From Stalinism to democracy – Palmiro Togliatti and the construction of the Italian road to socialism

Peter McClure, Silent Melody, 2017.


Preface to the book by Marco Mondaini

The project of a humanity free from poverty, hunger, exploitation, injustice and ignorance has been present throughout history and, fortunately, has not yet disappeared from its horizon. This project, in fact, has presented itself in different aspects over time and societies. In its diversity, it sought to answer a still and always crucial question: what is the best form of society and government capable of guaranteeing and realizing rights, meeting the needs of individuals and providing the best conditions for the realization of human desires?

This is the question that is at the origin of all struggles for rights and the fight against all government systems and all forms of social organization that denied them and that in many places, situations and countries continue to deny them. Because this is a fight in which the past is a fundamental reference, however, never ended and still present.

An extensive, diverse and, at times, opposing lineage of thought currents formulated projects for society and governments whose existence would be capable of realizing this desire for a social, political and cultural order in which all human potential could be developed. by all men and all women and not just by a portion of privileged people who were free from the impositions and limits of stultifying work and the absence or precariousness of possession and access to material, cultural and spiritual means of life.

The most influential of all societal projects based on the ideals of equality, justice, the end of all exploitation and, why not, the full establishment of freedom is the one initially formulated by two German thinkers: Karl Marx (1818- 1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895).

The influence of the social project created by these two thinkers can be explained by several factors. The first, of a political, intellectual and theoretical nature. None of the previous currents had achieved a theoretical and political elaboration with the breadth of Marxism, as the work, sometimes joint, sometimes individual, of the two aforementioned thinkers became known. Both developed a comprehensive and ambitious theory of history and a method of social investigation that was not limited to being just a diagnosis of the evils of capitalism, although this was one of their most significant contributions.

Just remember two of his fundamental works. The first, by Friedrich Engels, The situation of the working class in England (1845), considered by Eric J. Hobsbawm, as a masterpiece of sociological observation, and the second, authored by Karl Marx, The capital. Critique of Political Economy (1867, for the edition of the first part). Although unfinished, it is, in the genre, the most universally translated and most influential book, including due to the reactions it aroused and even among those who have never read it...

Still on the theoretical level, Marxism, which Jean-Paul Sartre, a philosopher and novelist, himself representative of another current of thought, existentialism, classified as the unavoidable philosophy of our time, permeated the entire vast field of so-called human sciences: history, prehistory, economics, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, political science, geography, linguistics, aesthetic and cultural criticism. And even the equally vast field of physical and natural sciences: paleontology, biology, physics.

In terms of political and social ordering, Marxism developed a project for the radical transformation of all social relations, especially those based on the exploitation of work in its various forms. And, as a consequence of its implementation, at some point, there would be the end of the State, this historical expression of the social division of labor, of man's alienation from his own humanity and of the economic, political, social, and cultural domination of capital. about work in its modern form: capitalism and bourgeois society.

With its achievement, humanity, men and women, would finally leave the realm of necessity for the realm of freedom. They would be masters of their own humanity, in a possibility of plenitude that would achieve, surpassing them, the ideals of Enlightenment universality. Universality reaffirmed by a theoretical and practical consciousness that would realize the transcendent in the immanent, without the opium illusions of religion or idealism, foundations of the legitimization of the entire history of inequalities, dominations and class privileges.

However, the presence and influence of Marxism in history gained an incomparable dimension, compared to all other currents of social projects for the construction of a new society, from the moment it became a reality with the seizure of power by the Russian communists. , in 1917, under the main, although not sole, leadership of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov Lenin (1870-1924). All previous social revolutions that swept Europe, notably the revolutions of 1848, the Paris Commune of 1871, which Karl Marx called the assault on heaven, and the Russian insurrection of 1905, were ended by brutal repression and the reestablishment of social order. and politics they sought to destroy and replace.

The historical significance of the Russian Revolution of 1917, beyond all its avatars and subsequent reevaluations, especially those that are possible today following its collapse, marked almost the entire twentieth century and it was after it and in relation to it that defined all of world history. What was the French Revolution for the final years of the XNUMXth century and for the entire XNUMXth century finds a parallel with the Russian Revolution for the XNUMXth century and, although faded, is still present in the XNUMXst century.

The construction of a society whose horizon was the suppression of the exploitation of the labor of workers and peasants came out of the plan of a generous and unrealizable utopia and became possible and real. And, from then on, a new moment in the political organization of men and women in several countries, especially in the West, was inspired by this experience and to achieve it they devoted their lives, their energies, their wills, their thoughts, their capabilities and their intelligence.

A few years after the Russian Revolution of 1917, political and social movements located in the camp of the various socialist parties, more or less influenced by Marxism and even anarchist currents, were confronted with this new reality. In several Western countries and even in the East, parties called themselves Communist Parties emerged. Let us remember just a few examples.

In 1920, the French Section of the Workers' International, founded in 1905, experienced a split that gave rise to the French Section of the Communist International (1920), later called the French Communist Party. In 1921, a left-wing split in the Italian Socialist Party, led by Amadeo Bordiga (1889-1970) and Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), created the Italian Communist Party.[I] The Spanish Communist Party was founded in 1920. For an example of a Communist Party outside the Western world, mention should be made of the Communist Party of China, founded in 1921.[ii]

The Russian Revolution then carried out what was already set out as a program in the Manifesto of the Communist League elaborated by Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx and published in 1848: “The communists distinguish themselves from other proletarian parties only on two points: on the one hand, in the various national struggles of the proletarians, they highlight and make common interests prevail, independent of the nationality, of the entire proletariat; on the other hand, in the different phases of development that the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie goes through, they always represent the interests of the movement as a whole. In practice, therefore, the communists constitute the most resolute part of the workers' parties in all countries, the part that pushes ever further forward; as for theory, they have over the rest of the mass of the proletariat the advantage of an understanding of the conditions, progress and general results of the proletarian movement.”[iii]

The proletarian party leadership of the new State and the internationalist horizon of the revolution were established, starting with the Russian Revolution of 1917, as a reality. A reality before which all capitalist nations quickly positioned themselves. At first trying to erase this new State from history and then trying to isolate it, in order to, when possible, defeat it.

This fact of a State that sought to achieve what was most radical in the Manifesto of the Communist Party as a proletarian State and that, at the same time, would position itself as the radiating, leading and modeling center of the international communist movement, would mark for good and The entire political history of the West and, above all, the entire political history of the communist parties that have emerged since then in different countries are bad.

From then on, the international communist movement had its Rome as an example of its achievement, as a radiating center and as a reference for what should and could be accomplished throughout the world. Just like Rome for Catholics, Moscow, that is, the Russian Communist Party, became at the same time the source of orthodoxy and unity, the center of convergence from which emanated hope, legitimacy and the earthly and concrete example of the realization of the communist ideal.[iv]

This centrality of the Russian experience in the implementation of communism was further reinforced after the end of the Second World War (1939-1945) when the borders of the socialist world reached the heart of the West. The famous image of Soviet soldiers raising the Russian flag over the Reichstag represented not only the end of Nazi-fascism but also the beginning of a new era in world history. Winston Churchill (1874-1965), admirable British statesman, partner of Josef Stalin and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1881-1945) at the Yalta Conference (1945), defined the new post-war era with two expressions that became a place commonality of political thought and action: the Cold War and the Iron Curtain. War and the border between two worlds: that of the capitalist West and social democracy and that of socialism.

Why talk about all this, the reader of this Preface may ask, when the aim of the Preface should be to present a book about the Italian road to socialism through the thought and action of Palmiro Togliatti (1893-1964), the greatest leader of the Italian Communist Party between 1921 and 1964[v]? The answer is simple, but not simplistic. Precisely because the Italian path to socialism cannot be fully known, much less understood, if it is not situated within the general framework of the international communist movement, in the role played in its existence by relations with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

In these relations, the tension created for the international communist movement and for each national communist party, between the culture and ritualistic loyalty to Moscow and national interests, was crucial. Culture and rituals are strongly marked by the personality cult of Josef Stalin (1878-1953), who assumed the position of General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and its Central Committee in 1922 and remained there until his death in 1953.

Palmiro Togliatti's life and political action took place precisely between Stalin's rise to power (1922), the creation of the Third Communist International, the Comintern (1919-1943), the creation of the Information Bureau of Communist and Workers' Parties of the Soviet Union, Kominform (1947-1953), the publication of the famous Khrushchev Report in 1956, initiating the process of de-stanilization and a consequent crisis in the international communist movement.

Palmiro Togliatti joined the Executive Committee of the Comintern in 1924 and was its Secretary between 1937-1939, the years of the Spanish Civil War. He was, therefore, not only the PCI Secretary with the longest tenure, but also a man from the bureaucracy of the international communist movement, with long years of exile lived in Moscow, from the victory of General Francisco Franco (1892-1975), until his He returned to Italy in 1944. He had several meetings with Stalin and, like almost every communist militant, he also had his period of Stalinist fervor.

The great interest of this book lies in reconstituting, not to judge, but to understand, this trajectory, at once personal and collective, which, marked by ambiguities and tortuous paths, resulted in the most advanced process of theoretical and political renewal of the international communist movement. , through the unique history of the Italian Communist Party and its Secretary, Palmiro Togliatti.

In the words of its author: “Perhaps no communist party in the Western world has made, more than the Italian Communist Party (PCI), a greater number of contributions to the development of a transformation strategy suited to the new mass democratic political reality that began to be constructed as such at the end of the 30th century, gaining more definitive tones in the 1940s of the XNUMXth century and, mainly, from the second half of the XNUMXs, with the end of the Second World War”.

“Through decades of illegal opposition to fascism and legal opposition to Christian democracy, the PCI knew how to erect in a tortuous way, and not without the possibly traumatic presence of “turns” of political line, a democratic (non-insurrectionary) perspective of transition from capitalism to socialism – the nodal point of the so-called “Italian road to socialism”.

“We would not be untruthful in saying that the person largely responsible for the strenuous work of beginning the construction of this diverse path to socialism was Palmiro Togliatti. A responsibility that brought with it not only the visualization of the new and the enhancement of ruptures, but also the attachment to the traditional and the defense of continuities. Thus, a complicated work of “political chemistry” took shape, in which the dosage of its two elements was carried out in Togliatti’s own “doing politics”, a praxis that was not limited to the immediate level of tactics, reaching the horizon further away from the strategy.”

With a solid command of the sources with a rich and critical dialogue with an immense bibliography, especially Italian, Marco Mondaini made a valuable contribution to the knowledge and even reexamination of this fundamental historical experience that ranges from Stalinism to democracy within the PCI. This book is still a collective political biography, even though it is centered, but not limited, to the political biography of Palmiro Togliatti.

All the main dramas and challenges experienced in the PCI's trajectory, between the blind acceptance of the direction and control of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the understanding and defense of a different and innovative way of achieving socialism, in what was the reality of Italy in the post-war and a bourgeois democracy faced with also becoming a social democracy, are present in this book, in the speeches of its protagonists, in their controversies, divergences, advances and setbacks.

Personally, I would like to highlight, among the many important things that the reader will find in this book, the positions taken by Palmiro Togliatti to preserve, maintain and deepen the post-war Italian Constitution, as the guarantee of an essential legal order for the political struggle of the class. Italian worker, for the very legal existence of the PCI, and the possibilities of a legal struggle that would give it the status of being a party of the masses and not a party of cadres, as communist parties had been until then, in the application of Leninist theory of the Party.

The reader will find in this book an example of a good political story, in which action and circumstances, structures and conjunctures do not oppose or ignore each other. Marco Mondaini places two epigraphs at the beginning of his book that announce how he conceives of the historian's job. One, by Marc Bloch, when he calls on Robespierrists and anti-Robespierrists to simply say who Robespierre was. Another, by Edward Carr, the great English historian of the Russian Revolution, quoting D. Knowles, for whom “the historian is not a judge, much less a judge who hangs”. He is, therefore, in very good company, in addition to others mentioned throughout the book.

This book also has three important appendices that complement it, especially the last one, a brief history of Eurocommunism. A topic that is outside the period studied in this book, but that could not be left unmentioned. The other is about Antonio Gramsci's contribution in perceiving and analyzing the importance of culture as an instrument of hegemony, whether for the maintenance of bourgeois rule or for the establishment of socialism. And another dedicated to the political thought of Norberto Bobbio and the dialogue with the Italian communists.

Before finishing this Preface I would like to record a memory raised by reading this book. This is an observation by Antonio Gramsci – quoted from memory – about the fact that a national culture demonstrates its maturity when it is capable of producing works about other cultures, of assimilating them to its own culture with originality, creativity and without a mere passive repetition of some prestigious model. This was done in this book.

Finally, there is a feeling of melancholy. When a magnificent breath of renewal swept through the international communist movement and the Italian experience made such an important contribution to it, the world of real socialism collapsed. And now, what to do?

Dennis Bernardes (1948-2012), was a historian and professor at the Department of Social Service at the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE).

Marco Mondaini. From Stalinism to democracy: Palmiro Togliatti and the construction of the Italian road to socialism. Brasília: Astrojildo Pereira Foundation; Rio de Janeiro: Contraponto, 2011, 310 pages. []


[I] Palmiro Togliatti was also part of the founders of the PCI and soon became part of its Central Committee.

[ii] None of the communist parties mentioned above came to power, except for the Communist Party of China, which came to power in 1949, under the leadership of Mao Tse Tung (1893-1976). The PCI, the PCF and the PCE participated, at different times and of varying duration, in coalition governments, either with Social Democracy or in alliances with Socialist Parties. The Brazilian Communist Party was founded in 1922, including with the participation of Cristiano Cordeiro (1895-1987) from Pernambuco. The reference to the Communist Party of China is important because it played one of the most important

splits between the international communist movement and the Soviet Union, the motherland of the international communist movement.

[iii] Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx. Communist Party Manifesto. (1848). Petrópolis: Vozes, 1989. Translation Marco Aurélio Nogueira and Leandro Konder, p. 79.

[iv] But this Rome of international communism also became, for the capitalist West, the seat of evil. Atheism and the dissolving ghost of all Western bourgeois values, that is, of property and family, now had a place that was no longer the imaginary and vaporous image of the kingdom of darkness.

[v] The most influential leader and intellectual of the PCI is certainly Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937). Arrested in 1926, by express order of Benito Mussolini (1883-1945), he was released on parole, due to strong international pressure for his release, but the terrible years of imprisonment had compromised his health, and he died in 1937, at the age of 46. Gramsci's influence would only increase after the defeat of fascism when the publication of Cadernos do Cárcere revealed an intellectual and political thought of great vigor and with innovative contributions in the field of Marxism. His work constitutes the most original Marxist contribution to thinking about culture and politics in the XNUMXth century. It is clear that the Italian path to socialism owes much to his thinking.

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