A tiresome element of drama enters most appraisals of Italian affairs. It is common enough to hear well-wishers say with an apologetic sigh that the Italians are too inclined to dramatize their problems. They have this inclination, certainly. But there is another side to their posturing, and that is that the reactions elsewhere to what Italians do are also frequently exaggerated. I believe it was Ugo La Malfa who said a dozen years ago (at a time when he was Minister of the Budget), in answer to a rather irate question as to why the Italian economy was faltering after a long period of expansion, that it had not been the Italians who had imposed the term "miracle" on Italy's expansion, or given an Oscar to the lira. In plain words, outside observers who insisted on exaggerating achievement must expect to be disappointed when miracles were quite quickly spent. And there was also an implied confirmation in what he said of the fragility of the Italian economy, which was hidden during the years of expansion. Much more recently, Enrico Berlinguer, leader of the Communist Party, a man who visibly weighs his words, commented that the international press had regularly written of the better times in Italy as marvelous and the less good times as catastrophic, usually with a coup imminent.

This is not to say that the Italians are less interesting than they are supposed to be; the exact opposite is true. But the point is that, if at times they seem theatrical and bewildering, they have a notably strong sense of practical reality. Sometimes it is less obvious than it should be because of the higher degree of tension in Italian relationships in general. But it is there and explains why the normally staid Anglo-Saxon emerges, on balance, as more theatrical in dealing with Italy's affairs than does the Italian. Moreover, this outside interest in Italy is spasmodic. The bursts of dramatic judgments of the Italian scene come, again in a theatrical way, in gusts, like applause punctuating an audience's long stretches of indifference to what is happening on the stage.

This is a mistake, because Italy bears watching closely and continually. And the Italians take into consideration what other people think about them, more than what they think about each other. This partly accounts for the extensive neglect by Italian politicians of their own public opinion, and sometimes resembles a lack of shame in their reactions to charges of inefficiency or even extreme dishonesty. Take the case of the great actor and playright, Eduardo De Filippo: he complains bitterly that if he writes and performs a play castigating the politicians or the Church, he knows that leading the queue to congratulate him after the performance will be the Prime Minister or a bishop who will take his hand and call him a genius, and this he finds frustrating. In place of anger, there is connivance in the public's appreciation of the criticism, but no response in the form of trying to do better on the part of those charged with misuse of their power.

Of course, the Italians have done dramatic things, and are still doing so. To mention a few: they have worked through 38 governments since the end of Fascism, meaning that an administration remained in power on an average of less than a year. Yet government, for almost all that time, has been dominated by one party, the Christian Democrats, who have survived long after Christian Democracy in other countries declined and accepted a lesser role. Since 1948, they have constantly reinforced the Western world's largest Communist Party. In scarcely more than a decade, they changed the whole basis of their society from an essentially agricultural one to a society predominantly based on industry, the first fundamental change for centuries in the habits of the people of the whole peninsula. And with this change went an enthusiastic embrace of the values of the consumer society.

Massive change brought its difficulties, and the bad side was probably best expressed by the poet and film director, Pier Paolo Pasolini. In another country he would have been an influential critic instead of a lonely and largely disregarded voice. His message was that the Fascist period had brought nothing comparable to the drastic postwar transformation of society: he hated industrialization as the great destroyer of traditional values and so was led to argue that democracy had turned out to be more damaging to the country's fiber than had Fascism. His private life, and his death at the hands of a male prostitute, enabled society as a whole, with evident relief, to reject his uncomfortable views, including his demand that Italy's democratic leaders be brought to trial on charges of having ruined the country. Of course he was extreme and, in many ways, his judgment was at fault. But he had something valuable to say, in his characteristically tormented manner, about what had happened, under modern pressures, to his country and to the Italian mentality.


Whatever one's personal definition may be of history, Italy's postwar history has been less a matter of kings and parliaments than of changes in the lives of ordinary people. Britain once underwent a similar transformation, but a long time ago, over a much longer span, and at a time when industrialization was based on production and not immediate consumption in mass markets. And so the process was not only much slower but, in social terms, much more deliberate.

Within Italy, about ten million people migrated in the two decades after the end of the war. They moved largely in two directions: from the countryside to the towns and from the depressed southern countryside to the industrial cities of the north. In the quarter-century after the war, the number of Italians living in towns trebled. The governments of the time made no preparations for such changes. Even at the European level the extent of the exodus from the countryside to the towns caught everyone by surprise. And it is doubtful that many people even yet have grasped the full weight and strain which these events brought to bear on the Italians.

The migration northward had other effects. Southern Italians are extremely southern by temperament, and the north is much more northern by temperament than its latitude would suggest. Marseilles, for instance, is a recognizably southern city, very Mediterranean, but Genoa, or Milan, or Turin, which are near its latitude, are recognizably northern. Indeed, people born and bred in Turin frequently despise the southerners who have turned the residences in the older parts of the city into southern tenements.

Yet, incomprehension in confronting northern attitudes and manners is in a sense the least of the immigrants' problems. It would soon fade if there were adequate schools, housing, transport, justice and social services for the new arrivals. Instead, the cities have had to take on the strain of new indebtedness with totally inadequate legislation. Protest was inevitable. Its growth has been steady, relentless, foreseeable, reaching its highest point so far with the emergence of the Communists in June 1975 as the largest single party in practically all the big cities.

The uniformity of the June result is unusual in Italian affairs. For another distinction, which sets Italy apart from other European countries, is that she has not had a history of consistent political development. She has known two quite different experiences. The first is the wide variety of different types of government carried on simultaneously: the great republics of Venice and Genoa, the highly militarized little Duchy of Piedmont, the southern kingdom, and the direct rule of the Pope, to name a few. Secondly, Italy's great achievements-classical Rome, the communes, the medieval Papacy, the Renaissance-all were immense peaks which came and went without giving much indication of where Italians would go next. The astute cultural analyst Guido Piovene spoke of the Renaissance as a splendid cul-de-sac, and that is no bad label for Italy's series of summits achieved. Reluctantly, one must add Fascism. It can be described as one of the heights only in the Latin sense of using the same word for height and depth. But its influence was-and still is-extremely great and is best borne in mind when judging what might happen next in Italy. The country has often been exemplary-a forerunner-for the good and the bad.

The point reached now is far from being a summit. The period of expansion has been too short, too chaotic, too partial in social and geographical terms for there to have been any sense of completeness. It contributed nothing, for instance, to the crucial problem of the increasing gap between the expanding north and the depressed agricultural south. It was a gale that blew over some areas and left others untouched. But a summit could be reached, despite the apparent gravity of Italy's problems, if the best forces in the country have a chance to express themselves. This is really the heart of the Italian dilemma. Most Italians are shrewd enough to know that they have missed many chances and wasted others; that, as a result, their effectiveness has been underestimated; that the strategic importance of their peninsula is such that some of their friends would prefer to see change contained if change means less acquiescence as an ally. In short, the Italians are shrewd enough to know that institutionally and politically the country is quite divided by the effects of social and economic change.


By Western standards, Italy has too many political parties. There are seven in the present parliament. Two are large: the Christian Democrats and the Communists together take nearly 70 percent of the vote. All the rest, except for the extreme Right, are essential to the game of finding alliances, because the Christian Democrats, after three decades in power, are not strong enough to govern without support from others. Yet coalitions are notoriously difficult to keep together, especially in Italy, where party leaders frequently suffer chronic divisions in their own parties to which they are quite capable of giving absolute priority. Hence, the number of interests involved in a coalition can be multiplied by the number of factions requiring semi-independent treatment. The Constitution imposes proportional representation, meaning that many parties will, for a time, remain the rule-a not altogether illogical situation given the country's diversity.

The Constitution accepts, by omission, the principle that administrations can fall without any prior indication of what should follow. There is nothing comparable to the West German requirement that a government can only be brought down if another is ready to replace it. And Italian practice has nothing in common with the British principle that governments do not fall, they simply go to the country, thus turning the general election into the instrument for choosing the next prime minister. France has solved her problem of instability by accepting a presidential republic.

The Italians have no wish to pay any of these prices. Parliament has five years of life, and all but one has gone its full length despite the rise and fall of governments. Consulting the electorate has in the past been of little help in settling the problem of what sort of government the country should have, because Italians still elect a parliament, not a prime minister or a president, and when they vote they have no idea who will be the next prime minister except to know that he is sure to be a Christian Democrat (unless there is a drastic change next time). The machinery of calling a general election, the campaign itself and its aftermath-all amount to a long process. It was estimated when the government fell in January, admittedly by opponents of a general election, that the whole process added to the summer recess would have left the country without a full-fledged administration for up to six months. Parliament, moreover, is no easy machine to make function. With two houses having equal powers, the system is excessively cumbersome, which accounts for the fact that parliament as such plays remarkably little part in Italian public life.

What happens beneath this constitutional superstructure is best explained by comparison with another country. A left-wing newspaper editor asked me recently: "How is it that Britain, which has not had a corrupt Christian Democratic Party in power for 30 years, does not have the Vatican operating in its midst, or the largest Communist Party in the Western world, has still managed to arrive at the same state of crisis as we Italians?" The comparison is illuminating. Italy after the war concentrated on regaining and rethinking her international position; as a result, the nation became a founding member of the European Economic Community and, with more reservations (a fact which should not be forgotten now), a member of NATO. Within that context, Italians worked with immense vigor on the economic reconstruction of their country, and that economic expansion provided the main drive for the drastic social changes.

The British did not rethink, and probably still have not genuinely reconsidered, their international situation, despite the loss of empire and the entry into Europe. They were unable to find the will to work in any way comparable to that of the Italians. Nor did they have the advantages of cheap and abundant labor and the modern renewal of an industry destroyed in the war which made of Italy what The Economist described as a capitalist's dream. On the other hand, as soon as the war was over, the British got down to solving the problems of social injustice, schools and local government, and to building the welfare state. The Italians largely ignored these problems, including the need for complete overhaul of civil service; they have paid the price ever since, with ever-greater costs as time passes. And the costs increase as government after government promises reform and social advance without keeping these promises.

The dishonesty of broken promises has been accompanied by other types of dishonesty. Corruption entered early into the Italian postwar system, and has proved a resilient growth. It is favored by the constant need to circumvent the normal administrative processes which are hopelessly inefficient and have deteriorated still more sharply in the last five or six years. However, the last few years have seen one innovation which is undoubtedly an improvement: the airing of corruption in public. Specific charges have been put forward of payments by the multinationals to Italian parties and politicians, particularly by the oil companies, which is not an easy scandal to brush aside-certainly less easy than the CIA payments in the sense that energy policy is crucial to a country which depends on oil imports. Still, there has been no serious attempt to punish the guilty; important public figures have been quite shamelessly protected by the obstacles put in the way of justice, an attitude highly detrimental to what remains of public confidence in the workings of the state.


This raises the question of the role of the parliamentary opposition: why has it been so ineffectual when faced with so obvious an issue as allegations of corruption? And this in itself raises the Communist question since the Communists have been the main opposition party since they left the government in 1947. (Until that time, under the leadership of the late Palmiro Togliatti, they were partners with the Christian Democrats in a series of coalitions.) One of the early explanations frequently given for the incompleteness of Italian democracy was that an opposition party is essential to good government and the Communists could not properly fulfill this function because they were not an acceptable alternative. It has also been argued that, whether Communist or not, the opposition has simply not fulfilled its proper constitutional function, especially in recent years. Thus, the opposition has allowed the Christian Democrats to commit and conceal all manner of misdemeanors, since the governing party has been free from the salutary fear of what a real opposition might do to criticize such behavior in high places. According to this argument, governments have been reneging on their duty to provide at a minimum good administration, and the opposition has failed to offer the necessary stimulus. This argument would be flawless if Italian politicians in general had been aiming at the system of balances provided by vigorous government and an alert opposition. In fact, they have not.

Broadly speaking, Communist behavior in opposition has developed from an ideological opposition to an attempt at preparing the ground for an understanding with the Christian Democrats, with the aim of forming a broad coalition with them. This idea of the "historic compromise" can be found in Togliatti and others but its real creator is Enrico Berlinguer, who formulated it fully after the fall of Chile's Salvador Allende. Chile was a warning to the Italian Communists that something much broader and less vulnerable was needed as a basis for government than a weak coalition of the Left. Berlinguer saw the answer as a broad coalition including the Catholics.

One eminent Italian politician believes that Berlinguer is also moved by the thought that his dream of autonomy from the Soviet Union (which is widely accepted in Italy as a genuine aim) would be possible only if he has bourgeois allies. In other words, he would have an excellent reason for telling the Russians why he could not do what they asked, a reason which would not exist if he won a small overall majority with the Socialists as allies and could form a popular front. This theory would also explain his insistence that Italy, even with the Communists in government, should not leave NATO until something better has been devised for Italy's security.

A consequence of Berlinguer's policy is that the Italian Communists see as their worst enemy, not the parties opposed to them in parliament, but anti-communism, particularly of an irrational kind. One of Berlinguer's most touching attributes is the irritation he quite clearly feels when distrust of communism, expressed on the basis of its performance elsewhere, seems to him to overcome an observer's powers of objective judgment of the Italian scene.

In Togliatti's case, this search for respectability would probably have been fruitless, since, for all his cleverness, Togliatti brought with him a long career as an international Communist functionary in Stalin's Moscow. Berlinguer has no such difficulties. He looks as if he suffers rather than plots. He looks honest, and this is no small matter, for it is wrong to suppose that corruption arouses no revulsion in Italian minds. Berlinguer's honest look has been, and is, an asset to his party. (After the Christian Democrats were defeated in the June elections, they chose as their new party secretary Benigno Zaccagnini, a doctor, ex-partisan, anti-Fascist, a man whose code-name in the Resistance movement was "Thomas More," in short, a person who gives a deeper impression of honesty and integrity than of political acumen.)

Berlinguer has succeeded to a large extent, as far as the Italian public is concerned, in his quest for his party's respectability. Few Italian newspapers treat the Communists, and him in particular, with less than respect. There is plenty of anti-communism, including long analyses of why the Russian grain harvest failed, why the system in Russia does not work and, naturally, protests against the Russian refusal to admit basic human rights. But a public opinion poll published in late October showed Berlinguer far ahead of his nearest rival-the Christian Democrat, Aldo Moro-as the politician felt to merit most confidence. This balance-of respect for his party and himself, with heavy criticism of communism as a system operating elsewhere-is presumably exactly what he wants, but cannot say.

Berlinguer's ability to overcome at least a good deal of the largely emotional anti-communism was naturally in part the reason for the Communist success in June. But that success needs closer examination, because its meaning has been widely misjudged. The Communists made big gains, certainly, but that was not the only issue and, arguably, not the main issue; even Berlinguer himself, in the balcony speech he delivered to his elated supporters on the night the results were made known, urged caution. The Christian Democrats failed to follow this same line-they were shattered by the result. In numerical terms they could point out (and some tried to) that they had lost less than they should have, considering the heavy stink of scandal which hung over the party and the increasing problems which successive governments were incapable of dealing with. But the blow was crippling psychologically.

The shock had come after a series of defeats. The Christian Democrats had misguidedly attempted in May 1974 to repeal by referendum the law by which divorce had been introduced into Italy in December 1970. They failed ignominiously, and this first public defeat marked the end of what had in the past been an unbeatable alliance: that of Christian Democracy with the women voters and the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Many women who had in the past supported the Christian Democrats voted in favor of divorce, and the political machinery of the hierarchy emerged as greatly weakened. Regional elections followed in Sardinia, which showed that the referendum result was not an isolated incident, and once again the Christian Democrats were jolted.

And then came June 15, 1975, which can now clearly be seen as a landmark in Italy's postwar history. The vote and the reactions to it brought out one of the less credited truths of Italian political life: that the Communist question is not the overriding issue. The main one is the Christian Democratic problem.

The Communists, after all, have been gaining ground with almost complete consistency since the Christian Democrats won their overall majority in 1948. On June 15, however, they went ahead to challenge the Christian Democrats' position as the largest single party in the country. The basis for that challenge was the need for change and the good record which the Communists had established over the years in the regions and other administrations in their hands. In a sense, the result of the election could have been viewed as a liberating step for the Christian Democrats. The new situation freed them-because so large a part of the public had demonstrated themselves free of it-from allowing the residue of irrational anti-communism to limit their own ideological development. Had they spent a fraction of the energies invested over the years in anti-communism on evolving their own ideas and practices, the political picture would have been totally different.

Moreover, the shock of seeing the Christian Democrats themselves so stunned by the June result had a curious consequence: people who in the past would have preferred not to be identified with Christian Democracy now began saying how essential it was for Italian democracy that the party should find the inner strength to renew itself, its leadership, and its standing in the country. Sympathy was due, after all, to a party which was suffering from being too long in power, even if its vices of dishonesty and internal dissension had, in the public mind, gone beyond excuse. There was never a time when more people felt anxious about Christian Democracy than at its worst moment. It had emerged, wounded, from a series of defeats. Then, the fall of the thirty-seventh government, January 7, 1976, brought the worst interregnum to date because the political failure coincided with economic difficulties and a monetary crisis. Like practically every other governmental collapse, it was induced by one of the Prime Minister's allies-the Socialists-and not by the opposition; indeed, the Communists were against bringing down the government, which was a Christian Democrat-Republican coalition, and were said to have had some harsh words to say to the Socialist Secretary for being so rash as to topple an administration in such difficult times.


This informal help from the opposition raises another fundamental question about the functioning of Italian democracy. The number of parties, and so the number of governments, can be explained by the country's variety and hence the Italian refusal to accept a simplification of political life, i.e., the price paid elsewhere for greater stability. But it can be taken even further. Democracy is seen by many Italians as a choral performance. Parties and other groups (the unions come first to mind), which have established a position of power, are seen to have a certain right to contribute toward the formulation of policy. They do not take naturally to the theory of a duet between two sides-one in government, the other out.

This is almost certainly a Catholic inheritance, perhaps even having its roots in Mediterranean Christianity. So much was suggested by the conduct of the prelates attending the Vatican Council: they quarreled, opposed each other at times quite bitterly, but once they came to voting on a constitution, or a decree or other final document, they did so with overwhelming majorities. A lot has been said for and against the influence of the Catholic Church in Italian public life. Usually this influence is misjudged because it is limited to the Church's sorties into political or near-political issues which have frequently been mistakes. The obvious examples are the total identity of the Vatican and the Italian hierarchy in the postwar years with the Christian Democratic Party, and the use of the Church's national and international organization to find votes. That element is now greatly diminished and cannot now return in its old form.

But this other aspect of the Catholic outlook-that of a full debate followed by consensus-remains and is admirably suited to Italian thinking and skills. It is totally different from the Anglo-Saxon system of two groups, one of which is constantly scrutinizing the political and moral performance of the other. This is really what is behind the Italian unfamiliarity with the two-party system, and it is why many Italians have less difficulty than outside observers in seeing the Communists admitted to a part in political life. The Communists are there, and they are strong. Their power in the regions, in the unions, in cultural life is formidable. Why should they not then have a right to participate?

This approaches the view of parliament as an assembly-one assembly-and not a collection of groups divided into two. At the same time, the Communists have denied themselves the use of their undoubted ability to remove Christian Democratic governments at will. It is essential to keep in mind the difference between power, which the Communists have in abundance, and presence in government. This is particularly so when considering the reaction from outside the country. The Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera, on February 5, 1976, drew attention to the fact that Italian democracy could no longer remain intact if it attempted a real clash with the Communists. Whatever the truth of the Communist Party's expressions of democratic faith, it was utopian to suppose that its power could be reduced to what it was in 1948. "Foreign governments and banks which could give us substantial loans are not disposed to do so for a government which includes Communists," said the Corriere. "Yet perhaps the solution exists, and perhaps the Christian Democrat-Republican coalition was already on the right course. It tacitly enjoyed the tolerance of the Communists, without associating them with the majority in an explicit and formal manner." What is implied here is that the Italians ought to accept reality, and at the same time prevent the Communist question from becoming all-absorbing, and thus not forget too much else in the Italian tradition, including its variety and the experiences of the immediate postwar years.


Some time in the early summer of 1960, I was asked to take an American professor to lunch with Pietro Nenni, then Secretary of the Socialist Party and convinced of the necessity to bring his Party into a coalition with the Christian Democrats after having been for years in close alliance with the Communists. And so, four of us lunched together-Pietro Nenni, Giorgio Borsa, the Milan correspondent of The Times of London, Henry Kissinger and myself. In those days, Nenni was still regarded as a dangerous subversive by much of Western diplomatic opinion. The point of the meeting was to give Nenni the opportunity of explaining a somewhat striking career, which had brought him from close alliance with the Communists to impending coalition with the Christian Democrats. Nenni gave what to me was a convincing account of why he had made the mistake, as he saw it, of renewing the unity of action pact with the Communists after the war.

His reasons were that he had expected changes within the Communist movement in a more liberal direction, and they had not come about. And he could not stomach recruiting what he felt to be the worst forces of reaction by the West to stop communism in Italy. It is worth recalling that in the first national elections after the war-those to the Constituent Assembly in 1946-the Socialists were the second largest party in Italy after the Christian Democrats, with the Communists third. By renewing the alliance, the Socialists inevitably lost the initiative and the consequences are still clear today. They are a party which inhabits a curious limbo of its own, between government and opposition, often recognized as the key party but seldom aware of which way it should turn. Except for a brief period of broad coalitions after the war, the Socialists were condemned to opposition until Nenni led his party into alliance with the Christian Democrats. His reasoning in that conversation is still valid today.

Recalling the coalitions of the immediate postwar years, which included Communists and Socialists, is in no way intended as a plea for their restoration. That is too simple a solution and does not take into account the passage of time among other considerations. If any plea at all is involved, it is simply to accept the variety of the Italian scene which includes a sense of correction implicit in the June election. After that vote, there is no longer any necessity to hold fast to a system which evolved at the height of the cold war nor to take for granted its continued failure to pursue the cause of social justice. In this sense, the results benefited the Communists but had something to offer everyone else as well, just as the result of the referendum on divorce did not simply mean that Italians could obtain divorces in their own country but that the fixed limits of judgment no longer applied. The electorate no longer had to conform to old patterns. Issues, not labels, were becoming of paramount importance. The vote was becoming much more an act of judgment instead of a habit.

After last June the Communists no longer had the advantage of appearing the victims of prejudice. Nor did they have the advantage of ruling mainly in parts of Italy which were by no means the most difficult: they were left with Naples on their hands, with Genoa, with Turin-which probably has the worst problems of unnatural expansion of any city (due to migration from the south and totally insufficient social services)-to say nothing of the regions of Piedmont and Liguria which they added to the three they already had.

The question of prejudice is an important one. Italians are fond of victims. Most Italian men and (for different reasons) many Italian women consider themselves victims. The men have a kind of anti-Mitty complex. Instead of feeling inadequate and so imagining themselves as heroes, they are convinced of their powers and qualities but aware that, the world being unfair and man himself not without blemishes, their qualities go unrecognized because they were born poor or are married to a barely supportable woman. Many of the women, on the other hand, who are usually more alert than the men, have grasped more quickly the meaning of social change and so resent the traditional place accorded the woman. That is why a reaction against prejudice, for no immediate, specific reason, often stimulates sympathy for individual Communists, whatever the ideology of the sympathizer.


A victim in another way, but always in the sense of suffering from irrational belittlement, was the Mediterranean region itself. Here, again, a process of correction is in hand. The Italian decision after the war to become a founding partner in the building of a West European community was intended to embody the country's choice of belonging to the Western and Northern world, despite the geographical reality of shores washed only by the Mediterranean. The decision was correct: whatever geography implies, history decreed that Italy should play a much fuller part in European affairs than might be expected of a peninsula pressing into the Mediterranean. In this sense, the European decision was impeccable.

But it was accompanied by a rather more questionable proposition: that the Mediterranean had a bad taste about it, something to be shaken off if Italy was to become modern and integrated into the West. Mussolini's views on mare nostrum gave it political questionability, and the democratic answer was La Malfa's cry: "We must scale the Alps." The West was democratic and advanced and would prevent any tendency on the part of the Italians to slip back into southern torpor, or to lose their position of being the one sizable parliamentary democracy functioning in the Mediterranean area-their fate for so many years.

Events have since shown that the new political ideas have come not from Western Europe but from the South. The end of the dictatorships in Greece and Spain and Portugal, the uncertainties surrounding Yugoslavia's future, and the likelihood that Greece and Spain and Portugal will someday become members of the European Community place Italy once more in the center of the most vibrant and problematical political area in Europe. Italians had already prepared some ground (not altogether intentionally) for the future structure of Europe. They had established their system of regional autonomy for the whole country by 1971. They had resolutely refused to show much respect for the national state except as a vague patriotic ideal and were busily transforming parliament into a genuine assembly, by no means an unpromising model for the future shape of Europe. And then, with the shift of attention southward, Italy herself could expect to feel the results of another corrective process.

Coincidentally, Communist policy had made its own sorties in the area. One of the unexpected results of the June elections was certainly the encouragement to the Italian Communists to pursue more energetically both their European and Mediterranean contacts. There is an obvious connection between the June vote and the joint declaration signed in November by Berlinguer and Georges Marchais, head of the French Communist Party, by which the French party formally accepted-despite its Stalinist predispositions-the Italian party's stated need for pluralism, for an opposition, and for the preservation of such essentials of a democratic society as freedom of expression, freedom of the press and the constitutional path to power. The declaration followed a similar, and less surprising, statement made jointly by the Italian and Spanish Communists. And one of Berlinguer's first stopping places after the June election was Belgrade.

As yet, it is possible only to sketch this communist dimension in the Mediterranean situation. It is still premature to talk of a third bloc in the communist world, homogeneous and looking to Rome rather than to Peking or Moscow. The Spaniards remain exiles. The French Communists are recent converts to the ideas of pluralism and autonomy which the Italians profess. The Italian Communists themselves are careful in their judgment of the French Party's national congress in February which formally did away with the dogma of the dictatorship of the proletariat; they feel it was crudely done by comparison with their own more sophisticated standards, that the French still have far to go, but that a substantial move was made. The Yugoslavs are by no means new to the concept of autonomy but undoubtedly have mixed feelings about any radical changes in the Italian political scene if this were to mean an upset in the regional balance of power. In fact, the Italian Communists have had to assure them that the entry of the Italian Party into government would not alter the situation in terms of security, which is another reason why the Italian Communists insist that they would want Italy to stay in NATO if they came into government. It is, as they have said, essentially a defensive alliance with the clear implication that they might themselves want to be able to rely on it as such. The Italian position itself is in every sense central to the issue, although to a great extent its role cannot be clearly understood in advance of events.


For both Communists and Christian Democrats, however, the Italian internal situation may be forcing the pace. That was another of the indications provided by the June election, and by the failure so far of the Christian Democrats to rethink and reinvigorate their own party. In the words of Fiat's chairman Giovanni Agnelli, speaking as Chairman of the Confederation of Industry, Italian industrialists were faced with a problem of faith-faith in the Catholic party's power of renewal or faith in the Communist Party's powers of revision. The fact that the Socialists brought down Aldo Moro's coalition this January, asserting that they wanted a new government with a formal link with the Communists, showed clearly enough that such a request was, to say the least, premature. The Christian Democratic Party as a whole could not accept it, and the Communists made clear that they did not want to hear of it. Yet the Socialist move was seen to have brought an understanding between Communists and Christian Democrats nearer, if only because both were impatient with the Socialists.

Moro finally formed a new government (his fifth) which effectively dashed any hope that his party could react promptly to the demands of an increasingly difficult situation. Negotiations for putting it together lasted from January 7 to February 11, a period which included not only the solemn and seemingly abstract consultations among party leaders, but also a run on the lira and fresh outbreaks of public quarreling by Christian Democratic leaders. The outcome of this strange mixture of events was a minority administration, drawn solely from Christian Democrats, which was regarded as one of Italy's weakest governments because it was based on nothing better than promises of abstentions from two of the traditional allies of the Christian Democrats (the Socialists and the Republicans) and showed no apparent awareness of the now urgent need for replacing the old, familiar faces with younger, fresher and untarnished personalities.

If it is true that Berlinguer's dream is genuine autonomy from the Soviet Union, the reality is that his own country's difficulties are one of his biggest obstacles. An eminent non-Communist politician remarked in private that for the moment it is in everybody's interests to allow Berlinguer the time to make his autonomy effective, and the best way to help is to see that he is not yet involved in government. This person's estimate was that all sides required another five years. By then, the international scene would be clearer. What, for instance, would happen in Yugoslavia after Tito's death? Is the thesis (based on the presence of a powerful Soviet squadron in the Mediterranean) correct that the Russians are, ironically enough, coming nearer to Italy just as the Italian Communists are trying to put more space between themselves and the Soviets?

Two other facets of Berlinguer's policy accord with this way of thinking: his insistence that Italy should remain in NATO, even with the Communists in government, and his choice of an alliance with the Christian Democrats, not with the Socialists. He explains the NATO decision on the grounds that unilateral moves which shift the balance of power upset détente. It is also argued that Italy will require security with or without the Communists in government, and Yugoslavia has been comfortable all these years with a geographically close NATO presence. The choice of the Christian Democrats as prospective allies is-by the same argument-logical because a Marxist front would depend on little more than half the vote, would split the country and be vulnerable to the animosity of the West as well as to pressures from the Soviet Union.

Although some people still doubt Berlinguer's good faith in attempting to seek autonomy, few in Italy do. The main area of doubt detected in Italy is whether he would be able to do what he says he wants to do. Although the idea of the "compromise," as a formal alliance between Catholics and Communists, certainly does not appear immediate, communism has played a consistently larger part in Italian affairs and is now, on a broad balance, sharing power in most aspects of public life with Christian Democracy.


Finally, it is important to assess where Italy is going on a level transcending the political groups. Since the war, the country has lived through several centuries. Italy awoke from her "capitalist's dream" in about 1968 and 1969 when student riots and strikes marked the end of acceptance by workers in the northern factories (many of them southerners) of the living and working conditions which a lack of planning had imposed. It was at that time that the unions took over a semi-policymaking role, calling strikes for housing, for transport, for social facilities in general instead of limiting themselves to pay and working conditions. The old society scarcely exists any more, but neither does a new one, because the upheaval of change, and the quite sudden refusal to continue to produce on the old terms, left confusion.

Somehow, the whole conglomeration of regionalism, Catholicism (in its many forms), communism, the strongly increased demand for civil rights must come together to produce a completely new outlook. It is a lot to ask of a country which has already proved to be the most stimulating workshop of ideas in Europe since the war. It is a lot to ask when the country is suffering her worst political crisis since the war and at a time when recession makes the fragility of the economic system so clear. But it is Italy's historical destiny to be at the eye of the cyclone, a fate deserving the fullest understanding.

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