Berlinguer, Enrico


Berlinguer, Enrico
(1922–1984)
   Born in Sardinia to a family of minor aristocrats, Berlinguer joined the Partito Comunista Italiano/Italian Communist Party (PCI) at 21 and became active in the local youth section and in antifascist activity. At the end of 1944, he was called to Rome to serve on the national secretariat of the party’s youth movement. He worked constantly within the party in various capacities. He was elected a deputy in 1968, was elected vice secretary to serve with Luigi Longoin the next year and, in 1972, became general secretary of the party, a position that he held for 12 years until his death.
   Berlinguer is remembered for three main reasons. First, applying to party policy the strictures of both Antonio Gramsci and Palmiro Togliatti, he advanced “polycentrism” and the notion of each country finding its own road to socialism. After Nikita Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech” (criticizing Stalin and Stalinism) at the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in 1956 and the Hungarian uprising of the same year, the PCI seemed destined to continue losing adherents. Nonetheless, party leaders such as Luigi Longo and, in his turn, Berlinguer, displayed a combative spirit in criticizing the Soviet Union for its actions in Czechoslovakia, in promising to retain Italy’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and in backing away from ideological dependence on the USSR. This willingness to distance the PCI from the USSR came to be called “Eurocommunism,” although neither the French nor the Portuguese communist parties ever criticized Moscow as bluntly as did Berlinguer or his Spanish counterpart Santiago Carillo. In 1981, after Poland’s General Wojciech Jaruzelski had suppressed the independent trade union, Solidarity, Berlinguer remarked that the “propulsive force” of the Soviet revolution had run its course. Second, Berlinguer advanced the compromesso storico (historic compromise). Preoccupied by the events in Chile, where a military coup d’etat had overturned a Marxist government, Berlinguer argued that the PCI must never make a similar mistake in Italy. When the PCI came within a few percentage points of overtaking the Democrazia Cristiana/Christian Democracy (DC) in the 1976 elections, Berlinguer agreed to the formation of a government of national solidarity by the DC to which the PCI gave parliamentary support. Berlinguer thought the position of the PCI in 1976 was quite different from that of the Partito Socialista Italiano/Italian Socialist party (PSI) in 1963: the left was stronger in every way and a cautious alliance with the DC could be expected to lead to genuine structural change in Italian society and state. He was to be disappointed. The modesty of the results seemingly validated Pietro Ingrao’s warning that the PCI risked having to choose between confrontations with the state (which they could only lose) and being co-opted by the system (which would mean the end of the PCI as a revolutionary force). But the PCI did help steer Italy through the political and economic upheavals of the 1970s, showing great sense of the state. Third, Berlinguer is associated with the concept of austerity, which makes him almost unique in postwar Italian political history. Together with Luciano Lama, then head of the Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro/Italian General Confederation of Labor (CGIL), Berlinguer bent his efforts to persuading Italian workers to salvage capitalism by accepting a policy of relative austerity and wage restraint in exchange for greater investment in the South and among youth. He also repeatedly raised the “moral question,” regarding personal probity among the political elite as a central issue for successful democratic institutions.
   Upon his death in June 1984, even the pope eulogized Berlinguer as an honorable man convinced of the rightness of his principles. Millions of people, including many noncommunists, turned out for his funeral.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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  • Enrico — /en ree koh/; It. /en rddee kaw/, n. a male given name: Italian form of Henry. * * * (as used in expressions) Berlinguer Enrico Enrico Giuseppe Giovanni Boito Caruso Enrico Dandolo Enrico Fermi Enrico Enrico Nicola Mancini * * * …   Universalium


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