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The PCI and the Italian Political Game: The Impact of Poland

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The PCI and lhe Italian Politicalhe Impact of Poland

Italian Communis! Parly's (PCI's) harsh criticism of Moscow in Ihe

wake of the imposition of martial law in Poland hu:

Driven the pari}'* relations with the Soviets to an all-time low.

Highlighted longtime strains between the PCI'* leaders and its rank and file, many of whom are sympathetic to Moscow.

Underscored differences at upper levels of tbe PCI over tactics and strategy.

Reopened the question, not seriously consideredf PCI participation in the national government.

Senior PCI officials may have anticipated each of these developments. Itclear that they thought mucL about the short- or long-termof dealing in vumc coherent way with all of them at once.been to go on

trying to malilt il Liinifci onthe "bcsl" of the

Marxist-Leninist tradition but clearly enough divorced from Moscow to qualifyull-fledged participant in national-level politics. Thus, these leaders have arrayed themselvesore or less orderly fashion behind Piny Secretary Berlinguer's "ihird way to socialism" banner. This Is at beat an uncertain gamble, for ft Is not at all clear that the strains andnow exposed can be neatly hidden away. Nor isertain that Berlingucr and his associates will have time to consolidate their position before they find themselves overtaken by tbe forces that seem to be moving Italy toward early parliamentary elections The best they can probably hope for is that their politicalby the uncertainties inherent in the party's disagreement with Moscow, as well as by thebe unable to capitalize on theulnerability.

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Tbe I'll and (he Kalian Political Game: The Impact of Poland

TWlulian Communist Party (PCI) has lonepecial place in ihc

Axb oaof international Communism because of its size, the prestige of

iu leaders, and iu proximity to power. The pastears or so haverowing willingness by lulian Communist leaders to stand apan from the Sovieu, as demonstrated by their stance on Czechoslovakia8 and on Afghanistanany PCI officials believe that their party has beenollision course wiih the Soviel Party (CPSU) for some lime. Some would even argue lhat the current dispute is long overdue. The PCI statement on Poland issued last December falls short of layingfor the imposition or martial law directly ul Moscow's door, but byevenu in Poland to criticism of the Soviet model. Italian Communis! leaden have left few doubu about where 'Soy think the Mamc ultimately lies.'

The continuing polemics between tbe lulian Communisu and Moscow have brought relations between the two partiesew low. PCI criticism of the Soviet owdel in fact almost ccruinly amounts to an ideological break with Moscow. Both sides hope toormal rupture of relations, however. Despite Ihe harsh words between the two camps and attacks on the PCI in the Czech, East German, and Polish presses, there are signs that the Sovieis are seeking privately to restore ties, or at least to keep thefrom growing larger]-

While the PCI has been slow to respond positively lo the Soviet overtures, there are signs that party leader Enrico Berlinguer believes ihe time has come to let ihe dispute cool. He has reiterated his view that the PCI suicment should noi be construed as anti-Soviet' "

- is currently weighing inc pussiuimy vixitpvt2eans of underscoring ihis point. At ibe same time, he is anaioos to avoid the appearance of drawing too close to ihe Soviets. If he decides io uke the trip, be Moscow with siopovers in Bonn and Betjma;

It appears lhat cultural aod nonofTicial exchanges with the Sovieu have been maintained at Bcrlinguer's direction!.



Party inn Identity

gestures have not obscured the fact thai the crisis tn Poland and ihc dispute wiih Moscow have reverberated through ihe Italian Communist Parly like few other events. This is in large pan because the recent developments have laid bare moreecade of internal tension about what the party is to become. Since thehe PCI has been compelled by events both ui home and abroad toew identily. More recently il has faced the need lo recapture the momentum it lost in9 parliamentary elections. Berlinguer and his colleagues nowew version of an old dilemma: how to pull the party out of its doldrums without alienating traditional supporters j

the recent developments in Poland, parly leaders had generally tried io be circumspect in iheir criticisms of Moscow. Each time they moved away from Ihe Soviets on an issue, they hastened to reassure the rank and Tile thai nothing had really changed. Both ihc reality and Ihe perception of change were there, however, and for many parlyremaining members of ihe old guard with strong emotional alt chmcms toilow shift by the leadership has been wrenching

Still, as long as ihe PCI was advancing at the polls, as was ihc case during ihe early and, ihe party base was willing to set its suspicions aside and accept the explanations il received from above. PCI leaden had the reputation during thai period for being better able than theirin other parlies tod respond to constituent concerns. Once signs began to appear that ihe party was on an electoral plateau or was even on the decline, the mote skeptical of its supporters became less tolerant although criticism of the leadership remained diffuse. The Polish situation, however, leaves little room for smokescreens and, in effect, has exposed both the leadership's intentions and the party's critical weak point. The PCI leadership knows it would be hard pressed to retain its credibility with non-Communist voters if ii failed to condemn Warsaw and distance itself from Moscow. But moving in this direction haserious gap between the ideas and goals of panyof them close lothe PCt's more parochial elements. Having steadfastly refused toerious intraparty debate that would cover the entire range of differences with the Soviets, ihc leadership is now finding it difficult io explain lis stand persuasively^

Reaction lo the party line on Poland has been most pronounced in purls"Red bell" of northern Italy. The large number of letter* opposingstand in ihe public and party press may be one measurelevel of

LVmia bas received scoresritical tetters, most of tnem irotffldcli sections in Milan. Turin, (he Veneto. and Tuscany. In some instance* ilrat hat every section member has written!

PCI leaders believe this critical mail is largelynd have decided to ignore itF

Despite speculation among journalists and other politicians in Italy that the dispute with Moscow could leaderious split within PCI ranks, Italian Communist officials close lo Berlingucr still believe the situation can be contained. They have, however, redoubled their efforts to justify the party's position- tbey are concerned that, evenchism is avoided, the party's stand on Poland may have damaged the ideological link between party membership and party activism. Moreover, the depth and breadth of concern in the PCI over Poland, contained or not, hasrisis of credibility for the party leadership that will inevitably limit its room for maneuver. |

As early as last spring, PCI leaders became concerned that Moscowits own military forces against Solidarity. They apparently agreedonly possible response wouldormal break in relations,Committee member Paoloinstructed to

ocument outlining the party's pc mwiioviet military intervention occur

The PCI, like other parties and governments in the West, was unprepared for the imposition of martial law by the Poles themselveslear-cut case of Soviet interferencetarting point, the party leadership quickly found itself divided about how to react. Within the upper reaches of the party there were four distinct views on the significance of the event, and the appropriate response:

Pietro Irtgrao, representing the conservative left of the party, argued that the time had come to question publicly the continued historicalof the October revolution and to alter radically the party's relations with the USSR.

The party's revisionist wing, associated with Giorgio Napolilano, agreed with Ingrao on the needreak with the CPSU but insisted the party should then set offath toward social democracy.

Berlinjtuer. occupying the center of the spectrum, insistedore moderate approach. He agreed wholeheartedly with the criticism of the Soviet model but insisted that the Soviet experience did notholesale condemnation of fundamental Marxist/Leninist doctrine. In sharp contrast to the others, Armando Cossutta. echoing theof thatercent or more of the orthodox party faithful who are uncomfortable with criticism of Moscow, argued lhat the PCI should either support the Polish Governmenl or remain silent.


The existence of such divisions about policy, or even aboutolicy means once established, is not noteworthy in itseir. What set Poland apartozen other issues in the past several years is Cossutta's decision to go public with his position after the Central Committee voted totatement lhat split most of the differences of lhe extremes on both sides. Press reports suggest that Cossutta's repeated acts of publicespecially his attack on the party leadershipCI-organized rally inseriously shaken the party's inner c'

Cossutta's decision to oppose the party statement in public and the reaction of party hierarchy and the rank and fileeasure of how far the party bas evolved over the pastears. The Cossutta episode, regardless of how it ultimately plays out, isriumphetback for "democratiche theory of unchallenged decisionmaking at the top that hu guided the PCI since iu founding. Dissent has long been tolerated within the inner corridors of PCI headquarters, but Cossutta's decision to carry his objections to thein the face of Berlinguer's urging to thewithout precedent. The agreement among party leaders to allow Cossutta to express his views in the party newspaper LVrtiia, albeit with enough delay toough rejoinder for the same page, is equally noteworthy. Cossutta was not the only member of the Central Committee to have reservations about thebut except for two committee members who abstained, in the final vote other potential dissidents chose to swallow their objections and rally to Berlinguer's side in the face of soreach of party discipline.)

How the Cossutta phenomenon ultimately will affect the party'sprocess is open to various lines of conjecture. The hint of greater openness might prove so popular with the party base that the leadership would find itself unable to turn it off without raising unanswerable questions within the political class at large about the party's democratic character. It seems likely, however, that the party hierarchy would conclude that it is not yet ready to have quite so much light shed on itsaffairs!


Supporting this line of reasoning are indication* thai Bcrlinguer and his allies believe Commat<mg directed in hi* hard line bv lhe Soviets.

lie* lhe party ilalemenl wai released,eel ions were being inundated with copies of critical editorials from Eastern Europe- Moscow, however, held off. According to the press, at least some party leaden close to Berlingucr and pehaps Berlingucr himself believe that Moscow delayed its blast in Pravda in the hope thai Cossutta would generate enough support lo force the party to reverse itself.]

without Berlin-rsortal sccreta

it Cossutta. who has no access to ipporttng his laicst activities with funds provided by the

party Ii

Soviet Embassy.1

guer's knowledge, Lcuuiti, oernnguer rpxrsortal secretary, Antonio Tato. and Communist theoretician. Franco Rodano, have5 million in financial assistance from the Soviets. These funds arc believedfor restructuring the financially troubled newspaper. Parse Sera. The ihrce men allegedly hope to creaic an "independent" Co nmunist daily that is completely detached from the PCI and the government.



is still unclear how (he electorate will respond to Ihe PCI-Moscow polemics, but press commentary and statements by leadingpoliticians suggestizable ;art of the national political elite sees the disputeilestone in Italian politicalroad consensus seems to be developing thai the PCI has enhanced its legitimacy and taken an imponani step toward becoming an acceptable coalition


the, July's non-Communist parties have pointed to ihe PCI'i ties wiih Moscowajor obstacle to its acceptabilityoverning partner. While lhe leaders of these parties are still unsure whether the current dispute will qualifyefinitive break,ow hard at work reassessing altitudes toward the PCI and seeking clues about how these developments will afTect the broader political game. At tbe top of everyone's list is the need to relhink the future of the current Republican-led, five-party coalition. This is especially true for Socialist leader Craxi. who is anxious to do what he can to ensure thai developments arising from the dispute do not undermine either his ongoing attempt tothe prime-ministership or his longer term efforts to Increase his party's leveragaj



Since mm-December the Socialists and tbeif Social Democrat allies,risis? occasional support from the Liberals, haveteady drumbeat of

criticism and threats against Prime Minister Spadolini. Several limes since January, Craxi has stopped just short of pushing the government out of power. Craxi would likerisis that allows him to succeed Spadoliniational election to strengthen his hand in Parliament. He has, however, been unable to find an issue lhat would allow him torisis in motion and stilt escape retribution at the polls. Italian votersong history ofarty thaieriod of instability^

The PCl-Moscow polemics pose what may be Craxi's most difficult cbotcc to date. He believes that current tensions within the PCI represent an electoral opportunity for his party lhat will not be seen again for some lime. He is convincedizable number of PCI supporters will rally to ibc Socialist banner if national elections are held. Bui it is difficult to discern the right moment to act. He might argue that he should move immediately becauseatter of time before Berlinguer has tbe situation within his party back in hand. Furthermore, once Berlinguer has succeeded, the PCI may regain iu momentum, position itself to become ihe principal interlocutor of Ibe Christian Democratsnd exile the Socialisu to the margins of Ihe political game. But Craxi might also calculate thai things will get worse for the PCI before ihey gel better and thai he, in turn, should continue to bide his

Al tbe same time, Craxi must consider the potential impact on internalparty politics of the PCI-Mosco* polemics, whkh have encouraged those members of the Socialist Parly left who remain committed to the conceptleftist alternative" government For traditional leaden of the party left like Francesco DcMartino, tbe PCI statement removed an important barrier to closer cooperation wiih the Communists. Craxi, who vanquished his leftwtng opponents ai ibe0 Party Congress, remains waryeal with the Communists. At ihe same lime, he needs to make some gesture In the direction of leftist unity to avoid reopening nfts wiihin the Socialist ranks. Although be has for now rejectedcalls from the Communists for comprehensive cooperation, he has agreed to the establishmentumber of joint study groups. He is almost certainly convinced that given the relative size and organizational strength of the two parties, closer involvement would offer the PCI loo many opportunities lo undermine the Socialists. In addition, Craxi believes that part of his party's new appeal can be traced to its imageubstitute for the Communists on the left. Thus, moving closer to the Communisu might not only leave him weaker, but it could also strengthen the Christianepublicans, and Social Democrats.

For now, Craxi is probably counting on lhe joinl study groups and occasional hints about more extensive cooperationater date to disarm potential critics within his party, while keeping his Christian Democrat opponents off balance. The Christian Democrats know thai despite hisCommunists. Craxi is perfectly capable of reversing himself.

If. following the Andrealta incident. Craxi has definitely decided to bide his time until after the DC congress in early May, he will have only six days in which to set plans bothrisispring election in motion. By law, there mustS-day campaign periodissolution of Parliament and new elections. To schedule an election for the last weekend inthe parties would not favor an electoral test during thePresident must dissolve parliament byay. An unsuccessful bid for elections in June would not only end his enviable string of tactical victories and tarnish the Socialists' image as an up-and-coming party; it could also serve to rally disparate elements of the Socialist Party that would be only too happy to see him

The PCI-Moscow dispute has also complicated matters for Craxi'sDemocratic counterpart, Flamlnio Piccoli. By rendering theeven slightly morehe dispute has somewhatthe DC's positionis lheven though the DC remains cool toward cooperation with the Communists, DC leaders can now remind Craxi with considerably more impact than before that his is not the onl) game in town. Working against the DC's ability to trade on this, however, is the impact of the polemics on relations among the warring DC factions. Perceived signs of PCI "moderation" appear toevival of the DCan advocate of cooperation with the PCI but seriously weakened in recent years. This substantially raises the odds against agreement at tbe congress oaAiLeffeciive and rejuvenating course of action for the partyholei

In choosing their next secretary, the Christian Democrats will be signaling whether they will continue their current line of cooperation with the Socialists or work toward some form of accommodation with thePiccoli, already preoccupied withrogram of renewal for his ailing party and fending off Craxi, now finds himself at the .enter of that debate, subject to preoongress challenges from both the right and the left of the party]

trongest challenge comes from former Prime Minister Arnaldo Forlatu. Forlani, whose broad-based support includes elements from lhe DC right, as well as the party's Catholic left, believes that the DC's relationship with the Socialists must be made to work but that this cannot happen unless Ihe party hierarchy is firmly behind it. He has accused Piccoli of weakening (he coalition by playing upon the hostility of some DC factions toward the Socialists. Forlani acknowledges that much of the DC wants to eliminate the Socialistsontender, and he himself agrees they must be keptight rein. Bul he seems prepared to cede them their turn at the premiership if the survival of the governing formula can thereby be assured

Like Forlani. Piccoli has affirmed his support for the current governing formula, bul his recenl tough line against the Socialists, while boosting his stock in some quarters of tbe DC,ack of enthusiasm for il. At the same lime Piccoli hasetermined public effort to underscore the DCs righteassumc tbe premiership. He hopes to weaken Forlani by portraying him as soft on the Socialists, even though he bimsclf has privately offered Craxi the prime-ministership if the Socialists willfrom those local governments where they share power witha demand designed to make it clear to Craxi that the DC willrice for the post.|

Piccoli't struggle to retain bia office hai beenetback by the decision of Ciriaco deowerful party vice secretary from the DC left, to launch his own bid. While there is scene support for Forlani on tbe left of the party, most left-leaning DC members worry that strengthening the relationship that involves the DC, the Socialists, and the smaller partners will push the DC toward conservative positions that could be dangerous in an election. De Mitt's candidacy is especially appealing to those party members who continue to sec advantages in some kind of arrangement with the Communists and are encouraged by the PCI'* stand on Poland. Piccoli sorely needs the support of these members to retain bis post, and it was undoubtedly with this in mind that be made his widelyJanuary statement acknowledging that the PCI's position on Poland had significant implications for domestic policies. j

If Piccoli is reelected, the position he takes on the question of ties with the Socialists and Ihe Communist* will depend heavily upon what factions support him at theuccessful De Mita candidacy remains an Improbable long shot, but by throwing his weight behind Piccoli at the right moment. De Mita and the left might find themselves well placed over time to draw the partyloser working relaiionship with the Communist*^


oat tbe-lUird Way*

ihe DC congress is oui of ihc way. ihe Chrislian Democrats aod Socialists will be ready lo make Iheir next moves- The dispute between the PCI and Moscow will figure prominently in the calculations of both parlies, but neither camp is prepared lorecipitate move toward the Communists

trying both io posilion the PCI advantageously for possible domestic political maneuvering and to bind internal party wounds, tbe party leadership atrging has recmphasired ihc conceptthirdvague notion of an Italian "socialist transformation" thai would be neither West European Social Democracy nor Easi European-slyle socialism but would partake of both. PCI leaders, convinced lhatis noalid alternative, now hope to find interlocutors among West European Socialist parties and groups. Berlinguer and his colleagues see Europe both as an alternative point of reference for theirat home andotential model for Communist panics in the Third Worldj

Berlinguer's recent meetings in Rome and Paris with President Mitterrand have almost certainly boosted spirits at PCI headquarters. Berlingucr's attempts loeeting on previous occasions since Mitterrand entered tbe Elyscc were undermined by Craxi. who insisted that the PCI would be ttreoilhcned si his party's expense. Mitterrand hu expressed some sympathy for the PCI in Ihe past, however, and sees in the Italian Communists' dispute withew opportunity to further weaken tbe Communisu in France. Mitterrand hopes that his gesture toward Berlinguer will rally lo his own banner those French Communists who arc dissatisfied with their party's subservience io the Soviets. The French President also sees similarities between ibe PCI's "third way" and his own desire to make Franceodel from whkh other socialisl governments and parties can learn. Berlinguer shares this assessment, and having spoken at length wiih Mitterrand, he is almost certain to try toeeting with West German leader Willy Brandt in the weeks ahead. The goal apparently Is lo have discussions with leading West European Socialist figures at regular interval!

The more optimistic members of the parly hierarchy believe thai citing the PCI'i stand on Polandemonstration of the "third way" will enable ibem io reinforce Iheir democratic credentials, rally new adherents, and win over more skeptical longtime supporters. There are inherent uncertain-lies, however, in setting this course, and several of Berlingucr's key subordinates lack his enthusiasm.

personaltub cnancten th Moscow as the PCI's biggest gamble to dale. Tato worries

the" by disuncing itself from the Soviets, the PCI risks losing touch with its pail before it has defined the "third way" in both concrete and theoretical terms. He is concerned that the PCI will emerge from he process as simply another Social Democratic party

Ingrao andTalo's skepticism about the "third

ut tbeir criticuWrrowrotnifferent set of assumptions. They believe that the PCI has no other choice but to moveest European direction. For them, the "thirdn its effort toheoretical basis to the amalgamation of East and West Europeanomplicates matters unnecessarily and can only deter the party from coming to terms with iu internal divisions


enthusiasm for the "third way" notwithstanding, caution is likely to govern PCI actions in the months ahead. The polemics with Moscow and the reemphasis on the "third way" will raise many more questions than they resolve, and it is simply too soon to tell whether these devclopmcnU will resultet gain or loss for the parly In terms ofsupport. Over the shortleast therobably sTiggesU that Berlinguer will be chary of undertaking any new moves toward either the Christian Democrats or the Socialists

for the medium term. nUdlevtl officials at party headquarters are convinced that national elections this year will almost certainly resultoss of votes for the party.lighta disappointing performance in9 parliamentary elections and more recent localovertax the leadership's ability to defend tu policies with ibc rank and file,erious defeat could easily lead to extensive changes at the top. fromBerlinguer might not be immune Ingrao and those leaders most closely associated with the PCI's stand on Poland admit that they are uncertain about Poland's short-term impact, but fhey are convinced that the party will gain considerably from it over the longer term




"he PCI under Bcrlingucrs tutelage teems to have arrivedoint in its political developments where simple answers arc no longer available. The Polish crisis has demonstrated tbe existence of philosophical and tactical gaps not only between the leadership and tbe rank and file, but within the leadership as well. For each new step the PCI takes toward internal democracy and each new step it takea away from Moscow, the party Istoteep price in terms of internal strain. The PCI is not in danger of losing iu position as one of the preeminent players in Julian politics. If anything. Poland has underscored the Communists' importance. But Poland also suggests that the oldwell-oiled,hing of the pastj

The PCI will almost certainly continue to evolvehilosophy and an image more in keeping with Western tradition, albeit by fiu and sUrtx. as tbe Poland situation is demonstrating. Party leaders have no choice but to continue their search for formulas that serve conflicting needs. The party's evolution baa been slow and tortuous to date, and the future seems to hold nothing simpler in sionj

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