Shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall in the summer of 1989, Communist Secretary Achille Occhetto set up a “shadow government” of the PCI. The model was that of Great Britain and other Anglo-Saxon countries, where the opposition forces create an organism with that name, modeled on the executive: their leader becomes the alter ego of the incumbent prime minister and other leaders, each for its competences, are in charge of controlling and pressing the work of the individual members of the government, of following them just like their shadow. Occhetto’s initiative did not have a great following, because the collapse of the Soviet empire completely changed the political agenda, but it responded to a role that his party had held for a long time.
Although it had never formed a shadow government, the PCI had been in some ways the “shadow party” of republican Italy, so much so that it had a sort of informal “ministers”: at the time Ugo Pecchioli was that of the Interior, Giorgio Napolitano that of Foreign Affairs, Luciano Barca that of the Treasury. And then the PCI was by far the most important force of the opposition, the only one on which a possible alternative to the lasting dominance of the Christian Democrats could be innervated, in terms of numbers. This is how it was perceived by a substantial part of the electorate, which also voted for it to put an end to the immovable Christian Democratic power. This is how the recently deceased political scientist Giorgio Galli saw it, describing the Italian system according to the partly questionable scheme of “imperfect bipartisanship”: a duopoly between DC and PCI, with the serious defect of never having produced an alternation to government.
Except that it was the Communists who called themselves out of that model of democracy of alternation. They did not propose to relegate the DC to the opposition, but to restore with the Christian Democrats the anti-fascist unity which was broken immediately after the war, in order to set up a representative majority of all popular forces. And at the same time they were not satisfied with the prospect of managing the current socio-economic system in a sense favorable to the working classes, according to a social democratic logic, but they aspired to transform it profoundly, with the aim of overcoming capitalism to build a different order.
Therefore the PCI appeared to be a shadow party, yes. But in a completely different sense. Far from prefiguring a simple change of political direction, his eventual rise to power took the form of a radical change of system. And behind that party born in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution and closely linked for many years to the USSR, exalted by its propaganda as the country of progress and social justice, the shadow of Soviet totalitarianism, not only liberticidal, but also ruinous from an economic point of view. Although the PCI remained faithful to the republican Constitution and also fought to expand civil rights, its Stalinist past never clearly disavowed, its international references extraneous to Western alliances, its ideological reading of reality spoke another language . And from the distrust, if not open hostility, which all this inspired in the majority sectors of society – as well as naturally in Italy’s western allies – derived the sanitary cordon of the other political forces, what was called an agreement for hatching towards the Communists. As a direct consequence, the political system remained blocked, continued to hinge on the Christian Democratic centrality, with periodic adjustments. It continued to do so until its collapse in the early 1990s, when the PCI had changed its name and identity.
It can be deduced that the communist question was crucial in the Italian affair republican. The hundred years since the split of Livorno, the city where the Congress of the PSI was held in January 1921, which saw the most extremist minority break away to found the PCI, therefore offer an opportunity to retrace the history of the party and to reflect on the influence that had in our national affair. With book Red shadows, on newsstands from today for a month, the Corriere della Sera intended to do so by offering readers various orientation tools. The initial interventions by Ernesto Galli della Loggia and Luciano Canfora propose different points of view on the whole of the communist experience. The collection of commented documents (official resolutions, but also articles, speeches, letters from the major leaders) tries to fix some fixed points in a path that is anything but linear, which lasted seventy years from 1921 to 1991 and marked by incisive changes, even though in the alleged continuity. The collection of articles published in the “Corriere” testifies to an attention that is always very critical, at times bitterly controversial, which has unfolded from the reports and comments on the Congress of Livorno to the metamorphosis of the PCI (not everything, however) into Pds. The chronology at the end of the volume makes it possible to establish the necessary links between the individual events to which the texts of the PCI and its leaders reproduced in the book refer.
The title Red shadows first of all it alludes to the very close link between the PCI’s destiny and that of the political system that arose after the Liberation. In that overall picture the force born in 1921 was an essential component, due to its influence in the trade union, in local authorities, also in the legislative process, and at the same time it represented a potential destabilizing threat (if nothing else perceived as such). Without the PCI, democratic Italy as we have known it would have been inconceivable. But with the Communists in the government in a pre-eminent position, it would probably have been at risk: both for the intolerant mentality of that party and its erroneous ideas in the economic field, and for the internal and international reactions that its entry with great fanfare into the “room of buttons “would have provoked. After all, on closer inspection, communism of Stalinist origin and extremist anti-communism were sides of the same coin, the two main expressions of the intense Italian ideological polarization.
Speak about Red shadows however, it also means evoking opaque areas and the removals that have marked the way in which the PCI has represented itself from time to time. Such behavior is certainly not exclusive to the Communists: all parties use to rewrite and reinterpret their history according to the present circumstances. But in this specific case the manipulations were really frequent and massive, albeit managed with fine intelligence by the most important leader of the PCI, Palmiro Togliatti. This is why returning to the original documents is particularly useful.
It is worthwhile, to give some examples concerning the early years of the party, to re-read the 21 points of the Communist International, in fact the platform on which the PCI stands, because a militarized conception of politics emerges from it. It should be remembered that the undisputed leader of the party was at the beginning the almost forgotten Amadeo Bordiga, with his positions so sectarian as to push the Soviets to do their utmost to favor the rise in his place of Antonio Gramsci, with the authentic refoundation sanctioned from the Lyon Congress of January 1926.
The disagreement between Gramsci and Togliatti in October 1926 is also fundamental. The two leaders agree in supporting the Stalinist majority of the Soviet party against the Trotskyist minority. But they diverge profoundly in the way of conceiving the relationship with the Kremlin. While Gramsci claims the right of Western Communists to express an autonomous judgment on Soviet events based on the repercussions they may have on the prospects of the revolution in the rest of Europe, Togliatti chooses to flatten the line prevailing in the USSR, renouncing to exercise on it is any critical function as long as Stalin is alive.
The book: texts by Galli della Loggia and Canfora, writings by the leaders, articles
The volume «Ombre rossa», edited by Antonio Carioti, comes out on January 20 on newsstands with «Corriere» at a price of 9.90 euros plus the cost of the newspaper. The book, which contains two essays by Ernesto Galli della Loggia and Luciano Canfora, is dedicated to the history of the PCI, founded in Livorno one hundred years ago on January 21, 1921. The book offers a collection of texts by the PCI and its leaders as well as a review of articles published in the Corriere.
January 19, 2021 (change January 22, 2021 | 21:20)