The Vatican has revealed that Antonio Gramsci, the founder of Italian Communism and an icon of the Left, reverted to Roman Catholicism on his deathbed.
Archbishop Luigi De Magistris, former head of the Apostolic Penitentiary of the Holy See, which deals with confessions, indulgences and the forgiveness of sins, said Gramsci had "died taking the Sacraments". He had asked the nuns attending him in hospital to let him kiss an image of the infant Jesus, Monsignor De Magistris said.
He said rumours that Gramsci had reverted had never until now been confirmed, and the Italian Left had also remained silent on the issue. "But that is how it was" he told Vatican Radio. "Gramsci returned to the faith of his infancy".
Gramsci, who came from Sardinia, won a scholarship in 1911 to study at the University of Turin, a city dominated by the Fiat factories and where trade unions were emerging. He became a Marxist journalist, supporting workers' councils which sprang up in Turin during the strikes of 1919 and 1920.
He played a leading role in founding the Communist Party of Italy or PCI in 1921, became its leader, and after visiting Moscow sought to form a united front of leftist parties against Fascism. He was arrested by the Fascist police in 1926 and put in prison, where his already poor health deteriorated. He died in Rome at the age of 46, shortly after being released, and is buried in the Protestant Cemetery.
He is regarded as one of the most important Marxist thinkers of the 20th century. His thought is crystallised in The Prison Notebooks, in which, among other things, he argued that Capitalism was based on a combination of force and consensus, and that Marxism could only supercede religion if it met peoples spiritual as well as material needs.