Occhetto, Achille

(1936– )
   Although born in Turin, Achille Occhetto has long represented Palermo (Sicily) in the Chamber of Deputies. Elected to the Central Committee of the Partito Comunista Italiano/Italian Communist Party (PCI) in 1979, it was to Occhetto that the PCI turned when it faced crisis in the late 1980s. In July 1988, he was chosen to replace Alessandro Natta as party secretary by the central committee, a post in which he was confirmed by the Eighteenth Congress of the PCI in March 1989. At this congress, the party, at Occhetto’s behest, did away with all references in the party statute to Marx, Lenin, and former leader Palmiro Togliatti and greatly expanded its leadership cohort to allow the influx of new, more reform-minded individuals. In November 1989, after the collapse of the Berlin wall, Occhetto realized that these changes were insufficient and led the process of renewal by which the PCI was transformed between 1989 and 1991 into the Partito Democratico della Sinistra/Democratic Party of the Left (PDS).
   In the general elections of March 1994, Occhetto was the architect of the so-called Progressive Alliance, a motley collection of left-wing parties that did not possess enough general appeal to win centrist votes. Although the PDS improved its individual share of the vote, the alliance as a whole fared poorly. In elections to the European Parliament three months later, the PDS was defeated even more clearly. After this second rebuff, Occhetto resigned as secretary of the PDS and was replaced by Massimo D’Alema.
   Occhetto’s fundamental vision was to turn the PDS into a radical, campaigning movement that would expand and improve the conditions of women, immigrants, and the lowest paid. He has never renounced this vision and, indeed, has watched the subsequent evolution of the ex-PCI with some disdain. In the highly regulated, high taxation Italy of the 1990s, Occhetto’s approach was destined to failure. The magnitude of his achievement, however, has been understated by many commentators. Had Occhetto not had the drive to make the necessary break with communism in 1989, the PCI would have seemed an unbearable anachronism in the Italian political crisis of 1992–1993.
   Occhetto is currently a member of the European Parliament, where he sits as a member of the Socialist Group.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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