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 acute political crisis and aggravated, in the present case, by a state of grave economic and social crisis. The gap existing between the accelerating political, economic and social crises and the ability of political processes at the national level to provide a positive solution further accentuates the uncertainties and difficulties of the present moment in Italian affairs.

It is in this context that we must consider the impact of the political proposal of the "historic compromise," advanced by the General Secretary of the PCI, Enrico Berlinguer, shortly after the tragic overthrow of the Popular Unity Government in Chile. This impact has several causes. The first, and perhaps the most important, is the fact that, with the end of the Center-Left phase, the "historic compromise" represents the only substantially new and positive political proposal and thus is a point of reference for a country anxiously seeking a road to the future. Nor did this proposal come out of the blue. In a certain sense, it represents the logical development, or better, an adaptation to present circumstances, of the political line followed by the PCI during the whole postwar period: a line calling for collaboration among all the popular forces. It is to this collaboration among political forces of differing ideological inspirations-in particular, Communists, Socialists and Catholics-that we owe, among other things, the breadth of the Resistance struggle in Italy against fascism and nazism, alongside the Allies. To it we also owe the Constitution of the Italian Republic, whose thirtieth anniversary Italy in celebrating at the same time as the bicentenary of American independence. The lack of such collaboration in the years following 1947-and the fact that the Christian Democratic Party, which has dominated the Italian government since then, opted for a policy that divided the popular forces-is today seen by a growing number of historians and political commentators as the underlying reason why Italy has not succeeded in carrying out those structural reforms necessary to bring her up to the level of the more developed countries. Thus, Italy today finds herself in worse shape than any other West European nation to face such a crisis.

Moreover, the proposal for a "historic compromise" owes its impact to the conviction that Italy's crisis is so deep, and the effort required to reverse the trend toward national decadence and give the country a new start so vast and difficult, that no single political force, however powerful, can hope to go it alone. The basic raison d'etre of the "historic compromise" lies in the conviction that it is essential to promote convergence and collaboration among all the democratic and popular forces, since any other policy (including the "Left alternative," that is, an alliance of Communists and Socialists alone) would split the country in two, with results that could be fatal for democracy. This political consideration is a constant for the Italian Communists, as we have always, from Gramsci down to our own days, attributed decisive importance to the weight and role of Catholicism in Italian society. The Chilean tragedy has underscored this consideration. What is required is not head-on confrontation, then, or a "Left alternative," but rather action aimed at promoting the widest possible unity among all the democratic forces, unity based on the broadest popular consensus within a highly developed pluralistic system protected by democratic guarantees.

In the present period of deep crisis only a convergence of efforts can produce the degree of political determination and popular consensus required to carry out all the reforms (and bear all the sacrifices) necessary-in the short, medium and long term-to make Italy a really modern country in which to live. Today, almost everyone recognizes that the old model of economic development has seen its day and a new one must be built that gives priority to important areas of social consumption over individual consumerism, while at the same time achieving a democratic form of planning capable of ensuring a stable, organic, balanced development of the Italian economy in all its sectors. Without a new orientation of this type in economic policy, it will be possible neither to eliminate regional imbalances nor to solve those most basic problems-housing, education, transportation, health-which are a precondition to modernization. Only such a reorientation can provide jobs for those growing masses of people-and particularly the young-who cannot find work. Only a fundamental restructuring of the economic system can ensure the development of agriculture (a sector that weighs heavily on Italy's trade deficit), facilitate a forward-looking policy of soil and water conservation and defense of the environment. And last but not least, only a radical new approach will make it possible to safeguard Italy's immense artistic heritage, today in a state of scandalous neglect, and to save from ruin cities like Venice, which belong to the history of world culture and civilization.

But Italy's problems do not stop here. There is need for a profound renewal of the whole state machine, today reduced to a condition of virtual paralysis (for example, consider the widespread phenomena of tax evasion and illegal export of capital, which the pitifully incompetent state of the fiscal machine encourages). We must mount a relentless fight against all forms of waste, corruption and crime. "A nation can stand a period of difficulty and hardship when it understands the reasons behind it; but it cannot live, conserve its moral unity and move ahead without a vision and goals for which it can strive," Enrico Berlinguer pointed out in his report to the Central Committee in preparation for the PCI's last Congress. And he added, shortly after: "Our general approach has always been and remains that of solving the workers' and the country's problems, of renewing society and guaranteeing the orderly development of civil life, through the democratic process and through understanding and agreement among all the popular forces."

Here, then, is the primary reason for the impact of the proposal for the "historic compromise": the fact that it offers an approach, at once positive and credible to a country in crisis, and to a people gripped with uncertainty about tomorrow. As Berlinguer stressed in the same preparatory report: "The country and, above all, the working people must be assured that the efforts they are called upon to make will really serve to achieve a higher level of economic and social organization and not simply to prop up the present system, leaving untouched and even aggravating existing distortions, privileges and injustices. It is therefore clear that things cannot be left up to those forces that have governed the country so far: with the damage they have done, the promises they have betrayed, the episodes of corruption tainting them and the overall degeneration of a power system that has consistently given top priority to individual, patronage and group interests; these forces no longer have the necessary authority and credibility. Indeed, their appeals and sermons run like water off a duck's back. To ensure that the efforts needed today have the support, confidence, and active, conscious participation of the healthiest, hardest-working and most productive part of the population, requires a deep change in political leadership, with the contribution of new forces of proven seriousness, honesty and loyalty to the interests of the people."


What lies behind the credibility of the Communist proposal? Essentially two factors. First, there is the weight that the PCI has assumed in national life. It is the only party that has regularly increased its support in every election since 1945, moving gradually from 18.9 percent in the 1946 elections for the Constituent Assembly to 33.4 percent in the regional elections of June 15, 1975, only a short distance behind the 35.3 percent of the Christian Democratic Party, which in 1948 managed to poll a total of 48.5 percent of the electorate. Second, there is the prestige earned by its policies and its efforts to achieve collaboration among all the democratic forces-Communists, Socialists and Catholics-giving the PCI the reputation of a force capable, even in an opposition role, of working with the responsibility of a governing party, willing to take on the big problems of national society.

In this period, the Communist Party is undoubtedly living through one of the most important moments of its long history. The growth of its credibility cannot be mechanically traced solely to the loss in credibility of the government parties through their own inefficiency, corruption and patronage. This has obviously been a factor, but its effects would not have been nearly so great if the Communists had not succeeded, over the past 30 years, in progressively breaking down the anti-communism of others. This was accomplished because of the Communists' seriousness, their clean hands, their policy of dialogue and understanding with all the democratic forces, and the proof they have given in those cities where they are the majority that they are capable of providing good government. In short, the Italian Communists have run their party and the local administrations they control as "glass houses" and have contributed actively to a general development of democracy and participation. It is no accident that, after the big advance scored by the PCI in the regional and local elections of June 1975, three parties that had characterized their campaigns by opposition to the Communists-the Christian Democrats, the Social Democrats and the Liberals-were hit by internal crises, leading to replacement of their respective Secretaries. Obviously, the problem is not simply one of men, but of grasping the factors that have caused these parties to lose touch with the reality of the country and the growing desire of broad masses of people, particularly among the young generation, for social progress.

But not even these factors would have been sufficient, if others had not also played a part, beginning with the PCI's good fortune in having among its founders a figure such as Antonio Gramsci, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Italian political thinker of this century and a man who has left his mark on all Italian culture. From Gramsci, through Togliatti, down to our own days, a school of thought and political action has developed which has succeeded in building a mass party of 1,700,000 members that has been in the forefront not only of the workers' battles, but of all the movements for broader civil rights, for the development of a democratic society.

Admittedly, this development has also known moments of ambiguity, especially in the early cold-war period. These centered around the problem of the diversity of roads to socialism in the period of the Cominform, of the condemnation of Yugoslavia, and of Stalin's heavy-handed interventions in the East European "Peoples' Democracies," substantially aimed at imposing the Soviet model from the outside and from above, in contrast with national characteristics and needs. Such ambiguities did not change the inspiration and fundamental orientation of the PCI's policy, but they certainly prevented many democrats from believing that the Italian Communists would continue to follow original and different paths from those taken by the countries of Eastern Europe. The fact that the PCI has for a long time initiated a lively critical debate on these problems has undoubtedly contributed to dispelling these ambiguities, thus clarifying the permanence and consistency of the democratic policy it has followed in Italy.

If one factor has been determinant in the PCI's success, it has, in fact, been the factor of consistency:

-consistency in choosing and pursuing the democratic road, ever since the Party's first postwar Congress in January 1946, when the Communists, firmly rejecting all prospects of the sort unfolding in Greece, indicated as their preference for Italy's future a a democratic republic, "founded on a representative parliamentary system, in which the fundamental rights of citizens, freedom of speech, of conscience, of the press, of religion, of association and expression, of trade union organization, will be guaranteed and defended, in which all forms of political and legal inferiority of women will be suppressed, in which the road will be open to the realization of the right of every citizen to work, leisure, education and social security";

-consistency in working to build mutual understanding, collaboration and unity among the popular masses and the democratic forces;

-consistency in elaboration of an autonomous "Italian road to socialism" and its own conception of socialist society. The goal, as Luigi Longo, general secretary and now Chairman of PCI, put it at the 12th Congress in 1969, is to construct "a non-centralizing, non-bureaucratic socialist society. Such a society would include religious freedom, freedom of culture and the arts and sciences, freedom of information, of expression and the circulation of ideas, together with the presence of a plurality of political parties and social organizations engaged in a free and democratic dialectic of positions, even if conflicting, that would make socialism in Italy something qualitatively different from the experiences hitherto known, and fully in line with the traditions and will of our people";

-consistency in asserting and defending its autonomy and independence, on every occasion and on every level, together with its own autonomous judgment on questions concerning other Communist Parties, whether in power or not-from the USSR to China, from Czechoslovakia to Portugal. And consistency in developing a vision of internationalism capable of establishing links with all the forces in the world that are working in this direction along with those in Italy that are particularly active in the Socialist Party and in the Catholic movement, where the teachings of the Church, from the Second Vatican Council to the Encyclical Popularum Progressio, have provided a special impetus. It is no accident that at its last Congress (March 1976), the Christian Democratic Party proclaimed an internationalist vision and commitment of its own.

When, in 1976, the ex-President of the Italian Republic and Secretary of the Social Democratic Party, Giuseppe Saragat, states: "I have no doubts about the Communists' credibility as a democratic party";1 when, also in 1976, the Prime Minister, Aldo Moro, says that "the Communist Party is a great popular force," adding that the fact that the PCI is "deeply rooted in Italian society" helps "to bring great masses of people and workers closer to government, with a certain order and sense of responsibility";2 when the Vice Chairman of Fiat, Umberto Agnelli, declares: "If the PCI is ready to give its consent to a realistic program, why refuse it? From what position the PCI makes its contribution-whether from the majority or the opposition-is of little importance. For that matter, the official statements of this Party, which says that it accepts the Western logic of the market economy and the pluralistic system, are known to all, and I personally, as an industrialist, have no reason to doubt them. If, then, I look at the facts, at the Party's actual behavior on the local level, I cannot but admit that good administration is guaranteed in those localities where the PCI is in power";3 when the Italian Commissioner to the European Economic Community, Altiero Spinelli, states that "if Italy wants to remain a democracy, Communist participation in the government of public affairs is necessary, urgent and useful";4 then it should be clear that, if nothing else, the credibility of the Italian Communists has been established and their democratic consistency is today increasingly hard to contest.


The most recent developments in the Italian crisis have provided a difficult test of the seriousness and responsibility of the country's political forces. Since 1947, the PCI has been an opposition party. The opposition it wages is not, however, an a priori opposition. The Party does not aim-as would not have been difficult in these years-at bringing down one government after another, because the Communist Party is aware that this would only lead to paralysis and would discredit our democratic institutions; it has not forgotten the historical experience of the Weimar Republic and the French Fourth Republic. Its opposition is a positive opposition, guided by a conception that places national interests before Party interests and considers that a great popular force can succeed only if it works concretely for solutions to the large problems of a national society. It is, in other words, an opposition that avoids a priori counterpositions and instead aims at advancing-in Parliament and in the country-solutions that can at least partially answer the needs of the masses. For these masses cannot be satisfied simply with denunciations of errors in government policy or calls for a mythical "socialism" that will one day miraculously heal all ills.

Admittedly, Italy is today passing through a period of great uncertainty. Earlier this year Enrico Berlinguer pointed out: "On the one hand, in the country and also within the parties, there is a growing awareness that the Communist question can no longer be avoided, that the Italy of today cannot be governed without the PCI; but, on the other hand, there is reluctance or inability to draw from this conclusion all the necessary consequences in every field. From this persistent, but unresolved contradiction, our society is suffering more and more acutely every day." Not that the Communists think they possess any magic wand or miraculous healing powers. But they know that their entrance into the upper spheres of state leadership would mean a substantial change in the nature of government, in the form of participation in power by the entire workers' movement. They do not demand power for themselves: what they propose, for today and for tomorrow, is a democratic leadership of society and the state by a coalition of democratic forces; but they are ready at any moment to respect the verdict of the electorate, just as they accepted the political change of course that led to the exclusion of the PCI and the Socialist Party from government in 1947.

To what ends? And in what international context? The ends are dictated by today's problems; namely, to put Italy back on its feet. The Communists are not urging the "historic compromise" with the intention of creating new imbalances and dislocations in Italian society. Indeed, enough of these have been created in the past and have now become intolerable. The purpose of the "historic compromise" is to give this society-undermined by a crisis that is not only cyclical but structural-a new and more just equilibrium. Nor is it the PCI's intention to produce upsets in Italy's international relations. The Party's acceptance of the Atlantic Alliance and Italy's active participation in the building of the European Community is not some sort of tactical move to obtain a passport to power. It derives from an analysis of the international situation based on three observations: first, that Italy and the whole world need to go forward with détente and cooperation, because this policy has no alternatives, and peaceful coexistence is a condition for the gradual solution of the great problems of today's world; second, that one of the things that has made détente possible is the attainment of a military-strategic equilibrium and that further progress can be made in détente only to the extent that it does not produce unilateral disadvantages for one or the other side, but develops in the interest of all; third, that a unilateral withdrawal of Italy from the Atlantic Alliance would alter the strategic equilibrium between the two blocs existing in Europe, undermining one of the essential conditions for détente.

Neither in internal nor in international policy do the Communists make acceptance of their own program a condition for joining a government coalition. A common program will have to be worked out through discussion among all the forces concerned, and, obviously, a coalition can be formed only if there is substantial agreement on such a program. Broad elements of convergence, both in internal and foreign policy, have already emerged in the political debate of these past years and months. For more than 20 years foreign policy was probably the major point of contention among Italian political forces. In those years, the Communists worked hard for a national foreign policy that would be a factor not of division, but of unity and collaboration among the country's major democratic forces, and this in part involved updating and revising their own positions.

Today, there are no substantial disagreements on the major options of Italian foreign policy, although there is certainly considerable criticism-and by no means limited to the Communists-of the way in which this foreign policy is being implemented and the passivity that often characterizes it. Basically, what Italy needs in foreign policy is greater commitment to détente, and to the building of Western Europe, all of which is possible within the framework of its alliances. What the Communists are seeking is certainly not some sort of "Mediterraneanization" of Italy, but, on the contrary, its "Europeanization," a process which does not exclude, but rather favors, broader relations with the developing countries. Other moves in this same direction are the PCI's increasingly extensive contacts with the big European Socialist and Social Democratic Parties-in a search for points of convergence and understanding capable of laying the groundwork, in the short run, for a common answer to the great problems of our societies, and in the medium and long run, for a bridging of the history of divisiveness among the parties of the Left.

Obviously, a national foreign policy involves a jealous defense of autonomy in the internal political sphere, by which we mean the right of the Italian people to adopt-within the framework of their Constitution-any and all economic, political and social solutions they deem necessary for the country's progress. And this means rejection of the conception of "limited sovereignty" and of all interference. At the recent Congress of the Christian Democratic Party, Prime Minister Aldo Moro observed that "it is only natural and just to insist on the autonomy of our country, whose internal set-up can only depend on the will of the Italian people." But, he added, "it remains true that there are consequences on the international level, risks at least of isolation, which are important not only in themselves and for the damage they could do to national interests, but also for their possible effects on the delicate equilibrium upon which the peace of the world still rests."

On these points, maximum clarity is undoubtedly necessary. In the first place, as we have already stressed, the Communists do not want to upset the equilibrium, but rather to work to see that the process of détente moves forward concretely in all fields, including that of arms reduction, within a framework of respect for this equilibrium. They are convinced that blocs will continue to exist, until a more effective system of security is found that will permit them to be phased out. To charges that this poses risks of isolation, the Communists point out that it is precisely the lingering crisis in which Italy is foundering that is today isolating her, reducing her international prestige, authority and credibility and undermining national interests. It is extremely difficult to understand why an Italy that remains faithful to her international commitments and works seriously to straighten herself out and cope with the problems facing her should be subjected to "risks of isolation." On the contrary, given the danger, always present in integrated communities such as the European Community or in international alliances such as NATO, that a chronic crisis in one partner will be exported to the others, an Italy determined to solve her problems should actually be seen as a factor of stability, not of disruption. This would create the conditions for broader cooperation rather than for Italy's isolation.

On the question of relations between Italy and the United States, the Italian Communists also take a positive stand. They are well aware of the long history and scope of the ties existing between the two countries in all fields, not to mention the added bonds created by the fact that millions of Italians have found a second homeland in the United States. Certainly, they are not uncritical in their friendship with America, just as they are not uncritical in their friendship with anyone else. The PCI is definitely not uncritical in its attitude toward incidents that all Italian democratic forces consider an interference in Italian internal affairs. At the very least, these forces question the "wisdom" of the recent barrage of American "warnings" to Italy. To quote one of the country's major dailies, La Stampa of March 21, 1976: "These repeated warnings are already proving counterproductive in achieving their proposed ends [i.e., dissuading the Italians from supporting the PCI]. They are, in fact, hurting those very political forces that in Italy oppose the Communist Party by giving the impression that such forces are, whether they like it or not, 'in the service' of a foreign power."

The editor of Avanti, organ of the Italian Socialist Party, states it even more strongly: "We take the liberty of addressing a quiet invitation to the American authorities to . . . ask themselves why communism has advanced in Italy. We ask them just once to stop and analyze the phenomenon of 'Euro-communism,' to evaluate the detriment to America of appearing, in Europe as well, as the gendarmes of 'vested disorder,' the defenders of injustice and corruption, the enemies of the free sovereignty of peoples. . . . The attitude of Italian and European democracy is not one of willful defiance; on the contrary, it trusts in the opening of a dialogue. But the precondition is that the principle of the sovereignty of the free countries not be questioned, that their autonomy of choice be respected in word and in deed. Otherwise, no one has anything to gain."

At the recent Christian Democratic Congress, Luigi Granelli, Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, expressed himself in similar terms, when he observed that "the PCI's move toward new values includes that of membership in Italy's international alliances including NATO. If, then, we want to be credible toward the PCI, we must have the courage that De Gasperi showed in Paris, when he said that Italy is not a Republic with limited sovereignty and must decide its own future autonomously."

If we were motivated by anti-Americanism, we could, as Italian Communists, derive satisfaction from the polemics that have been bouncing back and forth across the Atlantic for months now. But we are not motivated by anti-Americanism; rather we are doing everything within our power to prevent the friendship between the two countries and two peoples from suffering setbacks.

It is all too evident that the prospects that seem to be opening up for Italy may force many people, on both sides of the Atlantic, to "think the unthinkable." But in history, the moment always comes when what was once unthinkable becomes reality. In Italy, we are in just such a phase, with the end of "old myths" and the birth of "new realities." Understanding this phase and finding the correct political response to it is the task now facing the Italians. And not only the Italians. But one thing must be absolutely clear: "The time has come to recognize how ridiculous and unfounded it is to portray the PCI as some sort of longa manus of the policy and interests of other states," as Enrico Berlinguer said in his report in preparation for the Party's last Congress. "We in Italy are the bearers, interpreters and defenders exclusively of the interests and aspirations of the Italian working class, working people and popular masses."


Naturally, the Communists have also had to "think the unthinkable," to come to grips with their own history and rethink old convictions. One of the PCI's top leaders, Giorgio Napolitano, recently stated: "We are well aware of the fact that today we are asserting a conception of the relationship between democracy and socialism that cannot be identified with the one elaborated by Lenin." In a recent joint declaration, the PCI and the Spanish Communists proclaimed that "their conception of a democratic advance to socialism, in peace and freedom, is not a tactical attitude, but a strategic conviction, rising out of an analysis of the experiences of the working-class movement as a whole and of the specific historical conditions of their respective countries in the West European situation." Accompanying this is "the conviction that socialism can only be built in our countries through the development and full implementation of democracy. Underlying this is full recognition of the value of guaranteeing individual and collective freedoms, the principles of the secular nature of the state and its democratic organization, the plurality of political parties in an atmosphere of free competition, autonomy of the trade unions, religious freedom, freedom of speech, culture, art and science."

In the economic sphere, the joint declaration continues, "a socialist solution must ensure a high level of production through a policy of democratic planning that makes use of the coexistence of various forms of initiative including both public and private management."

A similar declaration was made with the French Communist Party: in socialist society "all the freedoms-which are a product both of the great democratic-bourgeois revolutions and of the great popular struggles of this century, headed by the working class-will have to be guaranteed and developed. This holds true for freedom of thought and expression, for freedom of the press, of assembly, association and demonstration, for the free movement of individuals inside and outside their country, for the inviolability of private life, for religious freedom and total freedom of expression for all currents of thought and every philosophical, cultural and artistic opinion. The French and Italian Communists declare themselves for the plurality of political parties, for the right to active existence of opposition parties, for the free formation of majorities and minorities and the possibility of their alternating democratically, for the secular nature and democratic functioning of the state, and for independence of the judiciary. In the same way, they declare themselves in favor of freedom of activity and autonomy for the trade unions."

These convictions are, we repeat, part of a long-run strategy and not temporary tactics. When we say that they rise out of "an analysis of the experiences of the working class movement as a whole," this is the logical development of what Palmiro Togliatti said in April 1956, commenting on the dissolution of the Cominform: "In practice, the road we are following, and the road the French comrades are following, have few points in common with the one followed by the Parties that have been in power in Eastern Europe for approximately ten years now." Twenty years have passed since then, and in these years the Italian Communists have worked constantly on these problems, deepening and developing their conceptions concerning the autonomy and independence of Communist Parties, an Italian road to socialism and the characteristics that a socialist society must have in Italy and in other similar West European countries. This democratic, pluralistic socialism, Berlinguer said in Moscow at the 25th Soviet Party Congress in February 1976, is "the only one possible for Italian society." Commenting on Berlinguer's independent stand in Moscow, which he described as "frank, open, determined and without half measures," Socialist Party Secretary Francesco De Martino stated to the 40th Congress of his party: "We feel that [independence from Moscow] has now become a historical option."

Nevertheless, there are still people in Italy and elsewhere who ask, "Where are the guarantees?" Among those who raise this question in Italy is Ugo La Malfa, former Deputy Prime Minister and now Chairman of the Republican Party, who seems to have found an answer in the fact that "through the historic compromise, the PCI intends to sanction the existence of a pluralistic political society, i.e., the need for agreement with forces that ideologically and politically occupy positions totally different from its own. . . . In other words, through the historic compromise, the Italian Communist Party, recognizing the existence of a pluralistic political society, asserts another element of autonomy in its policy with respect to the monolithic character of the Soviet or para-Soviet societies."5 Others include such Christian Democratic leaders as former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, who seems to seek an answer in the "Italian Communists' option in favor of the European Community." "The Communist problem, like other problems," Andreotti said in his speech to the Christian Democratic Congress, "must be dealt with along the road to Europe. Is so-called Euro-communism a utopia or, worse yet, a tactic and a trap? Is it possible to cheat in a Community of nine European states (and there will soon be more), with 46 associate states in Africa, America and Asia?"6

Not only is it not possible to "cheat," but, the Italian Communists have no intention of "cheating" and have never "cheated" in these long decades. On the contrary, they have been a decisive force in defending the Constitution of the Republic and its pluralistic inspiration, when others (including the Christian Democrats themselves, for long periods) sought to emasculate it or put it on ice. In substance, they have played a role in Italian society that in other historical periods would have been proper to liberal parties and forces. When one reflects today on the reasons for the PCI's influence in Italian society, this liberal component must be considered, together with the role that the Communists have played in expanding popular participation in democratic life and in the decision-making processes in those localities where they are already a governing force. This policy and this Communist presence have introduced an element into Italian life that is qualitatively new compared to the time when democracy was primarily "delegated" democracy. It has confronted all other political forces with a challenge, because the PCI owes its mass support, last but not least, to the fact that it has succeeded in endowing its own ranks with an intense democratic character-a democratic character not frozen or paralyzed by factional divisions of the sort which all the other Italian parties are now trying to eliminate.

The Italian Communists have built their road piece by piece, through a political and intellectual effort that has involved millions of men in a continual critical analysis of themselves, of others and of "the experiences of the working-class movement as a whole," in the East and in the West, from Chile to Portugal. In the hypothetical case that an attempt was made to "cheat," it is this party, built as a function of this policy, that such an attempt would have to come to grips with, even before confronting other political forces. Top Italian Communist leaders often state that the PCI "will never open breaches on the Eastern frontier," and they maintain, in polemics with Soviet ideologists, that in present world conditions "to insist on defining internationalism only as proletarian does not permit us to link up with all forces, thus multiplying initiative and commitment to the struggle." Such statements are nothing more than reconfirmations of positions that are irrevocable for all Italian Communists and constitute some of the principal reasons for the deep roots the party has established in contemporary Italy.

Here we come to the heart of the matter: the real guarantee against "cheating" lies in the Italian Communists' awareness of the sources of their support and the resultant conviction that any other road, for today and for tomorrow, would be absolute folly, if not a demonstration of insane masochism. The Socialist Pietro Nenni recently said that "the solid link that the Western Communists are forging between communism and democracy is something that goes far back, as Togliatti used to say, and is destined to go far." In Italy, in fact, this link is by now a long-established fact. And it is precisely to this link-and not to any chance combination of historical circumstances-that the PCI owes the position it today occupies in national society. It is to the consistency with which it has followed this line that it owes the growth of its credibility and, hence, its influence. Indeed, the most recent developments on the West European level cannot, we feel, be totally separated from the thinking done by others in connection with the line pursued by the PCI since 1945 (and even earlier) and the results that this line has permitted it to obtain.


Fifty years ago, facing the Fascist Special Tribunal that was to condemn him to die in prison, Antonio Gramsci said, "You will lead Italy to ruin, and it will be up to us Communists to save it." Today, Italy is facing another hurdle in its long, troubled history. "The line we call the historic compromise," Enrico Berlinguer said two years ago, "is intended as the Communist Party's answer to the new crucial test facing the country." Berlinguer later clarified this response. "The historic compromise must not be understood solely as a proposal for a new government or a new majority with the Communists. This is one aspect, and by no means a secondary one, but the policy of the historic compromise is something more than a government formula." It is "something that works even today to promote a method of action and political relationships that, while helping to facilitate the solution of urgent problems, spurs on the parties and all the democratic forces, in the representative institutions and in the country at large, to seek mutual understanding and agreement."

In line with this idea and in the face of a deepening political and economic crisis, the proposal advanced by the PCI in April 1976 called for a political agreement to ensure the normal completion of the legislative term and a solution to some of the most urgent problems. Such an agreement would have permitted all the parties in the constitutional spectrum to tackle these problems through joint effort and shared responsibility, without modifying their respective positions in the majority or in the opposition and without useless government crises. However, this proposal was rejected by the Christian Democratic Party, which saw it as a sort of "waiting room" for the historic compromise. The result has been a dissolution of Parliament and early elections, in a situation that is the most difficult that Italy has had to face in the past 30 years. What happens next is current events.

In the course of this election campaign, the PCI has once again affirmed that what the Communists want is to contribute, together with the other democratic forces, to a process of renewal capable of helping Italy attain a new equilibrium and a new political stability. The PCI is convinced that at least for a number of years-for the time necessary to get the country out of the crisis and start it down a really new road-Italy must have a broad-based coalition government embracing all the democratic, popular parties, including the Communist Party. This proposal, as the Communists themselves are the first to realize, may encounter perplexity and hesitation on the part of others, and it certainly involves problems and difficulties. But the greatest risk today lies in not changing, in clinging to the illusion that it is enough to give a new coat of paint to old solutions that have definitely seen their day. This new course can and will be achieved in freedom, democracy and peace, which is a fundamental condition for all progress, and within the framework of respect for Italy's international commitments. Antonio Gramsci wrote in 1919: "The division of mankind cannot last long. Mankind tends toward unification, internal and external; it tends to organize itself in a system of peaceful coexistence that will make reconstruction of the world possible." The problem is immense, but "reconstruction" is the real challenge facing a world that is now approaching the year 2000. On a much smaller scale, the same problem faces Italy: How is the country to pull out of its crisis and carry out the far-reaching renewal that is necessary?

In the final analysis, this is the essence of the "Communist question." And this question is an inseparable part of the Italian reality. The adversaries of the "historic compromise" in the West-and in Italy, first and foremost-still have to explain why an Italy that achieves a new democratic stability and overcomes its imbalances, even if she does so with the indispensable contribution of the Communists, is less desirable than the Italy of today. It is our conviction that Western Europe, and the West in general, would have nothing to lose and everything to gain. And the first to gain would be the future of democracy in Italy.


1 L'Umanita (Rome), March 18, 1976.

2 Il Popolo (Rome), March 12, 1976.

3 Gazzetta del Popolo (Turin), January 17, 1976.

4 La Stampa (Turin), February 15, 1976.

5 La Voce Repubblicana (Rome), March 19, 1976.

6 Il Popolo (Rome), March 22, 1976.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • Sergio Segre, head of the International Department of the Italian Communist Party since 1970, is a member of the Central Committee of the PCI and, since 1972, a Member of Parliament in the Chamber of Deputies, where he serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee. He was co-editor of l'Unità (Rome), 1969-70, and is the author of La questione tedesca and other writings.
  • More By Sergio Segre