First Published: Morning Freiheit, January 1, 1984.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Senator Umberto Terracini, one of the oldest and distinguished leaders of the Communist Party in Italy, died in Rome at the age of 88 on December 8, 1983. He was one of the founders in 1921 of the Italian Communist party along with Antonio Gramsci and Palmiro Togliatti.
During most of the more than twenty year reign of Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship Terracini was a prisoner in various fascist jails and on a penal island. He was set free in July 1943 when a coup led by Italian generals ousted Mussolini. However when the German nazis occupied northern Italy and began to round up anti-fascists and Jews Terracini had to go into hiding and escaped to Switzerland. A year later he was able to join the Italian partisan forces who were fighting the nazis. After the war when Italy had its first democratic election Terracini was elected to the parliament and from 1948 to 1973 he was the chairman of the caucus of Communist Party senators. He remained a senator until his death.
Umberto Terracini, a Jew, was born in Genoa in 1895 and studied law as a young man. Though Terracini was one of the most beloved leaders of the Italian Communist Party he had a lifelong reputation as a maverick. He even disputed Lenin at the early conferences of the Communist International. Later, when he was a prisoner, he was excluded from the party because he disagreed with the Nazi-Soviet Non-Agression and Friendship Treaties of 1939. It was only after Togliatti’s personal intervention at a party Congress in December 1945 that Terracini was brought back into the party’s top leadership with the understanding that he would not bring up his past differences with it. (See article by Tevyeh Grol, Vochenblat, Toronto, Canada, Sept. 27, 1978.)
In more recent years Terracini was a critic of the policy of historic compromise that was initiated by the present Italian Communist Party leader, Enrico Berlinguer. Terracini argued at party forums that Berlinguer’s policy would disorient the Italian working class and lessen the attractive force of the party as an alternative to the capitalist state structure. Though Terracini represented a minority view on this question–the policy of the historic compromise has since been abandoned – he was always able to present his dissenting opinion within the partv and its press. At the same time Terracini was a vigorous supporter of the Italian Communist Party’s Euro-communist orientation and its criticisms of various policies of the Soviet Communist Party.
Umberto Terracini was a proud Jew and in this he differed from certain other Jews who are leaders in Communist parties but who avoid mentioning their origin or who make a big show of being anti-Israel or “anti-Zionist” when they do. It is assumed that Terracini’s own observations and experiences of the fascist persecutions and manhunts of the Jews during the Second World War heightened his own consciousness as a Jew. After the June 1967 Israel-Arab war Terracini was the only internationally known Communist party leader who openly sided with Israel. Though he differed with the Italian party leadership on this question it acknowledged his right to maintain a position separate from its own.
In April 1972 the Morning Freiheit was gratified to receive the following message from Terracini on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. His message read as follows:
Dear Friends of the Morning Freiheit:
Though late I wish to convey to you my warmest congratulations and best wishes on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of your newspaper’s life and struggle.
To some people this even might not seem too important. But for those like myself who in the past half century have participated in the long and hard fought struggle for the liberation of all oppressed people and for the achievement and defense of their independence, this event is very significant, indeed. Our experience teaches how ruthless the violence of the ruling class is which it employs to smash any action for renewal and progress. For this reason we so appreciate every contribution made in the course of this struggle. In this respect the Morning Freiheit has been an exemplary newspaper since the first day of publication and its editors have earned much deserved praise for their faithfulness and courage.
I am happy that my ideas have so often been in perfect harmony with yours, not only in regard to our common ideals, but also in the judgment of men and events on every front–our own included. I refer, in particular, to the Middle East situation and Israel’s irreversible right to exist as a sovereign and democratic state which is prepared to .defend itself from the many dangers that threaten it; these dangers reveal themselves as a belated prolongation of an anti-Semitism we had rightly expected to be buried forever, but instead is revived again in the guise of anti-Zionism. However, the solidarity of the great working masses offers and shall offer again the secure pledge of a forthcoming peace and a happy, industrious and progressive future for the hard working people of Israel.
With the growing support of those who are most receptive to the need for renewal in our society, I wish the Morning Freiheit to continue its still vigorous and fighting existence for a long time to come.
Seven years ago Terracini also sent a birthday greeting to Paul Novick, the editor of this newspaper, when he was 85 years old.
Terracini was greatly troubled by the anti-Semitic character of much of the “anti-Zionist” propaganda in the Soviet Union and this prompted him in 1968 to write a foreword to a book of essays on this Soviet Jewish situation that was issued by one of the Communist publishing houses in Italy.
Umberto Terracini’s death is a great loss to the progressive forces in his homeland and also to all progressive Jews in other countries who admired him and were encouraged by his example.