Letters to the Heretics


I have agreed to the proposition made by the publisher Einaudi to publish some of my private letters, and I share the motivations that he has expressed in a separate note. Thus I will limit myself to inviting the reader to carefully consider the date that accompanies each letter[1] to historicize it, if I may be allowed to use this term. The localization in time of each one of these writings will partially explain their apparent contradiction with the current theses of the political party in which I work. Communist ideology is not a doctrinal body that is intrinsically foreign to social and economic reality, but a formulation that exerts its force precisely from its links to reality, from its adequation to the reality of capital and political economy. If it were otherwise, our ideology would not be discernible from some kind of social utopianism. It is only by keeping in mind this necessary and perpetual chasing after reality that one can explain certain apparent differences between the positions that I have expressed in private letters and the current formulations of the Italian Communist Party [ICP]. A purist could certainly accuse me of revisionism. I am used to it. It is useless to enter into dialogue with someone who nourishes a preconceived lack of trust in Communist leaders. Yet it is easy to avert this objection by recalling that being anchored in reality does not mean being fatally subjected to its crushing weight. One can rid oneself of such an overload sooner or later, but one can never get rid of one’s anchoring in the reality of capitalism. But would capitalism with a more reasonable and human face still be capitalism? We Communists do not think so and, thanks to this nominalism, we can still call our party the “Communist Party.”

The reader will note that certain letters concern themes that are normally neglected by our propaganda. The working-class origin of the ICP in fact demands that the debate primarily touches upon the themes that working-class sensibilities are already prepared to receive: that is the meaning of democratic centralism. On the other hand, as the organization that plays a certain role as forecaster, the ICP – either through elaboration by certain, individual representatives or through an initial, limited debate – must deal with the problems that the majority of the population can only grasp later, but in such a way that these problems are not taken up in an impromptu fashion by new exigencies nor able to control and conduct the possible evolution of working-class sensibilities, which would be disordered and dangerous to civil society.

If I have tried to make this point clear, it is certainly not to attribute to myself some kind of prophetic virtue, but only to recall that the Communist concept of the “planning of development” is not only applicable to the simple level of political economy, but also to every aspect of the population’s everyday life. In fact, to be able to plan, it is necessary to divine the probable deviations from the development that one has proposed and to be able to control and reabsorb them.

Some of my letters presaged what has subsequently taken place; others presage what has still not been verified but, in any case, will not take us unaware.

I know well that forecasts do not determine deeds, but that deeds realize forecasts. When the deed doesn’t take place, the forecast evaporates and everything stops there. But in human history, there have been many events that would never have taken place if they had not been predicted by authoritative sources. And it is precisely this category of events that I most take to heart.

I indistinctly consider to be friends all the addressees of my letters herein made public, even if the feeling isn’t mutual and some of them haven’t bothered to respond to me. Friendship is a camaraderie that is infinitely more elevated than the bonds that customarily unite all those who profess identical opinions, for an immediate goal, within a single political party. When it appears, friendship abstracts from human pettiness and incarnates itself in participation in a superior project, at the heart of which momentary hostility and intolerances are the fertile ground[2] of civil society.

When this is the case, even the enemy of the moment can and (even better) must wear the costume of the “comrade,” despite his proclamations to the contrary and his declarations of hostility. Such a person often doesn’t know that his antagonism is the unique cohesive element of the society that he scorns, but in which he must live, like everyone else.

Rereading these letters before giving them to the printer, I realized that I did not ask any of the addresses to rethink their positions, nor to modify their practices: to do so would have been more harmful than useless. In fact, I desired the opposite, namely that each one perfect his own positions, frankly radicalize them (in some cases), so that they all become aware of their participation in the great project of the capillary capitalization of the planet. This capitalization is the fact that I would like to raise by means of the forecasts that I have written in the form of letters that I have sent to friends who are apparently dispersed but are in fact fundamentally united in the preservation of the [current and] only possible society.

The antagonism between ideas and practice hardly matters. On the contrary, well-informed politics often deliberately seeks antagonism out, because, as Gramsci recalls, “when the equilibrium of the ship on which he sails is thrown off because it is overloaded on one side, he wants to carry the light weight of his reason to the other side, so as to have the balance restored.”[3]

Enrico Berlinguer

[1] This is odd: neither the Italian original nor its translation into French include such dates.

[2] Latin in original.

[3] Though Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) was indeed interested in the concept of the “moving equilibrium,” he never “recalled” this proverb, which, of course, mocks those whose faculties of reasoning are “light weight.”

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