Enrico Berlinguer

(b. 1922)

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(b. Sassari, Sardinia, 25 May 1922; d. Padua, 11 June 1984)

Italian; leader of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) 1972–84 Son of a Sardinian aristocrat, Berlinguer joined the PCI in 1943 and soon distinguished himself in his local party, including in his early career a period in prison in 1944 for organizing an anti-government demonstration. He was elected to the Central Committee of the PCI in 1945, and rose rapidly through the party organization—secretary of the youth movement 1949 to 1956, regional secretary 1956 to 1958, then member of the national secretariat, where he was responsible mainly for the party's national administration. Elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1968, in 1969 he became deputy secretary of the PCI, and then in 1972 general secretary in succession to Luigi Longo. He was little known to the wider public, and his reputation within the party was that of a grey apparatchik, who could be relied on to ensure a smooth transition to power for the post-war generation of party leaders.

The problem facing the PCI was that, despite its national vote of over 25 per cent of voters, its mass membership of over 1.5 million, and its deep-rooted cultural support in the central regions of Italy, the party faced apparently permanent isolation and exclusion from national government. In 1973 he broke radically with the PCI's traditional strategy by proposing a ‘historic compromise of all progressive forces’, to include the ruling Christian Democrats. This was followed by immediate electoral success, and after the 1976 parliamentary elections the Communists kept in power a DC-led government for the first time since 1947. Berlinguer was also associated with the development of Euro-communism with the leaders of the French and Spanish Communists. The period of the historic compromise was marked by a major increase in terrorism and serious economic crisis in Italy. Despite Berlinguer's personal prestige, the PCI lost votes in the 1979 elections, and the PCI found itself again isolated. Berlinguer led the party's radical opposition to changes in the wage-indexation system in the early 1980s, but in foreign policy distanced the party from the Soviet Union, criticizing particularly strongly its intervention in Poland. He died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage while campaigning for the European elections in 1984.

Enrico Berlinguer was an unlikely figure as a charismatic leader, but he exercised a powerful popular appeal which he used to legitimize the Italian Communist Party in the eyes of the electorate and to reform the party's domestic and foreign policies. His appeal was based both on his capacity to express a radical vision for Italy which appealed beyond the traditional Communist electorate, and on his obvious personal integrity.

Subjects: Politics.

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