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New Left Review I/153, September-October 1985

Tobias Abse

Judging the PCI

We make our own history but never under conditions of our own choosing. Political parties are normally to a greater or lesser extent reflections of socioeconomic realities, even if occasionally, as in Pol Pot’s Cambodia, they have been known to have lost contact with any reality outside their own heads. Their day-to-day policies are far more often reactions to exogenous events beyond their own control than heroic or diabolic attempts to impose their will on an entire nation. Most writers who have dealt with the Italian Communist Party seem to have forgotten such elementary historical truths. The great mistake made by most commentators discussing the pci over the last two decades has been to treat it as the central protagonist, the veritable driving force, of modern Italian history. [1] The Italian Road to Socialism: An Interview by Eric Hobsbawm with Giorgio Napolitano, London 1977, illustrates this approach; Gordon Robinson, ‘Berlinguer—Architect of Eurocommunism’, Marxism Today, August 1984, is a more recent example. The pci has been seen as the party with a genuinely coherent long-term project—in contrast to the mere social-democratic expedients of the British Labour Party, the French Parti Socialiste, or the Spanish psoe—and a formidable capacity for hegemony over the rest of Italian society. In keeping with this vision, the path taken by the pci in recent decades has frequently been given a Gramscian provenance, as if the policies pursued by Berlinguer could trace a direct line of descent back to the Prison Notebooks. [2] See, inter alia, Alistair Davidson, The Theory and Practice of Italian Communism, London 1982; Roger Simon, Gramsci’s Political Thought, London 1982; or Donald Sassoon, ‘Berlinguer—Architect of Eurocommunism’, Marxism Today, July 1984.

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