Arrigo Cervetto

Arrigo Cervetto

Arrigo Cervetto (April 16, 1927—February 23 1995, Savona), was an Italian communist, the founder of Lotta Comunista in 1965.

Early life

Born in Buenos Aires, where his parents had emigrated from Liguria (before returning to Italy), Cervetto began his political career when he was very young, in the midst of World War II: in July 1943, as a worker at Savona's ILVA steelworks, he marched in the first demonstrations after the fall of Benito Mussolini, and then - after September 8 (when Mussolini returned to power in Northern Italy) - took part in the Italian Resistance against the Italian Social Republic and its Nazi backers (wounded during combat, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross).

A communist, without being a member of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), after his experience as a partisan the young Cervetto - together with youths of the same age living in the same working-class district - decided to refuse the policy of PCI leader Palmiro Togliatti - who had done his "Salerno about-turn" (after the seat of Italy's first post-Fascism government, and in the sense that he had joined the mainstream) - and to break with Stalinism.

He approached his city's and region's anarchists, who had a firm foothold in the area and a long tradition of struggles against the Blackshirt squads and the Black Brigades and inside the factories. In March 1950 he took part in the conference organized by the Ligurian Anarchist Federation at Genoa-Pontedecimo, backing the positions of the group proposing "an oriented and federated movement" with the aim of fighting Anarchist "nihilism" and of giving the Federazione Anarchica Italiana (FAI) a prospect of concrete political struggle.

After this conference collaboration began with the newspapers "Il Libertario" and "L'Impulso", and Cervetto undertook an intense activity of reorganisation.


The outcome was the national conference held at Genoa-Pontedecimo at the end of February 1951, during which the "Anarchist Groups of Proletarian Action" (GAAPs) were set up.

However, there were two traditions inside the GAAPs: one that was Liberal-Socialist and Anarchist - represented by Pier Carlo Masini - and another of Marxist inspiration - represented by Cervetto. One of the basic themes that characterised Pontedecimo's 51 theses was that of the unitary nature of imperialism:

"There do not exist two imperialisms at a different level and of a different nature, between which the working class may make a choice. There exists imperialism as the unitary manifestation of a society divided into classes and States: a single block, even though shaken and buffeted by lacerating internal contradictions. Hence, the only problem facing the world proletariat is the choice between imperialism and anti-imperialism".

In his reports to the GAAPs' subsequent annual conferences, Cervetto used this assumption as the starting point for an in-depth analysis of imperialist contradictions, spurring the militants to focus their attention on the themes of international politics and its consequent crises, at the time still "peripheral" (workers' revolts in East Berlin, the French working class's opposition to the Indochina War, etc.).

On the political-action plane, this analysis of the world scene turned into the polemic against those who tend "to consider imperialism as a huge machine, an enormous compressor" that would not leave any margin for revolutionary action and that would lead to a "liquidation" of political action and of the class party. On the contrary, Cervetto underlined that, also in the general counterrevolutionary condition, knotty political problems that are more or less widespread and that must be worked on crop up regularly.

Alongside the political-theoretic struggle and the organizational effort to assemble and form a core of revolutionary cadres, which also saw collaboration with the new series of the review "Prometeo" (1954, 1959 and 1960), Cervetto worked on historical research into the origins of that consciousness in the proletariat where he took his first steps: between 1954 and 1958 he published three studies on "Le lotte operaie alla Siderurgica di Savona, 1861-1913" ("Working Class Struggles at the Siderurgica of Savona, 1861-1913"), "La crisi del movimento operaio savonese e l'attività di G. M. Serrati nel 1912" ("The Crisis of the Savonese Workers' Movement and G. M. Serrati's Activity in 1912") and "Dopoguerra rosso e avvento del fascismo a Savona" ("Red Post-World War I Period and Advent of Fascism in Savona"), and worked on a study of the Resistance in Savona.

Meanwhile, the marked contradictions of De-Stalinization encouraged confused attempts to unite a Communist Left. In 1955 "Azione Comunista" was born of a PCI "dissidence": Cervetto collaborated by attempting to contrast its maximalism and what he viewed as purely "Garibaldian" attitudes.

His articles in "Azione Comunista" (1957-64) centred in particular on the theme of De-Stalinization, analysed by starting with theses on the Soviet Union's "capitalist nature" and the causes of the Stalinist counterrevolution. Cervetto particularly analysed the events of November 1956 as an example of imperialist contradictions, with the Suez Crisis coinciding with the Russian intervention against the workers' Hungarian Revolution.

The following year, Cervetto formulated his strategic vision in a systematic way, presenting his "Tesi sullo sviluppo imperialistico, sulla durata della fase controrivoluzionaria e sullo sviluppo del partito di classe" ("Theses on Imperialist Development, Duration of the Counter-Revolutionary Phase, and Development of the Class Party") at the first conference of the Communist Left in Livorno in November 1957.

In them, he poses the need for a theoretic battle capable of acting as a barrier to supposed opportunism at the moment when the Italian consequence of De-Stalinization was the Social-Democratisation of the former radical workers' parties:

"The bureaucratisation of these parties is not a degenerative phenomenon of the workers' movement but is a necessity of capitalism as it aims, through its political agents, at establishing its hegemony over the workers' movement. It is absurd to think of competing with this particular form of the organization of capitalist hegemony": hence, he argued, the Communist heft had the "historical duty" of organizing itself as the vanguard of the revolutionary party body, a prospect that was meant to clash with the perceived naivety of both the ideologically anarchistic and those that have left the PCI.

In the "Theses" this discussion on the party is anchored to the evaluation of the characteristics and duration of what is identified as an on-going counterrevolutionary phase, in contrast with those who confined themselves to pointing out that "the situation has been revolutionary since capitalism entered its imperialist phase".

Here Cervetto called attention to the theory of the uneven development of capitalism, and hence to the "question of times" as regards the possibilities of a socialist economy on an international scale; in this context he singled out the prospect of India's and the People's Republic of China's industrialization, posing the problem of the time that will be needed for these countries to reach an "intermediate" level of development, such as to incentivate imperialist exportation.

It is through this strategic vision that he posed the need to fight "idealism and voluntarism", linking the Marxist theory of imperialism to the question of the construction of the class party; in a counterrevolutionary situation, struggle is "necessarily reduced to the recall to activity and formation of the cadres".

It is on these problems that, in the following years, the clash in the Communist Left would flare up between Cervetto's Leninist approach and the line of the PCI dissidence or of those who believed in approaching Social Democracy.

Cervetto's position in those years also included a polemic against grass-roots initiative (as in his critique in February 1957 of the French writers of "Socialisme ou Barbarie"'s interpretation of the Hungarian revolt), and then his opposition to the influence of Maoist ideology in Italy, in particular through a series of articles published in 1962 in "Azione Comunista" (later collected in a booklet with the title "Lenin e la rivoluzione cinese" ("Lenin and the Chinese Revolution"): drawing on Lenin writings on China, he defined Maoist populism as "a false socialism realising a true capitalism", and he identified in the development of capitalism in China, and more in general in Asia, a legacy of the Russian October Revolution despite the Stalinist counterrevolution, the most important premise of the maturation of a profound crisis of world imperialism.

In the ambit of his reflection on China's role in the international workers' movement, Cervetto also clarified his attitude towards struggles for national liberation, which he had been studying for years in relation to the processes of Decolonization. In December 1960 he wrote:

"The colonial question at a certain stage of international industrialization - and we are not speaking of many years hence - will lose its specific importance, since in very vast economic areas the social forces will polarise around the predominant and generalised relations of capitalist production. Class alignments, both capitalist and proletarian, will be internationalised and interdependent to the highest degree. The proletarian revolution, with its economic and political programme, will be the objective thread binding all the world trends."

In April 1964 he began to publish in "Azione Comunista" a series of articles whose aim was "to clarify the basic lines of the Leninist conception of the party", moving with Lenin from Karl Marx's primary idea "of a natural historical process of development in socio-economic formations".

This is a study (that would be published two years later as a volume with the title "Lotte di classe e partito rivoluzionario" ("Class Struggles and Revolutionary Party") and reprinted various times up to the sixth edition in 2004) on the Leninist conception of political action, seen as the scientific foundation of the solution "to the problems left unsolved by Bordiga's objectivistic and Trotsky's subjectivistic inclinations".

Cervetto sought this solution by tracing a link between Marx's "Das Kapital" and Lenin's "What Is to Be Done?": starting with this, he than faced the theme of the workers' coalition and of the economic law that determines it, but also of the class's political consciousness, introduced from outside the relationship between workers and employers; in the last chapter he centres the role of the revolutionary party on the definition of strategy as the "result of a scientific analysis of a determinate phase of the class struggle".

It is on these basis that, as the coexistence of positions that had become incompatible was no longer possible, in 1965 Cervetto passed from the experience of "Azione Comunista" to the formation of a new and fully homogeneous organisation; in December 1965 the first issue of "Lotta Comunista" was published and the huge task of building up the organisation was undertaken.

Published works

*"L'imperialismo unitario" ("Unitary Imperialism"), Milan, 1981, which gathers the analytical material on the course of world imperialism from the 1950s to 1980;
*"La contesa mondiale" ("The World Confrontation"), Milan, 1990, in which the imperialist confrontation of the 1980s is viewed as a "first conclusion of a war fought through financial capital over the course of fifty years": on the eastern front Russia has lost and Germany won, while on the western front the outcome is still undecided;
*"Il ciclo politico del capitalismo di Stato, 1950-1967" ("The Political Cycle of State Capitalism, 1950-1967", Milan, 1989: the tendency to the formation of state capitalism is pinpointed in the development of capitalist production, and Stalinism is considered as the political movement upholding that juridical form of property;
*"L'ineguale sviluppo politico, 1968-1979" ("Uneven Political Development, 1968-1979"), Milan, 1991: an assessment of the development of Italian capitalism during the 1970s and the analysis of the deep imbalance between the movement of the economy and the movement of the political superstructure;
*"La difficile questione dei tempi" (The Difficult Question of Times"), Milan, 1990, in which Cervetto intervenes in the debate on the times of revolution among Stalin, Trotsky and Bordiga: while it is possible to scientifically identify the general trend - or evolution as Lenin calls it - of capitalism and to forecast the inevitability of its outcomes (e.g. crisis, wars), it is impossible to forecast its deadlines, in which the Party is an active factor;
*"L'involucro politico" ("The Political Shell"), Milan, 1994, which contains Cervetto's reflection on the materialistic conception of politics; begun in the mid-seventies, it is the analysis of the "political head" tackled with the study method of the "social body".

Cervetto died in 1995, but the publication of his books still continues thanks to "Edizioni Lotta Comunista". Hence, after 1995 the following volumes have been published:
*"Il mondo multipolare, 1990-1995" ("The Multipolar World, 1990-1995"), Milan, 1996: in Cervetto's later writings on international politics he underlines the multiplicity of the protagonists on the world scene, in a quickly evolving economic cycle of unprecedented dimensions, and with an accelerated dynamic of change and an instability of balances and alliances;
*"Forze e forme del mutamento italiano" ("Forces and Forms of the Italian Transformation"), Milan, 1997, which reconstructs the process of transformation in the Italian socio-economic formation within the long international expansion starting after World War II;
*"Metodo e partito scienza" ("Method and Science Party"), Milan, 1998: this is a collection of the writings where Cervetto seeks, in the origin of the method and of political science as well as in modern history from the 16th century onwards, "the axis of the theory" for the world-shaking passage to the multipolar confrontation;
*"Ricerche e scritti" ("Researches and Writings"), Milan, 2005, which gathers 'the works of the 1950s, from the study of the origins of the Savonese bourgeoisie to those on working-class Savona, starting with the first struggles at "Siderurgica" and ending with the Resistance.

Some of Cervetto's main texts are translated into English, French, German, Russian (edited by Editions Science Marxiste, Paris) and Greek (at the hands of Diethnismos Publications, Athens).


* [ Arrigo Cervetto Archive] at

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