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An English Biography of Enrico Berlinguer
27 Marzo 2004
Enrico Berlinguer
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Don Enrico Berlinguer

( May 25, 1922 - June 11, 1984), was an italian noble and politician.

Berlinguer was an important leader of the Italian Communist Party ( Partito Comunista Italiano or PCI) and its national secretary from 1972 to 1984.

Early Career

The son of Don Mario Berlinguer and Maria Loriga, Enrico was born in Sassari, Italy to a noble and important Sardinian family, in a notable cultural context and with familiar and political relationships that would have heavily influenced his life and his career.

He was the first cousin of Francesco Cossiga (who was a leader of Democrazia Cristiana and later became a President of the Italian Republic), and both were relatives of Antonio Segni, leader of Democrazia Cristiana and a President of the Italian Republic). Enrico's grandfather, Enrico Berlinguer Sr., was the founder of La Nuova Sardegna, a very important Sardinian newspaper, and a personal friend of Giuseppe Garibaldi and Giuseppe Mazzini, whom he had helped in his parliamentary work on the sad conditions of the island.

In 1937 Enrico Berlinguer had his first contacts with Sardinian anti-Fascists, and in 1943 formally entered the Italian Communist Party, soon becoming the secretary of Sassari's section. The following year a violent riot exploded in the town; he was involved in the disorders and was arrested, but was discharged after 3 months of prison. Immediately after his detention ended, his father brought him to Salerno, the town in which the Royal family and the government had taken refuge after the armistice. In Salermo his father introduced him to Palmiro Togliatti, the most important leader of the Communist Party and a schoolfellow of Don Mario.

Togliatti sent Enrico back to Sardinia to prepare for his political career. At the end of 1944, Togliatti appointed Berlinguer to the national secretariat of the Communist Organisation for Youth; he was soon sent to Milan, and in 1945 he was appointed to the Central Committee as a member.

In 1946 Togliatti became the national secretary (the highest political role) of the Party, and called Berlinguer to Rome, where his talents let him enter the national direction only two years after (at the age of 26, one of the youngest members ever admitted); in 1949 he was named national secretary of FGCI ( Federazione Giovanile Comunista Italiana - the communist movement for youth), a charge that he left in 1956. The year after he was named president of the world federation of democratic youth. In 1957 Berlinguer, as a member of the central school of the PCI, abolished the obligatory visit to Russia, which included political training, that was until then necessary for admission to the highest positions in PCI.

Berlinguer's career was obviously directed towards the highest positions of the party. After having held the most important ones, in 1968 he was elected a deputy for the first time in the electoral collegium of Rome. The following year he was elected the national vice-secretary of the party (the secretary being Luigi Longo); in this role he took part in the international conference of the communist and labour parties in Moscow, where his delegation didn't agree with the "official" political line, and refused to vote on the final document. It was absolutely the strongest speech by a Communist leader ever heard in Russia; he refused to "excommunicate" Chinese communists, and directly told Leonid Breznev that the tragedy in Prague (Czech invasion by Russian tanks) had put into clear evidence the diversity of concepts about fundamental themes like national sovereignty, socialist democracy, and the freedom of culture.

In 1970, memorably, he opened a relationship with the world of industry, and generally speaking with the conservative forces, publicly declaring that the PCI would have looked with favour on an eventual reprise of the industrial production and for a new model of development, concepts that were part of the program of the industrialists. Already the principal leader of the party, Berlinguer became formally the national secretary in 1972 (due to Longo's sudden illness).

In 1973, having been hospitalized after a car accident during a visit to Bulgaria, he wrote three famous articles ("Reflections on Italy after the facts of Chile" - after the golpe) for the intellectual weekly magazine of the party ( Rinascita), presenting the strategy of the so-called Compromesso Storico, a hypothesis of coalition between PCI and Democrazia Cristiana meant to grant Italy a period of political stability, in a moment of heavy economical crisis amd in a contest in which some forces were manoeuvring for a golpe.

International relations

The following year in Belgrad he met Yugoslavian president Josip Broz Tito, starting his intense foreign relationships with the major Communist parties of Europe, Asia and Africa.

In 1976, in Moscow again, Berlinguer confirmed the autonomous position of PCI from the Russian communist party. Berlinguer, in front of 5,000 Communist delegates, started talking of a "pluralistic system" (translated by the interpreter as "multiform"), described PCI's intentions to build "a socialism that we believe necessary and possible only in Italy", invoking "distension". When he finally declared the PCI's condemnation for any kind of "interference", the fracture was quite complete, since Italy was indicated by Russians as suffering the interference of NATO, so the only interference that Italian Communists could not suffer (they concluded) was the Russian one. In an interview with Corriere della Sera he declared that he felt "more, more safe under NATO's umbrella".

In 1977, in Madrid with Santiago Carrillo and George Marchais the fundamental lines of Eurocommunism were laid out. A few months later he was again in Moscow, for another speech that Russians didn't appreciate and that was published by Pravda only after relevant censorship. Berlinguer, with a political progression by little steps, was enforcing the structure and the consensus around the party by getting closer to the other components of society. After the surprising opening of 1970 toward conservatives, and the still discussed proposal of the Compromesso Storico, he published a correspondence with Monsignor Luigi Bettazzi, the Bishop of Ivrea; it was an event that sounded quite astonishing since Pope Pius XII had excommunicated the communists soon after World War II (and this measure had not been removed), and the hypothesis of any relationship between communists and Catholics seemed very unlikely. The act was also compensating on another field a terrible equation, commonly and popularly expressed, by which PCI was at least protecting leftist terrorists, in the years of maximum violence and cruelty of Italian terrorism. In this contest PCI opened its doors to many Catholics, and a debate started about the possibility of contact. Notably, Berlinguer's strictly Catholic family was not brought out of its usual, severely respected privacy.

In Italy a government called of national solidarity was ruling, but Berlinguer claimed an emergency government, a strong and powerful cabinet to solve a crisis of exceptional seriousness. On March 16, 1978Aldo Moro, president of DC, was kidnapped by Red Brigades, the day that the new government was going to swear in front of parliament. During the agony of Moro, Berlinguer adhered to the so-called Front of firmness, refusing to treat with terrorists (that had proposed the exchange the freedom of the politician with the freedom of some terrorists in prison).

After the death of Moro (one of DC's leaders more in favour of Berlinguer's Compromesso Storico, if not the most) and after the following adjustments, PCI remained more isolated. In June a campaign against President Giovanni Leone, accused of minor bribery, was progressively approved and finally supported by PCI, and resulted in the President's resignation. The election of the following President Sandro Pertini (socialist) was also emphatically supported by Berlinguer, but didn't produce the effects that PCI probably expected, at least in the immediate acts. Pertini was in fact a socialist and an anti-fascist partisan, imprisonned and sent to confinement by the regime. In Italy, after a new president is elected, the government respectfully resigns, in order to consent a new definition of the political assets. Communists, given his history and his figure (so far from moderate or conservative positions), expected Pertini to use his influence in favour of the leftist parties. But the president was at the time more influenced by minor political leaders like Giovanni Spadolini (republican party) or Bettino Craxi (socialist party), and PCI remained out of the governmental area.

After a few months Berlinguer took part into a meeting with the secretaries of the five parties in the government coalition and declared them that the age of the governments of national solidarity had came to an end.

It has to be recalled that it is during these years that PCI obtained the administrative government of many Italian regions, sometimes more than a half of them. Notably, the regional government of Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany (among the many others) should have been a concrete proof of PCI's governmental capabilities, at the time necessary for propaganda purposes. Berlinguer turned then his attention toward the enforcement of the local power, in the aim of showing that "trains could be in time" under the "reds" too. Throughout the nation, Berlinguer personally followed the electoral campaigns for many other minor institutions like the provinces and the local councils (while other parties used to send only local leaders), consenting the party to win in - sometimes - a relevant majority of them.

In other fields, through the cultural organisation named ARCI, and by the massive occupation of all the most important related public charges, PCI was trying (since perhaps the birth of the Republic) to establish a sort of monopoly of the Italian culture. At this time, musicians, writers, journalists, poets, painters, film directors, teachers, phylosopers and especially historians, intellectuals and artists had somehow to express some sort of coherence with communist positions, had to take part into the political life as external commenters, had to support the communist ideological campaigns and in some cases run for political elections providing the party with the weight of their popularity. The "Festa dell'Unità", popular meetings for ordinary PCI militants, were turned into cultural events, with memorable important political discussions, intellectual debates and conventions, ofter enriched by pop-music concerts. Very few names in said fields remained far from this general tendence.

Following his strong action on PCI's propaganda, Berlinguer worked also to enforce Luciano Lama's popularity in the field of Trade unions. The communist CGIL, Lama's union, became then the most important competitor of the government, de facto quite a dubbed labour party, leading the association with the other two unions (CISL and UIL), while the conservative trade union (CISNAL) was excluded by the most important decisions.

The breakup with Russia

In 1980 PCI publicly condemned the Russian invasion of Afghanistan; Moscow then immediately sent the French "colleague" Marchais to Rome, to try to bring Berlinguer into a milder position toward Russia, but Marchais was received with a notable coldness. The distance with Russia became very far when (in the end of that year) PCI didn't participate in the international conference of communist parties held in Paris. Soon, instead, Berlinguer made an official visit to China. In november of the same year, once again in Salerno, Berlinguer declared that the idea of an eventual Compromesso Storico has been definitively put aside; it would have been substituted with the idea of the democratic alternative.

In 1981, in a television interview he surprisingly declared that, in his personal opinion (and therefore in the political opinion of PCI), "the propulsive push of the October Revolution had been exhausted". The direction of the party criticised the "normalisation" of Poland and very soon the detachement from the Russian communist party became definitive and official, followed by a long polemic at distance between Pravda and L'Unità (the official newspaper of PCI), not made any milder after the meeting with Fidel Castro at Havana, Cuba.

On an internal side, Berlinguer's last principal claim is for the solidarity among the leftist parties ( Unità delle Sinistre).

Berlinguer suddenly abandoned the scene during a speech in a comizio (public meeting) in Padua; he was hit by a brainhaemorrhage while speaking and died three days after.


The figure of Berlinguer has been defined in many ways, but he was generally recognised for a political coherence and a certain courage, together with a rare personal and political intelligence. A severe figure, a serious man (the anecdote with Roberto Benigni was perhaps the most cheerful moment of all his public life), he was sincerely respected and deeply esteemed by opposition figures too and his three days' agony was followed with great participation by the general population. His corpse, exposed at Botteghe Oscure (the head office of the party) was honoured by all of his political opposition, even by those from which he was divided by violent polemics (this fact surprised many foreign observers, starting with François Mitterrand). His funeral was followed by a large number of people, perhaps among the highest ever seen in Rome.

The most important political act of his career in PCI is undoubtedly the dramatic break with Russian Communism, the so-called strappo, together with the creation of Eurocommunism. And together with his substantial work tending to an opening towards possibilities of contact with the conservative half of the country.

The major difficulties that PCI encountered in Italy (in PCI's point of view), was like what other leftist parties encountered in other European countries, and consisted of the quite absolute refusal of contact from conservatives, since PCI hadn't broken its relationships with Russia and hadn't abandoned the classical schematic vision that usually leftist parties used to show regarding the social positions and relationships among social classes. In this sense, Berlinguer's work brought to a better legitimation of the party, even if the strappo is not unanimously considered as a mere manoeuvre of internal politics.

Berlinguer was, quite obviously, strongly fought by many sides. An internal opposition inside the PCI stressed that (in a rough synthesis) he had turned what was born as a workers' party into a sort of bourgeois revisionist club. External opposition figures noted that strappo took several years to be completed; this perhaps as an alleged evidence of not definitive decision on the point (it has to be recalled that previous leader Luigi Longo had already had contrasts with Russia at the time of Czech invasion).

The acceptance of the Atlantic Pact is however generally seen as a notable evidence of the autonomous PCI's position, following the supposed "diversity" of this party that Togliatti, Berlinguer's true maestro, used to describe "strange as a giraffe".

All the work of Berlinguer, nevertheless, even if supported by a notably correct communist local administration of some regions (as said), wasn't able to bring PCI into the government and the last idea of the leader, the democratic alternative, is yet to be translated into something of clear today.

He died Padua.




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