The Italian Communist Party, in exile and jail for 20 years under Mussolini, was re-formed in 1944 in the throes of the Resistance. Relatively uncompromised by the equivocations and complicities of the 30’s, the Party’s formative experience was national resistance and insurrection. The majority of its cadres were younger than those of the other West European Communist parties. It enjoyed in the writings of Gramsci the unique advantage of a sophisticated and indigenous Italian Marxism. Finally, again largely because Fascism had placed the workingclass movement in cold storage so early on, the party was not divided by years of mutual recrimination and suspicion from the Socialists. Excluded from the government in 1947, and defeated in the elections of 1948, the Party nevertheless survived the period of intense cold war with great resilience. Working-class unity with the socialists was maintained intact, electoral support steadily increased, and a margin of political and ideological independence preserved. Throughout the worst years of the Cold War, party militants could read Trotsky, Bukharin or Radek in the Gramsci Institute in Rome. The Italian section of WFTU fought a discreet underground action against the full theory and practice of Stalinism: in 1951, Di Vittorio, secretary of the CGIL, even wanted a WFTU delegation to be sent to the Soviet Union to investigate the charges of forced labour then being made against it at the ILO (he was over-ruled by Saillant of the French Communist Party). At home, sociologists, economists and trade-unionists discussed the problems of Italian neo-capitalism with far greater freedom than in the other European parties, contributing towards the resurgence of the CGIL in the Iron Triangle—Milan, Turin, Genoa—after its defeats in the early 50’s.
Thus when Khruschev delivered the secret speech in February 1956, Togliatti’s response in the famous Nuovi Argomenti interview came naturally out of the Italian situation. From base to leadership, a movement for the reassertion of independence caught the whole party. It was stillborn. Within a few months Hungary had set in motion the exactly contrary mechanisms: resignations, a virulent anti-communist campaign, closing of the ranks in the face of the enemy. The Eighth Congress of the PCI, held in December 1960, endorsed the ‘Italian Road to Socialism’, but blocked the
At the same time, the PCI did not conceal its criticisms of the passivity and complicity of the French Party in the Algerian War. Unità saluted the demonstrations of the French Left on October 27, 1960, after the PCF and CGT had withdrawn from them at the last moment. The contrasting policies of the two parties are such that Moroccan and Tunisian CP cadres now receive political education in Italy rather than in France. The two attitudes were dramatically juxtaposed at the last WFTU Congress in Moscow in December. The Italian delegation simultaneously tabled amendments for a more constructive policy towards ICFTU trade unions and the EEC, and for a more dynamic anti-colonial campaign. Novella, leader of the Italian delegation and then President of WFTU, stated: ‘Moral accusations against the leaders of other trade-union organisations are futile or even harmful. Thousands of workers still believe in these leaders, and slogans of this kind have no effect on them.’ The delegation opposed a motion congratulating the CGT on the efficacy of its struggle against the Algerian war, and called for direct strikes by European unions against the war. Only a few of its amendments were adopted.
The independence and individuality of the PCI have made it not only the most powerful, but the only increasingly successful Communist Party in Western Europe. Although its membership has, along with the other Italian parties, declined (it is still the largest, with 1,500,000 members), its vote has risen in every election since 1949. In the 1958 general elections it registered gains of more than half a million votes, and in every local election since, its vote has increased at the rate of 1.5%–2%.
This was the party, the most lucid in the world communist movement,