Berlinguer, Enrico (1922–1984)

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Italian politician.

The Italian politician Enrico Berlinguer was born in Sassari on 25 May 1922. He enrolled in the law school of Sassari in 1940 where, in 1943, he intended to graduate with a thesis on "Philosophy and Philosophy of Law from Hegel to Croce and Gentile." In 1943 he joined the Italian Communist Party (PCI). On 7 January 1944 he was arrested for having participated in the "bread riots," an anti-Badoglio demonstration probably organized by the local Communist section (Pietro Badoglio was the head of the government after the fall of Mussolini). He remained in prison until April, then in June he visited his father in Salerno, who introduced him to Palmiro Togliatti (1893–1964). In 1944 Berlinguer settled in Rome, where he began working as a functionary in the youth movement of the PCI. After 25 April 1945 he moved to Milan, the headquarters of the Fronte della gioventù (Youth front). For more than a decade he was a scrupulous interpreter of the Togliatti line in political youth organizations.

When the PCI decided to revive the FGCI (Federazione Giovanile Comunista Italiana; Italian Communist Youth Association), Berlinguer was appointed to head its executive committee, and from 1949 to 1956 he served as its secretary general. The FGCI afforded Berlinguer an excellent experience in political bureaucracy, for which he was ideally suited. His role as the leader of the youth movement and as a member of the executive committee put him in close contact with Togliatti, whose ideological line he followed meticulously. On the eve of the Party Congress (1956), he left the secretariat of the youth organization; he assumed the post of director of the Istituto Centrale di Studi Comunisti (Central Institute of Communist Studies) and in 1957 was sent to Sardinia as regional assistant secretary. In July of 1958 he returned to Rome and entered the national secretariat and the office of the secretariat under the direction of Liugi Longo (1900–1980), then assistant secretary. At the Ninth Party Congress (February 1960), he became a full-fledged member of the executive committee and replaced Giorgio Amendola (1907–1980) as organizational coordinator. His appointment, requested by Longo, seems a clear indicator of Togliatti's centrist line. The new post was not without difficulties: the party was experiencing a steady loss of members, although its support at the electoral polls was growing.

At the Tenth Congress (1962) Berlinguer was elected as a member of the executive committee and of the secretariat and director of the office of the secretariat, a position that he held until 1966; he also became head of the important office of foreign relations.

Although he fell into disfavor with the party in 1966 for not taking sides against the left wing and for being hostile to the official party line, he soon returned to the top ranks of the PCI, becoming assistant secretary in 1969. Having resolved the crisis in the party caused by the expulsion of the "Manifesto" group and by the youth protests (1968–1969), he worked to improve relations with the democratic political forces and to strengthen the independence of the PCI from Moscow, stressing the legitimacy of an "Italian path to socialism." In 1969 during the conference held at the Kremlin, Berlinguer condemned the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet armed forces and the principle that only one kind of communist society could be accepted, the Soviet one. In 1972 he became national secretary general and proposed "a new political direction": "collaboration among the great populist currents: socialist, communist, Catholic." This project, launched in 1973, became known as the "Historic Compromise."

In a speech in Moscow (27 February 1976) Berlinguer defined the structure of socialism in Italy and the historic function of the working class as inseparable from a pluralistic and democratic system. More striking were the statements made in June of that same year in which Berlinguer recognized the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and declared that he felt "safer standing on this side," referring to the West. Such political positions constituted the final touches to the politics of Eurocommunism that Berlinguer had initiated in 1975 with the French and Spanish Communists.

The new role of the PCI, together with the unusual circumstances (electoral success, economic crisis, and terrorism) in which it came about, encouraged Berlinguer to propose a complex strategy focusing on a politics of austerity, which also encompassed rigor, efficiency, and social justice. At the same time he advanced the dialogue with Aldo Moro (1916–1978) on the prospects of a greater involvement of the PCI in the management of the government, an idea that was translated into the direct parliamentary support given to Giulio Andreotti's (b. 1919) second national unity cabinet (March 1978). In the following months Berlinguer was attacked by the socialists on ideological grounds as well as for his firmness in refusing to deal with the terrorists during the kidnapping of Moro; opposed also by the extreme Left because of the Historic Compromise, Berlinguer concluded that further collaboration with the Christian Democratic Party (DC) was, after the murder of Moro in May 1978, useless and unproductive.

Despite its return to the opposition, the PCI suffered severely in the political elections of June 1979. In November 1980 Berlinguer set forth the "moral question" as a precondition to the renewal of political life, a line maintained in polemics with the DC but in particular with the Socialist Party (PSI) and with the government headed by the socialist leader Bettino Craxi (1934–2000). During this same period he was bringing to completion a final break with the USSR by drawing closer to the Chinese communists (April 1980) and by declaring in December 1981 that the "original progressive thrust" launched by the October revolution "had exhausted itself." Austerity, moral concern, and the possibility of a third way all defined the profile of a politician whose clear and rigorous principles contributed to a popularity that reached beyond the boundaries of the communist world. Berlinguer died on 11 June 1984 of a cerebral hemorrhage suffered during a meeting for the European elections. The presence of enormous crowds at his funeral on 13 June testified to his popularity.

See alsoCraxi, Bettino; Eurocommunism; Italy; Togliatti, Palmiro.


Fiori, Giuseppe. Vita di Enrico Berlinguer. Rome-Bari, 1989.

Urban, Joan Barth. Moscow and the Italian Communist Party: From Togliatti to Berlinguer. Ithaca, N.Y., 1986.

Maria Teresa Giusti