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 future roles; they are in search of the touchstones that will stem their electoral reversals; they are at sea as to how to navigate in political waters made surprisingly problematical by the Socialists.

The PSI looks very healthy by comparison, and electoral gains are merely one indication of this robustness. Small though its gains may appear to the outsider, they have magnified significance in an Italy where minute electoral shifts often trigger cabinet crises and reshuffles, national elections, and coalition realignments. Moreover, the PSI's newfound prowess is connected to the party's reorganization, its program and especially the leadership of Bettino Craxi, its Secretary General. Taken together, these factors lead people to ask not whether the PSI will gain control of the national government, but when-and with what consequences.

Could Craxi become Italy's equivalent of François Mitterrand in France? Might he engineer the kind of upgrading of the Socialists and decline of the Communists that brought Mitterrand to power? What kinds of domestic and foreign policies would the PSI pursue in power? Would it insist on constitutional and institutional reforms, and if so which ones? Above all, what calibre and kind of political and economic management could one expect from a national government led by the PSI?

To shed some light on such questions, three topics require attention-the PSI's relationship to the Italian Communists; the quality of leadership represented by Bettino Craxi and other key Socialists who are emerging under his guidance and control; and the PSI's apparent domestic and foreign policy preferences.


Relationships between the Socialists and Communists could scarcely be worse than they are today. Deterioration began innocently enough a few years ago when Norberto Bobbio, a Socialist and also one of Italy's most distinguished and respected scholars, took to interrogating the PCI.1 Bobbio expressed doubt regarding the extent to which Communist leaders understood Western democratic political philosophy and institutions. He asked the Communists to explain, for example, how they could reconcile their vaunted conversion to "democratic pluralism" with their Marxist-Leninist traditions and culture.

Under Craxi's leadership, this comradely confrontation on the Left has escalated into a major strategy, designed to challenge the PCI in every possible sphere; to keep it on the defensive, to ask it to explain its shortcomings; to praise its progress toward democracy and reformism, but also to find residues of Leninism, of ideological dependency on the U.S.S.R; and to underscore that the PCI still has some distance to go before it can hope to achieve full legitimacy in a free, democratic society. Indeed, evidence that the PCI may indeed have become a reformist, democratic, nonrevolutionary party is frankly placed in doubt, on the speculation that for the PCI these reformist steps may not be ends in themselves but merely the means of "revolutionary penetration."

Leaders of the PCI do not enjoy being patronized, much less lectured to, by a Socialist party less than one-third its size. However, Craxi and other Socialists who guessed that the Communists would not easily develop a coherent counter-strategy turned out to be right. The months since June 1981, when the PSI demonstrated that it could push ahead electorally essentially everywhere, have found PCI leaders plunged into increasingly confused and acrimonious debate over the question of what to do about the PSI. Enrico Berlinguer, and for the moment an apparent majority of the PCI leadership, prefer a hard line that would meet every PSI attack with a counterattack. Indeed, this approach would make the PSI an open target, not only in electoral campaigns but in the day-to-day operation of the PCI's considerable opinion-influencing apparatus.

Giorgio Napolitano, the PCI's parliamentary leader, is the key figure in a smaller group who prefer a softer, more subtle response, based on continuing dialogue and diplomacy with the PSI. Napolitano's differences with Berlinguer on this, as well as other issues, are widely reported in the Italian press. However, members of the dissenting group are at pains to insist that the ongoing internal debate should not be misconstrued as potential schism. The truth seems to be that the PCI is simultaneously pursuing a hard and soft line toward the PSI. This strategy is somewhat reciprocated by the PSI's left wing, which remains steadfastly committed to the idea that Craxi's approach represents potential disaster for the Left as a whole, and for the PCI in particular.

For the PSI, it is less important whether the open-conflict response of Berlinguer or the extended-hand effort of Napolitano prevails than it is that the PCI be kept off balance and reactive, and that the public debate center on the Socialists. Where this occurs, it blends with a PSI strategy which, under Craxi's dominion, involves open antagonism toward the PCI. The long-run goal toward which this strategy aims is precisely that of having the PSI outdistance the PCI electorally; its short-run aim is to have the PSI replace the DC (or at least alternate with it) as the party around which governmental coalitions will be formed. This latter step might be taken in a cabinet reshuffle. Alternatively, it is expected by the Socialists to result from the outcome of the next elections, especially if they occur in the spring or early summer of this year.

Those who doubt that these are realizable ambitions easily turn scornful, noting that as recently as a few months ago the idea of the PSI governing Italy would have produced derisive laughter almost everywhere. To be sure, the evidence is growing that Craxi is molding if not a new PSI, certainly a remarkably different one. Nevertheless, the doubters insist that the Mitterrand analogy won't fly because, simply put, Italy's PCI is not the French Communist Party. Just as Togliatti was not Thorez, Berlinguer is a far cry from Georges Marchais. In sharp contrast to the PCF, the PCI is relatively free of Stalinist residues; it remains relatively friendly toward Catholicism and ready to pursue a strategy of broad alliances at home and in Europe; it is in favor of the institutions of the European Community, has accepted NATO, and has avoided declarations that strike fear into the hearts of others.

Above all, the doubters argue, the PCI has followed the prescription of Antonio Gramsci, and thereby established a "presence" in every sector of Italian society. In doing so, it has brought into being, if not Gramscian "hegemony," then surely a formidable apparatus with which the PSI can scarcely hope to compete. The apparatus includes human and organizational capabilities that have been the envy of other political parties-indeed, they are a key reason why other parties fear the presence of the PCI in a national governmental coalition. In short, the doubters repeat, the PCI is not the PCF, and Berlinguer will never be as accommodating to Craxi as Marchais was to Mitterrand.

As his purpose unfolds, Craxi reveals a willingness to carry his campaign into territories and issue areas that his PSI predecessors would have found unthinkable. In the Communist citadel of Bologna, last summer, the Socialist contingent in the municipal council voted against a PCI-sponsored resolution opposing nuclear missiles in Italy, thereby defeating it. Craxi followed with a ringing speech, putting the Communists on notice that the PSI is prepared to challenge them even in the Red Belt (Tuscany, Emilio Romagna and Umbria), where the PCI is strongest.

The Craxi approach is supple, some would say inconsistent and contradictory. On the question of preserving or scuttling left-dominated local or regional governments, the PSI rejects a set formula and plays each situation in its turn. A threat to abandon cooperation with the PCI here is followed by a last-minute decision to preserve a PCI mayor there. If the PCI expresses approval of a Craxi decision to keep the communes of Rome and Genoa in PCI hands, it soon cries foul when a leading Socialist suggests that Nilde Jotti, the Communist speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, should be removed. The trick has been to keep the tension high and to assure that the drama itself centers on the PSI. So far it has been executed with remarkable skill, and with relatively few false steps.

In view of this strategy, it is curious that so many in Italy think that it is largely up to the PCI to determine what its relationship to the PSI will be. It is precisely this pattern that Craxi and his closest supporters intend to change. Craxi truly means to reverse the electoral ratios; he believes this requires a frontal attack against the PCI: he wants the PSI to alternate with the DC in the control of governmental coalitions; and he wants an ironclad agreement with the Christian Democrats that will keep the PCI marginal to the governmental system. Above all, he wants to short-circuit any more private exclusive bargaining between the PCI and DC, of the kind that took place during the heyday of the "Historic Compromise" maneuvers.

It is a serious misreading of contemporary Italy to believe that the PCI always counts for more than the PSI. And it is highly dubious to assume, as so many still believe, that the voters are prepared to be severe with a PSI that may fragment the Left, or become too cozy with the discredited Christian Democrats. Craxi may be a high roller, with the odds against his strategy working, but the cards the PSI is playing are strong ones.


Two factors from which the PSI is clearly deriving very notable benefits are, first, Bettino Craxi himself and the form of leadership he brings to the party; and second, certain structural changes in Italian society and the Italian electorate.

No one today can contest that Craxi is already one of the most effective leaders the PSI has turned up in decades-a major protagonist in Italian politics who will have to be reckoned with for some time to come. Relatively obscure and colorless until recent years, he emerged in the late 1970s as the compromise Secretary General of a PSI debilitated by internal factionalism and handicapped by an aging leadership with little electoral appeal. As recently as 1979, there were many Italians, Socialists included, who saw the PSI as doomed never to get more than ten percent of the national vote; indeed, Craxi's fate as the PSI's leader turned in part on whether he could reverse its electoral fortunes.

Against this background, Craxi's achievements have been not only remarkable but downright spectacular. Having persuaded older and unsuspecting leaders to name him the PSI leader, in five years he has managed to:

1. Abolish the old factional structure of the party and recreate a new majority faction, led by himself and openly called "revisionist."

2. Rout the PSI Left, by co-opting some of its leaders, defeating and exiling the rest.

3. Transform majorities in local PSI organizations so that, at the April 1981 Party Congress, in Palermo, his faction captured 70 percent of the vote. This proportion is now reflected in the PSI's national governing bodies. That is, Craxi is solidly in control everywhere.

4. Persuade the Congress to revise the party's bylaws, so as to permit him to be elected directly by the delegates. This guarantees that Craxi cannot be removed from office until the next Party Congress is called three years hence.

5. Introduce a high degree of discipline-some would say "democratic centralism"-into the party. That Craxi brooks no serious deviation was shown last October when a number of left-wing PSI members of parliament, publicly critical of his foreign policy line, were summarily dismissed from the party.

6. Push the PCI and DC into the political wings, place the PSI center stage and in the process become the most interviewed, discussed, praised and excoriated political leader in Italy.

7. Bring into positions of responsibility within the PSI a younger generation of leaders personally attached to or tightly controlled by him. Even on the PSI Left, he has brought younger leaders forward, not only in the party but also in the cabinet. These new leaders may turn out to be Craxi's most enduring legacy to a party that was by any test in the throes of arteriosclerosis.2

These are not negligible feats, as even Craxi's detractors recognize. Many even within his own party score him as an exhibitionist, a Janus-like figure who will construct and topple governments as it may suit his ambitions, and as a leader who will scarcely correct the PSI's dubious political morality. To others he appears not as a shrewd and ruthless political manipulator, but rather as a gifted and courageous leader who may grow into statesmanship. And to a great many Italians he seems to emerge as a positive and appealing figure, notwithstanding many personal attributes that Italians usually consider unappealing.

What is undeniable is that Craxi seems to have understood better than most of his contemporaries how much Italy has changed, and what these changes portend by way of challenges and opportunities for mass political parties. Briefly noted, the changes include the secularization of Italian society; the decline of social class as a key factor establishing the political identity of the individual; the depolarization of the political system itself; and the decline of political party identification as the major factor conditioning the voter's electoral choices.3

The evidence of political secularization began with the popular referendum on divorce a few years ago, and is by now overwhelming. Neither the Christian Democrats nor the Catholic Church can pretend to dictate how Italians will vote on issues like divorce and abortion that go to the heart of the concept of the family. What may be less obvious is that secularization impulses in Italy are felt not only by Catholics but by members of the Marxist "church" as well. If one can distinguish between votes based on deep-seated beliefs or ideology and votes based on other considerations, it seems apparent that those in the second category are rising relative to the others.

Another way of putting this is to note that Italian politics are simply not as polarized as in past years, whether by concepts of class warfare, anticlericalism, urban-rural tensions, or extreme regional economic and cultural disparities. In the past, Italy's degree of polarization, of mutually exclusive and antagonistic political groupings, was reflected in the existence of Communist, Socialist, Christian Democratic and laical subcultures. Today these subcultures are clearly breaking down on all sides.

As polarization diminishes and political subcultures become less watertight, strong identifications with specific political parties weaken as well. Political parties that fail to understand this, or that try to preserve past structures, do so at their great risk. With specific issues, or the personalities of candidates, becoming more important to voters than a party label or emotional attachment to a given party, only a flexible party will survive such changes electorally. The more rigid a party's ideology and the less disposed it is to make compromises or become a "catchall" party, the tougher is likely to be its electoral sledding.4

In the Italian context the parties least responsive to these transformations are the PCI and DC. By comparison the PSI, especially since 1976, has become highly flexible in making direct appeals to "opinion" or "issue" voters. It has therefore been much more successful in emulating an approach to the electorate pioneered by the Italian Radical Party, whose leaders understood before anyone else how modern and secularized the electorate had become. In addition, because Italy appears less ideologically polarized, because views about political issues have been converging toward the center, the PSI is strategically placed to take advantage of this shift.

It may well be that electoral support captured on this sort of ad hoc, catch-as-catch-can basis is less stable than support based on strong party identification. It may also be that both the PCI and the DC retain strong reservoirs of dedicated voters who will not easily abandon these parties, for the PSI or any other alternative. Nevertheless, if the number of "floating voters" is up, if the pool of nonvoters grows larger (as it has in Italy), these are obviously places where the PSI is going in search of support. In order to attract them, the PSI has demonstrated a capacity to be highly pragmatic in its policy choices.


The PSI likes to think of itself as "the party of governments and of governability." Its leaders are proud that throughout Italy, at all levels of government, they form the key group around which coalitions are organized. In the national government, the PSI justifies its return to collaboration with the DC on grounds that nothing positive can occur in political or economic management until a minimum level of stability-governability-is introduced.

To many Italians, this claim has a hollow ring. They point out that numerical majorities excluding the PCI are not something new, and that coalitions rarely fail because majorities are found wanting on votes of confidence. Coalitions fail because parties to them take to bickering over policies and fall out-because partners do not agree about basic policies or because certain proposals are not enacted, or, if enacted, not implemented. They fail because governments do not secure that minimum social consensus that difficult choices and policies require. They fail when power shifts, even slightly, among internal party factions. Above all, they fail outside of parliament itself, when the leaders of coalition parties decide to have a government crisis.

This being so, many are now asking what it is about the PSI and its commitment to "governability" that might turn these patterns around. Socialists reply that one must assess the party's restatement of its own identity and goals, and the policies it has advocated and pursued since its reintegration into a Center-Left government.

At Palermo last April, the PSI orchestrated its own transformation. The "Theses" adopted at the party's 42nd Congress specify that it is committed to "pragmatism, gradualism, and reform." For a party whose past is riddled with "maximalist" fiascos and even disasters, this amounts almost to a rejection of classical Italian socialism.

Not only do the "Theses" set the PSI on a new course; they boldly declare that the PSI is now different from the rest of the Left, and they challenge the PCI to follow its lead. Here is an example:

We do not have-nor do we aspire to have-a totalizing philosophy that pretends to give answers to all questions: it is exactly for this reason that we are not a church, an institution that promises collective salvation, but rather a party open to all of those who, whatever may be their religious faith or metaphysics, accept the values and agree on the fundamental values of democratic socialism. . . . We accept gradualism because we hold that society is not a machine that can be taken apart at will but rather a complex organism governed by the principle of continuity.5

The "Theses," Craxi's concluding remarks to the delegates at Palermo and the party's subsequent behavior do indeed reveal a high degree of pragmatism, so much so that critics have not hesitated to use words like "opportunism" and "schizophrenia."

Regarding domestic policies, it is abundantly clear that, even with its contradictions, the PSI posture is some distance from that of Mitterrand and Pierre Mauroy in France. Not only is the PSI now officially opposed to nationalizations; it seems prepared to return specific nationalized industries to the private sector. A dramatic step in this direction was recently taken by Gianni DeMichelis, the dynamic Socialist Minister for State Holdings, when he engineered the sale to a private group of the state-owned equity in the great electric power firm, Montedison. Documents prepared under DeMichelis' direction suggest that similar events will occur in other sectors.

It is not clear whether the DeMichelis campaign is PSI policy, approved by Craxi, or something of his own doing. One interpretation holds that this program is an integral part of Craxi's effort to win the support of leading exponents of Italy's private industrial sector. Another is that, as perhaps the leading challenger to Craxi's leadership of the PSI, DeMichelis is independently wooing the same supporters. In any case, Socialist policy statements boldly declare that the market and privately owned firms are compatible with socialism; indeed, they add that nationalizations that create risk of "bureaucratic collectivism" are not.

Although the PSI does not reject the welfare state, it wants to reexamine its underlying assumptions, to reduce or abolish its excesses and irrationalities. Although it subscribes to a planned approach to economic development, it flatly rejects the model of highly centralized, dirigiste direction.

Recent PSI language on economic policy even has more than a little "supply-side" ring. The PSI has now placed a well-known economist, Francesco Forte, at the head of its economic policy division. As a leading magazine notes, this pleases the Bank of Italy. Forte himself makes no bones about rejecting "totalizing ideologies," shopworn notions of class conflict, old-fashioned populism, and excessive governmental interference with enterprise at every level. He flatly declares that there is too much state ownership of industry and that industries would function better if they were privately owned. He also turns his guns on the PCI, accusing it of vacillating between ouvrierisme, on the one hand, and a neo-mercantilist approach to planning that would create and maintain a corporatist structure in Italy. Pressed to say whether the party's economic approach is closer to Mitterrand or to the more moderate French Socialists like Jacques Delors and Michel Rocard, Forte indicates that the model, if one insists, is closer to Helmut Schmidt.

In practical operational terms, however, it is evident that the PSI's approach to economic management is considerably at odds with that of the Christian Democrats, the major partner in the present government coalition. The PSI Executive Committee, for example, endorsed Spadolini's "Pact Against Inflation," but only on the assumption that the central problem to be attacked is unemployment. Thus, it supports a ten-billion-dollar three-year public spending program that aims at job creation-while at the same time the ten-point program offered to the Executive Committee by Forte expresses optimism about Italy's economic condition and suggests that the government reduce welfare subsidies and outlays to local authorities, combat worker absenteeism and increase the prices paid for public services.

Such optimism, as well as some of the internal contradictions in the program, has brought criticism from within the PSI itself. More important, perhaps, is evidence that the PSI approach to Italy's soaring economic problems is causing high tension within the Cabinet itself. The respected Minister of the Treasury, Nino Andreatta, may well wonder what the PSI's commitment to stability and governability can mean in the light of the party's contradictory statements about economic management and its open attacks on his-and the government's-policies. Italy's dilemma remains that of devising a set of domestic policies around which a coalition government that excludes the PCI can reach enough agreement to move ahead despite Communist opposition.

Another major area of domestic policy debate involves institutional and constitutional reform. Along with its slogans about governability, and morality in public life, the PSI has advocated what it calls "The Grand Reform." It is not yet clear which specific reforms the PSI would pursue if it gained control of the government. Bettino Craxi is said to encourage other Socialists to advocate certain changes to see how they sit with the public, but which of these he would make his own as prime minister is still a mystery. Nevertheless, the "Theses" and Craxi's response to the debate at the April Congress suggest that the PSI favors a redefinition of the powers of the two houses of the legislature; a shift of powers to the executive; a reorganization of the office of prime minister; a streamlining of legislative procedures; the constructive vote of non-confidence (i.e., that a government cannot be overthrown unless its opposition commands a majority for an alternative); a reduction in the discretionary powers of investigating magistrates; and a "threshold" requirement in Italy's proportional representation electoral system (specifically that any party has to get five percent of the votes to qualify at all).

The Federal Republic of Germany obviously serves as a model for many of these proposals. The Socialists are convinced, as are many others in Italy, that law and institutions do make a difference. Which reforms should be adopted, and precisely what differences they will make, are hotly debated questions. For example, neither the abolition of secret ballots on votes of confidence, nor the introduction of the constructive vote of non-confidence, will preserve cabinet stability or prolong the lives of governments if decisions to topple them are made by coalition party secretaries, rather than by parliament itself.

In any event, the PSI proposals generate much opposition not only because they conflict with reforms suggested by other parties; they are opposed because so many of them are patently self-serving and are therefore seen as threats to the other parties, including the smaller "laical" parties. Among the latter, only the Social Democrats (PSDI) seem disposed to accept the kind of hegemony that some Socialist proposals, if adopted, would permit the PSI to exercise over the others.

The PSI approach to domestic politics, and its emphasis on the need for institutional reform, is partly aimed at rebutting the PCI claim that catastrophe is around the corner. It also seeks to refute the idea that the situation is so grave it requires that the PCI be included in the government, or at least that a consensus that includes the PCI be assured regarding major policies.6


If the PSI's domestic policies are tailored to differentiate it from the PCI, and to keep the latter defensively off balance, this is doubly the case regarding foreign policy. The party underscores its ties to the Socialist International, and, with qualifications noted below, applauds that organization's more assertive role in world affairs. It welcomes European Socialist initiatives to give Europe, and the European Community, a more cohesive and independent role on the major issues that threaten world peace. It believes that Italy itself should better exploit its special relationship to and understanding of the Arab world.

Regarding the United States, the PSI expresses the hope that it will reopen negotiations in favor of nuclear arms limitations; it urges the United States to join with leading Latin American countries to oppose dictatorships, military or otherwise; although it supports the Camp David approach in the Middle East, the PSI believes that it fails to confront, as any solution must, the problem of the Palestinians. In addition, Craxi states that America must be more understanding of the pressures and the ties that lead Europe, Italy included, to seek a wide variety of relationships with Eastern Europe, as well as more willing to recognize that, among the Western nations in search of a common good, there must be equality of treatment in negotiations and decision-making.7

On pronouncements of this kind, one finds the Socialists and Communists close together. But such agreements are superficial. Below the surface, the Craxi approach is to highlight situations that reveal Communist ambiguities, or that suggest that the PCI remains unable to free itself from international political strategies emanating from or directed by Moscow. Socialists, therefore, press the PCI to explain why it falls short of denouncing Soviet behavior in Southeast Asia, Africa or Afghanistan as imperialistic, and why the Communists do not condemn extremist destabilizing movements in Latin America.

The PSI comes out ringingly in favor of the Atlantic Alliance and in opposition to any form of neutralization or "Finlandization" of Europe. Any evidence of equivocation or qualification on the part of the PCI is interpreted to mean that, whatever else may be true of the PCI's domestication, it remains an unreliable partner of the country's democratic, Western-oriented political parties. The underlying and persistent challenge has been: show us that you are opposed to the Soviet Union without qualification. To which the PCI's response has been: our record speaks for itself and will not be added to on the basis of demands from the Socialists, or from anyone else.

On matters involving the Western military alliance, no Christian Democrat has been a fiercer pro-Western defense minister than the Socialist incumbent, Lelio Lagorio. The issue of theater nuclear forces (TNF) offers a dramatic example of Socialists and Communists standing toe-to-toe. In December 1979, the PCI opposed, and the PSI supported, Italy's decision to accept the siting of intermediate-range U.S. cruise missiles on its territory. Last September, Enrico Berlinguer's negative references to that decision set loose a storm of acrimony.

On the current Polish crisis and the projected gas pipeline from the U.S.S.R. to Western Europe, the PSI has taken a harder line than either the Socialist International or the West German and French governments. It has formally dissented from the International's official statement opposing inflammatory rhetoric concerning Soviet involvement in Poland, and come out against Italy's joining with others to purchase pipeline gas.

But the Polish crisis, and the PCI response to it, have now made it harder for the PSI to depict the Communists as too closely and inextricably tied to the Soviet Union. The PCI's public attacks on the U.S.S.R. escalated so rapidly in December and January that the Craxi group found itself reaching for straws to support its claim that the rupture was still unpersuasive. In mid-December Craxi declared that "half-judgments were of little value," and that one (i.e., the PCI) had to acknowledge that "the basic cause of the Polish tragedy is precisely Soviet imperialism."8

At the end of the year the PCI Executive Committee issued a bombshell statement, not just excoriating the military coup and repression in Poland but, more important, announcing that the historical phase ushered in by the October Revolution had ended and that a new phase of socialist development must begin. In the middle of January the PCI Central Committee issued its own ringing repudiation of the U.S.S.R.'s Polish interference as well as reiterating that the historical phase inaugurated by the October Revolution had lost its propulsive force. These official PCI actions led to an unprecedented Pravda blast from Moscow and to a reasoned, uncompromising reply from the Italian Communists. In Europe, as well as in Italy, these events were seen as a profound redefinition of the PCI's relationship to the U.S.S.R., as well as cementing still further that party's image as an autonomous democratic organization.9

Initially, Socialists close to Craxi sought to minimize these events by arguing that the PCI steps were 25 years late and that many PCI members no doubt disagreed with their own national leaders. But following Italian and worldwide reactions to the PCI-U.S.S.R. collision and Pravda's "excommunication," Craxi himself acknowledged before his Executive Committee that the PCI had given a clear and radical manifestation of its autonomy. He added that, if this transformation was to benefit the Italian Left, the PSI as a party would have to get even stronger. It shortly became clear that the PCI, to gain complete legitimacy with the PSI, would have to support Craxi as premier within the present five-party coalition, from which the Communists are excluded.10

Socialist Party positions on foreign affairs-its long-standing assertions that terrorism is probably orchestrated by Moscow; its opposition to Western dependence on the U.S.S.R. for energy; its support for TNF in Italy; and its suggestions that the PCI confrontation with Moscow is just a tactic designed to gain the latter more legitimacy in Italy and the West-constitute a striking parallel with the posture assumed by the Reagan Administration. This has not gone unnoticed in Italy. Indeed, the party looms as a more steadfast supporter of NATO and of U.S. policies than is true of most of the European Left and perhaps even some of the Right. If the polls are correct, and the Craxi group's claims can be credited, this pragmatic approach has spurred the PSI's popularity.


Is Craxi, then, potentially Italy's Mitterrand? Is this man capable of making the Italian Socialists the dominant force on the Left and in Italian politics? One is tempted to answer that, if anyone can, it is he. His track record thus far speaks for itself; he and his closest associates, many of them quite young, have shown a remarkable capacity to hold their own against much more seasoned politicians, not only inside the PSI but in the broader political context as well.

Nor will the Craxi group lack the material resources to push their campaign forward. They can and do use political power not only for ordinary patronage but also to gain a piece of control over the mass media, as well as important industrial, trade union, cultural and educational sectors. The impulses in this direction are very powerful in a country where sottogoverno-that vast, complex and obscure system of patronage and party finance-is a hallmark of the political system. Few in Italy take the moral preachments of politicians seriously. In the case of the PSI under Craxi, most of them are betting that history will repeat itself and that, as in the past, the PSI will be found wanting when its vaunted public morality is subjected to closer scrutiny.

Craxi's detractors often level criticisms that are superficial, even frivolous. As Italy's most visible, most frequently interviewed, most sought-after politician, he represents not only the center of attention but also the most obvious and attractive target in Italian politics. He is easy to dislike in an Italy that prefers to see arrogance masked by smiling cordiality. He is easy to caricature, and Italy's brilliant political cartoonists are having a field day; he is easy to compare to Il Duce, the only other balding Socialist who defied his PSI elders, and came down to Rome from Milan to become prime minister without having held a previous cabinet position. There is also that strange negative charisma that in Italy often causes those leaders described as least simpatico to attract the most-and the most fanatical-followers.

Not all criticism is superficial, lighthearted or mean-minded. Among the more disquieting aspects of the PSI under Craxi has been its puzzling stance on the issue of terrorism. From at least the time of the kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro in 1978, many Italians have felt the PSI response to terrorism to be not just ambiguous but dangerous to the integrity of the state. Flaminio Piccoli, the Christian Democrat Secretary General, recently reminded the Socialists of their questionable behavior during Moro's ordeal. But those who worry about the PSI's alleged lack of a "sense of the state," as the Italians put it, can point to relatively recent evidence as well-PSI willingness to negotiate with those who would destroy the state; agreements with the terrorists to publish their documents and demands in newspapers controlled by the PSI; pressures on other newspapers and television stations to do likewise; and cooperation with members of the Radical Party who enter Italy's prisons to talk and to negotiate with terrorists and to act as their go-betweens.11

Socialist behavior of this kind is all the more puzzling in that a centerpiece of the Craxi's group's public posture has been sweeping, insistent and not-often-documented claims that Italy's terrorism has international ties and is to some extent orchestrated from the outside. Furthermore, the PSI has not hesitated to attack members of the cabinet, including cabinets in which they have membership, of mishandling the terrorism problem. Side by side with such tactics, one finds PSI leaders scornfully dismissing those who refuse to negotiate with, or make other concessions to, the terrorists as "The Party of Death"-as if Italians who refuse to knuckle under were willing the murder of yet another public official.

There is also justifiable skepticism on the vital issue of economic management. Italians who in large numbers admired the integrity and competence of Franco Reviglio, a recent Socialist Minister of Finance, were not reassured when he was excluded from the Spadolini Cabinet. They are equally perplexed by the PSI's shifts and contradictions regarding how to approach the ailing economy. How conservative or populist the PSI solutions might be too often depends on which Socialist minister is speaking, and on which day of the week. Furthermore, since neither Craxi nor his deputy, Claudio Martelli, are Cabinet members at all, what they may have to say about the economy can and does confuse the picture even more. The Socialists claim, with some justification, that the PCI's so-called Third Way to socialism is highly ambiguous. However, it does not help very much to be clearer than the Communists, if one is thereby shown to be clearly wrong.

The ambivalence toward Craxi felt by those on the more conservative side of Italian politics is nicely expressed by Indro Montanelli, the editor of Il Giornale Nuovo. Having urged his readers to support the PSI as the best way to fend off the PCI, he adds that Italians who don't trust Craxi are probably correct. He writes:

We do not trust the socialists at all. We know very well that at any moment they can fall back into a maximalist epilepsy and that Craxi, himself, if he found himself in trouble within his party, would be able to shift its direction and mount the barricades. Wasn't it a Socialist who said of the socialists, "I am their leader, therefore, I follow them"? But we are equally convinced that if, after the next elections, things go well for him, Craxi will definitively liquidate the philo-communism that is still nested within the PSI: he is a man to do it in a sweeping and even brutal manner. One thing is certain for us today: to array ourselves against the socialists means siding with Communists.12

On the Left as well, Craxi generates suspicion. The qualities that Montanelli praises are the same ones that signal a willingness to fragment the Left. Within his own party Craxi is attacked for having abandoned his earlier commitment to the "Left alternative," which would mean the PSI coming to power, and perhaps achieving the premiership, not with the Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Liberals, but rather with the Communists and the Republicans.

On this particular issue, the PSI under Craxi is clearly a long distance from Mitterrand. For five years or more he has made it clear that Italy can and should be governed not only without the PCI sharing cabinet responsibility but also without the PCI's consensus as to public policies. The strategy would require a deep, ironclad agreement between the PSI and the Christian Democrats, which is exactly what Craxi has been after, thus far unsuccessfully. Such an agreement might well keep the PCI out of power for another decade or more. Italians who fear this believe that the step would involve not just Socialist acceptance of more Christian Democratic "trasformismo," but also a deep split on the Left, with consequent political and economic turmoil.

Thus, Eugenio Scalfari, Italy's premier newspaper editor, makes no bones about claiming that, under Craxi, the Socialists have wandered a long distance from the interests and ideas in Italian society they are supposed to represent. Referring to Craxi, he says:

For five years he has made of autonomy the porro unum of his action. He has made Proudhon uncomfortable; he has cut off Marx's beard; he has replaced the hammer and sickle with the [red] carnation; he has courted the industrialists; he has sung serenades under the windows of the Radicals and Lotta Continua; from time to time he has displayed the soul of the dove and the guts of "the German." And above all he has not spared a single shot against the PCI fortress, because it was against the Communists above all that he had to protect socialist autonomy. . . . He continues to depict the PCI as a party little more than "Sovietic," against every truth and evidence.

Scalfari asks whether, after all of this, the PSI may still be said to belong to the Left; he replies that "It is enough to read the hosannahs that Montanelli devotes to Craxi."13

In sum, the PSI has traversed a zigzag path to emerge as an avowedly catchall party whose leadership has set it on a new course. That leadership is no doubt convinced that more voters are to be won where Montanelli is located than won (or lost) on the Left that Scalfari represents. It is also willing to gamble that, with the decline of strong party identities and subcultures, the Italian voters themselves are zigzagging. The new trick is to understand that the "Left" is not a fixed point in an ideological spectrum that has become more refracted. Because of this, a party like the PSI that seems to be poised almost everywhere at once would seem to have the advantage.

All of which suggests that Bettino Craxi is not only an able political leader and uncommon strategist, but also a highly complex, multifaceted personality. His arrogance as well as his ambiguousness are indeed very much like Mitterrand's, and it is worth underscoring that many of the same criticisms made of Craxi were once leveled at Mitterrand during the years of the latter's reconstruction of his own socialist party. Unlike Mitterrand, however, Craxi still confronts a Communist Party of extraordinary leadership, prestige and resilience, one so clearly different from the French Communist Party that Mitterrand himself might today identify more with the PCI's positions than with those of the PSI.

In the last analysis, no one can predict with confidence where Craxi is headed or where he will wind up. In placing the PSI at the center of political controversy, he has exposed not only himself and his close associates, but the whole party as well. If he should attain the prime ministership, much would depend on the circumstances-it would be one thing if he came to power on the heels of new elections in which the PSI had made striking further gains, another if he did so as the leader of a still-small minority party in charge of a national coalition dominated, like the present Spadolini government, by the Christian Democrats.

His power and leverage would be significantly greater in the first case than in the second. But in either situation he would still confront the same problem that has confounded all recent Italian governments, that of dealing with the Communists in opposition. Indeed, a government headed by the PSI might have even greater difficulty in handling this central problem, because of the extreme confrontation on the Left, and especially among the trade unions, that would be likely. The acid tests of Bettino Craxi's capacities as a political leader and statesman still lie in the future.

5 "Tesi per il 42° Congresso, del PSI," Supplement to Avanti!, February 22, 1981, p. 9.

7 See the "Theses" to the 42nd Party Congress and the speech by Craxi there, Avanti!, April 23, 1981.

8 Reported in La Repubblica, December 16, 1981, p. 10. On the evolution of the PCI's statements regarding Poland and the U.S.S.R., see L'Unità, December 10-31, 1981.

12 Il Giornale Nuovo, April 17, 1981, p. 1. Later (June 6, 1981, p. 1), Montanelli denied that he had urged his readers to vote Socialist, pointing out that whenever the PSI has made important choices, they tended to be the wrong ones. Nevertheless, when he thinks of alternative Socialist leaders to Craxi, he wishes the latter good health.



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  • Joseph LaPalombara is Arnold Wolfers Professor of Political Science at Yale, and the author of Politics Within Nations, Interest Groups in Italian Politics and other works. In 1980-81, he was Cultural Attaché in the U.S. Embassy in Rome. The views expressed in this article are entirely personal.
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