A Party Outside Politics

Il Bipartitismo Imperfetto: Comunisti e Democristiani in Italia

by Giorgio Galli
Il Mulino, 408 pp., 2500 lire

Peasant Communism in Southern Italy

by Sidney G. Tarrow
Yale, 389 pp., $8.75

The Searchers: Conflict and Communism in an Italian Town

by Belden Paulson and Athos Ricci
Quadrangle, 360 pp., $6.95

Togliatti; drawing by David Levine

Among the early leaders of the Partito Comunista Italiano, Gramsci and Togliatti are names well known outside Italy. Less familiar is the name of Luigi Longo who now heads the party, and barely known at all is Enrico Berlinguer who will probably succeed Longo in three years. The rhetoric of public pronouncements is not easy to penetrate to assess how or whether the new generation has altered the PCI since Togliatti’s death in 1964. Recently, however, there have appeared a few excellent books which, while they do not entirely answer this question, at least explain some of the background to the twelfth party congress which took place a few weeks ago at Bologna.

Donald Blackmer’s book, relying on weapons of Kremlinology, has analyzed in detail the last years of Togliatti’s life. The book by Giorgio Galli of the Istituto Cattaneo contains some brilliant and disturbing comments on the sterile conflict between the two largest Italian parties. Sidney Tarrow’s book shows how the structure and tactics of Communism in the peasant south of Italy depart radically from patterns familiar in the industrial north. Finally, at a more human level, Belden Paulson reproduces some thirty interviews with the inhabitants of a single central-Italian town—interviews with peasants and aristocrats, priests and policemen, communists and fascists—and lets these men and women demonstrate some of the other complexities which make generalization about Italian Communism so hard.

Twenty-five years have now passed since Togliatti arrived back from Moscow and surprised everyone by co-operating with the conservatives in writing a new liberal constitution. His realistic attitude was invaluable in the restoration of democratic government. But in twenty-five years, while Italy has changed unrecognizably, the PCI has lagged behind. Not only did the “economic miracle” happen, in apparent defiance of orthodox Marxist economics, but Pope John created a religious miracle by showing that Catholicism like capitalism was more vital and adaptable than Communist dogma liked to imagine. Togliatti by comparison, for all his tactical skill and essential moderation, could not entirely dissociate himself from the revolutionary and authoritarian myths of the bad old days.

Italian politics are seriously ailing in 1969, and a strong PCI, which now has the backing of one voter in every four, would seem to confront an easy target. The Christian Democrats have ruled Italy for twenty-five years and are answerable for many frustrating failures in government and administration. Because of quarreling factions among the Christian Democrats, twenty-nine cabinets have succeeded one another in this period. Yet outside politics a few privileged groups remain continuously in positions of power from which they block a dozen urgently needed reforms; and here one can cite the failure to modernize the universities and the State bureaucracy, or the prolonged unwillingness to investigate the Sicilian mafia. Thus the disadvantages of instability are combined with the even worse disadvantages of immobilism. As pressure for change mounted during 1968, parliament could decide almost…

This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $99.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.

One-Week Access — $4.99

Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.

If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.