Palmiro Togliatti

views updated May 09 2018

Palmiro Togliatti

The Italian statesman Palmiro Togliatti (1893-1964) was one of the principal founders of the Italian Communist Party. Under his leadership the party became the largest Communist Party in the West and a major factor in Italian politics after World War II.

Born in Genoa on March 26, 1893, the son of a modest state employee who was highly religious, Palmiro Togliatti was named "Palmiro" after the Palm Sunday that was his birthday. He attended high school in Sardinia and then studied law at the University of Turin. In 1914 he joined the Italian Socialist Party (PSI). During World War I he did military service until his release in 1917, when he returned to Turin.

As a student Togliatti experienced a wide variety of ideologies and intellectual currents, ranging from Marxism to neo-Hegelianism and syndicalism. His war experiences and the example of the Russian revolution turned him more and more toward Marxism. He took up journalism for the Socialist cause and joined Antonio Gramsci, Angelo Tasca, and Umberto Terracini in founding the Turinese weekly L'Ordine Nuovo. On the newspaper he became known for his biting column on cultural topics. In 1921 he and the Ordine Nuovo group joined Amadeo Bordiga and others in splitting from the Socialists and founding the Italian Communist Party (PCI). A bitter struggle over control of the PCI followed. Bordiga wanted to continue the schism with the Socialists. Others such as Togliatti and Gramsci, supported by the Soviet Union, favored a "united front" with the Socialists. By 1926, at the Congress of Lyons, the Gramsci-Togliatti faction triumphed, and Gramsci assumed leadership of the party.

Togliatti, however, succeeded Gramsci in November 1926 when the latter was arrested and imprisoned by the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini. Togliatti avoided arrest only because he was in Moscow at the time. In addition to heading the PCI, Togliatti became a major figure in the Third International. In 1937 he became that organization's secretary. His long association with the International during the Stalin years has given Togliatti—somewhat unfairly—the reputation of having been a "Stalinist." Despite personal misgivings, by 1929 Togliatti did bring the PCI into conformity with the International's increasingly hard line. Togliatti, however, disagreed with many of Stalin's ideas and actions. He found the anti-Fascist policies of the Popular Front in France far more congenial. Just as the French Communists had joined the Socialists and left radicals in an anti-Fascist pact, Togliatti led the PCI into forming a similar alliance with the Italian Socialists. In his Lectures on Fascism given at the Leninist School in Moscow and at a major speech before the Seventh Congress of the International (1935), Togliatti presented his case for a popular front policy.

From 1937 to 1939 Togliatti served in Spain as the International's representative to the Spanish Communist Party. He was among the Republic's last defenders until he fled to Algeria in March 1939. During the early months of World War II he was imprisoned in France, where he remained until his release and return to the Soviet Union in May 1940. From June 27, 1941, to May 11, 1943, using the pseudonym of "Mario Correnti, " he delivered more than 100 radio broadcasts to Fascist Italy. In his programs he kept his audience abreast of military developments and urged armed resistance to Fascism.

In July 1943 the Fascist regime fell, and on March 27, 1944, Togliatti was finally able to end his long exile and return to Italy. He directed the Communist Party to collaborate in the formation of the Badoglio government, the successor to Mussolini, and to join the armed struggle against Fascism and the German occupation. For the first time, the PCI emerged as a significant national party (1, 770, 896 members at the end of 1945).

During the next several years Togliatti served as minister without portfolio in several cabinets and ministries (under Badoglio and Ivanoe Bonomi), as vice-president of the Council of Ministers with Bonomi, and as minister of justice with Ferruccio Parri and Alcide De Gasperi. Togliatti's "collaborationist policy" was aimed at defusing the opposition of conservative elements in Italian society. Togliatti's policy failed, however. The Communist-Socialist bloc was defeated in the 1948 elections, and the Communists were isolated. In the same year an attempt on Togliatti's life scandalized the nation, and only his insistence on calm prevented a bloody insurrection.

The Cold War years from 1947 to 1955 were difficult for Togliatti. Although he advocated gradualism, independence for individual Communist parties, and Communist participation in power, the PCI remained isolated. Just before his death he argued that there were many roads to socialism and urged the PCI toward greater independence from the Soviet Union. These policies, summarized by the term "polycentrism, " were adopted by his successors.

In August 1964 Togliatti made a last trip to the U.S.S.R., where he was planning to discuss recent developments in the Socialist camp. Struck by a cerebral hemorrhage, he died at Yalta on August 21, 1964.

Further Reading

Sources on Togliatti in English are scarce, although some of his major writings have been translated: Palmiro Togliatti, Lectures on Fascism (1976), The Spanish Revolution (1936), The Fight for Peace (1935), Inside Italy (1942), and On Gramsci and Other Writings, edited by Donald Sassoon (1979). For Togliatti's role in shaping the Communist Party see Donald Sassoon, The Strategy of the Italian Communist Party (1981). □