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Italian Communist Party (PCI) 1960s

By 1961 the Communist Party of Italy (PCI) still commanded tbs support of about one in every four Italian voters, many of whom vote for the Communists as a means of protest against the government. The improvement since World War II in Italy's standard of living had not overcome the mal-distribution of wealth and unemployment which the Communists exploit. The Communists had also profited from the instability of Italian cabinets and from the government's failure to reflect in any considerable measure the voting trends to the left. The party's immediate aim was to block the threat of political isolation implicit in attempts by its former supporter, Socialist leader Pietro Nenni, to bring his party into an alliance with the center parties.

Since Giuseppe Saragat split the Socialists the Communists had been the second-largest political element in Italy. They had their voting steadily despite foreign and domestic developments. Their electoral standing particularly fell all-off In the strength of the party's labor arm and the defection of Pietro Seani, leader of the Italian Socialist party.

Communist party membership claims declined. The Communist party vote was consistently strong in central and northern Italy, and in the party expanded its efforts In the south. In the nationwide voting for councils, however, the south showed a loss of about one percent despite a slight national gain for the Communists over Although there was some retrenchment In its press program, during the slump following the Hungarian revolution, the party's daily Unita maintained circulation comparable to that of Italy's largest newspaper.

The Communist-dominated Labor Confederation (CGIL) had more members than Italy's two major free unions combined, and the number of CGIL offices manned by Communists ws far out proportion to the number of among members. In shop steward elections, nearly 50 percent of industrial labor supported the CGIL however, these were Socialists as was as Communists. Like the other parties, the Communists youth federation, the PCCI, had difficulty in attracting youth.

By the early 1960s the Italian Communist Party (PCI) continued to create interest and some confusion with its claims to be democratic, and to be prepared to step down, once in power, if its popular mandate were lost. Careful study of various statements, however, led to the conclusion that there has been no meaningful change in the PCI's revolutionary, totalitarian ideology.

Much interest was shown in Italy, particularly by left-wing intellectuals and by the left and center-left political parties, in what was frequently taken to be a slow and laborious effort by the Italian Communist Party to seek a more democratic and "Italian" course of development for the Party. A careful reading of the many PCI statements on the subject of intra-Party and parliamentary democracy led inevitably to the conclusion that the symptoms of change within the PCI related to the continuing debate as to the merits of the alternative "hard" and "soft" lines of action open to the Party; the international dispute within the Communist world movement; the question of leadership and succession within the PCI; and even the question of taking different leadership views to the PCI cadres, i.e., the question of factionalism, by any other name. Italian Communist statements did not reveal any tendency toward democracy in any meaningful sense of the term, despite the fact that some success had been achieved by the PCI in its long term effort to present itself as a responsible, respectable and democratic party in Italy.

Particularly in the mid-1960s, the PCI struggled to escape from the isolation it has experienced since its longtime ally, the Socialist Party, became instead the ally and governmental partner of the Christian Democrats. The PCI repeatedly sought to show that Italian Communism is compatible with the democratic process either because world-wide Communism was no longer antidemocratic or, if this thesis was not tenable, because Italian Communism was following a sufficiently different path from that of a Communist dictatorship.

Much frustration had built up within the PCI as a result of the failure to prevent the formation of the center-left government, the steady decline in Party membership over the previous decade, and the reflected dissensions of the current dispute within the international Communist movement. These frustrations, and the continued existence of the center-left threat, increased the impatience of those Communists who favored a harder, more aggressive line. These "hard-liners" believed that if the Party held on its current line it would ultimately incur the electoral losses augured by the unmistakable signs of impotence revealed in the PCI struggle to prevent the development of PSI autonomy and the center-left. The "hard-liners" opposed any tendency toward "right-reformism," and were generally categorized as being on the PCI left, although sympathy for left-wing (Chinese) views in the international movement was not necessarily implied by left-wing intra-Party positions.

On the other hand, the PCI rightwing recognized the danger that an overly aggressive PCI program could alarm the protest voters who have supported the PCI in increasing numbers over the years, and could push the country as well as the government to the right. The PCI rightwing pointed out that the fate of the Greek Communist Party was avoided by the PCI due to the wise (and very cautious) middle-of-the-road leadership of Togliatti, and was convinced that further gains can be made by the PCI on the present course.

There was general agreement at the top levels of the Italian security and military establishments that the most efficient way to eliminate the internal Communist menace would be for the PCI to take the fatal step of staging an open revolt. The revolt would be so ruthlessly suppressed that the PCI would be eliminated for good. However Togliatti and his associates were fully aware of the consequences of an open rebellion, and they were accordingly banking on assuming power through parliamentary procedures.

The natural result of the middle-of-the-road approach of Togliatti, however, was the falling away of cadres on both the left and the right of the Party, and a disastrous 65% decline in the membership of the Italian Federation of Communist Youth (FGCI). It was generally accepted that the FGCI could have regained some of its lost ground with a more militant, bluntly revolutionary line which would have a definite appeal among young radically militant left-wing intellectuals, or alternatively that gains could have been made with an honestly democratic program which would have to be based on the junking of the authoritarian Leninist concept of democratic centralism. There was little the FGCI can do as long as it was denied either course.

The PCI link with Moscow was seen as an excellent reason to exclude the Communists from power. But it was not the only reason. The continued diminution eventually perhaps even to something approaching zero, of any such link with Moscow would not make the PCI acceptable or worthy of trust. They would remain a totalitarian party; as totalitarian as the Fascist MSI, and considerably more dangerous. Party leaders had said again and again that no matter how much the democratic left-wing called for Communist abandonment of democratic centralism, the PCI would continue to consider democratic centralism the keystone of the Party principles of organization. In this sense the Leninist orthodoxy of the Party is impeccable. The views of Rosa Luxemburg stated 60 years earlier (see Luxemburg's Centralism or Democracy) still demanded careful consideration. She predicted that democratic centralism and Party democracy would prove to be completely antithetical, and history had shown her to have been correct.

By supporting the Prague leadership in defiance of Soviet sensibilities in 1968, the Italian Communist Party (PCI) staked out for itself a new degree of autonomy. Italian Communist theory had been developing in this direction -- with some deviations -- since 1956, when party leader Togliatti first publicized his belief in "many roads to socialism." In previous crises in the international Communist movement, however--such as when the USSR invaded Hungary in 1956 and supported the Arabs in the Middle East crisis of 1967--the Italian Communists supported the Moscow line. In the 1968 crisis, the Italian party had shown an unwonted degree of unity and sought to develop a united front of Western European Communist support for the Prague government. After the Soviet intervention into Czechoslovakia, the PCI made a strong effort to rally international Communist opposition to the Soviet action. The Italians wanted to protect the Dubcek government, if possible, but in any case to distinguish the Italian Communist position clearly and unmistakably from that of the Soviets.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:04:07 ZULU