Original publication: nuovopci.it
Translation: Michael Carley, Roderic Day

Workers’ Democracy (1919)

10 minutes | English Italiano

L’Ordine Nuovo, 21 June 1919, year 1, n. 7.

One problem continues to afflict every socialist who feels in themselves the historical responsibility that falls upon the working class and upon the Party whose mission is to represent the critical and functional consciousness of this class.

“How can we master the immense social forces that the war has unleashed? How can we discipline and give political form to these social forces while also upholding the virtue of allowing them to develop normally, integrating continuously, until they become the backbone of the socialist State in which the dictatorship of the proletariat will be embodied? How can we weld the present to the future, satisfying the urgent needs of the present while usefully working towards building and ‘anticipating’ the future?”

This article aims to stimulate thought and action; it’s meant to be an invitation for the best and most conscious workers to reflect and, each within their own sphere of competence and action, cooperate in solving the problem, bringing to bear the attention of their comrades and associations. Only through collaborative and solidary work towards enlightenment, through reciprocal persuasion and education, can concrete action towards construction arise.

The socialist State in germ already exists in the institutions of social life characteristic of the exploited working classes. Linking these institutions together, coordinating between them and subordinating them within a hierarchy of competencies and powers, concentrating them while at the same time respecting their autonomy and flexibility — this is what building a true workers’ democracy means today. In order to effectively and actively oppose the bourgeois State, we must prepare, already, to replace the bourgeois State in all of its essential functions pertaining to the management and handling of national patrimony.

The labour movement is today led by the Socialist Party and by the Confederation of Labour; but this exercise of social power by the Party and the Confederation acts, from the perspective of the great masses of workers, indirectly: through prestige and enthusiasm, through authoritative pressure, and even through inertia. The sphere of prestige of the Party expands daily. It reaches strata of people hitherto untouched, it sparks a desire and builds consensus around working vigorously for the advent of communism among groups and individuals that were up until now absent from the political struggle. However, it is necessary to give a permanent form and discipline to these disordered and chaotic energies; to absorb, compose and empower them; to make of the proletarian and semi-proletarian class an organized society that educates itself, gains experience, and acquires a responsible awareness of the duties which fall upon the classes that come to wield State power.

The Socialist Party and the trade unions cannot absorb the entire working class without putting in years and decades of work. They will not be immediately identified with the proletarian State. In fact, in communist republics they continue to exist independently of the State, either as institutions of development (the Party) or of management and execution (the trade unions). The Party must continue to be the organ of communist education, the hearth of faith, the repository of doctrine, the supreme power that harmonizes and leads to the goal of organizing and disciplining the forces of the working class and the peasantry. Precisely because it must carry out this task rigorously, the Party cannot open its doors wide to an invasion of new adherents, unaccustomed to the exercise of responsibility and discipline.

But the social life of the working class is rich with other institutions, it expresses itself in a multiplicity of activity. These institutions and activities are precisely the ones to be developed, organized comprehensively, and linked together into a vast and nimbly interconnected system that is able to embrace and discipline the whole of the working class.

The workshop and its internal committees, the socialist circles, the peasant communities — these are the centers of proletarian life that we must directly engage with.

The internal committees are organs of workers’ democracy that need to be freed from the limitations imposed on them by enterprise owners, and into which new life and energy should be breathed. Today these internal committees limit the power of the capitalist in the factory, and perform functions of arbitration and discipline. Developed and enriched, tomorrow they could become the organs of proletarian power that replace the capitalist in all of his useful functions of leadership and administration.

Workers should proceed, as early as today, to the election of vast assemblies of delegates, chosen from among their best and most conscious comrades, on the watchword: “All power in the workshop to the workshop committee!” And this rally cry would be matched by another: “All State power to the worker and peasant councils!”

Ample opportunities for concrete revolutionary propaganda would open up for communists organized within the Party and in district circles. These circles, in coordination with urban ones, would take stock of the labour forces in their area, and become the headquarters of the district council of workshop delegates — the nerve center that interconnects and concentrates all the proletarian energies of the district. The electoral systems could vary according to the size of the workshop; however, an attempt should be made to elect one delegate for every fifteen workers divided by category (as is done in English workshops), arriving, by gradual elections, to a committee of factory delegates that is representative of the whole labour complex (blue collar, white collar, and technical). The district committee should also aim to include delegates from the other categories of workers living in the district: waiters, coachmen, tram-drivers, railroad workers, street sweepers, the self-employed, sales clerks, etc.

The district committee should be an outgrowth of the entire working class living in the district, a legitimate and authoritative outgrowth, capable of enforcing discipline, invested with power, spontaneously delegated, and able if needed to order the immediate and complete cessation of all work in the district.

These district committees would in time grow into urban commissariats, controlled and regulated by the Socialist Party and trade federations.

Such a system of workers’ democracy (supplemented with an equivalent organization of peasants) would give permanent shape and discipline to the masses, would be a magnificent school of political and administrative experience, would organize the masses down to the last man, would accustom them to tenacity and perseverance, would accustom them to regard themselves as a field army in need of firm cohesion in the face of the threat of destruction and enslavement.

Each factory would constitute one or more of the regiments of this army, with corporals, liaisons, officers, general staff, and powers delegated by free election rather than imposed in an authoritarian manner. Through rallies held within the workshop, through propaganda and persuasion work carried out by the most conscious elements, a radical transformation of workers’ psychology would be achieved. The masses would become prepared and able to exercise power, and the consciousness of the duties and rights of the comrade and the worker would spread, concrete and efficient as a result of arising spontaneously from experience both living and historical.

As we have already stated, these quick notes are intended only to stimulate thought and action. Every aspect of this problem deserves extensive and in-depth treatment, clarifications, and subsidiary and coordinated additions. But the concrete and comprehensive solution to the problems of socialist life can be found only through communist practice: the discussion in common, which sympathetically transforms consciences through the creation of common passions and common feelings, unifies minds and imbues them with industrious enthusiasm. To tell the truth, to arrive together at the truth, is to achieve a communist and revolutionary act. [1] The formula “dictatorship of the proletariat” must cease to be only a formula, an occasion for outbursts of revolutionary phraseology. Whoever wants the ends, should want the means. The dictatorship of the proletariat is the establishment of a new, characteristically proletarian State, in which the institutional experiences of the oppressed classes converge, in which the social life of the working class and the peasantry becomes a widespread and highly organized system. This State is not improvised: the Russian Bolshevik Communists worked for eight months to spread and make concrete the watchword “All Power to the Soviets!” — Soviets which had been known to the Russian workers since 1905. Italian communists must treasure the Russian experience and economize on time and effort: the work of reconstruction will demand much time and labour, so every day and every act should be able to be devoted to it.

[1] Compare to Nietzsche: “The requirement to create correct concepts of all things seems innocuous: but the philosopher who thinks he has found them treats all other men as ignorant and immoral and all their institutions as nonsense and obstacles to true thinking. The human being of the right concepts wants to judge and rule. The belief that one is in possession of the truth makes one a fanatic. This philosophy was based on contempt for reality and human beings: it quickly reveals a tyrannical streak.” (Kritische Gesamtausgabe, ii, 4, 155) — R.D., A. M.