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New Left Review I/86, July-August 1974

Lucio Colletti

A Political and Philosophical Interview

Can you give us a brief sketch of your initial intellectual origins, and entry into political life?

My intellectual origins were similar to those of virtually all Italian intellectuals of my generation. Their starting-point during the last years of fascism was the neo-idealist philosophy of Benedetto Croce and Giovanni Gentile. I wrote my doctorate in 1949 on Croce’s logic, although I was already by then critical of Croceanism. Then between 1949 and 1950 my decision to join the Italian Communist Party gradually matured. I should add that this decision was in many ways a very difficult one, and that—although this will perhaps seem incredible today—study of Gramsci’s writings was not a major influence on it. On the contrary, it was my reading of certain of Lenin’s texts that was determinant for my adhesion to the pci: in particular, and despite all the reservations which it may inspire and which I share towards it today, his Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. At the same time, my entry into the Communist Party was precipitated by the outbreak of the Korean War, although this was accompanied by the firm conviction that it was North Korea which had launched an attack against the South. I say this, not in order to furbish myself with an a posteriori political virginity, but because it is the truth. My attitudes even then were of profound aversion towards Stalinism: but at that moment the world was rent into two, and it was necessary to choose one side or the other. So, although it meant doing violence to myself, I opted for membership of the pci—with all the deep resistances of formation and culture that a petty-bourgeois intellectual of that epoch in Italy could feel towards Stalinism. You must remember that we had lived through the experience of fascism, so that all the paraphernalia of orchestrated unanimity, rhythmical applause and charismatic leadership of the international workers’ movement, were spontaneously repugnant to anyone of my background. Nevertheless, in spite of this, because of the Korean conflict and the scission of the world into two blocs, I opted for entry into the pci. The left-wing of the psi did not provide any meaningful alternative, because at that time it was essentially a subordinate form of Communist militancy, organically linked to the policies of the pci. It is important to emphasize the relative lateness of my entry into the Party—I was about 25 or 26—and my lack of the more traditional illusions about it. For the death of Stalin in 1953 had a diametrically opposite effect on me to that which it had on most Communist or pro-Communist intellectuals. They felt it as a disaster, the disappearance of a kind of divinity, while for me it was an emancipation. This also explains my attitude towards the Twentieth Congress of the cpsu in 1956, and in particular towards Khruschev’s Secret Speech. While most of my contemporaries reacted to the crisis of Stalinism as a personal catastrophe, the collapse of their own convictions and certitudes, I experienced Khruschev’s denunciation of Stalin as an authentic liberation. It seemed to me that at last Communism could become what I had always believed it should become—an historical movement whose acceptance involved no sacrifice of one’s own reason.

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Lucio Colletti, ‘A Political and Philosophical Interview’, NLR I/86: £3

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