Federico Rampini Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Europe and the Left: Conversation with Federico Rampini, West Coast and Pacific Rim Correspondent of La Repubblica; 9/25/02 by Harry Kreisler

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Italian Communist Party

You were a member of the Italian Communist Party. Tell us a little about that affiliation, and about the party, because there have been great misconceptions in the United States, especially during the Cold War, about what Euro-Communism was.

Yes. Yes, I became a Communist Party member as soon as I came back to Italy in '74. That was the time when Mr. Enrico Berlinguer was the general secretary of the Italian Communist Party. It was a very interesting time, because he was leading the Italian Communist Party into a very quick evolution. He distanced himself from the Soviet Union. He was extremely critical [of the Soviet Union]. As a matter of fact, the Italian Communist Party had already criticized, even attacked, violently, the Soviet Union in '68 when there was the invasion of Czechoslovakia. So that was when the divorce between the Soviet Communist Party and the Italian Communist Party began.

When I was in Italy, Enrico Berlinguer was the leader of a movement called Euro-Communism. He tried to put together Italian Communists, French, and Spanish. They were evolving towards a social democratic model with growing links and a dialogue with the German Social Democrat Party (SPD) under Willy Brandt and with the French socialist François Mitterrand. So, in fact, coming from a more radical tradition and background, the Italian Communist Party was changing, and it was really a democratic party. There was no talk of a dictatorship of the proletariat. Much of the Marxist culture was still in the cultural background of the communists, but it was definitely a democratic party, wanting to play by the rules of a democratic society.

And you were a student leader and an editor of a Communist Party youth journal?

Yes. I was first a leader of the Communist Party in my university, and then I became more involved in the activities at the headquarters of the Communist Party in Rome. I moved to Rome to become an editor of the weekly magazine of the Communist youth, which was called La Città di Futuro, the future city.

Now, what was the impact of the fall of the Soviet Union on the Italian Communist Party? You've already said that it was separate from [the Soviet Union], it was really more identified with a social democratic tradition in Europe. But what were the repercussions of the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Soviet Communist Party, if any, for the Italian Party?

There were definitely repercussions. I would say that the most visible one was that the party decided to change its name. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the name of the Italian Communist Party was abandoned, and it became the Democratic Party of the Left, which is still the name it has now.

I would say that the ideological evolution was already so complete that in the Italian public opinion, the end of Soviet communism did not bring unpopularity to the Italian Left. On the contrary, very soon after the end of the Soviet communists, the former Italian communists came to power and they became the leading party of the government coalition, more or less from '93 to 2000.

So in what ways did the program of the party and the thinking of its leadership change with the end of the Cold War? Was it just a change in name, or did the party have to rethink important components of its program in Italy?

I would say that the rethinking of the program had already begun much earlier. They did not wait. That was what saved the Italian Communist Party from decadence, from being discredited, from losing confidence of the voters. They had begun their ideological evolution much, much earlier.

Already in the seventies for instance, the Communist Party in Italy was in favor of private property, of private enterprise. And from the seventies to the eighties, the evolution was very, very quick towards the adoption of a free-market ideology. We were not in favor anymore of centralized planning. We were not in favor of large involvement of government in the economy. In fact, we were much more in favor of intervention of the government through a welfare state, through redistribution, tax policy, but not direct involvement. And the paradox is that in the nineties, when the former Communists came to power in Italy, they managed the largest privatization program in the history of Italy. Italy had a longstanding tradition of government-run industries, and in fact, most of them were privatized in the nineties, when the Left came to power.

So what you're saying is that a pragmatism emerged. Not opportunism, but pragmatism. I'm curious: was that for the Italian Left more a product of its history of pragmatism in Italy, or was it that the situation -- the emergence of a new Europe -- compelled a new pragmatism?

Probably both. There was definitely an Italian tradition of a different kind of communist ideology, a different kind of Marxist ideology. You remember, certainly, Antonio Gramsci, was, in fact, the founder of the Italian Communist Party. Antonio Gramsci's ideology was very peculiar insofar as he never really accepted the idea that a communist state should be a dictatorship with violence, a violent dictatorship. He was much more in favor of cultural hegemony. He thought that the revolutionary should have an idea of general interest. They should be able to persuade the majority of the society that it was in their best interest to have a socialist kind of organization. So this was the legacy of Gramsci.

There was also the fact that the Italian Communists were very strong already in the fifties and in the sixties in some areas of the country like Tuscany and Emilia Romagna. Locally, they were already governing the county and municipal bodies, and so this obliged them to be very pragmatic, because they were not in a position just to theorize revolution, they had to manage cities and regions in Italy. And then, of course, being in Europe was also a reason for this evolution.

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