21st January, 1921

On January 21st, 1921 in the San Marco theatre in Livorno (Leghorn), from a secession of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), the Partito Comunista d'Italia (PCdI, Communist Party of Italy), Italian section of the Communist International took origin, which in 1943 took the name of Partito Comunista Italiano, (PCI, Italian Communist Party), and on February 3rd, 1991 broke up, merging into the Partito Democratico della Sinistra (Left Democratic Party). The San Marco theatre was located in the Venezia Nuova (New Venice) quarter of Livorno, in via San Marco, but was destroyed by bombing during the last war. Today the remains of the facade can be seen, on which a plaque commemorates the event.

The reasons for the secession
The delegates of the Socialist Party, at the 16
th Congress in October 1919, had approved by acclamation the decision of the Directorate to join the Third International (the Communist International or Comintern), despite strong opposition from the party's right-wing leader, Filippo Turati,. Anyway between reformists and maximalists an open rift remained, in addition to the harsh disagreements on the party's position on Italy's participation in the First World War and on the proletariat's strategy to take power.
In 1919 Amadeo Bordiga explained in a letter: "nowadays we are determined to work for the constitution of a truly communist party and for this our Faction within the PSI works"
(Spriano, page 38), while on May 16th, 1920 the newspaper "Il Soviet", which defined itself as the "organ of the abstentionist communist faction of the PSI", announced that it would be necessary "to call, after the Congress of the Communist International, a Constituent Congress of the PCI".
The 2
nd Congress of the Communist International, from 19th July to 7th August 1920 in Petrograd and Moscow, established that "all those parties that wish to belong to the Communist International must change their names. Every party that wishes to belong to the Communist International must bear the name Communist Party of this or that country (Section of the Communist International)". (Spriano, page 71)
Another reason for the secession was the failure of the factory occupation experience of September 1920, which showed that the Socialist Party did not have a political and military organization able to lead the armed insurrection, but that an organized communist party had to be created as a tool for this task. Bordiga wrote in "Soviet": "we must not hesitate to denounce the old party, this old mixture that is not susceptible to regenerate itself, and to constitute the necessary new body, indispensable for the proletarian revolution". (Spriano, page 94)

The Socialist congress
The 17
th National Congress of the Italian Socialist Party took place between 15th and 20th January, 1921 in the Carlo Goldoni theatre in Livorno. The likelihood of a secession by the "pure" Communists faction (as distinct from the "unitary" one) was clear by reading the third point of their motion, which committed the Socialist Party to change "the name of the party to that of Communist Party of Italy (section of the Third Communist International)" while the fourth point stated "the presence in the Party of all those who are against the principles and conditions of the Communist International is incompatible". The motion was signed by Nicola Bombacci, Amadeo Bordiga, Bruno Fortichiari, Antonio Gramsci, Francesco Misiano, Luigi Polano, Luigi Repossi and Umberto Terracini.
However, the sectional congresses of the PSI had given the majority to the unitary maximalists of Giacinto Menotti Serrati with 98,028 votes, the pure communists of Amadeo Bordiga and Antonio Gramsci had 58,783 votes and the concentrationist reformists of Filippo Turati had 14,695.
(Spriano, page 106)
Umberto Terracini in his speech at the Congress confirmed, among other things, that: "the political class party is a weapon which is absolutely necessary for the proletarian struggle for the conquest of power". (Spriano, page 114)
The afternoon of January 20th voting on the motions took place, and on the morning of 21st the outcome was announced, which led to the secession: at first Luigi Polano, on behalf of the Federazione Giovanile Socialista Italiana (FGSI, Italian Socialist Youth Federation), declared that it "releases any commitment with the party and deliberates to follow the decisions that the communist faction will take". (Spriano, page 115).
Then Amadeo Bordiga read a declaration, written by Ruggero Grieco, with which the communist faction abandoned the congress activities and called itself for 11:00 at the San Marco Theatre for the foundation of the PCd'I. The delegates of the motion of the "pure" communists left the socialist congress singing "the Internationale" to reach the theatre, about 1,300 meters away, where they founded the new party.
A cartoon drawn by the great cartoonist of the socialist newspaper Avanti! Giuseppe Scalarini describes the separation of the Communist Party as a break between generations, perhaps also because, as we have seen, the overwhelming majority of the Socialist Youth Federation had taken sides in favour of the secession, while the same Avanti! the next day blamed the secession on an external order from Moscow.

The foundation of the Communist Party of Italy
At the San Marco theatre, some officers checked the delegates' membership cards, stamping them with a hammer and sickle. The theatre, as Terracini narrates, was in state of neglect, with windows with broken glass panes, railingless boxes and gramy torn up curtains, for having been used as a deposit for army materials. The delegates had to stand for hours, in the absence of chairs or benches, and had to open the umbrella even inside the hall, because the decayed roof let in showers of rain. The floor was also crumbling, with dips and holes.
The Central Committee of the new party was elected, composed by Bordiga, Grieco, Parodi, Sessa, Tarsia, Polano, Gramsci, Terracini, Belloni, Bombacci, Gennari, Misiano, Marabini, Repossi and Fortichiari and the party's headquarters were established in Milan.

The Party under the fascist dictature
Since its first year of life, the P.C. d'I found itself in a condition of semi-legality imposed by the authorities, and the militants were victims of innumerable attacks, even lethal, by the fascist squads. On October 28th, 1922, the fascists took power and on February 13th, 1923 Umberto Terracini wrote: "The fascist government has opened the great anti-communist hunt that had long been announced. In the space of a week the police arrested over 5000 comrades, including all the secretaries of our federations, all the communist trade union organizers, all our municipal and provincial councilors. Furthermore, it has managed to seize all our funds, giving a possibly fatal blow to our press". (Spriano, page 260)
On November 5th, 1926 the council of ministers passed the special laws imposed by the fascist dictatorship which decreed the dissolution of the anti-fascist organizations and on November 25th the so-called special court for the defense of the state was established, made up of militiamen and not of judges, which overall sentenced 4,671 antifascists, 4,030 of which were communists. (Spriano, page 513)
During the twenty years of fascist dictature, the P.C.d'I. members were continually arrested, confined, persecuted in every way, and in many cases murdered. During the nazi occupation of Italy the Party was the most active in the fight against the nazi-fascist oppressors, payed a particularly significant toll of dead, wounded, tortured and incarcerated and was the most active widespread in pushing the population to rebel. Thirty of the 335 victims of the Fosse Ardeatine massacre belonged to the Italian Communist Party.
After World War II, the PCI organized itself as a mass party (in 1948 it exceeded two million members), participated successfully in the elections and was a decisive part of the Constituent Assembly and of the first governments of the Republic, until in 1947 the leader of the Christian Democrats Alcide De Gasperi, returning from a trip to the USA, decreed the end of the government collaboration with the PCI.
In the following years the PCI stood out as the largest communist party in Western Europe, always remaining in opposition, but proving decisive in the democratic resistance of the country against the attacks of fascist terrorism and that of the Red Brigades and other "communist" groups.
At the end of the 20
th Congress, held in Rimini from January 31st to February 3rd, 1991, the PCI was dissolved and the Democratic Party of the Left was founded.

I apologize for any error in English translation:
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General Secretaries of the Party
The first Secretary (actually a de facto leader) was Amadeo Bordiga (from 1921 to 1923), then Antonio Gramsci (from August 1924 to November 8
th, 1926), Palmiro Togliatti (from November 1926 to January 1934), Ruggero Grieco (from 1934 to 1938), Giuseppe Berti (April 1938), again Palmiro Togliatti (from May 1938 to August 21st, 1964), Luigi Longo (from August 22nd, 1964 to March 16th, 1972), Enrico Berlinguer (from March 17th, 1972 to June 11th, 1984), Alessandro Natta (from June 26th, 1984 to June 10th, 1988), Achille Occhetto (from June 21st, 1988 to February 3rd, 1991).




Ruggero GRIECO

Giuseppe BERTI



Alessandro NATTA


Historical membership cards of PCI

My related pages


- AMENDOLA Eva Paola (2006) Storia fotografica del Partito Comunista Italiano. II edition. Editori Riuniti, Roma.
- CATALANO Franco (1965) Storia dei partiti politici italiani. ERI Edizioni Rai, Torino.
- SPRIANO Paolo (1967) Storia del Partito Comunista Italiano. 1. Da Bordiga a Gramsci, Giulio Einaudi editore, Torino.

- http://www.resistenzatoscana.org/monumenti/livorno/lapide_della_fondazione_del_partito_comunista/
- Fondazione Gramsci - images from XX century fron Photographic archive of PCI
- Italian Senate of the Republic - Digital Library - Avanti!
- Digital collection of periodicals of National Central Library of Rome (Il Messaggero, Il Giornale d'Italia)

page created: January 11th, 2021 e aggiornata il: July 3rd, 2021