107. Letter From the Counselor of Embassy in Italy (Fraleigh) to the Officer in Charge of Italian Affairs (Givan)1

Dear Walker:

We were concerned to learn, from your letter of February 18, that you had seen an uncleared policy paper that argues that Western European Communist parties including the PCI are changing and at some point will probably be acceptable partners within the governing coalitions.2 We presume that you will oppose clearing any such paper, and we hope that the arguments we have furnished—for example, in our A-1828 of June 30, 19643—provide sufficient ammunition for you to justify formally withholding EUR clearance. Just in case it might prove useful, however, I am summarizing below the arguments against the wishful thinking which promotes the theory here that the PCI wolf is becoming a harmless and useful sheep.

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The rationale, here in Italy, concerning the evolution of the PCI toward respectability and acceptability, generally leans heavily on one or more of the following weak “logical” reeds:

The PCI is becoming independent of Moscow, and as a fully autonomous party it will be acceptable within the democratic area. This is of course a non sequitur. The PCI link with Moscow is an excellent reason to exclude the Communists from power here. But it is not the only reason. The continued diminution eventually perhaps even to something approaching zero, of any such link with Moscow would not make the PCI acceptable or worthy of trust. They would remain a totalitarian party; as totalitarian as the Fascist MSI, and considerably more dangerous. We believe that it suffices to point out that the Yugoslav League of Communists (LCY) is quite independent of Moscow and since 1948 has made tremendous strides toward reconciling itself with the Yugoslav people, but it remains Marxist-Leninist, and after almost 17 years of independence from Moscow the Yugoslav people are still offered no political alternative whatsoever to the LCY. There is no evidence to support any conclusion that a fully autonomous PCI would perform any more democratically than the LCY.

The PCI is evolving toward democracy, and once fully democratic there would be no reason to exclude the Communists from the exercise of power. This fallacy is based on a false premise. The PCI is not evolving toward democracy. Steps have been taken from time to time to improve the workings of the system and (hopefully, from the PCI point of view) to give the cadres more of a feeling of participation in the Party decision-making apparatus. These are agitprop exercises, and the rest of the scanty appearances of PCI democratization are no more than a well propagandized illusion. Party leaders have said again and again that no matter how much the democratic left-wing calls for Communist abandonment of democratic centralism, the PCI will continue to consider democratic centralism the keystone of the Party principles of organization. In this sense the Leninist orthodoxy of the Party is impeccable. And it goes without saying that on this subject the views of Rosa Luxemburg stated 60 years ago (see Luxemburg’s Centralism or Democracy) still demand our careful consideration. She correctly predicted that democratic centralism and Party democracy would prove to be completely antithetical, and history has shown her to have been correct. The leaders of the democratic left-wing parties here know, and it more than ever behooves us to keep in mind, that no partial measures short of complete abandonment of Leninist organization can ever democratize the PCI. The argument can of course be made, convincing or not, that the lack of democracy within the Party need not preclude its acting in a democratic manner with respect to other parties. However, the statements of the Party (for Party consumption and therefore [Page 225] asserted seriously) leave no room for doubt on this score. The statements of Pietro Ingrao which were quoted in our A-1828 make it clear that the leopard has no intention of changing its spots, despite the propaganda to the contrary.

Inherent PCI tendencies toward autonomy and democracy can be stimulated and brought to fruition by gradually bringing the Party into the democratic area and offering responsibility to the Communists as they prove themselves ready for it. Of course this view would not be reflected in any paper prepared in Washington, but it is properly a part of this letter because it represents a logical construction on the fundamental misconceptions listed above. And notwithstanding the political absurdity of this sort of thought, we are sometimes hit with arguments of this type which, for example, regret our “shortsightedness” for not speeding up the “PCI evolution” by recognizing the respectability of Giorgio Amendola, etc. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, let me say that we find it quite easy to bear in mind that if the PCI leaders were demonstrably autonomous and 24 karat democrats, their domestic and foreign policy programs would automatically exclude them from any sort of practical consideration as partners in an Italian coalition. The problems inherent in the present center-left coalition provide sufficient examples. It is difficult to imagine the PCI moving to the right of the PSI positions as they are today, but without such a movement by the PCI, the Communists could contribute nothing to a program which would also have to find acceptance outside the Marxist area. Putting it another way, the Catholics recognize that a “dialogue” with Leninist Communists is impossible unless the Catholics care to move toward Communist positions; see, for example, L’Impossible Dialogo tra Cattolici e Communisti, Father Giuseppe De Rosa, S.J., in Civilta Cattolica of October 17, 1964, or the recent broadside by the Vatican Osservatore Romano. As Father De Rosa said, there is no common ground—political, philosophical, religious, or social. And the PCI has repeatedly asserted it will not abandon its tenets in all these areas.

It is not surprising that the Catholics, the PSDI, and all parties to the right of them have rejected cooperation with a party that remains a wolf in sheep’s clothing; a party that is not evolving toward democracy; a party that is only slightly less objectionable as a result of its growing autonomy; a party with which it would be impossible to fashion a useful democratic program, even if sincerity and trustworthiness could be assumed. We believe the democratic parties have been wise in rejecting the PCI to date.

We don’t see any convincing evidence that the PCI is changing, and much convincing evidence that it is not. We don’t know, therefore, to what democratic parties the PCI might ultimately become acceptable as a coalition partner, but we are certain that in terms of US policy [Page 226] interests and in the interests of liberty and democracy for our allies, the Communists will remain unacceptable unless and until they become fully autonomous, scrap Lenin’s democratic centralist structure, and adopt and support programs which reflect national needs rather than narrow doctrinal or power interests. But would the PCI then be a Communist Party?

The way to deal with the Communists, it seems to us, is to isolate them from the government and keep them so until the government has taken measures to improve social and economic conditions in Italy. Then it is to be hoped that their voting strength will fall off, for two reasons, as Nenni noted the other day: (1) voters will have less to protest about and (2) they will see that the Communists, absent from the “control room” can do nothing directly to influence the government’s program. To let the Communists into the government would remove this avenue of (hopefully) diminishing their voting strength.

We feel strongly enough about this to wish to call the paper to which you refer to John Di Sciullo’s attention, and I am therefore sending a copy of this letter to him. We hope both of you can take a thoroughly skeptical view of any paper that claims to see any meaningful steps toward democracy by the PCI. We would be the first to be delighted by such a trend, in view of the threat the PCI constitutes in Italy, but what we have observed to date is basically not PCI evolution, but wishful thinking encouraged by the PCI.


  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Italian Desk Files: Lot 68 D 436, Official Informal. Confidential; Official-Informal.
  2. Neither the letter nor the paper has been found.
  3. Not printed. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL 12 IT)