Communism in Italy

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,625
Italy, Lago Maggiore
May be someone out of Italian borderlines have been wondering how it was possible that in a Western democracy, member of NATO, there was the greatest Communist Party ever, able to collect more than the 30% of the votes in democratic elections.

The first step to make to understand this Italian particularity is just to analyze how the Communist Party came to existence.

Theoretically, keeping in mind that the Communist International from Moscow, since 1919, requested to the left wings of the Socialist parties around Europe to abandon the name Socialist, taking the name Communist, embracing the doctrine of the proletarian revolution, we could expect that when the Italian Communist Party had created, it was a revolutionary party.

Now, when in January 1921, the Socialist congress refused some of the requests of the Communist International, to the extreme left of the party it was clear that the division and the creation of a proper Communist Party was unavoidable. So a group of the delegates left the Goldoni theater to gather in a little old theater in Livorno where they substantially accepted the Russian leadership and the political orientation coming from Moscow.

Anyway, and this is fundamental to understand the events of the following decades, the Italian Communists were theoretically and ideologically not that prepared and ready for a revolution, it was late in Italy for such a step, [so we can say that there was the paradox of a new revolutionary party which wasn't so able to think to a revolution!]. We can mention Gramsci, Togliatti, Terracini and Tasca among the fathers of this "moderate" Communist Party.

The CP was born with about 58,000 members, former Socialist, on 216,000 members of the Socialist Party.

The first electoral result wasn't astonishing: 15 elected representatives. But the most important fact of 1922 was the ongoing attrition with the Socialists [even the Communist International from Moscow made pressure over Italian Communists to find an agreement to cooperate with the Socialists, not to leave room to the reactionary forces].

This was the beginning of a kind of social competition in the left which reached the pick during the last decade of the Cold War [from late 70's on] when the Socialists accepted to make governments with the Christian Democrat [the Communists have always been excluded from the government if not when there was the "government of national unity" to face terrorism].

So, the first point to be underlined is that while the Socialist Party was a party of government and with a more political identity, the Communist Party was a party of the people, popular, and with a more social identity [this allowed to the CP to remain active in Italy, in clandestine forms, during Fascism].

... to be continued
 
Apr 2011
6,626
Sarmatia
the Communist Party was a party of the people, popular, and with a more social identity [this allowed to the CP to remain active in Italy, in clandestine forms, during Fascism].
and was a party ruled directly from Moscow and for the sake of Moscow, not for Italian people
 
Oct 2013
1,343
Monza, Italy
Anyway, and this is fundamental to understand the events of the following decades, the Italian Communists were theoretically and ideologically not that prepared and ready for a revolution, it was late in Italy for such a step, [so we can say that there was the paradox of a new revolutionary party which wasn't so able to think to a revolution!]. We can mention Gramsci, Togliatti, Terracini and Tasca among the fathers of this "moderate" Communist Party.
Togliatti was the promoter of the so called "Italian way to Socialism", which meant keeping a strong contact with Stalinist Russia, and at the same time fitting in the democratic, parliamentary system which was created after WWII and which had also a deep anti-fascist connotation, having been created by those who defeated fascists; that's a reality which fits in many countries I think, although thoerically Marxism despised parliamentarism as the superstructure of bourgeois's power, in such nations like in Chile the Parliament was a symbol of democracy to contrast to authoritarian forms (this is the spirit through which Allende won elections in 1970); same may be said for Italy, where the Communist Party probably never had a revolutionary approach (at a Communist Party conference, a student once asked to Togliatti "Why don't you make revolution?", Togliatti answered "Try YOU to do it!", that student, some years later, was among the founders of the Brigate Rosse....); many extre-left forces were bith out of the PCI, seing it as a bourgois force. The PCI itself, being a large party, was eterogeneous in its different components, from the extrem-left, pro-Stalinist component (Cossutta) to the more progressive, somewhat "social-democratic" element (Napolitano was one of those, even though he supported Soviet Union's repression against "counter-revolutionary fascist" rebels in Budapest too....); the big problem with the PCI was it pretended to unite democracy and Marxist-Leninism together.

So, the first point to be underlined is that while the Socialist Party was a party of government and with a more political identity, the Communist Party was a party of the people, popular, and with a more social identity [this allowed to the CP to remain active in Italy, in clandestine forms, during Fascism].
I think the PCI had a strong political identity too; I mean the intellectual, cultural component was very dogmatic I think; the PSI was weaker in electoral terms, but I'm pretty sure it was "popular" too (let's consider that untill the '70s the Socialist Party had a revolutionary political program (overthrow of capitalism), and it was pro-Russian too untill 1956 (Budapest riots). I read 40% of the PCI voters were workers, hence we can suppose other parties had a strong presence among the working class too (maybe the Socialist was the second one?). I once saw some interviews dating back to 1980, the socialist working-class voters preferred to make alliances with the PCI more than with other forces, some of them would extend the alliance to enlightened capitalists forces like the Italian Republican Party (this was still a reality when the moderate, Craxi line had prevailed).
 
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Apr 2013
448
Romania
If Italy would have become communist, first thing that would have happen was a civil war. The new communist elite would have fought to destroy her dangerous opponents: the MAFIA and the Catholic Church. I think that is why communism failed in Italy in the first place. Both the Mafia(was almost destroyed) and the Vatican suffered in the fascist dictatorship so they new what awaited them in a new dictatorship so they made sure that will never happen. Of course we must not forget the American help to suppress the formation of a new communist state.
 

robto

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
6,270
Lisbon, Portugal
I think it's important to mention that the Italian Communist party and their commitment to Democratic principles and the acceptance of the "bourgeois" political system was not entirely unique among Communist organizations, in fact it behaved like most Communist parties in Western countries during the post-war years.

During the first post-war democratic elections in Denmark, the Communist party acquired 12 percent of the popular vote, in Belgium it was 13 percent, in Finland 23,5 percent, in France an astonishing 28.8 percent (who put them as the strongest party in the country), and in Portugal's first democratic elections in 1975 the communist party also acquired 12 percent of the popular vote. Communist parties in Western Europe during the post-war era were in fact quite popular and also democratic. The case of Italian Communist party was not unique, it has to be understood in a wider context.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,625
Italy, Lago Maggiore
and was a party ruled directly from Moscow and for the sake of Moscow, not for Italian people
This became evident in a tremendous way when during WW II the Soviets contacted Italian Communists to communicate them the probable destiny of the Italian soldiers on the Eastern Front: extermination. Togliatti didn't show to be that impressed by this perspective.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,625
Italy, Lago Maggiore
Togliatti was the promoter of the so called "Italian way to Socialism", which meant keeping a strong contact with Stalinist Russia, and at the same time fitting in the democratic, parliamentary system which was created after WWII and which had also a deep anti-fascist connotation, having been created by those who defeated fascists; that's a reality which fits in many countries I think, although thoerically Marxism despised parliamentarism as the superstructure of bourgeois's power, in such nations like in Chile the Parliament was a symbol of democracy to contrast to authoritarian forms (this is the spirit through which Allende won elections in 1970); same may be said for Italy, where the Communist Party probably never had a revolutionary approach (at a Communist Party conference, a student once asked to Togliatti "Why don't you make revolution?", Togliatti answered "Try YOU to do it!", that student, some years later, was among the founders of the Brigate Rosse....); many extre-left forces were bith out of the PCI, seing it as a bourgois force. The PCI itself, being a large party, was eterogeneous in its different components, from the extrem-left, pro-Stalinist component (Cossutta) to the more progressive, somewhat "social-democratic" element (Napolitano was one of those, even though he supported Soviet Union's repression against "counter-revolutionary fascist" rebels in Budapest too....); the big problem with the PCI was it pretended to unite democracy and Marxist-Leninism together.



I think the PCI had a strong political identity too; I mean the intellectual, cultural component was very dogmatic I think; the PSI was weaker in electoral terms, but I'm pretty sure it was "popular" too (let's consider that untill the '70s the Socialist Party had a revolutionary political program (overthrow of capitalism), and it was pro-Russian too untill 1956 (Budapest riots). I read 40% of the PCI voters were workers, hence we can suppose other parties had a strong presence among the working class too (maybe the Socialist was the second one?). I once saw some interviews dating back to 1980, the socialist working-class voters preferred to make alliances with the PCI more than with other forces, some of them would extend the alliance to enlightened capitalists forces like the Italian Republican Party (this was still a reality when the moderate, Craxi line had prevailed).
Good points, overall about the Communist identity in Italy, may be what you are saying about the political identity of PCI became real after WW II, before of the birth of the Republic, I keep on thinking that the Communists had a more popular and social identity.

Regarding how much Socialists were pro-Russians, the creations of the Socialdemocratic Party and other similar political forces, were clues that in that environment there were components which didn't see Moscow as a natural point of reference.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,625
Italy, Lago Maggiore
I think it's important to mention that the Italian Communist party and their commitment to Democratic principles and the acceptance of the "bourgeois" political system was not entirely unique among Communist organizations, in fact it behaved like most Communist parties in Western countries during the post-war years.

During the first post-war democratic elections in Denmark, the Communist party acquired 12 percent of the popular vote, in Belgium it was 13 percent, in Finland 23,5 percent, in France an astonishing 28.8 percent (who put them as the strongest party in the country), and in Portugal's first democratic elections in 1975 the communist party also acquired 12 percent of the popular vote. Communist parties in Western Europe during the post-war era were in fact quite popular and also democratic. The case of Italian Communist party was not unique, it has to be understood in a wider context.
Great contribution, but the Italian particularity was the life spam of the PCI. Let's not forget that still in the middle of the 80's Italian Communists were the second force in the Italian political horizon [and second could be an euphemism ...].
 
Sep 2013
324
SouthWest USA
AlpinLuke: My relatives are farmers in the Reggio Emilia area of Italy. I think you may understand the significance. That area of Italy is historically hard left. When I was back in Italy in 2006, I could still see posters of the hammer and sickle in a few windows. Ouch.

From what I could see and understand (as my Italian is good, but not great), those who identify with the communist party weren't hardcore Stalinists. They were more like extremely progressive, but radical social democrats. Many of them were even devout Catholics.

I'll defer to your insights as you are close to all the political insanity. I'll be looking forward to reading more about the politics of Italy.


guy also known as gaius
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,625
Italy, Lago Maggiore
An other step which was fundamental to grant to the Italian Communist Party a long life was actually internal: the passage from Bordiga to Gramsci.

Bordiga had followed a policy which had carried the Communist Party to a condition of isolation and Gramsci realized that it was essential to leave such a strategy in the past.

The point was that Bordiga [in 1922-1923] was leading PCI far from the Communist International, but also far from the other forces of the Italian left. Gramsci tried and gain the majority in the party.

A note about Italian policy: Italy is a parliamentary Republic where the Parties managed the power and to have the majority in the assembly of a great party is the main target of an intelligent politician in Italy [the majority in the parliament will come as consequence].

So, Gramschi understood that the left of Bordiga and the right of Tasca weren't suitable to lead the PCI to the future. And he begun to build he historical center of the Communist Party [with the aid of Togliatti, Terracini and Scoccimarro].

The problem was that Bordiga still got the majority of the delegates [41 on 67] of the party in 1924 in Como and this was an obstacle for the intentions of Gramsci [wit the party less or more in clandestine context: Fascism was already at the power in Italy].

But in 1924 several important Socialist leaders passed to the Communist organization. This gave something more political to the party.

The hoax law "Acerbo" assured to the Fascist party the majority in the election of the 1924, but the PCI recorded a considerable result. Btw, in that period Bordiga got arrested too ...

If we can indicate a beginning of the dark age of Fascism for Italian Communism, we can think to those elections.

So Gramsci saw a room to take over the leadership of the party.