Italian Communist Party and Radical Left: Why Did the Dialog End?

(2019) “«Il Pci era di un altro mondo»: il confronto impossibile tra sinistra storica e movimento del ’77,” [The Impossible Dialogue Between the Communist Party and the Movement of 1977] in Il ’77, da vicino e da lontano. Per una riflessione sul PCI nel dopoguerra, eds. Mauro Boarelli, Carlo Ginzburg and Nadia Urbinati, Bologna: Biblioteca de «l’Archiginnasio», 17–27 Full text: falciola_2019_il 77 da vicino da lontano

Around the mid-1970s, the dialog between the radical left and the Italian Communist Party (PCI) came to an end. The longstanding relationship between the official organization of the working class and the radical groups operating outside the parliament rapidly deteriorated and morphed into an explicit conflict. What did irremediably divide institutional and radical left in Italy? Historiography has traditionally pointed at the swift evolution of the PCI. Within a few years, the argument goes, the party rallied with democratic institutions, disavowed its revolutionary agenda, and endorsed a moderate government led by Christian Democracy. As a result, the PCI severed all ties with the radical left.

My essay argues that this account does not fully explain such a phenomenon, and a second factor needs to be taken into consideration. While the PCI achieved its “democratic acculturation,” also the radical left, in the same period, underwent an evolutionary process that reshaped its cultural references, ideological principles, and political strategies. A “new radical left” gradually emerged and its identity openly challenged the Communist tradition. The essay examines five key issues––including the work ethic, the temporality of the revolution, the limits of legality, the meaning of political engagement, and the tension between individual and class––and demonstrates the extent to which the two lefts embraced increasingly divergent values. Disagreements were deep, but also mutual: they heralded a new political era.

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