Recalling Gramsci

Antonio Gramsci, the great Marxist thinker, imagined an autonomous domain of working-class politics outside the hierarchical culture of trade unions and vanguard role of the communist parties.

Gramsci himself recorded his analysis of workers' movement in Italy in his article titled "The Turin factory council movement", carried in L'Ordine Nuovo (March 14, 1921). The article raised fundamental questions about working-class politics and its leadership. To put it in the words of Gramsci: "The April movement in Turin was in fact a great event in the history not just of the Italian proletariat, but of the European, and we can say, in the history of the proletariat of the whole world". (Gramsci referred to the Turin General Strike of April 1920)

Why Gramsci considered the Turin movement as "a great event…in the history of the proletariat of the whole world"? Again, to put it in the words of Gramsci: "For the first time in history, there was an example of a proletariat which engaged in struggle for the control of production, without having been forced into action by hunger or unemployment. Furthermore, it was not just a minority, a vanguard of the working class which undertook the struggle, but the entire mass of the workers of Turin took to the field and brought the struggle, heedless of privations and sacrifices, right to the end".

At the end of his article, Gramsci made a seminal observation: "The general strike in Turin and Piedmont ran into the sabotage and resistance of the union organizations and of the party itself".

Gramsci's article on the workers' movement in Turin, 100 years after its publication, is still relevant globally in understanding the potentials and predicaments of labour movements, and the role of its leadership in the 21st Century.

Vol. 53, No. 18, Nov 1 - 7, 2020