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FFHE HIsToRY of the 2olh.

cenlury I Comnrunisr movemenrs rhJt never I- acquired state power has been overshadowed by the extraordinary story ofthe rise and fall or selF-translormation of the regimes inspi red by the October Revolution. Within litde more than 3o years oFlenin's

Poker Face
Eric Hobsbawm
PAI-MIRO TOGf,IATTI: A BIOGRAPHY byAIdo Agosti, translated byVanna Derosas and Jane Ennis. Tauris,339 pp , f,5r.5o, Ocroberzoo8,978 t845tt7z6g

arrival at the Fjnland Station, Russia had become a superpower, and one third of humrrrity was ruled by Communist pardes. There had been nothing ilce it since the triumphal expansion oflslam in the seventh cenrury Forry years larer. all these regimes
J

IL SARTo DI ULM: UNA POSSIBILE STORIA DEL PCI by Lucio Magri. Il Saggiatore, 45,1 pp , October 2oo9, zr, 978 88 428 16o8 political scenes except
Cyprus

between the Siberian shores oIthe Pacific, the Baltic and the Adriacic had gone and the

eraLion, but [rom the third generation of Communist leaders, born after r94o, who were systematically promoted to regener2te the Ieadership in the post-Togliatti period While this new nass party emerged as a party ofthe workers and peasanrs who cotrstituted almost 80 per cent oFits membership in 1946, its object was to become a leading national Force. Hence the Foundation of a new review under the symboJic dde Lo Rinosrito ('Rebi rth' or'(enaissance') Here the Party had an jnvaluable asset in the writings oFTogliatti's friend and predecessor Arrronio Gramsci, by lar the mosr orig-

a unique case

In

major Asian Communist partjes had recycled themselves into builders ofcapitalism. Except For wo small and somewhal ecceofiic states, nothing remained of the

The parabola oF the Italian Comnun tst


Parry's hisrory is strikingly difTFrenr, even though it also ended in faiLure and dissolution. It hardly benefited ftom the great wave of labour and democratic advance during

l
l

hope that the world oFthe future would be one oFcenrrally planned socialist societies. The lortunes oa non-state Communist

movements were iess spectacular, though they continue to generate a vast body of documentation, memoir and posthumous reflection. On the whole they were not as dangerous as governments or more precisely their security sewices - imagined, given as these were to seeing the hand of Moscow and the menace oF social revolution behind the few hundred, or at best the few thousand, who constituted tbe membership of most panres in the Communist

International Evenwhen legal, fewofthem ever acquired a significant electorate or played a major pert in the affairs of their
country, though poJitical iosignificance was

olten combined wirh d,sproportionare importance in the country's cultural life or rts labour movement. The only exceplions in Europe between the wars were the Communisr I'arries ofFrance, Finland, Czechoslovakia and [until 1933) Germany. Anti-Fascism and the Second World War gave most European Communist Parlies a second chance (Germany is an obvious exception), bringing them to the peak oftheir

influence and indeed, from 19.15 ro t947, of thei r participation in governnent. In France and Italy they even replaced the socialists as the largest electoral force on the left- Yet outside the Soviet zone of influence their history in Western countries has been one

of lairly continuous decline since 1947, excepl in tho5e countries where lhey remaired illegal and engaged in resistance
to authoritarian regimes, as in Spain and Portugal until the r97os By the rggos almost all had vanished From their national

and afrer the First World War, largely because Moscow rejected the clamour of the radicalised Socialist Parry lor aFfiliation and insisted on acceptiog only Leninist 'vanglard parties' into the Comitrtern, which it saw as the striking-lorce of an imminent world revolution. When Mussolini seized power in 1922 the PCI had hardly even established jtself. Its record in Italy during the lascist eru (rg22-41j was pitiul, though, thanks to the mass emigration oI anri-Fascists, it had some success among rhe large worl<ing-class diaspora. In 1932. ten years after Mussolini's March on Rome, it had fewer members than the tiny British CP - z4oo - and it [ailed to advance in the course of the decader an increasingly crirical Comintern seemed on the verge oFwritrng if olfat the end oFthe rgjos. Yet. curiously, Palmiro Togliatti, who led the Party fiom 19z6 until his death in 1964, remained extremely prominent in the lnternational during the whole ofthis period. Few books throw more Jight on the problem of Western Communism and on Italian Communist history than Aldo Agosti's revised and updated biography ofthis remarkable man and political intelli gence. The fall of Mussolini in 1943 (to which the anti-Fascisrs had contributed nothing) Found a Communist Party consisting oF bet\ryeen three and five thousand men and women, rerurning l'rom jail or emigration, rnainly ofpre-Fascist vintage. Promising as the Party's future looked, its spectacular growth and transformation were made possible by the unexpected failure oFthe Allied invasion of Italy, which left Iarge areas

under German and Fascist rule, giving the anti-Fascist resjstatrce a far larger role in t he cou nrry's I iberarion tha n the oppos ition could have had in comprehensively defeated )apan and cermany. The point is well made in Lucio Magri's highly intelligent, melancholy retrospect on the PCI's eventualself-destruction. The rz months between the battle ofMonte Cassino in 1944 and the German surrender allowed the PCI, by thar time the chief lorce in rhe largest armed resistance movement in Europe after those in Belorussia and Yugoslavia, to become a genuine popular and national parry and a parry of government while maintaining its bona fides as the party of the October Revolution. (lnterestingly, mosr ofthe prominent Communists to emerge in the Resistance years came from apolitical or even conFormist backgrounds.) In spring 1944, Togliatti returned from Moicow, instructed by Stalin to take charge ofa divided Party uncertain about its political objectives. This is the starting poinr

inal Marxist thinker of the 20th century. Last, the armed resistance of rg43-45, dominated by the Party, and in which at least halfthe Conmunist cadres ofthe new generation tool( part (that guerrilla of northern intellectuals, the Action Party,
proved to have no lasting su pport base after 1945), was to allow the PCI to claim the

nantle of Ljberation more

convincingJy

than anyone else. From then until the late r97os, rhe history of ltali:n Communism is one ofalmost continuous political success and cultural influence, interrupred only by
the brieFsetback ofrhe 19,18 elections and the onset of the Cold War, which removed it

ftom participation in government undl [be rggos. Its membership had reached halFa million by 1944, r 8 million by 1948, z I million by r953, srabilisingatabout r 5 milIion in rhe r o6os and r o7os, bu t rising aga in to little shortoFnvo million in the r9Zos. At the same time its share oFthe vote continued to increa'e sreadily from r9 per cenr in r946, sull a shade smaller than the Socialist Party to which it was allied until r956, to a ped< of 34 per cent in the mid-rg7os (al-

of Magri's 'possible history of the

PCI', thougb orher historians wou)d pay more atteDtion to the heritage oFthe Comintern
years, which, afterall, had formed the cadres

who now led the Party into the new era. The 'Salerno tu rn' sh i[red the Party sharply away from immediate revolution - later there was to be an embittered but pointless debate aboutwhether a chance to take power during the Liberation had been squandered and introduced three novel elements into the Communist movement Unlike rhe French CP, the PCI now ceased to think in terms of a Leninist'vanguard' and was deliberately
reconstructed as a mass party, open even to

most twice the olficial Socialists'share). Optimists thought it might soon poll more than the Christian Democrats By now,
nnder the leadership oFTogliatti's successors, first Lujgi Longo and then Enrico BerIinguer, the Parry, heading a Eurocommunist movement, had established a clear distinction betweeD its aims and those oFthe Soviet Union More than tbis, the PCI had won what

Iooked lil<e a lasting position oF leadership - and a reputation For honesty and efficiency - in the local government oflarge
areas of ltaly, notably the'red belt' of Emilia-

Catholics. Magri's view that training the corps oInew leaders and functionarres created a second Leninist vanguard within the new mass party is notpersuasive The PCI's major problem was to arise not lrom the massive new intake ofthe Resistance gen-

Romagna, Tuscany and Umbria. From the 197os, local alJiances also brought j t into oafice in the great cities. Even more impress-

ive, and certainly unparalleled elsewhere,

was the begemony

it

established over

Iohn Lanchester's daily election blog at lrb"co.ul</blog as soon as Brown gives the nod.
f,or

Meanwhile, read posts by |ohn Mearsheimer, Stephen Burt, ]enny Diski et al.
23 LONDON REVIEWOF BOOI(S 8APRIL
2O1O

Italian culhrre, and the con tribution it made both to Italy's modernisation and its renewed European presence, mainly thanJ<s to the publishers, arlists and film-makers who were either Party members or Fellow lravellers. Both Giulio Einaudi, at the time the fiDest pub)isher in Europe, and Italo Calvino formed part oftbe guard ofhonour at Togliatti's funeral. Significant left-wing groups hostile to the PCI eventually emerged from the student rnoyemeot of the late rg6os, ofwhom the terrorists ofthe Red Brigades were the nrost notable. It is diFficulr to think of another party formally excluded From government for alnost halfa century with such a powerful impact on its national life.

document of the time, Togliatti's own Comintenr'autobiography'. But Togliatri maintained steady contact with Gramsci
through the economist Piero Sraffa and did more than anyone else to secure the presenarion and public impact of his prison wrirings On Gramsci's death in r937 he could once again as Comintern spokesman openly express his admiration for his beloved 'friendand master', though in theworstyear of the Terror Gramsci's future in Italian Commuoism could be safeglarded only by presenting him as politically orthodox, which Togliatti weil koew he was nor. Is it surprising thrt someone in his posirion
tumed
a

permanent poker face to the world?

Nothi ng before r95o suggests that Togliatti had the sligbtest doubt rbat, ro quote

,'ft I I .I-

traordinAgosti's

Agosti, 'socialist democracy, as expressed


in the Soviet Union, was the most complete Form ofdemocracy possible,' and that tie USSR had to be defended unconditionally, since Soviet power was the essential guarantee ofCommunist success in the rest of the world. He was known as a reliable and eflicient executor oF current policy - most notably, as the Comintern's chieF civilian adviser in Spain during the Civil War - but
not as an in oovator; certainJy he was slow to

conflict under control tfianks to his own prestige and irreplaceability. This was not as easy as it may look in retrospect. Not the IeJstproblem was SLaJin. always suspicious of those beyond his reach, who in r95r proposed to kick Togliatti upstairs to head the new Cominlorm, the Communist Information Bureau, far from Italy. Probably he had in mind a more dependentPCI, like the French Party, perhaps under a different leadership. The move was supported by a large majority ofthe PCI leadership, mainly out ofloyalry to the Baffone t the 'big moustache') Togliani's blank refusal to accept Stalin s and his own larty's diktat- a lacesaving formula had to be found - was perhaps lhe major step in his emancipadon From the Comintern past. For him the days of international hope were over: Italy was where the action was. But where could he
Iead the Party?

ional administration and increasingly selected its best cadres accordingly. By the later r9Sos itwas srill powerful but ageing, with more members over 7o than under 3o
and fewer than z per cent under 25. The PCI

had failed to attract either the children

of

the old'popolo comunista'or the newly politicised young oF r968-7o. And until
rg92 there was no prospecl oFnational governmen t office to keep it afloat, as there was For social democratic pardes iike Labour or the German and French socialisr parties.

The PCI finally got its chaLrce when its two main rivals collapsed after the t98os under the weight of Lheir own corruption. But by then it was already well on the way to suicide. Demoralised and desperate for government, as the Berlin Wall felt it decided at short notice on wholesale iconoclasm in the vague hope that this would anract the hitherto sceptical masses It proposed to drop the name and symbols of the Communist Party, indeed to abandon what

umeDted biography shows that it was not pursued as

It's now clear that it would not be

on

part of the long-term political strategy ofa closet reFormer: Togliatti was a long-term 'monolithic' Staljn loyalist and Comintern troubleshooter. Although we can only speculate about whal went on .in the bead of this complex, subtle. acerbic but enrotionrlly perceprive inrellectual. all descriprions agree thathewas'cold, controlled. . closed within himself, little inclined to formulate
conversations','inscrutabJe, sometimes sarc-

an Italian or indeed any 'road to socialism',

asric'. Public leadership brought a certain bonhomie 'even though he did not have friends in the strict sense'. He never felt at ease as part ofa crowd: he even refused to attend the greatannual ritual ofltalian Communist togetherness, the Festa de I'Unid. No doubt an inscrutable exterior was an
asset to a man who spent r8 pseudonymous years, most ofthem in Stalin's USSR, folJowed by another zo in the labyrinth ofltal-

ian parliamentary politics and as the head ofa party he could not entirely command, but bad to win over. SurFace opacity probably corcealed the problems he had in coming to terms with Lhe complexities and conuadictions implicit in his political commitment Take his relations with Gramsci The two men lell out in tbe r9zos, when Gramsci began to express criticism o[Moscow while Togliatti
insisted ttrat fie futu re of the movement required uncondirional supportfor dre USSR.

accept the policy of the 'popular front'. There can be no doubt that in implemeoting the'Salerno turn', Togliarti, who had discussed it with Stalin, was following the leader's line, though he probabJy recognised better than anyone in Moscow [he implications of a new mass party playing a narional 1i.e. supra-class) role in politics. His initial reaction to I(hrushchev's deStalinisation speech in r956 was equally cautious and evasive. And yet his years at rhe heln ofthe PCI are usually (and righdy) see n as a time ofrupture with the old Leninist model oforganisation and strategy, with its dependence on and uncritical support for tbe USSR, and perhaps above all with rhe Soviet model ofsocialism and its'suppression of democratic and personal fieedoms'. Instead the model he had in mind was polycentric and democratic, allowing different roads to socialism, even 'without tie Communists being in charge'.2 The PCI's shift was determined in large part by its historic situation. Both Stalitr's
wartime policy and the subsequent Cold War excluded an Italian revolution. The country's

though few iu the PCI were openly prepared to advocate what acrually happened: the PCI's transFormation into another European social democratic party. But so Iong as this issue was not officially confronted, the party could envisage a bright future either by means ofa Togliattiao 'historic compromise'with tJle Christian Democrats, or by reviving the united Front with the Socialists which had Fallen apart in the r95os Both straregies failed, but their failure after rg8o doesn't explain t}re subsequent collapse oF Italian Communism, heralded by the Party's change of name in r99r and followed by mu]tiple schisms, a total inability on the part oftbe left to capitalise on the collapse oF the Demochristian-Socialist old regime in the corruption scandals of the early r99os, its subsequent miserable record in government, its disintegration as a coherent national force, and Berlusconi's unforeseen success in building a lasting majority based on anti-Communist rhetoric and the
abandonment of an li-Fascism.

Communism meant lor most oFits members and voters, the collective experience ofantiFascist resistance and liberation that had

given Italy democracy and modernity and poor Italians self-respect, confidence and
hnnp in rhc 6,nrre

Since Salerno, a party based on revolutionary hope, but in practice committed


to permanent, Iiberal-democratic reFormism

under a centrist leadership with a left-wing track record, had been held together by the

2-FHrs DECLINE anJ fall is the subject I of Magri's extremely shrewd and L despondentbool<. whoseepigraph.'l am a Trotta. Where do I go now?', taken
lrom loseph Rorh s CopuLhin Crypt. is t-he final cry ofsomeone whose life belongs to a world that has gone For ever Magri's thesis is drat changes in the international power confi guration and the transformations, of a globalising neoliberal capitalism, alon g with the exhaustion of the'propulsive impetus' oftie October Revolution, derermined the decline ofltalian Communism and the leFt. This is true enough, but applies too generally in Europe to explain the specific parabola o[ the PCI and irs successor parties. More to the point, he stresses the Party's inability to adjust to Italy's sudden brokenbacked leaps from bacloardness into the late 20dl century compounded by the sharp turn to Catholic integrdism under dre Polish pope. There are sound reasons why Italian Communism has been most at ease in commercialised but not iodustrialised regions lilce Emilia-Romagna, Tuscanyand Umbria 3 Magri is clearly aware of the degeneration ofTogliatti's 'mass parry' into a fundraising electoral machine, which shifted its attetrtion from the Parfy to the labour unions and from political to Iocal and reg-

This was ro le;d ro unjusrified accusations that he had not done enough to secure Gransci's release from jail - a deal Mussolini was prepared to mal(e in r933, but which seems to have been vetoed by Stalin himselflr In the early r93os the Comintern chose to make Gramsci a non-person: there could be no mention of him in the PCI's publicarions. or even in tlrat chrracteristic

dramatic postwar transFormation removed this possibility permanendy ft om the agenda.

The Party's relationship to the postwar state was contradjctory. It had been one of fhe main architecLs of Italy's constitution. yet it was excluded ftom office after 1947 and had no c.lear prospect ofgetting backBut at least until 1948 most of its new
members and a strong contingent of its old

r See Gromsci tro Mussolini G. Vacca (2oo7)


made

Sto

lin by A- Rossi and


be

2 There is an illuminaring comparison ro


beweer him and HerbertWehner, sudivor ofStalin's Terror, who became social-democratic figure in the Gennan RepubJic However, unlil<e Togliatti,
broken

another a major
Federal

he had

witi

the Party

Zangheri, the brilliantly successful mayor ofBologna, said to me in the r97os: 'we turned down an offer from one of the biggest indusuial concerns to shJFr their main plant hereSmall busJness, private or co-operative, city or agrariao, we [<now where we are Big industry would be unpredictable '
3 As Renato

leaders, especially among the ve[erans oF the armed resistance, continued to hope for a revolu[ionary rakeover. Agosti and Magri agree that the PCI'S notorious doppjezzd ('duplicity') under Togliatti was not inteoded to conceal revolutionary objectives behind a democratic dJscourse, but on the contuary to make a long-term accommodation with constirutional democratic po)itics easier to accept for the unreconstructed revolutionaries in its ranks. In rhe end the contradiction was to prove fatal to the PCI, but

refusal to choose between the two options. (Magri hinself entered the Parry well after tlre 1956 crisis, was expelled with the rest of the founders of the left-wing Mcnfsto movemen t in 1969, bu t rejoined in the midrg8os.) That strategic indecision allowed it to suryive potential divisions afrer Togliac ti's death, but 1989 forced the Party to make a choice and thus shattered its unity as well as its role as the only real national force on the Italian leFt. Between r99o and 1993 rhe renamed PCI losthalfits members, though its vote held up The Party split in two: a reformist Democratic Party of the Left, which in zooT became the Democratic Party and dissolved into even nore unstable political coalitions, and a small militan t party of unreconslructed radicals, fu fondazione Comunisla. A considerable number ofold Communists of all tendencies simply dropped out oF politics, including several former national figures In the elections of zoo8 the leftwas swept away. The so-called Democratic party may still provide tfre single largest bloc ofvoters for a post-Berlusconi government, but it is now only tie largest compone[r of a shifring, fissiparous and ideologically incoherent opposition. It bas lost both its sense ofthe past and its sense oFa future. Magri's title is iospired by an ir lenention during dre debates on changing the Party's name. Pietro Ingrao, a senior figure in the PCI, referred to Brecht's poem about the tailor of r6th-century Ulm who claimed he could fly, was chal.lenged by the bishop to
prove it

md crashed to his death. But, Brecht


a

Togliatti, an almost mythical figure both to his lriends and his adversaries, kept the

postscript to the poem, maDy centuries later humanity did, after all, learn to fly. Nothing illustrates Italian Communism's demoralisarion more viv.idly than rhat Ingrao, the longtime standard-bearer ofthe lelL rn the lCl, should, as it foundered, have called up the shade of the tailor of UIm. n
said in

24 LONDON REVIEW OF BOOI(S

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London Review ofBooks


VOLUME 32 NUMBER 7 A APRIL ZOI.O 83.20 US AND CANADA $4,95 Stephen Holmes Letters
Bomb Power:TheModem Pruidentg and the Nationol Securitu Stote by Garry

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An Anotomg ofEconomic Inequolitg in the UI(: Report ofthe Ndfion alBquolityPonel In dre next issue:
Neal Ascherson on I(oest-

a c
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35

AlisonLight

Diary

ler, lenny Diski on paasites ofone kind and another.

c
S

t
e

Stephen Burt's Thr Art oJthe Sonnet, written widr David Mikics, is out now.
Stefan Collini teacbes English and intellect-

|ackson I-ears is the editor oFRariton, and the author ofRebirth ofo Nation: The Making

Genre, the'Disperata'

in Edrlg Rendtsdnre ItdlU.

d
ual history at Cambridge. Eric Hobsbawm is preparing Hou to Change the World: Moa and. Morxism t84o-zoog for

Modern America,

t877-tgzo.

by-product oFhis continuing work on the third volume ofSuicide in the MiddleAga. It is
a

London. She is the author oFMother ofGod: A Historg oJthe Virgin Marg.

c c

AIison Light teaches English at Newcasde University. She is writing a book about family history and the English poor. Marl( Mazower is a professor of history at Columbia University in NewYork.
Alexander Murray is finishing a book to be calledThePoarg ofDuspdir: TheBirth ofd Poetir

Tom Nairn, whose boo[<s include The BreokUp oJBritain and {fier Britain, is a fellow of the Academy ofSocial Sciences in Australia,

Lorna Scott Fox translated Pablo Picosso and Gertrude Stein: Correspondence, published by
Seagull.

t t
LRB.
T

and an honorary prolessor of government


and internaLional affairs at the University

Nicholas Spice is the publisher ofthe

publicarion. Stephen Holnes, author of The Motodor\ Cape: America's Rerklcs Response to Teror, teaches atNYU School oflaw.
LRB annuel

of
Colm Trjibin is Leonard MilbergLecturer in Irish Leners at Princeton. His latest novel is

Durham.

t
t
e c

Miri Rubin

teaches medieval and early

modern history atQueen Mary University oF

Brooklgn. He has recendy been to the White House (he didn't saywhy).

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2 LONDON REVIEWOF BOOI(S SAPRIL2OlO

Colm T6ibfn: Lorenzo Lotto

r,'"."i',iT[i,li

Li

Rec'd 4/9/10 Loc: pR

brarv

oF BOOKS

Stephen Holrnes: 'Bomb Power'

Eric Hobsb?wrn: The Mystery of Palmiro Togliatti

Nicholas Spice: The Most Boring Country on Earth


Stefan Collini:

Aspiration