Courtesy Reuters

The "Communist Question" in Italy

The existence of a "Communist question" in Italy is now generally recognized, both in Italy and abroad, whatever approach one may take to this question. Similarly, a "Communist question" exists in France and in other West European countries. While these various "questions" may seem to represent a single phenomenon affecting the situation of a number of West European countries, they actually take quite different forms from one nation to the next. And this is only natural when you consider the differences in the histories of the countries involved and in the political proposals advanced by the various Communist Parties. I intend here to indicate only some of the characteristic features of the "question" in Italy. Obviously this requires some reflection on Italian history of the past 30 years and answers to a number of questions: Why has this question emerged so acutely today? What are the political goals-in domestic and international policy-of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), the party that is the subject and object of this "question" and just what is this party? What would be the consequences for Italy's foreign relations of Communist participation in a parliamentary majority or government?

To understand why the "Communist question" is so urgent today, we must first take a brief look at Italian political history since World War II. During this period, Italy has gone through three political cycles: the first, characterized by the governments of national unity with Communist participation (1945-1947), was brought to an end primarily by the repercussions on the national level of a change in the international climate and the onslaught of the cold war; the second was dominated by centrist governments from 1947 to the early 1960s; and the third, dominated by the Center-Left, began in 1962. This third cycle has now come to an end, as even its protagonists, beginning with the Socialist Party, are ready to concede.

Italy therefore finds herself today in the midst of what is commonly known as a "phase of transition"-a phase characterized by

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