Compromesso Storico


Compromesso Storico
   The genesis of the compromesso storico (historic compromise) was three articles published by Enrico Berlinguer in Rinascita (Rebirth), the weekly journal of political strategy and theory of the Partito Comunista Italiano/Italian Communist Party (PCI) in October 1973. Berlinguer argued that the PCI, which, at that moment, hoped to overtake the Democrazia Cristiana/Christian Democracy Party (DC) and become Italy’s largest party, should avoid above all else the civil disorders and American intervention that the turmoil the socialist experiment of Salvador Allende had provoked in Chile. He defined a program that would spur social change without antagonizing “vast strata of the middleclasses” or undercutting the efficiency of the economy. Berlinguer recommended that the party seek out “every possible convergence and understanding among popular forces” by working toward the transformation of Italian society in collaboration with the DC and the Partito Socialista Italiano /Italian Socialist Party (PSI)—a grand coalition of political forces that together would have the support of 75–80 percent of the electorate. The “Left alternative” of a PCI-PSI coalition, Berlinguer argued, would have had the effect “of splitting the popular masses, liquidating de facto our encounter with Catholic [social] forces, moving the DC toward the right, thus isolating and defeating the left, and therefore, in the final analysis, bringing about the defeat of the cause of democracy and its development in our country.”
   There were four main implications of Berlinguer’s argument. He was rejecting “proletarian internationalism” and the demand that national communist parties should accept subordination to the Soviet party. Each country had to find its own path to socialism. Second, his proposals were a rejection, in advanced industrial countries at any rate, of the doctrinal notion of a “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Third, they embodied a perception of the class struggle as resolvable by a broadening of the consensus rather than by revolution. And finally, they implied acceptance of economic, ideological, and social pluralism as a prerequisite to building a socialist democracy based on an interclass consensus wide enough to overwhelm any opposition. By implication, this doctrinal change of course meant persuading non-Marxist Catholics and diffident, anticommunist socialists to accept a common program without, at the same time, alienating the communist mass membership.
   Berlinguer’s ideological innovations were encouraged by the DC leader Aldo Moro, and they underpinned the PCI’s decision to give its parliamentary support to the “government of national solidarity” formed by Giulio Andreotti after the 1976 general elections. They were also responsible for the February 1978 decision by the leaders of the principal trade unions to advocate an unpopular program of wage restraint, increased profitability, and increased returns on investments in order to attack unemployment, inflation, and the southern question. This decision may well have saved Italian big business from collapse. Eventually, however, the party’s position opened such a gap between the PCI leadership and the union leaders, on the one hand, and the rank and file, on the other, that the PCI had to withdraw its benevolent support of the Andreotti government, leading to the elections of June 1979, in which the PCI’s support fell back from its 1976 high.
   The compromesso storico thus ended in political failure. Ideologically, however, Berlinguer had worked a change that outlasted his death in 1984. The PCI had determined that it intended to stabilize Italian capitalism and render it more efficient and socially just, rather than fight it tooth and claw. This newfound emphasis on gradual change, of course, was resisted by many party members — particularly the older Stalinists—for they recognized that it meant a definitive abandonment of the party’s traditional Leninist goals.
   See also Cossutta, Armando.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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