Livorno, January 1921. The unarmed prophecy of Filippo Turati resounds among the stuccos and decorations of the Goldoni Theater. The great old man of Italian socialism addresses the communist comrades who have just left the congress by contrasting the song of the International with the Hymn of the workers, thus making a symbolic break between the still majority but divided, confused, unrealistic socialists and the communists of Amadeo Bordiga, sectarian, dogmatic minorities. A few hundred meters further on, in the San Marco theater in the Venice district, where today a nursery school stands, covering themselves with umbrellas for the rain that falls copiously from the ceilings, the delegates of the communist fraction are founding Il PCd’I, the Italian section of the Communist International.
Turati says: “In a few years – I will perhaps no longer be in this world – you will see if the prophecy has come true … If you come out safe from the reaction you have provoked … you will be forced, in spite of yourself – but you will do it with conviction, because be honest – to retrace our path completely, the path of social traitors of yesteryear; and you will have to do it because it is the path of socialism, which is the only immortal, the only vital nucleus that remains after our diatribes ». Turati, explains the historian Marcello Flores who has just published “The wind of the revolution. The birth of the Italian Communist Party ”(Laterza) written together with Giovanni Gozzini,“ expresses a prediction that is the fruit of his political convictions. Revolutionaries are incapable of governing but, by threatening only the revolution without making it, they will set in motion a violent reaction. Very difficult to blame him today. But very difficult to agree with him then ».
«What made fascism win was the inability of socialism to understand and interpret the terrible social tragedy and give it a political perspective. And this also applies to our times»Says the philosopher Mario Tronti. «I do not accept that the heirs of the PCI describe ’21 as the posthumous victory of Turati. Matteo Renzi has an easy game then he even wants to celebrate it with Tony Blair. Perhaps we, the losers of that story, should for once try to write it on the side of the losers and not the winners ».
A century after its foundation and thirty after its dissolution, the party’s last secretary reconstructs a story that comes from afar. And which marked an essential part of the history of Italy in the twentieth century
“The social democracies were in disarray and by voting the war credits they had succumbed to nationalism, particularly in Italy the maximalists frightened the Italians by threatening the revolution without knowing how to do it. On the contrary, 1917 is a flash that illuminates the history of the twentieth century, because for the first time it shows the possible reversal of the balance of power between those who are below and those who are above. And 1921, in Italy, is the reflection of that flash. The USSR, which later degenerated in a tragic way, however paradoxically becomes a formidable encouragement for anti-colonial struggles, while in the West the fear of communism pushes capitalism to accept the social democratic compromise. The rebalancing role of the USSR, despite the horrors of Stalin, was recognized up to 1956 by the PSI of Nenni, as well as by the PCI of Togliatti “, agrees Goffredo Bettini, main theorist of the organic alliance between the Pd and M5S, promoter of a ‘dem area which will be called “The Agora: socialism and Christianity”.
Bettini at 30 is already in the mythical leadership of the PCI, then the inspiration of the Rome model, coordinator of the Democratic Party at its foundation, protege of two sacred monsters of communism such as Pietro Ingrao and Paolo Bufalini (the left and right of the party), son of that Roman communism that was both plebeian and cultured, Casa della Cultura and Gobbo del Quarticciolo, a bourgeois and intellectual party and that perhaps for this reason was liked by Pier Paolo Pasolini, with whom, as manager of Gianni Borgna’s Fgci, Bettini established an intense dialogue. For him, the PCI was much more than a political choice; rather “an ordering principle of the soul, all-encompassing, formative and often hard and cruel”.
A rediscovered documentary takes us back to the Goldoni Theater during the socialist congress that led to the split. And Mario Tronti explains: “The October Revolution was the myth of the founding of the new party”
And this hardness, as we will see shortly, Bettini knew personally. His generation that grew up with Berlinguer, unlike that of the founders and Togliatti, was able to form itself in democracy and in a party in dizzying growth. And it will be they, led by Achille Occhetto, who will dissolve the PCI. But how does one become a communist in the 1970s? “I did not become so much for the readings of Marx, Gramsci, Togliatti, or the books on the Soviet revolution, Trotsky above all, which I read at the seaside, in Senigallia, imagining Russia in the 1920s and 1930s, with those yellow lights that illuminated the buildings of Moscow and St. Petersburg, where events were happening that were changing the world. I became a communist ”, explains Bettini,“ when, coming from a bourgeois family and from the context of its protective order, I began to have to walk alone and discover the hardness of life. Politics entered my blood as I felt the inexorable and melancholy decline of my family and the social class it represented. At the same time I felt a feeling of closeness with the sufferings of the weakest. Perhaps also because adolescence made me discover my frailties and weaknesses. The PCI, which I joined at the age of 14 lying about my true age, became for me a community of affection, my new home, inhabited above all by solid and welcoming people from the working class ”.
1989 hit this community like a cataclysm, Bettini is in favor of the dissolution of the PCI, but pays a very high price: «The evening before the decisive Central Committee, Pietro Ingrao, my teacher, calls me on the phone and tells me in a stern voice:“ Goffredo, if you vote for the Yes from tomorrow we will be political opponents ”, says the manager dem. In a recent and precious volume that tells the story of the Roman PCI (“The PCI in Rome. Traces of a story that still speaks.” Edited by Enzo Proietti, Edizioni Bordeaux) Bettini recalls that moment as follows: “With my head I voted yes to that choice … but my heart was clearly for the No: I felt with annoyance the underestimation of the meaning that the PCI, beyond that word “communist”, had in a large part of Italian workers; as a sentimental, cultural, social, historical settlement, decisive for Italian democracy. I considered unacceptable even the scornful words that were pronounced: “rag doll”, “joyful and fruitful act” (Mussi and Occhetto ed) ».
L’Espresso publishes two unpublished letters from 1988 in which Massimo D’Alema engages in a surprising defense of Achille Occhetto, at the time deputy secretary of the party, who had been severely contested in a demonstration
Differences in the way of dealing with the crisis of real socialism that had already emerged, as explained by this unpublished account by Bettini: “When Occhetto, who was still deputy secretary, made the proposal on the historical relocation of the October Revolution and laid the roots of the left in Russian 1917 but in the French revolution, I organized a huge assembly in via dei Frentani, the seat of the Roman federation, with a report by Mario Tronti who criticized that formulation. The day after Repubblica dedicated a page to this dissent and then there was a small correspondence between me and D’Alema: because I complained that I had been somehow tried by the management team, while he in a friendly way criticized me for not having explained to Occhetto the meaning of my Roman initiative. In truth, I was very convinced of Berlinguer’s formulation on the exhaustion of the propulsive thrust of the countries of real socialism, while the intention of returning to the principles of the French Revolution and reducing the event of ’17 seemed a bit confused ”. From the “pizzini” emerges an D’Alema defending Occhetto, contrary to the official vulgate? “Yes, essentially telling me: if we have chosen him as deputy secretary now we must go ahead and be loyal to him, to make him secretary.”
1989 was also a blow to Bettini’s personal life: many of his friends are for the No, but its “left” reading of the turning point makes it unreliable to Occhettiani: «To all this was added a real existential crisis. The PCI represented my work, my reason for gratification and human commitment, my family. When that world collapsed, I collapsed myself into a deep depression, I realized that the party had changed, for the worse: our community was already beginning to not remember the history of the people, their dedication, and no longer respected moments of weakness; my parents were attacked with ruthless fury. I had about three years of suffering and apnea, I got cured, but in the end I got out thanks to politics which is the only job I can do. It was 1992 and we began to think about the Rome model ».
From 21 January online photos, videos and personal testimonies on the Italian Communist Party. The joint initiative of the Gramsci and Berlinguer foundations
But this is another story, as the centenary falls in the middle of a left once again in search of a compass: “In recent years the left has suffered too much liberalism and conservative hegemony”, says Bettini, “perhaps calling them reformism. Which becomes, for this reason, a totally meaningless word, indeed a cursed word, because it is poorly spoken. The true meaning of progressive reformism is to gradually change the balance of power in society. The Democratic Party is still a prisoner of a lack of strategic clarification, now more necessary than ever between those who act by accepting the hegemony of their opponents and those who instead orient themselves with the compass of equality. I think we need to rebuild a party that knows how to engage in hand-to-hand combat with society to overcome the malaise and shape it, standing out on the shapeless and bubbling magma that is under the crust ».
Bettini thinks that all this must be done in strategic alliance with the M5S: «The Roman PCI fought the“ plebeism ”which was a deeply rooted phenomenon even within the left, the result of the social composition of the city. Today, of course, everything is different, but if you don’t cross the mass of people who feel lost, uprooted, defenseless, if you don’t have empathy with their suffering, if you don’t give shape to their resentment, you open the right to right-wing populism. The Communist Party, the Roman one in particular, was able to keep together the aristocracy of thought and the people in an intimate relationship that today has been lost and that needs to be rebuilt, while now we are concerned about always being in government “.
This is what you continue to do: The Democratic Party has been in government almost continuously since 2011 without ever winning an election: with Monti, with Berlusconi, now with Conte and Di Maio, I object. “There can be no ideological choices about the government, you are in the government if it is useful to the country, otherwise you are not there, it cannot be a fetish”, says Bettini and concludes with a reference to nostalgia. “I mean nostalgia as Benjamin meant it. Not as a regret of past times. On the contrary, like the regret of dreams, ideals and beliefs that you have tried and which have remained unfulfilled. The nostalgia for what you have not achieved and experienced, but which you have immensely loved. The future, the amazing projects of the future, the saving programs are the daily bread of the intellectual and executive elites. The people move if they sense that they can take back the life that was taken from them. ” (3-continued)
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