296. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Kennedy0


  • Our Assessment of and Actions with Regard to a Possible Italian Government Supported by the Socialist Party

Christian Democrat Party leaders of Italy seem to be following a correctly cautious policy in their approach to the formation of a government depending on the support in Parliament of the left-wing Italian Socialist Party of Pietro Nenni. (The recent evolution of this question is described in enclosure 1.)1 This could constitute a turning point in Italian political affairs, for better or for worse. Present Italian policies would probably not, however, show a significant change in the immediate future.

Cooperation with the PSI, if wisely pursued, could bring impressive long-term gains for Italy. It could add to the ability of Italian Governments to adopt much-needed constructive programs. (Among the measures advocated by the PSI there are many that Italian moderates [Page 827]favor.) It could broaden the “area of democracy” in Italian politics. It could lead to the political isolation of the Communist Party. (Communist leaders are now feverishly developing tactics designed to discredit the new formula or, better yet, to convert it into a vestibule for a new Popular Front.)

However, the ultimate risks of such an association for Italian democracy and for the United States are also impressive. Forty percent of the PSI Party continues to favor close unity of action with the Communists. Even under its present “Autonomist” leadership the PSI urges a greater degree of “independence” vis-á-vis the U.S., confesses to a tendency towards neutralism, favors a disarmed and neutralized Germany and would probably oppose controls over strategic trade with the Soviet Bloc. In domestic affairs it opposes discriminatory measures against the Communists, and favors the reestablishment of labor unity in an organization including the Communists. (It continues to collaborate with the Communists in trade unions, cooperatives and many local governments.) Its potential influence in these directions would be compounded by the fact that some of these views are shared to a greater or lesser extent by certain elements of the center parties, and their currency has of late, if anything, been increasing.

The fear that the issue of collaboration with the PSI might endanger Christian Democrat Party unity has for the moment been attenuated by the handling of the party’s recent National Convention by Party Secretary Moro. Moro formulated a cautious step-by-step approach to collaboration firmly rejecting any change in foreign policy or in the party’s attitude toward the Communists. He also urged the continued participation in the Party leadership of those opposed to the PSI “experiment”. The Convention endorsed this formulation by an 80 percent majority.

United States Actions:

Our actions have been taken in the framework of the policy set forth in the Policy Guidelines paper on Italy (enclosure 2).2 Although this paper has not yet been “promulgated”, the sections on Italian internal political affairs have been fully approved in the Department of State. [3-1/2 lines of source text not declassified]

Our fundamental hope, as this movement has almost inexorably developed, has been that its fruits might be harvested without the surrender of any of the major gains already made by Italy in both foreign and domestic affairs in recent years. During the past year we have avoided taking a clear-cut position for or against PSI collaboration insofar as Italian internal issues were concerned, stating that this was a question [Page 828]that the Italians themselves should decide. In confidential conversations we have stated that we were alive to the possible advantages in isolating the Communists and strengthening Italian democracy which might result from obtaining PSI support for the government, and that we shared the wish of most Italians for a dynamic “positive” domestic program which might accelerate the existing pace of reform and of social change, and the improvement of material conditions. However, we have placed our primary emphasis on the need to ensure that Italian foreign policy was not affected by the formation of such a government. We have made no secret of our concern over and disagreement with the PSI foreign policy positions, or of our hope that the PSI would move to wiser positions in the future.

[1 paragraph (5-1/2 lines of source text) not declassified]

In recent weeks we have been particularly careful to avoid any action which might seem an attempt to intervene in the “great debate”. We rejected a suggestion that Nenni be officially invited to the United States before the Christian Democrat Convention, believing that the PSI would use such an invitation as the basis for claiming that we favored an opening to the Left with or without further modification of PSI foreign policy positions. We have since agreed, however, that Nenni might well be invited to visit this country by a private organization after a new government has been confirmed.3

Now that the crisis has formally begun, we have taken the position with the press that: 1) we deferred to the judgment of our Italian friends as to the type of government best suited to strengthening Italy’s democratic institutions and economy; and 2) we were confident that Italy would continue to lend its whole-hearted support to NATO and European integration.

For the future, we are in fact by no means reassured that should a government dependent on the PSI be formed Italy’s policies would not as a result gradually evolve in directions unfavorable to us. PSI influence could very well, unless the center parties held completely firm, affect Italy’s support for NATO, Italy’s primary reliance on ties with the U.S., the position of Italian free trade unions and cooperatives vis-á-vis cooperation with Communist organizations, Italy’s contribution to Western defense with particular regard to its defense budget and to the stationing of U.S. forces in Italy, Italian support for controls by NATO countries over strategic trade with the Bloc, and Italy’s role in the U.N., [Page 829]with particular reference to its relations with the uncommitted and emerging nations.


We do not, in conclusion, feel justified in advancing a categoric judgment on whether the “opening to the Left” will eventually prove a favorable or an unfavorable development for us and for Italian democracy. Everything will depend on its implementation. (We are at the moment encouraged by the caution that Italian leaders are currently displaying in their approach to the question.) We are, however, certain that such collaboration will usher us into a period of greater uncertainty in our relations with Italy. Our task will be one of helping our Italian friends to reap from the situation the benefits that we and they hope for (in isolation of the Communists and the strengthening of Italian democracy) and to avoid the dangers, both in foreign and internal affairs, that we and they fear.

Dean Rusk
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Italy. Secret.
  2. Not found.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Senator Humphrey, who met Nenni September 30, urged in a November 6 letter to Rusk that Nenni be officially invited to visit the United States. (Department of State, Central Files, 033.110–HU/11–661) In early December Nenni indicated his interest to Embassy officials through an intermediary. Documentation on Nenni’s interest and the Department’s decision to withhold an official invitation pending political developments in Italy are ibid., Italian Desk Files: Lot 68 D 436, Italy—Nenni’s Proposed Visit—1962.