Workers' Liberty #57


Anatomy of the Rizzi myth

Up from the shadows of a thousand obscure footnotes comes the figure of Bruno Rizzi, who has now been rediscovered for the nth time as an early exponent of the New Class theory of the Russian Stalinist social order. But this time, thanks to Adam Westoby, at least a portion of Rizzi's allegedly "underground" book of 1939 has been translated into English. You can now rediscover Rizzi yourself.

By Hal Draper

Rizzi was one of a long line of theorists who in the last fifty years have suggested the view that "Stalinist society" (the short form in Rizzi and Westoby) is a new kind of social order, neither socialist nor capitalist, led by a new kind of exploitive class - a new ruling class for which the state bureaucracy is usually nominated. Of other figures in this succession, perhaps Djilas's The New Class and Burnham's Managerial Revolution made the greatest journalistic impact.

Rizzi's book was inaccessible for at least two decades after publication; and from the 1930s on, far more interesting theories of Stalinist society were bruited about. Why has Rizzi's name become the focus of so many myths - for example, the myth of his priority? Westoby suggests two explanations: 1. accident, and 2. "the appetite for folklore that... still characterizes the academic community." In the following, I discuss this folklore in two parts: I. myths about Rizzi and the history of his book, and, more important' II. a myth about the content of Rizzi's views


The publisher's jacket blurb calls Rizzi's book not only "underground" (which is to be understood in Pickwickian fashion like the "underground" press formerly sold on every street corner) but also "long suppressed."

This is the first of an unusually large number of blurbish false statements. Westoby's introduction is more responsible. The book was suppressed on its Paris publication in 1939 on the eve of the war, first by the democratic French government because of its pro-fascist anti-semitism and appeal for political surrender to the Nazis; and then by the Nazis because of its "Marxist" and "revolutionary" rhetoric.

But in fact copies became available almost forty years ago; microfilm reproductions were made and circulated; the book was catalogued by the Hoover Library and the National Union Catalogue, and aroused a ripple of interest.1 Westoby's introduction, unlike the blurb, does a good job of documenting the facts about Rizzi using his personal papers (made available by heirs), police records, etc. If I have to modify some of Westoby's account in detail, this does not gainsay my appreciation of his work.

IIt has been known for some decades that Rizzi was an Italian travelling salesman in shoes, whose business took him to several countries. In Italy he hung around the left sects, including the Bordighists (ultraleft-communist sect stemming from Bordiga) and the anarchists, after being "pushed" out of the Communist Party2. In Paris and London, he was a persistent hanger-on of the Trotskyists, and tried to participate in their discussions. There were two difficulties.

For one thing, the Trotskyists in Paris decided he was a mental case - as did also the police reports on him, and as the Italian CP must have done. Westoby mentions he had been "reportedly admitted to a clinic for mental illnesses." The reader of his book may begin to suspect this in the section which is not in Westoby's edition. After talking to Rizzi for two days in 1958, neither I nor my wife had any doubt on this score. For decades I had seen harmless crazies like him on the fringes of various movements. I have to make this clear because Rizzi complains interminably about his rude reception everywhere, and footnoters may think the reason was the nature of Rizzi's views.

Secondly, there were very sharp suspicions that he must be a Fascist mouchard. This was not due to sect paranoia. Rizzi could not adequately explain why Mussolini's police allowed free travel back and forth by a man full of Marxistical elocution; and besides he had gotten his first book on Russia, Dove va l'URSS? (1937) legally published in Italy. A third reason must have been the views he was spouting, for they must have been similar to the profascist appeasement sentiments of the 1939 book.

He was never admitted into the Trotskyist group - again, just pushed away. His later talk of having joined the "Fourth International" refers to something that happened inside his own skull. He published his book (so he explains himself) because he could not get his "meditations" published in the Trotskyist internal or public organs of discussion.

Although Westoby relates that the book was "impounded" by the French government, and does not say what happened to these stocks, my understanding of the situation (gained, I think, from Rizzi) is that the Nazis destroyed the whole edition they found impounded, except of course for the copies in Rizzi's possession. This would account for the fact that so few turned up later, and bears on the Burnham-Rizzi myth (of which below).

Rizzi used his few copies efficiently by sending a number of them to prominent personages, including fascist fuehrers, with a plea for recognition. The copy he sent to Trotsky in Mexico hit pay-dirt. Trotsky was in the midst, right after the outbreak of World War II, of a general revolt inside the Trotskyist groups - a revolt against his insistence that the Stalin regime, which had just invaded Finland in alliance with Hitler, had to be defended in the war as a "workers' state," solely because its economy was statified' and despite the fact that the workers in this "proletarian prison" had no political power. Especially in France and America, a large minority wing of the Trotskyists rejected this view, in favor of a "Neither Washington nor Moscow" position. Trotsky was busy casting anathemas and thunderbolts in their direction; on reading Rizzi's book, he seized on it for ammunition. Rizzi entered history when Trotsky whirled him around his head like a dead cat and let fly at the opposition.

What Trotsky found useful is still the sum-total of many of the obscure footnotes, though it is a minor part of Rizzi's total theory. This was the contention that Russian Stalinism, German and Italian fascism, and the American New Deal were all manifestations of the same wave-of-the future: an autocratic, statified social order which Rizzi labeled bureaucratic collectivism. Trotsky thundered: if you doubt that this Russian "workers' prison" is a "workers' state," then you must adopt as the alternative the unknown theory of the unknown Bruno R. Rizzi's function, for Trotsky, was to scare the theoretical daylights out of the opposition.

Still no one knew a thing about this book. All that was known for years was Trotsky's few tendentious sentences and vague claims, with Rizzi's profascism concealed. It is from this launching pad of Trotskyist factional polemics that Rizzi's rediscovery of the New Class theory first began to trickle into the footnotes.

The first public report on the actual contents of the book, and still one of the best, came in an article "The Mysterious Bruno R." written by James M. Fenwick* and published in 1948 by the former minority-oppositionists now organized as the Workers Party (renamed Independent Socialist League in 1949), in its monthly magazine The New International.3 The first reliable personal report on Rizzi himself came ten years later, as the result of the publication by Le Contrat Social (Paris) of a hapless article by one Georges Henein, who had just rediscovered the book, but who got the author's name all wrong, and announced he was dead. As it happened, I had visited Rizzi earlier that year, and wrote in to the magazine. More important, so did Pierre Naville, who had been a leading figure in the French Trotskyists when Rizzi was hanging around. (For some reason, Westoby does not list Naville's piece in his bibliography, though it is still a major source). Rizzi also wrote in to the magazine, not only to show life but especially to dispute my description of his anti-Semitic fantasies - his refutation being an anti-Semitic tirade. The material in Le Contrat Social became a considerable spur to the incidence of footnotes and successive rediscoveries.

One of Rizzi's reiterated claims, echoed by many others, was that Burnham's Managerial Revolution had been plagiarized from his, Rizzi's, book. There were similarities, to be sure, especially the lumping together of Stalinism, Fascism and the New Deal as expressions of one and the same social order. (This common feature is also part of the reason why both are now more than a bit passť.) The myth was fueled by Rizzi's assertions to all and sundry that he had "proof" of Burnham's plagiarism. This myth is now recurring even in reviews of Westoby's book, even though Westoby is affective in demonstrating that there is not an iota of reason supporting the claim.

I would like to be more categorical about it than Westoby can be. I give two reasons why the myth should be buried.

  1. Burnham was not a liar. It is a question of his character.Now I do not claim that I knew Burnham well personally: we spent a year working together as the National Education Department of the Socialist Workers Party, he as chairman and I as executive secretary; but anyone else who was familiar with his work at the time would do as well. Burnham's mind was (I can speak only of the past) an unusually rigid organ; his "Marxism" was as wooden a thing as I ever saw; his character, as inflexible and starched as a Sutton Place gentleman's collar should be. Creative lying takes some freewheeling; Burnham was not the type. Besides, there was no reason for him to lie.

    No, Burnham never saw Rizzi's book. To me, this is an objective judgment, but I appreciate that not all will see it so.

  2. Unlike Westoby, I had the opportunity to cross-examine Rizzi on his claim.

    I visited Rizzi's villa on the hillside above Gargnano on Lake Garda in late April 1958, while travelling in Italy. As mentioned, we talked for two days, and inevitably Rizzi's expostulations about Burnham's "plagiarism" kept coming up. I told him I thought Burnham was telling the truth. He rocked me when he announced that he had "documentary proof," apparently something by Burnham admitting the plagiarism, right in the house; he would put it in my hands; and he went to fetch it. Soon he came back to say that he couldn't find it. Well, what exactly was it, and what did it say?

    Rizzi eventually came out with it: his "documentary proof" was nothing more than some evidence (itself vague, but no matter) that a New York bookdealer had ordered and received a copy of La Bureaucratisation. Who was the dealer? He had no idea - what difference did it make? How did he know the copy was for Burnham? Answer: Well, whom else could it be for? Was he certain that the one copy had gone to New York? He was convinced, though he had apparently not sent it himself.

    Getting to this point had taken persistent questioning. Before this, and no doubt afterwards too, Rizzi merely broadcast his claim that he had "documentary proof" of the plagiarism. In fact, the proof existed only in an odd corner of Rizzi's disturbed mind.

TThe New Class theory (as Westoby rightly says) was in the air at the time.

It was being developed in this period by better minds than Rizzi's. In 1940, when the theory of bureaucratic collectivism was given its fullest and most effective form by Joseph Carter in the Independent Socialist (WP) group, it owed nothing to Rizzi's still unknown work.5 ...


Theories about the novel nature of the Stalinist state and its social order started burgeoning in the 1920s among anti-Moscow leftists and Bolshevik dissidents (C Rakovsky, Bukharin); there were proposals by Mensheviks, Karl Kautsky, anarchists (Machajski), et al. This first period has still not gained its historian, though it is more important than Rizzi. In the next period there were other thoughtful proposals, like Rudolf Hilferding's.

The issue reached a new level of interest in the wake of the Great Stalin Purges and the Moscow trials, which marked the ritualized destruction of the revolutionary generation. The Trotskyist groups became the main incubators of thinking on the question (known as the "Russian Question"), usually through revulsions against Trotsky's own "degenerated workers' state" theory. This is where Rizzi came in.

By the late 1930s the English and French groups with whom Rizzi was in contact were abuzz with the "Russian Question." The theory that Rizzi carpentered for himself was by no means the most interesting or best thought-out.7

In Europe the most prominent minority analysis was a thesis by Yvan Craipeau. In the United States, Burnham and Carter raised the question in only a tentative way in 1937-38. Rizzi's book itself makes clear that these Trotskyist discussion documents, with Trotsky's replies, formed the kiln in which the Italian hanger-on baked his own hypothesis.

To make clear what Rizzi did, here is a Do-It-Yourself guide to the fabrication of positions on the "Russian Question." A number of issues cut across it, with multiple-choice answers; and any combination of these produces a special position.

  1. Check one: Stalinist society is a. a socialist or "workers' state" in some sense; b. a capitalist state; or c. something else. This division is not altogether neat since theories calling it "state-capitalism" may belong to b. or c. - Rizzi checks c.

  2. This social order is a. "progressive" or b. not. The answer suggests the difference between political support or opposition to world Stalinism, also support of one or another of the war camps in the looming world conflict. - Rizzi checks a with a bang.

  3. About this society's stability and future perspective: is it a. a transient aberration of history, a bastard bump in the curve, or b. the historic Wave-of-the-Future? - Rizzi checks b.

  4. Stalinism and fascism (whatever they are) are the same social order? a. Yes, b. no, c. maybe. An affirmative could be given from quite different points of view: for example, from within the framework of Carter's seminal theory of bureaucratic collectivism, Dwight Macdonald was going to answer yes in the 1940s; CLR James, having invented a "state-capitalist" theory of his own, called Russia "fascist" flat-out; and Rizzi's answer was also yes.

  5. what was the "ruling class" of this novel society? Check one or more: a. the proletariat, a la Pickwick; b. the "intellectuals," whatever you think they are; c. the bureaucracy, with subchoices under various kinds of same; d. the "technocrats"; e. the "managers"; see comments under b and c; f. the "petty-bourgeoisie," ditto; g. the capitalists, if you can find any; h. none of the above. Rizzi's answer was c, d or f, depending.

Rizzi's regurgitations of the Trotskyist factional discussions (these constitute much of his book) are quite weak analytically, as compared with Craipeau and Carter in particular. For example, he is virtually empty on the question, vital to the discussion, of how a bureaucracy can be a ruling class, or any class, without being a private-property-owning class. What there is to Rizzi's analysis is presented in the sixty pages of Westoby's translation. But this is less than a third of Rizzi's book. It is in the rest of the book that one finds out what Rizzi is getting at, the political meaning of his theoretical excursions.

The middle section, on the New Deal, is of little account. Its argument for the identity of New-Dealism with the new class society is based mainly on windbaggery by Henry Wallace, and little else. It is in the last section, titled "Ou va le Monde?" that Rizzi presents his serious program.

What Rizzi proposes, as a program for the socialist movement, is the support of the triumphant fascist movements that were then browning over Europe. It was a question of support of fascism because (Rizzi repeats) Stalinism was going to be absorbed into the fascist world.

And so the most dangerous of the Rizzi myths presently being promulgated - and providing much of the pizzazz behind current interest in Rizzi - is reflected in the fact that he is being hailed by the leader of the Italian Socialist Party, Bettino Craxi, "as a pioneer thinker of democratic socialism and theoretical analyst of totalitarianism" (Westoby).

"Pioneer thinker of democratic socialism" - this is good going for a strident profascist! Let us leave aside what this claim means as a symptom of the mind of European neo-reformist Social-Democracy today: what are the facts about Rizzi?

The full answer can be gotten only by reading the last section of Rizzi's book. But this is what is still "suppressed." No one connected with the mini-Rizzi-industry wants to say. The greatest service I can render here is the appended condensation of "Ou va le Monde?" - consisting of direct quotations and close paraphrase-summaries, including detailed page references. Here, Signor Craxi, is your "democratic socialist"! - a virulent profascist.

The "democratic socialist" myth is only weakly countered by Westoby's introduction. It is true that he covers himself by speaking (almost incidentally) of Rizzi's anti-Semitism and profascism; but he does not even make a beginning in showing it to the reader. Why? It cannot be lack of space: this edition gives only sixty pages to the translation of Rizzi's Part I; with introduction and all, its text ends at page 97. It is hardly even a small book, more like a clothbound pamphlet.

I am not questioning Westoby's bona fides; I think that, wittingly or no, he left out the guts of Rizzi's book because a true presentation would turn people away in disillusioned disgust, would devalue Rizzi as an academic commodity. But it is not possible to justify the misleadingly slight summary that Westoby gives of Rizzi's profascist section. He quotes one mild expression of approbation for Hitler and Mussolini "as the grave-diggers of international capitalism," and asserts repeatedly that Rizzi later "dropped his support for Nazism." This claim is a tendentious interpretation of a late chapter in which Rizzi wrote partially and murkily about his "revision" of views.

Actually, at the end of his introduction Westoby states with greater truth that Rizzi's revision is "a merely moral reassessment" still inside the framework that looks on the New Class as the next stage of historical evolution. It is very difficult - for Westoby or me - to briefly summarize what Rizzi says about his "revision" because his mouth is full of marbles. But I would suggest the following reasons for paying little attention to the claimed revision:

  1. To the extent that Rizzi amends his analysis of the New Society without which he cannot revise his support for it - he makes his book worthless and without interest. Insofar as he has any call on our attention, it is because of his relatively comprehensible wave-of-the-future theory.

  2. Not only in the "revision" chapter but throughout his book, Rizzi constantly shifts arguments and contradicts himself; he says so, repeatedly. Anyone who worries about untangling this is naive; Rizzi was writing up a blizzard, which was going on in his skull.

  3. When Rizzi starts backwatering, he starts substituting inanities for analysis. At one point he predicts that the fascist dictators "will become lambs" if their appetites are satisfied [276]. The fascist-Stalinist rulers will become indistinguishable from proletarians. Comes the revolution, even the capitalists will forget their bad bourgeois natures and "remember their humanness." [342] The "terrestrial paradise" (literally!) is around the corner. [265] Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini "in the bottom of their hearts" are themselves unhappy about the bad features of their regimes. [344] They "will begin to pardon and to preach the law of Love which is the great law of Life." [271] This sort of pap is scattered throughout; in every blizzard there are quiet lulls.

We need not depend only on Rizzi's 1939 book to show the continuance of his essentially antidemocratic perspective. We can look at what he published even after fascism had been defeated in the war and his wave-of-the-future had dried up. Certainly his virulent anti-Semitism never lagged; it poured out of him when we talked in 1958. But there is more direct evidence.

When Rizzi wrote his Il Socialismo dalla Religione alla Scienza in the latter 1940s, the fascist pressure was off. One would not expect him to write in favor of fascism as brashly and as programmatically as in 1939. But in this work, without invoking the now-dirty word fascism, he was forthright in excluding the possibility of democratic society. The new society he looked to, now dubbed "socialism," would be - how far from his previous views?

This is what he wrote:

Many political men, maybe in good faith, believe they can expand liberty, democracy and welfare by means of governmental action. There is nothing more illusory... In the present historical conjuncture, this kind of talk is charlatanry even if good faith is not excluded... It is a question of changing an economic system which is worn out, finished, blocked up... The so-called Marxist who preaches liberty, democracy and greater social justice a la Mussolini is willy-nilly a pure demagogue. If certain well-defined economic conditions do not exist, liberty, democracy and welfare are not possible... Either advance to socialism or retrogression to state capitalism. Either go beyond liberalism or return to absolutism.

Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin and various of their kind are already clear and evidential manifestations of the avant-garde.

The democratic and liberal impotence of the self-styled dispensers of democracy and liberty is already more than obvious. They knock down whatever there was of the choreographic, ideological and superficial in the fascist phenomenon, while they keep the whole essential part alive... The practical result is that eating at the State's trough is a Communist, a Socialist and a Christian-Democrat in place of the accustomed fascist.

[Vol. 6, page 64f]

The final thrust, arguing that there really isn't much difference anyway from frank fascism, is a well-known way of justifying the latter. It is quite clear that, even at this late date, Rizzi scorned the notion of associating "democracy and liberty" with his "socialism." He essentially remained the theorist of a New Social Order controlled by new bosses, whatever new label he applied to this old vision of Socialism from Above.

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