Italy's Socialist Party is center stage, brought there by political transformations at home and abroad. Internally, changes in the Italian electorate have caught the Communist Party and the Christian Democrats flat-footed, helping to plunge these major protagonists into crisis. Externally, the spectacular performance of the French Socialists, and the recent victory of the Greek Socialists, lead many to argue that in Italy too the Socialists represent the wave of the future.
Claims of this sort may appear excessive, even perverse. After all, the PSI is the smallest of Southern Europe's Socialist parties. In 1979 it captured less than ten percent of the national vote, compared with more than 30 percent for the Communists (PCI) and almost 40 percent garnered by the Christian Democrats (DC). Although the PSI has registered additional gains in local and regional elections held since that date, it rarely attracts more than 15 percent of the voters.
One might write off the recent ballyhoo about the Italian Socialists as so much self-advertising, or media hype, were it not for the singular problems faced by the PCI and DC. The previously uninterrupted PCI march toward a formal share of national power was halted in 1979, and the Communists have continued to experience electoral reversals, some of them dramatic, since then. The Christian Democrats are stalled too, not only electorally but also in that "renewal" of their party organization, leadership and public morality so often promised and so rarely delivered. The malaise of the Christian Democrats is symbolized by the advent of the Spadolini government in 1981, ending their postwar monopoly of the prime ministership.
Recently the Christian Democrats have gone to great pains to demonstrate more internal cohesion at the top than anyone would have thought possible, given the scandals and other tribulations they have faced. The PCI, too, is trying to put its best foot forward, particularly through a fierce attack on the U.S.S.R. over the Polish crisis. But Italy's two major parties are still trying to redefine their identities and
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