Partito Comunista Italiano

Italian Communist Party (PCI)
   Founded in 1921 by a breakaway faction of the Partito Socialista Italiano/Italian Socialist Party (PSI), the new party’s first leader was Amadeo Bordiga, but his doctrinaire approach led to his replacement in 1926 by Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci’s successor as party leader was Palmiro Togliatti. The PCI maintained an underground presence in Italy during the Fascist period and took the lead in organizing resistance to Fascism during the Spanish Civil War and after 25 July 1943.
   Togliatti returned to Italy from exile in the Soviet Union in 1944. Under his guidance, the PCI cooperated fully with the conservative governments of Pietro Badoglio and Ivanoe Bonomi established in Allied-occupied Italy; after the war, the PCI participated in the first two governments of Alcide De Gasperi. The international situation dictated this moderate line. Stalin and Churchill had agreed that Italy would fall within the British sphere of interest, and British troops would have crushed any overtly revolutionary activity, but Togliatti seems to have taken conciliation beyond what was necessary. The Italian state was not cleansed of former Fascist functionaries, progressive taxation reforms were not introduced, and the peasants of southern Italy were denied immediate relief. In March 1947 De Gasperi reshuffled his government to exclude the PCI and the PSI without having made any concession of substance to the working class. On the other hand, under Togliatti the PCI became Italy’s largest mass party, with nearly two million members, establishing its claim to being the authentic voice of Italian workers. In international policy, the PCI was closely linked to the USSR. The party defended the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe, organized immense demonstrations against Italian membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the American intervention in Korea, and greeted the news of the death of Josef Stalin with an outpouring of public grief. Only after Nikita Khrushchev’s secret speech to the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in 1956, admitting the scale of Stalin’s repressions for the first time, did a serious debate begin about the totalitarian character of the USSR. This debate heated up after the Soviet repression of the Hungarian uprising in the same year. Togliatti backed the Soviet Union, but tens of thousands of party members, especially intellectuals, resigned their membership in the wake of these events.
   The PCI shifted perceptibly toward a more moderate position in international affairs after Togliatti’s death in 1964. The new leader, Luigi Longo, was outspoken in his condemnation of the Soviet Union’s 1968 repression in Czechoslovakia. In domestic policy, the decade was dominated by a major theoretical debate between the party’s left and right wings. Pietro Ingrao on the left argued that the PCI should democratize its internal politics, while the right wing’s leader, Giorgio Amendola, wanted the PCI to merge with the PSI around a platform of social democratic reforms. The PCI had become the dominant party in several of Italy’s regions, and its government was widely regarded as being more efficient and honest than that of the Democrazia Cristiana/Christian Democracy (DC). Bologna, the PCI’s showcase city, was regarded as a model of democratic socialist government by everybody except the Italian extreme left, which believed the PCI had compromised its ideals.
   Under the leadership of Enrico Berlinguer there was even hope that the PCI would achieve a historic sorpasso (overtaking) and obtain more votes than the DC in the 1976 elections. In the event, neither party could form a government; thus the compromise reached allowed the DC to head the government with the PCI’s parliamentary support. In the next elections in 1979, the party was relegated to its familiar opposition role. By now, the PCI had become a “Eurocommunist” party, which no longer accepted Moscow’s primacy and was critical (though not yet condemnatory) of human rights abuses in the Soviet bloc.
   After Berlinguer’s death in 1984, he was succeeded by the intelligent but bureaucratic Alessandro Natta, who let the party drift until a disaster in the 1987 general election compelled change. The party chose a dynamic young leader, Achille Occhetto, and at the Eighteenth Party Congress in March 1989 abandoned all references to Marx, Lenin, and Togliatti in its party statutes. The collapse of the Soviet client states in Eastern Europe prompted Occhetto to announce (14 November 1989) that he intended to turn the PCI into a leftist party “new even in name.” By 3 February 1991, Occhetto had a large majority for replacing the PCI with the Partito Democratico della Sinistra/Democratic Party of the Left (PDS). A minority group, unable to renounce the link with communism, formed the Partito di Rifondazione Comunista/Communist Refoundation Party (PRC) on the same day.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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