Rossana Rossanda: An ‘Ingraian’ communist on Ingrao

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A meeting was held at the Chamber of Deputies on 31 March 2015 to mark the hundredth birthday of comrade Pietro Ingrao. Rossana Rossanda sent this message, which talks about Ingrao’s role in the history of the Italian Communist Party and the splits within it in 1956, 1968 and 1991. An (Italian-language) video of the event is available at radioradicale.it


I can only thank you for having invited me to attend the event marking Pietro Ingrao’s hundredth birthday. Through his victories and defeats, Ingrao has remained the point of reference for my own parabola as a communist. I am considered an ‘Ingraian’, even though he always refused to be characterised as the leader of some sort of tendency. This was not because of some a self-sacrificing sense of discipline, but rather, I believe, born of an ambition of no small significance that took shape at the end of the 1930s: namely, his decision to devote himself to working in an internationalist, militant community, the Partito Comunista Italiano (PCI).

This was no mean feat, but Ingrao set out to do nothing less. His vision was not simply of how people could stand together. Each person came bringing his or her own story, but they were all focused on one common objective that would give meaning to these stories. Such a grand horizon would be impossible to reach by way of shards and fragments.

Today, we can’t even imagine what that might have been like - and not because we’ve become less ingenuous or more intelligent. Rather, we have been pushed back within our personal limits; other people have become ‘others’ again, so different that we cannot enter into contact without damaging them or ourselves. It is almost as if we cannot even imagine the ‘other’ except in terms of radical difference and total autonomy. And so it seems as if a party can do nothing but reduce every man and woman to a lowest common denominator - as if, within this living body, we cannot set shared rules, entrusting part of ourselves to the whole, and thus feel strengthened as we hurl ourselves into social and political conflict. It was not a ship of fools: it was a way of multiplying our strengths.

In 1956, we saw that the party could be a limit and an obstacle, after the USSR invaded Budapest[1]. And yet, even though recognising the mistake did not bring the dispute itself to an end, we did not think it was an irremediable error. Ingrao advised those of us who were shaken by this ‘not to take too easy an approach’. This was the reproach he directed at himself when he changed his view on the Hungarian revolt, rejecting Togliatti’s satisfaction that ‘it had ended well’.[2]

Ingrao always avoided hurrying to pass judgement, whether on the USSR or on the PCI’s own history. But nor did he attempt to delve deeper into the vastly important question of the Party’s relations with the USSR, which was indeed a problem that we never confronted in a collective manner. Togliatti tried to do so before his death, but he ran out of time. All we have are his notes from his Memoriale di Yalta. However, the PCI did not even work with that as a collective.

Whenever Ingrao did not feel certain, he preferred to ask questions and reserve judgement. This was hardly a widespread approach in the Party, which made Ingrao all the more valuable within it. In any case, the primary distinction for me (working in the biggest Party federation, in the North of Italy) was that between those like Ingrao who paid attention to the changes in capitalism – with reconstruction complete by 1958, and a period of growth having begun  – and those who feared that even to note these changes was to capitulate to them. The latter insisted, for example, that we still had ‘super-exploitation’, whereas the former argued that part of labour had now escaped such a definition - thanks in part to workers’ struggles - and was being used in a different way in contemporary capitalism.

To us, it seemed that the Party leadership was divided between those who came from before the war and those who came from the present. Lacking in history or glory, the second group were, however, closer to those who could feel the changes in capitalism happening “on their own skin”. With war industry having been scaled down and without any catastrophic increase in unemployment, the cards had been shuffled in society. We had to be able to understand how.

Ingrao and I were part of a group of trade unionists, politicians and economists in Milan, Turin and Genoa – the ‘industrial triangle’ – who identified with this second perspective. Against us, there was a certain obstinacy in the Party elite, which seemed more interested in talking about the South than considering us up in Northern Italy. The exception to this was Giorgio Amendola, who never missed anything going on in the Party and feared that the North might produce a ‘modernist’ and extremist tendency, fascinated by rising neocapitalism. Indeed, he thought that we had illusory views of the real tendencies of Italian capitalism, which he considered irreducibly bent on authoritarian adventures.

I can’t say that Ingrao – whose manner of speaking without exaggeration we loved, as well as his rediscovery in peacetime of a cold North he had first known in war – was particularly interested in us at the time. Nonetheless, he encouraged us to study, and he listened to us attentively.

Luigi Longo definitely was concerned with the North, but he tried to push us onto the terrain of Giorgio Amendola, who was very distrustful of us and our intrinsic ‘Northern sociologism’. Neither Ingrao nor Longo spoke at the 1962 Istituto Gramsci conference on the ‘Tendencies of Italian Capitalism’, which demonstrated that there was a more serious rift than anyone had been able to see in advance. Lucio Magri, Rodolfo Banfi, Ruggero Spesso and Ruggero Cominotti made clear their reservations over Amendola’s positions, and he slapped them down.

The PCI leadership group had clashed on other occasions, like over Pietro Secchia [known as a hard-liner who rejected cooperation with Christian Democracy and other bourgeois parties], or even earlier when Stalin wanted to bring Togliatti to Prague. But the meeting at the Istituto Gramsci was the first public debate over ‘the line’. And that was not the end of the matter. These were the years of the rise of the centre-left, and at every kink in its modest advance it opened this question up again, which would remain a live issue for a long time. After that meeting in 1962, Ingrao and Reichlin would both return this discussion [over cooperation with the centre-left]; many of us took part, from our different perspectives, but Togliatti closed the matter, saying that we were in the wrong.

And then in 1964, Togliatti suddenly died. After Longo (the obvious interim choice), there was the burning question of who would succeed him as Party leader. One day Amendola – who did not just limit himself to formal contacts in the central committee – abruptly asked me for my view. ‘Well, either you or Ingrao’, I replied. He immediately objected: ‘No, either of us would divide the Party, we need someone who can unite it’. Surprisingly for me, he suggested Berlinguer’s name.

I don’t know how the decision was taken, but certainly in the Party we thought that the choice would be between those two names [Amendola or Berlinguer]. And certainly somewhere it was decided that Ingrao was not to be trusted. I found proof of this in what happened a few weeks after Togliatti’s death. Amendola proposed the reunification of the PCI and the Socialists, which produced a stupefied, hostile reaction in the Party, amidst the silence of the leadership. Only Ingrao intervened. Recognising that the changes in society suggested the need for the Party itself to change, he countered Amendola’s proposal with a different one for uniting all the different kinds of Left. This included not only left-wing parties, from Socialists to Catholic-Communists (this was at the height of Vatican II), but also the trade-union and social-movement Lefts as well as the student Left backed by the PSIUP [Italian Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity]. We set up a commission that included Longo, and it took a very open approach. However, the other leaders, Amendola among them, deserted the commission.

I believe that Amendola considered Ingrao’s proposal as a kind of provocation. At the end of the commission’s work, Ingrao prepared a document, but as soon as it had been read it was lost amidst a mass of indifference. And while the Party did not officially take up Amendola’s proposal, it certainly wasn’t repudiated either. Rather, it was Ingrao’s suggestion that was explicitly condemned.

The condemnation grew, and became public, a year later at the Party’s Eleventh Congress. After telling us not to fly off the handle, but to limit ourselves to talking about our work, Ingrao agreed to put his ideas to the test – and he was well aware what this meant. His intervention was about telling the truth. He opposed the line of benevolent opposition to the centre Left with a different, really alternative ‘development model’. But above all he evoked the right to dissent. He was greeted with an ovation, which continued until the people in the stalls area noticed the Chair’s glacial response to what he had said. In the interventions that followed, Ingrao was criticised without mercy. The Congress ended with him being given responsibility for the parliamentary group, which at the time was considered a rather limited role.

But Ingrao accepted this – willingly, it seemed. As he repeatedly stated, he was interested in a number of aspects of parliamentary work, which suited him better than work at Botteghe Oscure [PCI headquarters]. As President of the Chamber of Deputies he made free and authoritative interventions in various non-institutional aspects of public life, and he always received a warm reception.  He was also grateful for being there, in that role, and being able to speak in his own voice without creating explicit clashes. His period in the Chamber of Deputies was an important one for him, including for his reflection and for his writing.

Now I’ll step back to 1968 [referring to the widespread unrest of that year, in Italy and beyond]. Some PCI leaders, like Amendola and Emilio Sereni, passed negative judgements on this. On the other hand, it attracted the attentions of Longo, who invited some of the movement’s leaders to meet him. So the PCI was neither for nor against the 1968 movements, and the Party’s meeting-halls were neither open nor closed to them. Ingrao, for his part, made no explicit intervention with regard to the students’ movement.

Nor did he make any explicit intervention with regard to Berlinguer’s policy, or, most importantly, the Historic Compromise [the alliance between the PCI and Christian Democrats between 1973 and 1980]. He again dissented from the Party when it again came to the vitally important question of war [i.e. in opposing Italy’s involvement in the 1991 Gulf War]. Soon before that, he had supported the ‘No’ motion against Achille Occhetto’s ‘turn’, which marked the end of PCI [this refers to Occhetto’s decision to dissolve the PCI in the wake of the collapse of the USSR, forming in its place the Democratic Party of the Left]. At Rimini Congress, when Berlinguer announced his policy, there was a split, with opponents voting to continue the CPI. Ingrao made an anxious, dramatic intervention insisting on his loyalty. Two years later, he would leave the Democratic Party of the Left to join Rifondazione.

 

 

[1] The original text says Prague, but in 1956 the Red Army invaded Hungary. While in that case the PCI defended Khrushchev’s actions, it took a much more critical view of the Soviets’ 1968 crushing of the Prague Spring. 

[2] This refers to the official PCI position at the time, represented by figures such as Palmiro Togliatti and Giorgio Napolitano, that the Hungarian uprising was conducted by “counter-revolutionaries”. Ingrao’s warning not to take “too easy an approach” is directed at this position, based as it was on notions of party unity and the Soviet leadership of international communism.

 

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