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.

My membership of the Party was an extremely important and positive experience for me. I can say that if I were to relive my life again, I would repeat the experience of both my entry and my exit. I regret neither the decision to join nor the decision to leave the Party. Both were critical for my development. The first importance of militancy in the pci lay essentially in this: the Party was the site in which a man like myself, of completely intellectual background, made real contact for the first time with people from other social groups, whom I would otherwise never have encountered except in trams or buses. Secondly, political activity in the Party allowed me to overcome certain forms of intellectualism and thereby also to understand somewhat better the problems of the relationship between theory and practice in a political movement. My own role was that of a simple rank-and-file militant. From 1955 onwards, however, I became involved in the internal struggles over cultural policy in the pci. At that time, the official orientation of the Party was centred on an interpretation of Marxism as an ‘absolute historicism’, a formula which had a very precise meaning—it signified a way of treating Marxism as if it were a continuation and development of the historicism of Benedetto Croce himself. It was in this light that the Party also sought to present the work of Gramsci. Togliatti’s version of Gramsci’s thought was, of course, not an accurate one. But the fact is that Gramsci’s writings were utilized to present Marxism as the fulfilment and conclusion of the tradition of Italian Hegelian idealism, in particular that of Croce. The objective of the internal struggles in which I became engaged was by contrast to give priority to the knowledge and study of the work of Marx himself. It was in this context that my relationship to Galvano Della Volpe, who at that time was effectively ostracized within the pci, became very important for me. footnote1 One outcome of the theoretical struggle between these two tendencies was the entry of Della Volpe, Pietranera and myself into the editorial committee of Societ`, which was then the main cultural journal of the Party, in 1957–8.

It was a consequence of Hungary, for a very simple reason. After the rising in Budapest, the majority of Italian Communist professors abandoned the Party, which was left virtually without university luminaries. One of the few professors who remained in the Party was Della Volpe. The new situation induced Mario Alicata—who was then in overall charge of the Party’s cultural policy, and who, it must be said, was a highly intelligent man—to change his attitude towards Della Volpe, who had hitherto been intellectually proscribed within the Party. The result was that Della Volpe was finally accepted on to the editorial board of Societ`, and with him a good part of the Della Volpean tendency, including Giulio Pietranera (who died today) and myself. This lasted until 1962. In that year, the Party then decided to dissolve Societ`, for reasons which were not only ideological but political. The suppression of the journal was basically motivated by the fact that after the composition of the editorial committee had changed, the review became steadily radicalized, if only on an ideological level: Marxist and Leninist articles were becoming predominant, and this theoretical turn to the left disquieted the Party leadership for a very good reason. The pci had for many years previously ceased to recruit young people. But from 1959–60 onwards, it started to register gains amongst youth once more—especially after the popular demonstrations which overthrew the Tambroni government in 1960. There now started to emerge a new levy of young Communist intellectuals—some of whom occupy comparatively important positions in the pci today, while others have left it—influenced by Della Volpean positions. Alarmed by the leftward shift of these younger intellectuals, who soon dominated the Youth Federation of the Party, the pci leadership decided to suppress Societ` as the source of their theoretical inspiration.

No, there were no real debates as such in the pages of the review. Spinella was in principle the chief editor; but after the entry of Della Volpe onto the editorial board, some of its members—while remaining formally on the masthead—simply ceased to collaborate with the journal. So in practice there was no public confrontation of views in Societ`. Moreover, you must remember that the journal was a publication produced by the Party, which meant that the preparation of its issues was tightly controlled from above, in particular by Alicata. In practice, most of the contributions came from the so-called Della Volpean group, but more for reasons of inertia and boycott by its antagonists on the journal. Thus, without a true political debate, Societ` eventually came to reflect—within its own ideological-cultural limits—a new commitment to themes proper to Marxism and Leninism.

It would be misleading to call this episode a debate within the review. It occurred within the Party. For some years back, I had been attacking the notion of the ‘constitutional State’ (Stato di diritto), to some extent also in the journals of the Left of the psi like Mondo Nuovo. The theme of my polemics was that it was strange for the psi to call for the advent of a ‘constitutional State’, since in my view this already substantially existed in Italy—it was none other than the liberal-bourgeois State. I failed to understand how the status quo could become a future objective of the Party. To organize a reply to such criticisms, the Party convoked a conference on the ‘concept of the constitutional State’, at which Gerratana delivered a report rebutting positions expressed in an article of mine. The two texts were published in Societ`, but the debate did not derive from within the journal. footnote2

My decision to leave was the result of the overall evolution of the Party. In one sense, the process of renovation for which I had hoped after the Twentieth Party Congress had failed to occur—but in another sense it had occurred, in a patently rightward direction. I slowly came to realize in the period from 1956 to 1964 that both the Soviet regime itself, and the Western Communist Parties, were incapable of accomplishing the profound transformation necessary for a return to revolutionary Marxism and Leninism. It had become structurally impossible for either the cpsu or the Western Parties to undergo a real democratization—in other words, not in the sense of a liberal or bourgeois democracy, but in the sense of revolutionary socialist democracy, of workers’ councils. This conviction gradually matured within me during the experience of these years. I found myself ever more marginalized within the Party, where I was permitted to pay my dues, but little else. Thus when I finally came to the conclusion that there was no chance even of a slow transformation of either the Soviet regime or the Western Communist parties towards a renewed socialist democracy, membership of the pci lost any meaning for me, and I left the Party silently. There was no dramatic scandal or rupture in my departure. I left in 1964, the year of Khruschev’s fall. There should be no misunderstanding about my attitude towards this. I was naturally aware of all the criticisms to be made of Khruschev, whom I never idealized. Nevertheless, Khruschev did represent a crucial point of no-return in post-war history. For his Secret Speech was a formal denunciation of the sacred character with which all Communist leadership had surrounded itself for four decades. This desacralization of Communist bureaucratic leadership remains an achievement that cannot be cancelled. Thus Khruschev’s importance for me was that he did symbolize an attempt—however inadequate and debatable—to unleash a process of transformation of Soviet society, by a radical and violent indictment of Stalin. If this process had succeeded, it would have transformed the Western Parties too. In the event, as we know, it failed.

So far as Italian Communism is concerned, the pci does possess certain traits that are distinct from those of other parties of classical Stalinist formation, and which are in some ways more rightist and revisionist. However, in essence—in its mechanisms of policy-making, its selection of leadership, the whole way in which the political will of the organization is formed—the pci has remained a fundamentally Stalinist Party. The expulsion of the Manifesto group in 1970 shows how limited the real margins for political debate and struggle in fact are within the Party. Naturally, this does not mean that there is no political conflict within the Italian Communist Party. There is: but it is masked and hidden from the base of the Party, which remains ignorant even of the terms of the stealthy struggles at the summit. The rank-and-file consequently remains confined to a perpetually subaltern and atomized condition. The ordinary Communist militant is converted from a vanguard to a rearguard element, whose function is simply to execute political directives determined over his head. My rejection of this type of party can be summed up in a single formula. The real mechanisms of power in contemporary Communist parties are these: it is not the Congress that nominates the Central Committee, but the Central Committee that nominates the Congress, it is not the Central Committee that nominates the Executive Committee, but the Executive Committee that nominates the Central Committee, it is not the Executive Committee that nominates the Political Bureau, but the Political Bureau that nominates the Executive Committee.