Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 5, 2015

Togliatti?

Filed under: Italy,Stalinism — louisproyect @ 1:11 am

Palmiro Togliatti

Jacobin has an article by Stathis Kouvelakis drawing a balance sheet on the recent Greek events. I plan to be writing something on Greece before too long but will limit myself to something Kouvelakis wrote incidental to Greece that I found quite troubling:

The transitional program is also organically linked — this is something we learn from the inheritance of the third and fourth congresses of the Communist International and the subsequent elaboration by Gramsci and Togliatti [link] — to the goal of the united front, the rallying of all the forces of the block of the subordinated classes at a higher political and strategic level. It was this unifying approach implicit in the idea of a “government of the anti-austerity left” that fired the imagination of broad masses in spring 2012, enabling Syriza’s rise.

Togliatti? Transitional program? WTF?

The link in the quote above directs you to another Jacobin article about Togliatti written by Peter D. Thomas who apparently thinks that Perry Anderson was a bit off on Western Marxism, especially by including Gramsci. I don’t think that Anderson was off at all by claiming that the Gramsci industry in academia represents a detour into cultural studies but let’s leave that aside for the time being.

What I don’t get is Thomas and Kouvelakis’s enthusiasm for Togliatti, especially the latter’s linking him to transitional demands unless he is talking about something totally unrelated to Trotsky’s writings.

Meanwhile here’s Thomas on Togliatti:

I also think that Marxist theory in this period needs to be understood integrally and politically, that is, not simply in terms of theoretical productions (essays, books, etc.), but also in terms of the political impact of theoretical work. In that sense, the greatest Western Marxist theorist of the postwar period is not Sartre or Althusser or Colletti or any of the other figures discussed at length by Anderson, but instead, Palmiro Togliatti.

In addition to his own theoretical writings — of much greater value than is often supposed today — Togliatti was also a theoretician of politics engaged in creating a hegemonic apparatus that encouraged a profound and real dialectic and real critique of the politics of his period.

Whatever disagreements I might have with his substantive theoretical and political positions — and there are many — this should not preclude acknowledgment of his real importance as a theorist and politician with a real, mass impact on the politics of his time. The theoretical and political culture that Togliatti helped to shape in the Italian Communist Party, and in Italy more generally as this massive party’s sphere of influence radiated across the entire spectrum of the Left, was the example to which other leftists in Europe and around the world looked for inspiration.

All I can say is that if you are interested in the role of the CP in Italian politics, you are better off reading Paul Ginsborg’s “A History of Contemporary Italy: Society and Politics 1943-1988” than this balderdash because after all you have to judge socialists on their deeds much more than their “theory”.

Paul Ginsborg:

In another area, the party’s attitude to the Soviet Union, mystification prevailed. In the 1950s the P C I was characterized by its Stalinism. At the most straightforward level this meant a slavish adulation of ‘Baffone’ himself. In Rinascita of 1948, reviewing Stalin’s work on the national question (of all things), Lucio Lombardo Radice had this to say: ‘Creative Marxist that he is, Stalin is not only a scholar of genius who analyses political and historical problems in the light of Marxist principles; he is certainly this, but he is above all the great revolutionary, the great builder who analyses relations in order to transform them, who studies problems in order to resolve them.'” On the occasion of Stalin’s seventieth birthday Togliatti wrote: ‘The role that Stalin has played in the development of human thought is such that he has earned himself a place which until now very few have occupied in the history of humanity.’

When the news reached Italy of Stalin’s death in March 1953, the Communist Party went into mourning. L’Unita’s headline of 6 March read: ‘The man who has done most for the liberation of the human race is dead’ The party’s grief extended to its lowest levels. Natoli has described how in the party sections of the poorest Roman borgate photographs of Stalin were surrounded by flowers and candles and local militants sat around as if commemorating a saint.42

As well as elevating Stalin into a father-figure of superhuman proportions, the party portrayed the Soviet Union as a society where the problems of democracy and social justice had been definitively resolved. In L’ Unitet of 2 February 1952 Mario Alicata wrote from Russia that ‘this is the first country in the history of the world in which all men are finally free’.43 As late as March 1956 we find Luigi Longo insisting that unemployment had been completely abolished in all the socialist countries, that wages and living conditions were constantly improving and that the ordinary working day was being reduced to seven or even six hours.'”

However, the most insidious elements of Stalinism were not the aberrant judgements on Stalin himself or the Soviet Union, but the attitudes that permeated the life and activity of the party at home. The tradition of uncritical adulation of leaders was only too easily transferred to Italy, where Togliatti seemed happy to allow absurd tributes to be paid to him by lesser comrades and exaggerated stories of his role in the early history of the P C I to be published in the party press.45 The habit developed, and even the finest brains in the P C I like Amendola and Ingrao indulged in it, of citing the writings of the historic leaders of the party, Gramsci and Togliatti, as if they were biblical texts to serve as sermons of the day.

1 Comment »

  1. This is somewhat OFF TOPIC but back in Early 1992 I caught a glimpse of a NY Times article, an obituary really, of what’s since become my favorite Greek Hero, a good looking young Communist somanabeech back in the day, Markos Vafiadis: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Markos_Vafiadis

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — August 5, 2015 @ 2:48 am


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