Togliatti, Palmiro

   Togliatti was born in Genoa of Piedmontese parents. In 1911, while entered in an academic scholarship competition, Togliatti met Antonio Gramsci, another of the competitors. (Gramsci finished sixth; Togliatti second.) While both were studying at the University of Turin, they joined the Partito Socialista Italiano/Italian Socialist Party (PSI). After acquiring his degree in law, Togliatti interrupted his studies for a second degree (in philosophy) to serve in World War I. After his discharge, he collaborated with Gramsci in the Torinese weekly newspaper, Il grido del popolo (The People’s Cry). At the Livorno (Leghorn) PSI Congress (21 January 1921), he helped lead the creation of the Partito Comunista Italiano/Italian Communist Party (PCI), with 58,000 members at birth. At the next two PCI congresses, he was elected to the central committee and to its executive committee. After several short-term incarcerations (1923 and 1925), he was a major organizer of the clandestine congresses of the PCI held in Lyons, France (1926), and in Cologne, Germany (1931), as well as the Antiwar Congress held in Brussels, Belgium, at the time of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Between 1936 and 1939, during the Spanish Civil War, he served in the International Brigade. Subsequently Togliatti left Europe to serve as a member of the Comintern, eventually rising to be its vice secretary. He spent the war years in Moscow broadcasting as “Mario Correnti.” He returned to Italy in 1944 to preside at the party’s Salerno Congress as the party’s general secretary, a post to which he was reelected in 1947. The party proclaimed that it had but one goal: the defeat of the Nazi occupiers and their Fascist underlings. The PCI should join the government although it was Catholic, conservative, and headed by a royally appointed army officer whose career had been advanced by his service to Fascism. Liberation had a higher priority than revolution. This was the so-called svolta di Salerno (the Salerno about-turn). The central role of the PCI in the resistance, other parties’ compromises with the regime, and the prowess shown by the Red Army led Togliatti to think that a socialist revolution by electoral means was not only possible but likely. Once parliamentary democracy was restored, a coalition might unite all those workers, peasants, youths, and intellectuals who shared the vision of a progressive democracy. The presence of Allied armies on Italian soil was an additional argument against any premature insurrection to install a dictatorship of the proletariat. Togliatti himself served in the governments headed by Pietro Badoglio (April–June 1944), Ivanoe Bonomi (June 1944–June 1945), Ferruccio Parri (June–December 1945), and Alcide De Gasperi (December 1945–July 1946). In July 1948, he was the target of an unsuccessful assassination attempt in Rome. When an interlocutor suggested mobilizing ex-partisans and arming communist cells, Togliatti’s astounded reaction allegedly was, “what do you want to do, start a revolution?”
   Togliatti made two main contributions to postwar politics: the stabilization of political life in the early postfascist years and the conversion of the PCI from a vanguard party to a mass organization that added communist political culture to much of Italian society. Its demonstrated ability to create an alternative civic sense, with recreation centers for both members and nonmembers; its libraries open to all (even during the midday break when most libraries close); and even its annual fundraiser, Feste dell’Unita, made for a strong sense of solidarity.
   However, these attributes were counterbalanced by several negative features. For one, the party—at least until the 1980s—was totally lacking in internal democracy. This may have been a necessary price to pay for avoiding the sorts of factionalism that tormented other Italian parties. Second, not only was it hierarchical but—especially after Stalin’s death in 1953—it was given to virtual beatification of its saints, Gramsci and Togliatti himself. The PCI, despite many protestations about its difference from other Western communist parties, followed the Moscow line obediently in the immediate postwar pe riod and acquiesced in the most outrageous acts of the Soviet dictatorship, notably the 1956 invasion and repression of Hungary. Togliatti used the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the USSR to proclaim his doctrine of polycentrism, that is, each communist party taking its own road to socialism. He had already opposed the excommunication of parties from the Comintern for not accepting Soviet instruction. Togliatti’s death at Yalta in the summer of 1964 ended the career of a supremely adaptable leader.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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