Togliatti, Palmiro (1893–1964)

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Italian politician.

The Italian politician Palmiro Togliatti was born in Genoa on 26 March 1893. A brilliant student, Togliatti received a law degree (1915) in Turin, where he met Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937). Although the two never developed a deep friendship, they did habitually hold long discussions. In 1914 Togliatti joined the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), and was active in the socialist youth group. At the outbreak of World War I Togliatti was at first declared unfit for service because of myopia, but he was called up later, in 1916. After serving as a reserve officer, he returned to Turin. He renewed his association with Gramsci and, together with Angelo Tasca (1892–1960) and Umberto Terracini (1895–1983), they founded the weekly L'Ordine Nuovo (The new order) on 1 May 1919. Togliatti was among the movers of the factory council movement.

As editor-in-chief of L'Ordine Nuovo, he experienced firsthand the most virulent aspects of the fascist thuggery during repression in 1921. The opposition between fascism and antifascism deeply influenced his development as a political leader: in this sense he may be considered one of the most emblematic personalities of the "European civil war" that characterized a good quarter of the twentieth century. From another point of view, Togliatti is one of the protagonists of the communist movement who incarnates the profound contradictions that antifascism created within it. The dramatic defeat of the workers' movement not only during the biennio rosso (the Two Red Years; 1919–1921) but also in the crucial period of the formation and stabilization of the fascist regime aroused in Togliatti (as it did in Gramsci) the determination to understand thoroughly the nature of the enemy. He was a keen if not always coherent interpreter of the tendency to maintain a strategic distinction between fascism and capitalism, which appeared to enter a crisis in the years 1934–1938 and again during the period of the "great antifascist alliance" between the Allies and the USSR.

Togliatti joined the Communist Party of Italy (PCI) (founded in Leghorn on 21 January 1921 by a dissident faction of the PSI) and on 5 March 1923 was invited to become a member of its central committee, which was facing an extremely serious crisis in the group's leadership as a result of the February arrests. Until the summer of 1923 he busied himself with safeguarding the solidarity of the communist leadership, but he later opposed the policies of Amedeo Bordiga (1889–1970). Togliatti became secretary general of the PCI after the arrest of Gramsci in 1926 and he founded the journal Stato Operaio (The worker state) in Paris, where he had taken refuge. From 1928 to 1943 he was a member of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist International; he served as its secretary between 1935 and 1943. The Comintern sent him to Spain in 1937 as advisor to the Spanish Communist Party during the Spanish civil war. In 1939 he was again in France, where he was arrested in September and freed in March 1940. That same year he fled to the USSR, and, during World War II, he broadcast antifascist propaganda from the studios of Radio Moscow.

He was no stranger to the purges of Italian communist exiles who had fled to the USSR. As early as April 1939 one of the leaders of the Comintern, Dmitri Manuilsky (1883–1959), undertook an investigation of Togliatti for concealing the loss of the Spanish Communist Party archives, for which he was responsible. In addition, the delicate question of Gramsci's death shortly after release from prison in 1937 weighed upon him.

When he returned to Italy in March 1944 he announced at Stalin's suggestion the svolta diSalerno (the Salerno turning point), which was intended to promote cooperation among all the antifascist parties and support for the Pietro Badoglio (1871–1956) government. The PCI remained in the government until May 1947. Between 1944 and 1947 Togliatti held various offices. Those were the years of the "new party," of a PCI that was to project itself as a "national" power, but it was also a party of doppiezza (duplicity), showing a democratic face on one side and the "revolutionary" spirit on the other, which appealed to those party militants who spoke of a "betrayed revolution" and to the generation that lived through the clandestine years.

Reelected secretary general at the Fifth Party Congress (December 1945–January 1946), Togliatti adopted a line based on the concept of international relations among Communist parties, infused with a substantial autonomy that was summarized in the formula "the Italian road to socialism," yet at the same time manifesting complete alignment with Soviet policies. On 14 July 1948 in Rome Togliatti was seriously wounded in an attack by Antonio Pallante, a right-wing extremist.

In 1951 Joseph Stalin (1879–1953) recalled Togliatti to Moscow to head the Cominform (the Communist Information Bureau, founded in 1947) in preparation for what the Soviet dictator considered to be the definitive encounter between capitalist countries and the socialist bloc. After refusing Stalin's request of leading the Cominform and after writing several letters to the Soviet leader seeking permission to return to Italy and resume his role in the PCI Togliatti left the USSR. Even after the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and the Soviet invasion of Hungary (1956), which threw the party into a deep internal crisis, he did not abandon his Stalinist line. In 1956, however, Togliatti launched the idea of "polycentrism," which reaffirmed on new grounds the need to take into account specific national situations. Togliatti dedicated his final years to the elaboration of this analysis, which inspired his final work, the Memoriale di Yalta (The Yalta Memorial), published posthumously in September 1964.

See alsoCommunism; Eurocommunism; Gramsci, Antonio; Italy.


Aga-Rossi, Elena, and Victor Zaslavsky. Togliatti e Stalin. Bologna, 1997.

Agosti, Aldo. Palmiro Togliatti. Turin, 1996.

Spriano, Paolo. Togliatti segretario dell 'Internazionale. Milan, 1988.

Togliatti, Palmiro. The Fight against War and Facism: Report and Speech in Reply to the Discussion on the Third Point on the Agenda: The Preparations for Imperialist War and the Tasks of the Communist International. Moscow and Leningrad, 1935.

——. Lectures on Fascism. London, 1976. Translation of Lezioni sul fascismo.

——. On Gramsci, and Other Writings. Edited and introduced by Donald Sassoon. London, 1979.

Maria Teresa Giusti