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 attempts of a minority to carry destalinization any farther. In the succeeding years, the PCI never repeated its open non-conformity of 1956, but discreetly and gradually worked out a political style allowing for some measure of inner-party democracy, and a political stance which is now absolutely distinctive in the world Communist movement: a combination of fluent modernity and lability in the domestic Italian situation and intransigent militancy on colonial issues. As early as 1957, Roger Garaudy of the French Communist Party had attacked the Italian party for confusing bourgeois reformism and the socialist revolution, and had denounced the whole notion of the Italian road to socialism. The PCI replied tartly that absolute segregation of ‘reforms’ from ‘revolution’ was abstract and undialectical. It intended to carry out what Bruno Trentin, a member of the Central Committee and of the leadership of the CGIL, recently denned as: ‘a policy of presence. The CGIL does not try to prevent the modernization of Italian capitalism. Instead of opposing neocapitalist solutions a priori, we each time oppose more advanced and equally realistic and concrete solutions to them. There is nothing opportunist about this: by moving with a dynamic situation, our revolutionary demands only gain greater relief. . .’ The policy of ‘presence’ was strikingly illustrated by the Italian Communists’ attitude to the Common Market: instead of the purely negative position of the French Party, the PCI and CGIL concentrated on calling for new forms of co-ordination and unity in the European working class movement, to meet the new situation.

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, to whose Central Committee Togliatti delivered his report on the 22nd Congress, on the morning of November 10th, 1961. The report was long and prudent: it was concerned mainly with the positive perspectives opened up for the USSR and the world by the new programme of the CPSU. Only towards the end did it deal with the second wave of destalinization, the attacks on Albania and on the anti-party group. These too were approved. Only the renaming of Stalingrad aroused reservations. Often idiosyncratic in style, but conformist in content, the report showed no advance on Togliatti’s positions of 1956. No risks were going to be taken.

The session reconvened in the afternoon. For all its care and subtlety, the Secretary-General’s holding operation had failed. The dam had burst. More than 50 out of the 168 Central Committee members tabled their names for speeches. (In the event, there was time only for 32 before the session came to a close over the weekend of the 11–12). The debate that followed, and which is reproduced in full below, constitutes perhaps the most remarkable document of official European communism since the war. A brief analysis of it is given in the next section. It is enough to say here that whereas almost two-thirds of Togliatti’s 8,000-word report was bureaucratic optimism (‘The New Programme of the CPSU is qualitatively different from all other similar documents of the working-class movement’, ‘Results of the New Economic Course’, ‘Rationalisation of Resources’, etc.), only the most perfunctory gestures were made in the same direction in the debate. Without ever explicitly criticising the report, the Central Committee almost en bloc changed the subject: in the words of one member (Mario Berti) no need was felt to ‘limit ourselves to illustrating the various points in Togliatti’s report.’ The debate, in fact, became a liberated, unintimidated interrogation of the whole structure of Communist political practice for 40 years. It ended with Aldo Natoli, one of the most senior members of the Central Committee, calling for an extraordinary Congress of the Party to discuss the problems raised in the debate. On the evening of the 11th, Togliatti replied to the debate in a concluding speech. The text of this reply has never so far been published: it is probable that it contained sharp attacks on the leading ‘renovators’ in the Committee.

On November 14, three days later, Togliatti issued a statement to Unità approving the work of the 22nd Congress and inviting the PCI to turn its attention to Italian problems. There was an immediate protest inside the leadership. On November 18 the Executive Committee of the Central Committee (i.e. the Party’s Praesidium) met, and an angry dispute broke out as to whether the Party secretariat should issue an official document orienting discussion on the problems of the 22nd Congress in the Party. Togliatti, insisting on the need for caution, opposed the idea: it would be enough to reprint his report to the Central Committee. Amendola and Alicata probably pressed for a long, frank statement, while Pajetta and Ingrao adopted intermediary positions. The motion was carried, and the Secretariat entrusted with the preparation of a document.