Communism in Italy

THE Communist parties of the United Kingdom, France, the Low Countries, Scandinavia, Israel, and Cyprus thrive on political agitation undiluted by economic responsibility. They are blissfully exempt from having to mend a trade gap, raise wages to meet prices, levy taxes, and coddle tourists. In Italy the Communist Party has developed the techniques of delayed revolution to the point of extortion. Huge, noisy, rich, and closely disciplined, the PCI concentrates on political agitation, leavened by much sporting news, some consumer education, and a dash of class-angled culture. In the elections last November, it won 6,631,068 out of a total of 25,365,398 valid votes, or 26 percent.

In a country that is still 13 percent illiterate, where two thirds of the voters never got beyond the sixth grade, an economic program demanding more is enough to attract support, provided it has a decent moral veneer. When Italy was pulling out of the war‘s shock, the battle between Communist and capitalist was for the mind of youth. The Communists were ahead while the majority of Italy’s two million unemployed were young. But that margin is now gone. Young people in Italy, as in the whole Western world, are now buyers. In ten years Italy’s Communist youth federation (ages 14 to 21) has slipped from nearly 500,000 members to fewer than 150,000.

This decline is far more serious than the falloff by about 3 percent among adult cardholders. Even to keep the permanent membership steady around its ofhcial 1,728,694 dues payers (in some 41,000 cells), it is necessary to catch the comrades younger. If they persist in being indifferent, the alternative is to go back to the Stalinist concept of the Party as a small, semioccult elite. Reviving this elite, as well as shucking off the apathetic, is the aim of Pietro Ingrao, the forty-nine-year-old Roman journalist who, as parliamentary leader, has succeeded to half of the duties of Palmiro Togliatti, the late secretary of the Party.

The Party has a $25 million budget to meet. Nothing like this kind of money can be raised from its quasi-monopoly, through its trading companies, with Eastern commerce. So the new Party secretary, sixty-four-year-old Luigi Longo, amiable after two revolutionary wars, has sweetened the Party propaganda. The Vatican, once an enemy, is now a friend, though an erring one, who deserves indulgence. Whole pages of Unità, the Party’s daily, do not mention the word “Communist.” A Party card is called merely the “Italian way to socialism.”

Italy already has three “revolutionary” socialist parties, those of Giuseppe Saragat, Pietro Nenni, and Tullio Vecchictti, right, center, and left. To hear Longo talk, one would think that the PCI is simply the fourth. Nenni’s and Vecchietti’s parties both flaunt the hammer and sickle; the Communist Party is discarding it little by little. Communism in Italy is a safe way to skim the cream off capitalism.

Ideology is not enough

When capitalist prosperity starts spreading, it ruins the revolutionary environment not by reducing needs, as the sponsors of American aid once believed, but by multiplying demands. New wants appear, and they consume time and money, the ingredients of class war. In Italy it once was possible to keep fuming proletarians imprisoned in their shacks and unions, eating spaghetti subsidized by the United States while the military secretariat prepared for the day when the Red Army would burst out of the Balkans to liberate Rome as it had Belgrade, Sofia, Budapest, and Warsaw.

But an invasion of material things – the television, the scooter, the family car, and the supermarket – conferred a different kind of freedom. Young people found mobility, discovered jobs in British hotels and Swiss factories. They became doers, owners, consumers, enjoyers. Faced with youths that want things, not power, the Communist Party now must win support by putting something in the hand.

The held of conversion is still immense, but the voices are ventriloquized, not direct. Longo told the Paris Express, “Marxist-Leninism has reacquired its creative value.” What he seems to mean is the takeover of the image-making, valuedetermining instruments: literary criticism, cinema organization, cultural foundations, and art juries. The biggest prize is Italy’s national television and radio industry. The Italian cinema is saturated with Communists, and its unions are Communist-run. But they have common sense. The industry exists by reason of a huge governmental subsidy levied on every taxpayer. The subsidy is based on Italian films’ making money abroad, not on their converting the world to “socialism.”

One does not have to be a Party member to get ahead, but it helps, especially on a secondary level. There is more penetration than proselytization, though the salons, publishing houses, and theater life of Milan are carefully staked out. The famous Piccolo Teatro. for example, recently presented a play about Robert Oppenheimer by Heinar Kipphardt specially designed to tie in with their previous success, Brecht’s Galileo, two martyrs in one set. It wound up, after a scrupulously documentary softening up. with a spurious speech of penitence by Oppenheimer “for having done the work of the devil,” which had to be removed at his request.

The tender trap that has been set for the intellectuals does not always work for the “dispossessed,” the PCI label for anyone who earns a living. Milan, with its insecure urban proletariat harried by inflation, could be expected to turn out an enormous protest vote. Yet Milan voted only 22 percent Communist, less than the national average.

Well-chosen causes

The fact that Italians do not want to join the Communist Party does not mean that they dislike it. Many like to have it around, just to keep the pressure on the government. The PCI is rich in simple causes. The Communists demand higher wages, more buses, less military outlay, and open access to beaches. Last February, when the government, with the roads choked with nine million vehicles, put a tax on new cars, Fiat‘s production for the internal market fell from 2500 cars to 1500; layoffs began, and the Communists attacked the tax. All Italians want the Mafia wiped out; but only the Communists pursue the “benevolent brotherhood” with an all-or-nothing concentration similar to Mussolini’s. For them, as for him, the reason is that the Mafia is a formidable counterorganization in western Sicily.

In many of these causes there is enough civic conscience and horse sense so that no Italian can claim that the Communists are merely saboteurs of democracy. With their minds on politics, not on administration, they are able to pursue crusades with a vehemence that is impressive. A small, ingeniously chosen cause wins votes.

For twenty years Italy’s struggling capitalist economy has climbed the stairs of progress, out of the muddy ruins of 1944 to the skyscrapers of 1965. When the Italian miracle, a boom lasting from 1961 to 1964, succumbed to a 30 percent rise in the cost of living, it was an immense relief to the PCI to find that the prosperity of the Common Market, which it had tried to block, had limits. Affluence was not going to harass the Communists forever.

In the slump of last spring, when the United States government put up a billion dollars in credit, the comrades, along with the bankers, were reduced to that moment of awed homage that occurs in the Mediterranean when an ugly American reaches for his wallet. The PCI had the good taste not to claim credit for the billion-dollar touch. It was impolitic to ask the obvious question, Would Italy’s credit have been rescued by the Johnson Administration without the blackmailing presence of a Communist Party?

Where the Party is strong

The PCI joys in its freedom from the responsibility of keeping a rocky peninsula without resources a solvent modern nation. But it does not abstain from economic pressure. Actually it lives by it, only not upstairs on management level, but down at the paying teller’s window. Half of organized labor is in the Communist-directcd Confederazione Generale di Lavoro. “Hiccup strikes” are regularly called on the railroads, to the fury of tourists and commuters.

Paradoxically, however, it is not in those areas where unionism is strongest or poverty is worst that the PCI locks most tightly onto the social structure. In the November elections the Party barely held on in the industrial north, remaining far behind the Liberals in growth. In Sicily, the party suffered a bitter 7 percent loss. The two disappointments were linked, because the PCI had worked hard to control politically the internal immigration from the deserted farms of the south to the factories of the north.

The Party gained most in the “Red belt” of central Italy, where fascism also once had its strength. Of seventeen regional votes, the heaviest Communist support came in Emilia, Tuscany, Umbria, Liguria, and the Marches of the Adriatic. Here the PCI controls not only the politics but the business and productive life of the community. Yet there have been no nationalizations and no seizures in the name of the Communist city councils. The growth of the PCI in private enterprise is a triumph of tight organization, of exploiting special legislation to support cooperatives of dubious character, of gaining control of harvest labor, storage warehouses, truck companies, and credit agencies. Only the professional men and a few merchants are outside.

The Party has a network of operatives wearing two hats. Very often the PCI’s membership officer is the agent for the marketing cooperative, his mileage bill shared between the two organizations. He drives up to the farmer’s door, arranges when his grapes will be taken away and what their price will be. By the way, would farmer Luigi like to settle his monthly dues to the Party also? When the farmer is looking across the threshold at the Party man who will determine whether his grapes will be the first or the last collected by the cooperative’s truck, partisan quibbling is out of order. Besides, the PCI is ready to take a pig or chickens if the farmer is short of cash. The simplest way, as it was under Mussolini, is to join the Party to improve the farm. “After all,” as many a farmer says, “they’re no worse than the others.”

Difference of opinion

This transformation from an international conspiracy into a Marxist national party has left the PCI hooked on a critical question: Can Italian socialism ever produce anything outside the region where it is a capitalist cartel?

This question has caused an honest division of attitude, capable of becoming a schism, in the Party. The new semiheretic is a forty-sixyear-old Neapolitan, Giorgio Amendola, a strictly Italian thinker who refuses to go abroad. Amendola takes the position that no Communist and no socialist party can of itself take power legally, because the reputations of both as productive systems have been nakedly compromised. What he suggests is a broad national front of workers’ parties that would act as a checkrein on the greed of capitalists and the proliferation of bureaucracies until the Marxists are able to learn the elements of profit-and-loss production.

When attitudes like this emerge in a climate of free criticism, the Party suddenly wakes up and shows some zest. When, on the other hand, it censors and kills facts, pardoning the Chinese in Tibet and the Soviets in Hungary, it loses the lever of protest. When a quarter ol a million members tore up their Party cards after the Budapest massacres, Togliatti immediately perceived that such losses were not necessary. All that had to be done was to invent a theory by which the Italian Communists could accept, or not accept, anything the Soviets and Chinese did and still be good Communists. II migliore (the best), as Italians called Togliatti, named his kind of Titoism, “polycentrism.” When he remained undenounced by Khrushchev, his theory became a kind of Magna Charta for other parties.

How Communist guerrillas, masked as liberal reformers, can take power by growing into regular armies is clear from the examples of Cuba and North Vietnam. But the question of how a virile party that has disarmed itself can wipe out democracy legally in a sophisticated environment like Italy’s is not easy to solve. Even for an honest Communist, of whom there are plenty, it is not simple to reform the Party’s thinking economically. It is one thing for the PCI to operate a department store, find it is losing business, and then unload it on a more efficient capitalist owner, absorbing its loss as education. That’s horse sense, and no Party board will challenge it.

It is when the PCI gets down to the question of why a Communist department store lost money that honest research becomes dangerous for the old Party hand. As Ignazio Silone wrote in Tempo Presente last November, “The only serious expert on economic theory that Italian Communism has had, Antonio Graziadei, was expelled from the party when he dared to prove the lack of foundation of the Marxist theory of value and surplus value. Later he was readmitted on condition that he abstain from propagating his heresy in the party. I don’t believe that in our time there has ever been in Italy a cruder example of intellectual censorship.”

Italy‘s “way to socialism”

In the town of Carpi, which makes nearly half the sweaters of Italy, the manufacturer Renato Crotti has been sending his workers on tourist trips to Russia. They come back sterilized of any belief they had in Russian Communism. Carpi is rich: a car for every five people, a scooter for every three, and one television per family. But it voted 57.9 percent Communist in 1964 as against 56.2 percent in 1960. The PCI earnestly tries to rationalize Communist imperialism, teaching the layman his line. It need not bother. He is as little interested as an Italian Catholic in theology. His thinking is, whether times are good or bad, vote Communist and the pezzi grossi (“big shots”) will think of something they can afford to give up.

When American aid was pouring into Italy, we kept the republic’s printing presses supplied with costly newsprint. Their biggest load was to print Unita daily, telling about the American germ war in Korea. A series of frowning American ambassadors never dared protest; free speech was sacred and had to be subsidized. When the State Department produced a billion dollars as credit to bring Italy’s banks out of the slump in the “miracle,” the government and parliament, overruling vehement American protests, granted cipher-and-pouch privileges to a Chinese trade mission and promised eventual recognition. Italian business achieved this, not the PCI.

Turin’s Stampa, the great newspaper owned by Fiat, required a special correspondent to report on Sardinia. It called on Carlo Levi, the portly painter-writer with a fortune made partly from American sales, who has become a senator on the Communist ticket. Fiat is the establishment which moves Communist foremen around like dominoes to get the right political mixture in each of its plants. Levi explains that he is only on the Communist ticket, not actually a member of the Party.

The PCI’s policy toward government enterprise has been a triumph of double-dealing. The fact that the ENI, the state’s natural gas monopoly, is in debt for about a billion dollars is decorously suppressed by the leftist newspapers. What is inconvenient for the “Italian way to socialism” is that the public scandals that have wounded the Christian Democrats most severely have occurred in government efforts to run a socialist economy.

The state’s banana monopoly proved to be a cabal of insiders fixing prices to split with wholesalers, 194 gamesmen in all. The quiz offering automobiles as prizes which was run by RAI, the state radio-TV monopoly, was found to be rigged. Venerable Hippolito Felice, a professor of geology, was sentenced to eleven years in jail for malfeasance as director of the Atomic Energy Commission. The government arrested Professor Domenico Marotta, seventy-eight, with nine confederates for taking $800,000 from funds allocated to social medicine. Are these people corrupt because Italy’s way to socialism is crooked? Or are they corrupt because Christian Democrats, after eighteen years in power, are like that? It is difficult to say.