349. National Intelligence Estimate 24–1–741



Throughout the postwar era, the Italian political system has shown an ability to weather a succession of seemingly mortal crises. Moreover, it has done so without the direct participation of the country’s second largest political party—the Italian Communist Party (PCI)—since 1947. Over the years, however, the Communist Party has acquired considerable influence in local governments. In addition, it has had an impact on national-level policymaking through its performance in parliament and through carefully-nurtured but informal consultative relationships with the governing parties. In recent months, the Communists have stepped up their campaign for a larger and more direct PCI role in the governing process and have drawn attention to this effort with a new slogan—the “historic compromise.” The idea behind the slogan—a modus vivendi with the dominant Christian Democratic Party—is an old one that has influenced many of the party’s tactical maneuvers since the end of World War II. This paper examines the factors that are working in favor of a more direct Communist role in the national government, the obstacles to it, and the forms it might take. It also considers the consequences for Rome’s relations with the EC, NATO, and the US should the PCI succeed. The principal conclusions are:

A. Communist influence in Italy is on the increase. Communist strategy has gone far toward achieving the Party’s acceptance as a legitimate organization, qualified to take a place eventually in a national government coalition.

B. Communist chances for attaining this objective have been improved by the deteriorating economy, the general decline in anti-Communist sentiment, the growing difficulty of governing Italy with the previous formulas, and the international climate of détente.

C. The governing parties continue to resist the idea of PCI participation in the government, and some in the PCI oppose any partnership [Typeset Page 1069] with the Christian Democrats. The PCI does not appear prepared to accept actual membership in a governing coalition at this time. Nevertheless, some leaders of the Christian Democratic and Socialist Parties no longer rule out an eventual deal with the PCI even though they do not yet feel compelled to come to terms with the Communists.

D. An abortive coup attempt from the right or an economic collapse are the circumstances most likely to force the Christian Democrats into an immediate accommodation with the Communists.

E. Short of such contingencies, the PCI will continue to apply pressure for a gradually increasing role in the national government—the “historic compromise” strategy. In this process, the PCI will seek to use as leverage its influence with labor to attain such objectives as formalized consultations between the Communists and the governing parties, ad hoc Communist support in parliament for the governing coalition, and an increase in collaboration between the Communists and governing parties in local governments. This process could take years.

F. Once in the coalition, the PCI would not be likely immediately to demand sweeping changes in the constitutional order. The Communists would avoid pushing for radical solutions to Italy’s domestic problems, at least initially, and would concentrate on consolidating a position in the government.

G. All agree that Communist entry into the Italian government would be bad for NATO: The PCI would seek to prevent any increase in the US or NATO presence in Italy. It would try to discredit the US military presence, to put restrictions on the use of NATO facilities, pose obstacles for NATO activities involving Italian armed forces, and promote petty harassments of US facilities based on legal and other technicalities. PCI membership in government also would pose difficult security problems for Italy’s participation in NATO and complicate or jeopardize privileged information exchange programs and, at least in present circumstances of “détente”, make it even harder for other allied governments to maintain public support for defense spending.

—The Director of Central Intelligence, State/INR, NSA, and most elements of the CIA believe that the degree of PCI success in these efforts would depend on the relative strength of the Christian Democratic Party, and thus the terms of any CD–PCI agreement. They further believe that the PCI itself would not soon risk its role in government by pressing for radical formal changes in Italy’s foreign alignments.

—The DIA, Army, Navy, Air Force, and some elements of the CIA disagree. They believe the PCI would go beyond the actions outlined above to agitate for the removal of existing US bases and, once it succeeded in strengthening its position, would move to withdraw Italy from the alliance altogether. They further believe PCI entry into government would have very serious repercussions on defense preparedness [Typeset Page 1070] and unity throughout NATO, and call into question the alliance’s ability to react quickly and effectively to any Warsaw Pact military actions against NATO or any individual NATO member.

[Omitted here is the remainder of the 21-page estimate.]

  1. Summary: The estimate assessed prospects for and consequences of increased Communist influence in Italian politics.

    Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1313, NSC Secretariat—Richard M. Nixon Cables/Contingency Plans 1974, Italy Contingency Plan. Secret; [handling restriction not declassified].