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Berlinguer’s Legacy

SIR: More in sorrow than in anger I feel compelled to take issue with the assessment of Enrico Berlinguer offered in Paul Ginsborg’s ‘Berlinguer’s Legacy’ (LRB, 4 October). I hope that Ginsborg, for whose work on Daniele Manin I have the greatest respect, and from whom I have never concealed my opinions on Berlinguer and the Italian Communist Party – the PCI – will appreciate that this intervention is due to my long-standing commitment to the European peace and labour movements and not to any petty points-scoring desire to join the ranks of those who have written something about the Italian Communists in the LRB. I do not in any way wish to suggest that Berlinguer was anything other than an austere man who, almost alone, stood above the rising tide of political corruption that has submerged most of the Italian political class, including some members of his own party. I also freely acknowledge that Berlinguer was an extremely able politician who showed great skill in keeping his party together in the face of changing lines and changing times. Nonetheless, in objective terms, Berlinguer was on the extreme right wing of European social democracy and can no more be treated as a socialist visionary than Denis Healey, Michel Rocard or Helmut Schmidt.

According to Ginsborg, Berlinguer’s claim to greatness centres on lo strappo. Sadly, lo strappo, the breakaway from the Soviet Union, was not a courageous move towards the kind of neutralism and non-alignment supported by E.P. Thompson and large sections of both CND and the Labour Left in Britain, or by Petra Kelly, the Greens and some of the SPD Left in West Germany. Lo strappo was merely a switch from one camp in the Cold War to the other. By 1975, the PCI supported Italy’s membership of Nato and the PCI’s opposition to the American nuclear base at Comiso has been a very belated and half-hearted opposition, designed primarily to ease the homecoming of its prodigal son, the PdUP. The possibility of an anti-nuclear neutralist third way for Italy has been consistently urged in the concrete campaigning activity of Partito Radicale and Democrazia Proletaria. The PCI under Berlinguer called for peace on earth in the vacuous and abstract tone beloved of the cold warrior Pope John Paul II, friend of Opus Dei and enemy of Leonardo Boff. Poland was the PCI’s point of no return in a way that Czechoslovakia was not: not because of some new insight into the unpleasant nature of Eastern Europe’s Stalinist regimes gained since Natta presided over Rossanda’s expulsion in 1969, but because supporting the clericalism and rabid Russophobia of Solidarity was a marvellous ideological meeting-place with the Church and the Christian Democrats. Yes, there has been a change in PCI policy from filosovietismo to Atlanticism: but this is no consolation for those of us who believe the most urgent priority is a Europe free from the nuclear weapons of either superpower.

While Ginsborg is right in asserting that ‘on major internal issues such as the student movement, the Hot Autumn, the divorce referendum and all the other battles for civil liberties in the Seventies, the party leadership always reacted late,’ it is debatable whether ‘it recouped fast.’ The PCI showed none of the enthusiasm of the extra-parliamentary Left, the Radicals and the Socialist Party (in its earlier libertarian incarnation before Craxi’s cult of personality and bureaucratic centralism took hold) in fighting for basic rights like divorce and abortion – because of its craven desire to placate the Catholic hierarchy (and of course a variant of Catholic Stalinism had been internalised by many leading figures, coming to the surface in the PCI’s hostility to the women’s movement). The PCI in 1979-80 not only did nothing to protect civil liberties: it was in the vanguard of the calls for repressive legislation in a bid to conflate all left-wing critics of the compromesso storico with the Brigate Rosse and Prima Linea. The parliamentary lepers of February 1980, the Radical deputies who refused to support Cossiga’s emergency legislation, have been proved right by events. While I would be the first to condemn the terrorismo diffuso of Negri and Autonomia Operaia, the PCI’s sympathisers in the judiciary were largely responsible for the more absurd attempts to brand Negri as the leader of the BR and the prime mover in the Moro kidnapping – accusations which discredited the Italian courts more than Negri himself. Ginsborg is right that ‘the experience of these years of national solidarity was not a happy one’; the decision to treat Giulio Andreotti, the friend of Gelli, Calvi, Marcinkus, Sindona and many other Mafiosi, as a desirable political ally made total nonsense of the PCI’s claims seriously to oppose the Mafia or political corruption, let alone represent either socialism or the immediate interests of the organised working class.

Despite Ginsborg’s hopes, it is hard to accept that the PCI has ever really abandoned its project of an alliance with the Christian Democrats in favour of an alliance of left-wing parties of the type both Ginsborg and I would prefer. Berlinguer’s appearance at the factory gates at Mirafiori in 1980 is less glamorous (and less Gramscian) in the context of Unita’s key role in assisting Fiat’s attack on 61 leading shop stewards accused of terrorism on very flimsy evidence the preceding autumn, and of Amendola’s last ultra-monetarist speeches urging austerity on the working class – one of the few groups in Italian society who pay much in direct taxes – at a time when, as we know from David Yallop and others, Andreotti’s friends in the Vatican were engaged in multi-million-pound banking frauds that did untold damage to the lira. Berlinguer’s reluctant decision to abandon the compromesso storico in the wake of a natural disaster like the Naples earthquake of November 1980 rather than the appalling political event of the Bologna Railway Station bombing, now the subject of Piazza Fontana-style insabbiamento and widely believed to be a strage di stato ordered by Andreotti’s friends in P2, demonstrates how much Eurocommunism owes to the most superstitious Medieval variety of Catholicism, and how little it owes to the post-Enlightenment secular humanist vision of Karl Marx. Berlinguer’s record on the scala mobile was totally inconsistent, involving opposition to Craxi’s first decree blocking wage indexation for a year and collusion in his second decree blocking it for six months, and was the product of a growing fear that the activities of Democrazia Proletaria and the Milan factory committees would precipitate a revolt against the PCI within a working class battered by redundancies and galloping inflation. Berlinguer’s policies live on. Only this month, when the deputies of Democrazia Proletaria and Partito Radicale, in their response to the Sindona case, offered the PCI a golden opportunity to end Andreotti’s sordid ministerial career, the PCI abstained and saved him.

Tobias Abse
Darwin College, Cambridge

The Miners’ Strike

SIR: Both Arthur Scargill and Margaret Thatcher seem to me to be demagogues, but Scargill is better at it than Thatcher is. In his rather hysterical response to Michael Stewart’s article, Anthony Arblaster (Letters, 4 October) assumes that Scargill would need ‘near-demonic powers of persuasion and manipulation’ to fit Stewart’s stereotype. Surely those capacities, working off large-scale feelings of insecurity and economic hardship, are exactly what the finest demagogues have; the history of this century offers many salutary examples, though not in Britain. But why, sadly, should we be exempt?

Andrew Robinson
London N1

SIR: How much does a pit have to cost the country before your correspondents will agree to its closure? The Treforgan colliery in South Wales lost £6.5 m in 1981-82, which works out at £13,000 per employee. As Christopher Huhne put it, writing in the Guardian of 3 May: ‘It would have been cheaper for the taxpayer to pay each Treforgan employee more than double the then male average wage NOT to mine coal.’ Where do your correspondents think the money comes from? Defence? The universities? No, it will come from those without the muscle of the service chiefs or the dons or the NUM. I refer to the pensioners, the unemployed and the sick. Funny how they don’t rate a mention in this debate: it’s as though finite resources are a consequence of Mrs Thatcher. Some people seem to think that pit closures are also a result of a specifically Tory philosophy. Again I quote Mr Huhne: ‘the Tories have closed fewer pits in five years than the Labour Government managed to do in the single year of 1968.’ Mr Arblaster (LRB, 6 September) says there is plenty of evidence that most miners support the strike. Why, then, has there been no ballot?

There are many sticks with which Mrs Thatcher’s government could be beaten. Her treatment of the mineworkers is not one of them. She knows that, and she knows that the majority of the country knows it. Mr Huhne’s Guardian article asked: ‘Is Mrs Thatcher in reality the miners’ best friend?’ We don’t know whether she is any more, but it’s quite obvious who is her best friend and who is doing the most to ensure her re-election.

R.J. Horesh

Finneran’s Yeats

SIR: Professor Richard Finneran’s edition of The Poems of W.B. Yeats has not been ‘withdrawn’ as Seamus Deane suggests in your issue of 18-31 October. In July it was temporarily called in so that the printing errors, which occurred (through no fault of the editor) on pages 138, 196, 197 and 385 of the English edition, could be put right. Corrected copies have been available in the shops since early August.

Richard Garnett
Macmillan, London WC2


SIR: It is an interesting point that John Bayley makes (LRB, 2 August) concerning Shakespeare’s evident feeling about the relationship between music and the soul, citing the observation on ‘the man that hath no music in his soul … ’ But in fact the point is just as interesting if we quote what Shakespeare actually wrote:

The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds …

Perhaps that is more mundane, but it is a more directly appealing expression of a sensitivity to music.

David Jenkins

Henry Handel Richardson

SIR: I am writing a biography of the novelist Henry Handel Richardson (1870-1946), and would like to hear from people who knew her, or have letters and other documentary material relating to her, as well as her husband, Professor J.G. Robertson (1867-1933) and her sister Lilian, the first Mrs A.S. Neill (1871-1944).

Axel Clark
40 Mount Pleasant Road, London NW10