Ten years ago, in August 1960, the Socialist Party abstained in the vote of confidence for the third Fanfani cabinet, thus giving the first and irreversible indication that a new period was beginning in the brief history of the Italian Republic. The era of "quadripartito" coalitions, running from the Christian Democrats to the Liberals, and including the Republicans and Social Democrats, was over. The "opening to the Left" was on. Although the first Center-Left government, led by Aldo Moro and including the Nenni Socialists, the Republicans and Social Democrats, would not come into being until December 1963, it can be fairly said that the sixties, in Italy, belonged to that political constellation. At the end of the decade, during the critical summer of 1970, people wondered whether a new turning point had arrived. Had the Center-Left already exhausted its historical task? If so, what would come afterwards-the "opening to the Communists," or, on the contrary, a turn to the Right? Or would, after all, the Center-Left coalition be able to survive and even gather new strength?

Certainly, since the elections in May 1968, the Center-Left has been going through a serious crisis. But it is a question whether the crisis is mainly political or goes deeper and involves the whole social and economic fabric of Italian life. What did it mean that, while politicians debated in Rome the pros and cons of a new coalition, people were furiously rooting for days and days in Reggio Calabria, on the tip of Italy's boot, formally protesting against the threat to reject their town as capital of the new region of Calabria, but in reality complaining against all the "politicians" because of the backwardness of their province? As a foreign observer somewhat brutally said, "Italy was to be compared to a centaur, who, when ill, didn't know whether to call for a doctor or a veterinarian." Was this the illness of "European" Italy, sharing all the new diseases of progress and growth, or the ancient sickness of "the other Italy," depressed and almost Balkanic in nature, unable to catch up with the fast- growing North, nurturing within itself the old spirit of rebelliousness, perhaps even spreading it all over the country with its waves of immigrants? And would there be time to remedy these ills?

One of Italy's most intelligent politicians, the Republican leader Ugo La Malfa, feared that this most creative period of Italian history (as he told me bitterly in March 1970) was going to pass without Italy being able to transform its structures and reach a degree of political stability and national unity comparable to those of older developed nations. In this case the great chance would be missed, and democratic institutions would fall apart under the strain of old and new disruptive forces.


Since 1968, crisis had followed crisis at a pace which reminded one of the last years of the French Quatrième République. This was the most visible sign of a general decline of the Center-Left. During the five years of the Fourth Legislature, from May 1963 to June 1968, Italy had had four governments: Giovanni Leone's "monocolore di transizione" for the first five months, then three successive Center-Left cabinets, all led by Premier Aldo Moro and Vice-Premier Pietro Nenni. During the first two years of the Fifth Legislature, from June 1968 to July 1970, one more Leone transitional "monocolore," also lasting five months, was followed by three Mariano Rumor cabinets. The first one of them included all Center-Left parties and lasted from December 1968 to August 1969. Then the recently reunited Socialist Party (PSI) split, the coalition fell apart, and Rumor had to face the strikes and bomb incidents of "hot autumn," with one more all-Christian Democratic cabinet, supported in Parliament by its Center-Left partners. He resigned in February 1970, claiming that it was impossible to face the serious problems of Italy-the slowing down of economic growth, wild-cat strikes, the threatening economic crisis, new union demands for sweeping social reforms in health, transport, housing, taxation-without a stronger coalition government. One of Italy's longest crises followed, lasting from February 27 until April 17. Then the coalition was painfully reborn.

Shortly afterwards, the new Center-Left government faced the difficult test of the administrative-regional elections. To everybody's surprise, the four Center-Left parties together increased their popular vote from 55.3 percent (1968) to over 58 percent, while the left Socialists (PSIUP) lost ground, and the Communists (PCI), for the first time since the war, did not increase their percentage. Everybody believed this victory would strengthen the government. It did not. The success of 1970 seemed only to weaken the coalition, by increasing the individuality and mutual hostility of the two socialist parties. Each one began playing a "hard-to-get" game. There seemed to be a weakening of the links between the Center-Left partners. Christian Democrats and Social Democrats loudly protested against the PSI's alleged tendency to form local alliances with the Communists.

While the economic horizon darkened, production grew slowly, and the unions pressed on with local and national strikes for more money and more reforms, the four parties seemed unable to take a strong common line in economic policy, as well as on the problem of the "giunte" (which 10 years earlier had delayed the birth of the Center-Left). So another crisis was approaching; but people expected it would come after the summer holidays. Instead, one Sunday in July, Premier Rumor, quiet, gentle but increasingly nervous, became fed up with the whole thing. His appeals to the unions against useless strikes had remained unheard. His attempts to hold in line the Center-Left partners seemed to be failing. Without telling anyone but a few Christian Democrat leaders, he made up his mind to throw in the towel. The following morning, Monday, July 6, he announced his resignation to an incredulous Council of Ministers, hastily convened during the night. Was this to be a new "crisi di chiarificazione," a showdown among the parties of the Center-Left coalition? Or could it become the final crisis of the Center-Left era? For a few weeks, Italy would wonder, without knowing the answer.

But the real question for Italy is whether the Center-Left is still to be considered the best political instrument for carrying forward, in an orderly and efficient way, the structural reforms which everybody seems to consider necessary for the very survival of the Italian Republic. No final answer is in sight, despite formation of yet another Center-Left coalition.


In the late fifties, the crisis of the Center "quadripartito" coalition arose out of the reëntry into the "democratic area" of Nenni's Socialist Party, after the Hungarian tragedy of 1956 and its divorce from the Communist Party. In the late sixties, many observers felt that the main reason for the growing crisis of the Center-Left was the appearance, on the political horizon of democratic Italy, of the Communists as possible "valid partners," due to their estrangement from the Soviet Union after the Czech tragedy. Some people also felt that unruly Italy could no longer be governed without the Communists. But were the Communists really "only three steps away from government," as some foreign observers seemed to believe? Most Italian commentators would probably still answer in the negative. However, before facing this question, we might try and fill in some of the general background of what undoubtedly is the changing picture of Italy in the seventies.

The Economic Background. Italy's economic growth continues at a rather fast rate (around five percent a year), but not as fast as it could and should. Research by experts in "growth economics" shows that Italy's fast growth is due to a notable extent to improved allocation of human resources, to people moving from farm to factory. This, however, will not last forever. Research also shows that the increase of physical inputs-both capital and manpower-is not so large as in other fast-growing countries, such as West Germany. In simpler terms, a faster growth would need greater investment, a containment of private consumption, and the improvement of those infrastructures (schools, housing, transport, health services) which make economic changes and the movement of population easier, while improving the quality of the human capital. These same changes are also needed for social and political reasons. Tensions arising out of economic progress, in the crowded urban areas of the North, add to the old reasons for protest in the underdeveloped regions. Italy, last-arrival of the developed nations, seems to get the worst of both worlds. The so-called "structural reforms" should make economic growth easier, reduce the gap between private and public consumption and increase the country's social and political stability. Everybody therefore is calling for reforms.

At the same time, the natural dynamic of Italy's new "affluent society" and the achievement of full employment in the developed areas have led to much greater pressure for increased salaries, reduced work hours and increased private consumption, but have also resulted in the waste of natural resources and the pollution of the environment. Those same unions that strike for "structural reforms" against the government's inaction are at the same time refusing any policy of wage restraint; they support to the utmost all the claims by state employees and industrial workers. So Italy lives in what has been called a "happy demagogy." For the sake of social peace, or out of weakness and division, Center-Left governments have seemed unable to resist or choose between contradictory wage claims and demands for reforms. Of course, if the gross national product were to grow at the yearly rate of seven percent, which experts consider feasible, resources might be found for all this. If, however, the very improvement of social and economic conditions understandably enough reduces the zest for work, the taste for long hours of toil, and the capacity for self-sacrifice, then the whole economic structure might suddenly get into serious trouble.

It has to be admitted that during the last couple of years the Center-Left coalition has proved unable to guide the economic life of the country with a firm hand. Faced with the new pugnacious spirit of the unions, themselves spurred on by the challenge of small but active revolutionary groupuscules on their left, the Center-Left coalition has seemed to be more led than leading. While the cost of the administration has gone up, and its effectiveness and solvency down, doubts have increased that funds may be found for the reforms approved and demanded unless the pace of economic growth quickens fairly soon. What originally was the main raison d'être of the Center-Left-that is to say the achievement of some fundamental social- economic reforms within the framework of a national plan (which seems to be ever more ignored)-does not appear to have been achieved yet. So a golden opportunity in Italian history may have been lost.

The Social Background. The key word, for the late sixties and early seventies, seems to be "la contestazione generale"-a general protest and confrontation. A weak state faces an impatient nation, where every individual and every social, economic or regional group appears to be convinced that only by violent and dramatic protest can its interests be defended, its demands satisfied. We have had rioting for some very strange reasons, not only as a protest against unemployment and economic stagnation (as in Battipaglia and Avola), but also as a reaction to a lost football game (Caserta), or as an expression of "bell-tower rivalries" between cities claiming the status of capital of their new regions (Pescara and Reggio Calabria). There have been urban guerrillas formed from the students and jacqueries from the peasants, and sometimes the two have joined hands.

Even the more law-abiding social groups, like the top civil servants and the teachers, have paralyzed key activities of the state by strikes; often strikes among state employees have resulted from rivalries between unions. People say that only priests and prostitutes have not as yet gone on strike. Losses of production have been immense-in 1969, on the order of two percent of the GNP.

The general weakening of authority, common to all contemporary societies, seems to be particularly strong in Italy, where the prestige of the state has always been low and was nearly destroyed by the Fascist experience. In spite of the unexpected flag-showing, on a fantastic scale, for the World Cup soccer final (sociologists are at work trying to explain those extraordinary spontaneous mass demonstrations, with tens of thousands of cars flying the "tricolore" in all the cities of Italy), patriotism is a word long dead in Italy. This undoubtedly increases the general mood of skepticism, uncertainty and a morality of "everyone-for-himself."

Some observers claim that the Communists, with their strategy of "the worse the better," are partly responsible for this demoralization. Others, perhaps more rightly, believe that they indeed are sometimes "riding the tiger," but that the tiger is certainly there. This is a fast-changing society, where everybody is impatiently trying to improve his own lot. The very reasons which are at the root of Italy's miracle-that great psychological push that started Italy's rush into the world of affluence-do indeed explain to a large extent the anarchical and impatient atmosphere of the country. In such an atmosphere, government becomes difficult. The Center-Left coalition has not proved particularly able in controlling the strong centrifugal trends of Italian society, giving the impression of reacting to events rather than anticipating them.

The International Background. Russia's presence in the Mediterranean, close to Italy, has increased in the late sixties. At the same time trends appear to be leading to an American disengagement in Europe, perhaps throughout the world. Nixon's "low profile," the achievement by Russia of nuclear parity, Russian attempts at "infiltration" in Jugoslavia, Russia's "forward policy" after Czechoslovakia, all these elements contribute to create a general insecurity in Europe; and for political as well as geographical reasons, Italy is the most exposed among Western nations. The reassuring counter-trend of European unification, which should lead to Britain's entry into the Common Market, is still very much in the future. An international scenario might be imagined for the seventies which would leave Italy in the position of a frontier country of the Western world, a lonely advance post of democracy in the Mediterranean, something like a "Finland of the South," but with a stronger communist party.

Could all this lead Italy away from its Western alliance toward neutrality? The first "opening to the Left" in the late fifties was made possible by the Socialist Party's clear pro-Western choice. Pietro Nenni's article in the January 1962 issue of Foreign Affairs gave the assurance that Center- Left Italy would remain a faithful partner of NATO, and indeed formed an important premise of the rise of the Center-Left coalition. There has not yet been a similar article by Signor Longo, no similar Communist choice in the late sixties. Its criticism of single acts of Soviet policy has not led the party to a general revision of its alignment, on all fundamental questions, with Moscow. The Communist Party is still a staunch member of the communist movement. Its position cannot be compared, for instance, with that of the Jugoslav party. It vociferously demands neutrality for Italy: beyond that slogan lie unforeseeable developments. Although the Center-Left has not weakened in any way Italy's ties with the West, the international background in the late sixties and early seventies is less fixed than in the past.

Thus, the factors for change in Italy, as the Republic approaches its 25th anniversary on June 2, 1971, are undoubtedly strong. Their political consequences, affecting the behavior and structure of the parties, are there for everyone to see. Perhaps the most obvious effect has been the weakening of party loyalties and the strengthening of separate "currents." All parties, except the smallest, and including to a certain extent the Communist Party, seem to suffer, in various degrees, from the same disease; "currentocracy" is fast taking the place of "partitocracy" as the most talked about, and usually deplored, phenomenon of Italian political life. While the unions, which had been divided in the bad old days of the cold war, show a strong tendency to unify, or at least to coördinate their actions (which according to some harbors the danger of communist dominance), parties show a strong tendency toward splitting. Indeed, perhaps the unions are just filling a political void.

The Socialists, of course, are the arch-splitters of them all. The curious thing is that, the more they split, the more votes they get (which does not make the life of the Center-Left coalition easier). The Communist Party has expelled its left wing, the lively intellectuals of "Il Manifesto," for being both too anti-Russian and too revolutionary, as well as for their proposals for a more democratic, less centralistic party. For the Center- Left, the job of forming a coalition has become a matter of putting together and satisfying not just three or four political bodies, but 10 or 12, as many as the organized currents within the parties. And, of course, some currents feel nearer to similar currents of other parties than to opposing currents of their own party.

Such being the state of the parties, the members of the Communist Party are openly speaking of a future alliance-which might begin in some of the new regions-with the Socialists and the Christian Democratic Left. On the other side, some democrats believe that an agreement might be reached in a not too distant future with the more conservative wing of the Communist Party, i.e. the Amendola group. The long-term policy of all the big parties is partly based on the expectation of future splits among their main rivals. If the Communist Party were to work out some form of coöperation with the democratic parties, which would split sooner-Christian Democracy, with its strong inner ties of confessional origin, or the Communist Party, with its old Leninist tradition of monolithic discipline?


How real, in fact, is the perspective of an "opening to the Communists"?

This could very well be, in the seventies, the key question of Italy's political life. Unfortunately, no prophet has yet come forward with an easy and convincing answer. The temptation to "converge" is felt on both sides. However, the stronger this temptation, the stronger the resistance by powerful political forces. Most of all, the Social Democrats are up in arms. They split again from the newly reunited Socialist Party in the summer of 1969, because, they claimed, they were being inexorably drawn toward an alliance with the Communists. They were not at the time very convincing in this claim. Some felt that the real reason for the split was the fear of the former Social Democratic leaders of being crushed by the more powerful Socialist Party machine. However it may be, the Social Democrats insist that the danger is becoming more and more real. Indeed, this was the leitmotif of their alarmed statements during the cabinet crisis in the summer of 1970. The fact that the main justification for their party's existence is its denunciation of the communist peril, and of the Socialist Party's alleged leaning toward the Communist Party, makes coöperation very difficult among them and their former party-partners inside the Center-Left coalition.

This is the most obvious reason for the general crisis of the Center-Left in 1969-70. But, of course, the Social Democrats by themselves could not provoke such a drama if they did not find powerful support inside the Christian Democratic Party. The main cause of the crisis, many people believe, is the multiplicity of divisions within the Christian Democrats, as shown by the breakdown of the majority group (the "Dorotei") who had led the party through the sixties. The so-called "partito della crisi," aiming at provoking the dissolution of Parliament and new elections, from which a new Center-Right majority might issue, or which would "discipline" the Socialists, is insistently alleged to be supported or led by Fanfani himself, one-time father of the "opening to the Left" (but politicians change along with events). Signor Rumor's resignation in July 1970 was indeed explained by observers from the Left as such a machination against the Center-Left itself and against the Socialists.

If these are the main forces resisting any idea of an "opening to the Communists," others are tempted by plans for a cautious move toward such an opening which might, so it is hoped, improve the general social atmosphere and help control the disruptive forces inside Italy. Some of the Christian Democratic Left are leaning in this direction. So are some of the Socialist leaders. Francesco De Martino, former Secretary of the PSI, has spoken on occasion of the possibility of a future "alliance of the Left," going from the Communists, through the Socialists, to the "progressive wing" of the Christian Democrats. But this is exactly the Communist plan for taking power. Does the PSI feel that it belongs, first of all, to the democratic camp, or to "the Left"? There is indeed no very clear answer to this question, in spite of all the repeated attempts at "clarification" through government crisis. Of course, this Hamlet-like attitude of the Socialists is a powerful factor in the difficulties facing the Center-Left.

Finally, the Communists: after the expulsion of the "Il Manifesto" group, the situation inside the party seems to be much quieter. Factional strife is no longer apparent. But Luigi Longo, the Secretary-General, is an old man, and it is by no means certain who will be his successor. Enrico Berlinguer, his deputy, is not highly admired by the Russians. New "old men," such as Novella and Natta, good party men, are coming to the fore. What Moscow seems to like, above all, is the right wing of the party, the Amendola group. These are the more cautious in criticizing the Soviet Union, while being the more insistent in suggesting, with varying formulas, a deal with the Democratic parties. This might appear contradictory, but it is not; it is a new attempt at solving the old dilemmas of a party wavering between its old revolutionary ideology (and allegiance to Moscow), and its participation in a democratic Western environment. In the view of most Italians, however, the Communist Party has not yet made a clear choice; its old ties with the Soviet Union, and the fundamental imprint of its antidemocratic ideology, have not yet been destroyed.

Quoting the former party chief Palmiro Togliatti, Berlinguer claims that those who do not recognize the democratic character of the Italian Communist Party are like those ignorant people who denied the reality of a giraffe even when they saw it, because it looked so different from all other animals. But is this curious claim, with its clear implication that all other communist parties are not democratic, believable? Is the PCI really a giraffe? Is it so different? And if it is, why doesn't it make a clean and final break with Moscow? Why does it clearly aim at splitting the Democratic parties rather than at coöperating with them as they are?


The growing perspective of an "opening to the Communists" is not the only reason for the weakening of the Center-Left. First of all, this never was an easy coalition to keep together. Moreover, it was interesting because it was not easy. The very difficulty of having the Socialists as a partner might have brought something new into Italian political life. One can claim with some justice that they did make the need for fundamental reforms more strongly felt in government circles, and to some extent shifted government toward the Left. Unfortunately, the elections of 1968 and those of 1970 have shown that the stronger the cohesion between the coalition partners, the smaller their electoral success; by converging toward the center, they lost ground on both wings. Conversely, the stronger their disagreements, the more electoral ground they covered. Thus, there is a vested interest in disagreement which reflects the reality of the country.

Italian society is terribly rich with contradictions. But isn't the very function and duty of a ruling élite to try and reconcile such contradictions? In Italy, as a matter of fact, the Christian Democratic Party owed to a large extent its leading position to the fact that it was able to enclose and reconcile within itself so many opposing forces of Italian society. At the same time, it was able to mediate among political forces outside: between Liberals and Social Democrats in the fifties, between Social Democrats and Socialists in the sixties. After 1968, however, it appeared that Italy's ruling political class had lost its capacity to mediate and was reduced to reflecting passively the nation's contradictions. Though this might augment the democratic parties' vote- getting power, it also greatly reduced their capacity to rule.

The problem for the Center-Left is whether this policy of "quarreling for success" is not being carried out to such a point as to make the survival of the coalition itself impossible. This is what the "general crisis" of the Center-Left is about. Although many observers still believe that it can and will be overcome, this is clearly not going to be easy. How far can the Center-Left parties, most of all the Socialists, be allowed to follow a divergent line in local politics? How strongly can they unite in a common economic policy-how many reforms, and when? What line should be taken toward the unions? These were the very real obstacles upon which cabinet after cabinet fell.

If there were no political alternatives, not even the diversity of long- term aims or ideology would have made the Center-Left coalition so weak. If divisive forces have become stronger, this is mainly due to the fact that at least some political forces now consider that other alternatives are possible. This belief, whether realistic, or the fruit of wishful thinking, is the new factor which makes the survival of the Center-Left so precarious.

At least some Social Democrats feel that they might get the Socialists themselves out of the government-and vice-versa-through new elections. And both alternatives find at least some support inside the Christian Democratic Party's right or left wings. Of course, either of these choices would imply some form of outside support in Parliament, by the Liberals or by the Communists. Either of the two would also gravely endanger the unity of the Christian Democrats. Thus, the resistance to such new departures is very strong. But one feels, in the ever faster tempo of the crisis which plagues the Center-Left coalition, a new mood arising out of the spoken or unspoken feeling that "there might be other formulas." The Center-Left still appears to be the most obvious solution, and for very powerful reasons; but it is no longer considered a "must" by all people concerned.


It must be said that in spite of all the above-mentioned factors for change most political observers still believe, rightly or wrongly, that the moment for drastic change has not come. It is generally expected that in the foreseeable future the Christian Democratic Party will remain united, that any coalition government will still be built around it, and that it will include neither the Communist Party nor be based on Communist support in Parliament. Most observers feel that the situation of 1970, in spite of the serious crisis of the Center-Left coalition, is not comparable to that of the late fifties and early sixties, when everybody knew that the "opening to the (Socialist) Left" was just around the corner.

It is, however, a remarkable fact that some new "formulas" have been added to the Italian political lexicon. One of them is the "Repubblica Conciliare," by which is meant, referring to the spirit of the Oecumenical Council, the possibility of a Christian Democratic-Communist grand alliance. A "rapprochement" between Catholics and Communists has indeed taken place in some regions, such as red Emilia, as well as among the workers' unions and among intellectuals. The fear of such a "Repubblica Conciliare" ever coming to life is greatly widespread. It is shared by Socialists of all tendencies as well as by what remains of the old Liberal lay tradition and by most of the independent press. The greatest fear is that this compromise of all compromises, this confusion between "grosse Koalition" and "combinazione" would all but kill the vitality of Italy's democratic life. And nobody knows who in the end would come out on top, whether the Catholic or the Leninist party.

Other possible, and perhaps more realistic, "futures" include a much more cautious and partial "opening to the Communists," via a Christian Democrat- Socialist government, more or less consistently supported by the Communist Party. Through their slogan of the "Regioni aperte" (open Regions) the Communists try to seduce the parties of the Center-Left (sometimes courting the Socialists, sometimes wooing the Catholic Left), away from their alliance and toward some form of coöperation, which might get the Communist Party out of its self-chosen ghetto of so many years. At the least this might create disarray, confusion and further splits among the Center-Left parties. As seen from the other side, the transformation of a communist party into a democratic one (which would be the first case in history) would be such a great prize that it remains a constant temptation. And would not Italy find, at the same time, a new unity?

It is not yet possible to say how realistic, or wise, such a scenario might be. During the cabinet crisis of summer 1970, some observers considered it much more likely that the Christian Democrats might turn toward a Center- Right government, extending from the Social Democrats to the Liberals. In the end, however, while the approaching Ferragosto holidays and the darkening economic horizon created powerful new incentives for agreement, Emilio Colombo, a moderate with a great international reputation, who had ably managed Italy's Treasury for years, succeeded in forming again a four- party government of the Center-Left, by concentrating on issues rather than on slogans.

Could the rise to the premiership of Colombo, a younger man with a taste for efficiency in administration rather than for ideological quarrels, mean a truly new departure for the Center-Left on the path to more substantial achievements than in the past? One could only wish that it were so, and indeed Colombo started his new job in an atmosphere of general goodwill (even the Communists' criticism was rather muted). However, the general feeling is that even if this particular cabinet crisis is over, the general crisis of the Center-Left alliance has not suddenly melted away in the August heat. Relations between the two Socialist parties had been seriously embittered and remained tense and loaded with mutual suspicions to the very end.

At this time, then, it still appears that an "opening to the Communists" is not yet in the cards, and that the Center-Left coalition has not yet exhausted its historical function. Despite all the known weaknesses of the Center-Left, it is hard to envisage any other political alliance that could better strive to carry out, while defending the democratic institutions of Republican Italy, those structural reforms which can make Italy a better place to live in, and which should improve the social and political atmosphere of the country.

Even the social unrest of the last months has had the good result of bringing about a greater political involvement of the Italian workers' unions. Despite the series of crises, plans for reforms have made important progress in Parliament and are being transformed in some fields into reality. The tentative dialogue between government and unions is somewhat vaguely creating the shape of what has been called a new "atypical participatory democracy." Given enough time and a favorable international situation, Italy, though defined by some "the new sick man of Europe," still appears to have adequate resources, both physical and human, to achieve the construction of a more just and equal society. But how much time is there left for such a huge task?

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