The Italian Cornmunisl Party
I. How Powerful are the Italian Communists?
The Italian Cormunist Partys the largest Coirrnunfst Party In Western Europe. The parliamentary elections last June, which saw the gap between the Christian Oenocrats and the PCI narrow toercentage points tn the Chamber of Deputies and In the Senate, has left the Communists within striking distance of becoming the largest party In the country when the next national election takes place. Withercent of the vote, it Is the second largest party in Italy.
PCI support Is not limited to blue collar workers. It also draws substantial support froa the upper and Middle classes.
The Conrnunists haveignificant presence nearly everywhere In Italy. They are strongest, howevfr-^jn the urban areas of the center and northwest of the country.^
!I. The Communist Position Today
The Christian Democrats lost eoreercentage points in the elections lastandslide defeat by Italian standards.
The election results have made It mathematically possible for the first time for the Conrnunists and smaller parties toovernment without the Christian Democrats.
This is not very likely it the moment because of the rivalry between the Socialists and the Communists and the suspicion with which Communist leader Fnricoflu*r- *ndeader Bettlno Craxi regard each other]
Communists.munist and Christian Democratic politicians have hinted publicly at interestossible deal
ui pontiutans pfesumaoI'jmave in minu sWelhTng-vrhTCn^ino ran snort df actual Coarwnlst partlcipaton in the government. They may view the so-called "historic compromise", in which the Cotrimmtsts traded their support for Christian OemocratK-led governments for concessions on social and economic issues,ossible
The prospectseal between the Christian Democrats and the Communists in the near future also appear remote.
Left-wing Christian Democrats know that this couldplit with anti-Conrnunist factions within their party.
Communist leader Serllnguer could also have trouble- many Communists feel they were double-crossed and put off premises during the period of the -historic compromtse."
Nevertheless, the prospecteal between the Christian Democrats and the Communists cannot be totally disregarded. Many Christian Oemocrats and Communists can agree on one thingtheir dislike for Socialist leader Cra*'.
Origins of Communist Strength
The Communists owe their pivotal position on the Italian political scene to historical and socio-economic factors.
They established their credentials as patriots through their leading role in the underground resistance to Hussollnl and the German occupation. Unlike the situation of the British or American Communists, they are not generally seen as the agents of an alien power.
As the preeminent party of opposition, they have been able to establish themselves as the spokesmaniscontented and have-nots In postwar Italy. Their supporters include industrial workers and unemployed or underemployed university graduates, as well asthose repelled by the corruption of the Italian political system.
The Communists have made the most of these advantages through strong organization and good leadership.
They have buttressed the'r reputation as patriotic Italians by distancing themselves from the Sovietsondemning, for example, Soviet abuses of human rights, the invasion of Czechoslovakia, and the military coup d'etat In Poland.
They have established themselves as "democrats" and "responsible" participants in the political system rather than enemies of democracyyong record of responsible participation in Parliament and opposition to political terrorism.}
IV. Changestalian Communism
The evidence suggests that In addition to taking advantage of the system, the Italian Cosetunlsts to some extent have been coopted by It.
there are no responsible igaoerstne party who think seriously of establishing Communist rulene-party state in Italy.
Lingering hopes of this kind appear to have been dispelled by the fall of the
Allende government In Chile Leaders drew the conclusion that there was no hopeommunist government to surviveestern country unless it was supported By an overwhelming majority of the population ealistic possibility in Italy.
The evidence indicatesact that the domestic political tactics of the Communists are not too dissimilar from those of .the other Italian parties. Their major goal Is to win representationhe government through the control of one or more ministries. They would hope to use this not only to pursue prograrrmatic goals, juit ajso as evidence of "respectability" to enhance their appeal at the
Under the circumstanceshich they would be likely to share in powers partulti-party coalitionthey would be compelled to behave Hke the other parties, compromising on one point to secure concessions on another.
V. Communist Internal Problems
Moreover, the successes of Italian communism have not come free of cost. Traditional Communist voters have not been able to accept the party's willingness to support centrist governments and austerity measures that hit workers the hardest,
Although the Communists held steady in the last elections, they have slipped moreercentage points from the high reached
The party's drift toward compromise with the "bourgeois" parties and its dropoff In the polls haverend toward factionalism within the party leadership. At least five factions, ranging from old-line Stalinists to Social-Democrats can be identified.
Although the prominence of moderates in the party leadership makes the Communists more acceptable partners to the other Italian parties, their internal divisions also rob.thejn of much of the organizational advantage they have enjoyed in the past.T
VI. Significance for the United States
The relatively modest goals and Internal problems of the Communists does not mean that their participation in government wouldatter of indifference to the United States. Although no puppets of the Soviet Union, few Italian Communist leaders are disposed toward friendship with the United States. There is little reason to doubt that once In government, thev-wouid attempt to nudge Italy in the directionore neutralist stance!