The resignation last week of Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro means that general elections will be held this June, elections which may determine the shape of Italy's political future. The Communist Party (PCI) is likely to emerge as the largest political force in the country, ending nearly three decades of Christian Democratic dominance. If it wins a plurality, the PCI would be able to demand a share of political power and cabinet representation.
The Christian Democrats (DC) have proved increasingly incapable of governing Italy. The past few years have seen an endless succession of collapsing cabinets; in the face of waves of strikes and political violence, the DC has been unable to enact badly needed social reforms. The lira has fallen drastically and economic growth has come to a standstill. DC rule has been marked by widespread corruption and scandal. The recent charge that party leaders accepted payoffs from the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation is a stellar example. Furthermore, their conservative position on social issues has become increasingly unpopular with the electorate, sixty percent of which defied the DC and the Vatican and supported divorce in a referendum held last year.
But the Communist ascendancy is not merely a product of Christian Democratic weakness. The PCI now participates in five regional governments and in the municipal governments of all the major cities north of Rome. There it has been able to provide effective and honest public administration, in sharp contrast to the DC's dismal record. More importantly, the PCI stands for an "Italian road to socialism" sharply distinct from the Soviet model.
The independence of the PCI has been evident for some time. It was graphically demonstrated by the recent confrontation between its leader Enrico Berlinguer and Brezhnev in Moscow. The PCI has been strongly committed to democratic institutions and civil liberties for over thirty years; it favors keeping Italy in NATO and has renounced the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In fact, even though the general elections may well produce a Communist--Socialist majority, the PCI does not want to form a government exclusively of the left, fearing that drastic polarization would result, as it did, for example, in Chile. It prefers the "historic compromise," a Communist--Christian Democratic coalition which would provide a broad popular base for the much--needed transformation of Italian society.
Kissinger has repeatedly warned that the presence of Communists in NATO--member governments is unacceptable. The threat of American intervention, whether diplomatic, economic, or military, is the most serious obstacle to the potential success of the historic compromise. In the face of militant American disapproval and sanctions, menanced by CIA infiltration and influence, Italians understandably fear that their country may become another Chile. Their fears are well supported by the American press, judging from a recent Newsweek cover. America already considers Italy another Vietnam.
The PCI had wanted the general elections to be held after the 1976 American presidential elections to prevent the Italian situation from becoming a campaign issue here. Hence the decision of the DC to hold the elections in June appears to be designed to intimidate the Italian electorate with the specter of possible American intervention in the event of a PCI victory.
Kissinger's intense opposition to PCI governmental participation is both shortsighted in terms of American interests and out of touch with the needs of the Italian people. The PCI's rise is the product of long term changes in Italian society, economics, and politics which are unlikely to be reversed. American interference is unlikely to prevent a PCI victory; it will only antagonize the electorate. Furthermore, the historic compromise is the single development most likely to stabilize Italian politics; it is also the only force capable of regenerating Italy's stagnating economy.
Nor would a PCI triumph represent an extension of Soviet domination into Western Europe; in fact, by legitimating diversity within European Communism, it would increase the ability of Eastern European countries to explore alternative socialist models to that of the Soviet Union. Paradoxically, continued American intransigence will only weaken the PCI's ability to maintain its distance from Moscow by undermining its contention that there is a "third way" between East and West. American policy makers should abandon their cold war vision of a monolithic international Communist movement, and resolutely refrain from interfering with Italian moves toward the historic compromise.