided to break off relations with them, and withdrew into isolation. From then on Fiori has commented ‘there is no indication, written or oral, of any attempt by Gramsci to contact any member of the Party (at any level, whether in exile or not) during the remaining years in prison and afterwards during his recovery at the Cusumano clinic in Formia (where he was allowed to go out a number of times) and at the Quisisana clinic in Rome’. Tresso wrote that the Party had expelled Gramsci. For its part, Stato Operaio, which was being published in Paris under Togliatti, failed to mention Gramsci’s name for many years.