355. Research Study Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1


More than most communist parties the Communist Party of Italy (PCI) poses problems for analysts who try to categorize it. There are those who subscribe to the “Trojan Horse” theory that every major move of the PCI is dictated by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and that such differences as may appear are designed by the CPSU to push an overt image of a democratic world communist movement which, in fact, remains completely under CPSU control. At the other end of the spectrum is the belief that the PCI is totally independent and perhaps shouldn’t even be called a Marxist party. The Party is unique, but it’s not enough to say that its uniqueness lies in the degree of its “independence,” the “Italianate” nature of its ideology, the sheer size and diversity of its membership, or any other single factor. The reasons are all of these and more; the whole explanation is greater than the sum of its parts.

It is not only the western analyst who has problems understanding the PCI; the CPSU and the communist parties of Eastern Europe seem to be equally perplexed.2 In the fifties a middle-echelon Soviet official who defected in Germany was asked about Soviet competence in assessing trends in western Europe. He said that Soviet expertise and understanding were increasingly sophisticated except on Italy, which the Soviets found difficult to understand. In 1974, the official in the Polish [Typeset Page 1081] Embassy in Rome responsible for PZPR (Polish Workers Unity Party) liaison with the PCI Central Committee said that a major difficulty which the PZPR and the CPSU had in understanding the PCI stemmed from the “fact,” in his view, that the PCI wasn’t really a communist party at all. He commented irritably that it was difficult to get on the same wave length with a party whose qualifications for membership seem non-existent: “Membership in the PZPR or the CPSU is something to be striven for. There is a probationary testing period before the applicant is accepted into full Party status. How can you even find out the real significance of a published figure of 1.2 million or 1.7 million members when the PCI will take in anyone who pays a membership fee? This is not the sort of communist party I’m used to.”

This paper will try to give a feel for the PCI as an organization which, particularly after the successes registered in the June 1975 Italian regional elections, seems likely to play an ever more substantive role on the Italian and European scenes over the next several years.3


The Nature of the Party

An increasing number of non-PCI voters, politicians, industrialists, clergy, and even government ministers consider the PCI to be a force for stability whose collaboration is not only desirable but vital in coping with the economic and social malaise which afflicts Italy in the mid-seventies.

In ideology, makeup, strategy and objectives the PCI differs markedly from other communist parties. The Party is numerically strong and increasingly influential in regional and national government policy formulation; nevertheless, it faces problems in holding the allegiance of the conservative (or “orthodox Stalinist”) and “new left” portions of its base. Its approach to these strains is flexible and non-doctrinaire and differs very much from that of the French Communist Party (PCF) to similar problems in the PCF.

The organizational and personnel changes made during the March 1975 XIVth Party Congress were designed by Secretary-General Berlinguer to increase his personal control of the PCI. The downgrading of Armando Cossutta, long considered to be the CPSU’s strongest ally in the top PCI leadership, is significant. Berlinguer’s pragmatism and [Typeset Page 1082] other aspects of his personal management style will be increasingly felt in the planning and implementation of major PCI policies.

The PCI and the CPSU

Ideological and programmatic differences with the CPSU go back to the twenties. PCI ideology represents a substantive modification of Marxism/Leninism which CPSU theoreticians have never been able to accept. The XIIth Congress of the PCI in 1969 marked an official exposition of many of these differences which went beyond Togliatti’s earlier policy statements on the necessity for each national party to pursue its own road to socialism.

During the Allende regime the PCI and the CPSU differed sharply in their analyses of the dynamics of the Chilean situation.

The CPSU has suspended frontal attacks on PCI “heresies” in the interest of maintaining a degree of influence over the European communist movement and the European Left in general. This public accommodation papers over a continuing CPSU distrust of the PCI leadership.

The PCI and Western Europe

Pan-European Institutions: The PCI has long had high-calibre members in the European Parliament. It has favored Italian membership in the European Community (EC) and has itself had high-level contact with EC components. Although PCI control over the largest Italian trade union confederation (CGIL) is by no means total, it has pushed hard for CGIL entry into the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) in order to enhance PCI influence in European labor. The CGIL application was approved in 1974, marking the first entry of a communist-dominated trade union into the ETUC.

Portugal: Long before the March 1975 events in Lisbon, the PCI took a jaundiced view of Cunhal, the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) leader, fearing that he would push for a leftist authoritarian government on the east European model. In the developing Portuguese situation, Berlinguer’s public criticism of the PCP and his favorable attitude toward the Portuguese Socialists may lead to an open rupture between the PCI and the PCP. Although the PCI would prefer to avoid this, it may well decide that a break is necessary if this should be deemed a pre-condition of the Party’s acceptance by the Italian Socialists and the Italian DC as a partner in government.

Spain: The PCI is pleased that the CPSU is mending its fences with Carillo, long a favorite of the PCI because of his continued condemnation of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, his willingness to be an interloculator for the PCI with Peking and his advocacy of a pluralistic society in post-Franco Spain.

France: Giscard’s razor-thin victory in the 1974 presidential elections was the ideal outcome for the PCI, which had feared a close [Typeset Page 1083] Mitterand victory and consequent inability of a left coalition government to function in the face of a hostile French Parliament. Such an eventuality would have adversely affected the chances for any eventual PCI entry into government. The Communist/Socialist relationship in Italy is quite different from the relationship of these parties in France. This, plus other basic differences between the PCI and the PCF, militate against any close permanent rapport or common program and go far to explain why the French and Italian communists follow different internal and foreign policies.

West Germany: Some sort of collaborative relationship with the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) has long been an objective of the PCI. A high-level, informal dialogue initiated in 1967 resulted in what Willy Brandt acknowledged to be “assistance” in his Ostpolitik. The high-level nature of this dialogue stopped in the early seventies on the death of the SPD interlocutor, who had been close to Brandt. However, the PCI has good reason for believing that meaningful contact will be reinstated and will lead to common SPD/PCI approaches on pan-European problems.

The PCI and the United States

The PCI’s view of the United States is still dominated by its conviction that Italian foreign and domestic policies are largely decided in Washington and implemented through the DC, whose dominant center and rightist factions are believed to be controlled through the American Ambassador. It thinks that the US is committed to forestalling meaningful PCI influence at the national level and is prepared to use the CIA to abet a rightist coup if such is considered necessary. The leadership also believes, however, that there is now sufficient coincidence of views among the PCI, the Socialist Party, all of the left (and some of the center) factions of the DC, and large elements of the middle classes to make it impossible for any rightist coup to succeed.

The PCI, aware that its earlier anti-NATO stand was a basic obstacle to improved relations with potential coalition partners, a few years ago decided that it would not oppose continuing Italian participation in NATO should the Party enter the government. From a policy of “Europe without blocs” it has subtly changed to a policy of equidistanza (“equidistance”) between the US and the USSR, and recognition that the blocs will not disappear in the near future.

[2 lines not declassified] Berlinguer resisted pressure from militants in the leadership to attack President Ford and Secretary Kissinger. The unexpected size of the PCI gains in the June 1975 elections means that Berlinguer’s line will prevail within the Party. However, a harshly critical US posture toward the PCI might well force Berlinguer to change his position to avoid the formation of an anti-Berlinguer faction within the leadership.

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The PCI in Government

If the PCI entered the government it would follow a relatively moderate line on internal domestic and social policy which, in many cases, would be to the right of Socialist Party positions. It would drive a hard bargain with the DC to ensure that the Party had a voice in the administration of the giant parastatal enterprises which are largely the preserve of the DC and which are a dominant feature in the economic life and the foreign policy of Italy. It would not advocate further nationalization. It would not push for radical social and economic reforms unless it were convinced that it enjoyed the support of a substantial element of the middle classes—and of a good portion of the DC at all levels. The evidence—overt and covert—points to the leadership’s commitment to a pluralistic society and to the parliamentary system.

The PCI, in consonance with its overall “Eurocentrist” policy so criticized by the CPSU, would use its influence within the government to try to strengthen the EC and the European Parliament. The objective would be the creation of a more unified Europe more independent of American influence. Worried lest such a policy might also lead to increased Soviet influence in Europe, the PCI leadership would find it easy to approve NATO démarches involving the USSR in cases such as a Soviet military intervention in a post-Tito Yugoslavia. In cases where Italian national security interests might not be clearly involved (as in a Soviet-inspired blockade of Berlin), the PCI would probably not go along with a tough, retaliatory action recommended by the NATO command—but it would probably find itself in the company of a majority of the Italian Parliament and a good portion of the DC in taking such a stand.

[Omitted here is the remainder of the study.]

  1. Summary: CIA study on the Communist Party of Italy.

    Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Current Intelligence Files, Job 79T00889A, Box 3, The Communist Party of Italy: An Analysis and Some Predictions OPR 311. Secret; [handling restriction not declassified]; Controlled Dissem; Background Use Only.

  2. The Communist Party of China has no problem. For it, the PCI is clearly a bourgeois, Establishment, party. However, the Chinese obviously welcome actions by the PCI which cause problems for the CPSU in the international communist movement or for the USSR in its push for greater influence in western Europe. [Footnote in the original.]
  3. The reader should also refer to Red Power and Prospects in Italy (published by the Office of Current Intelligence on 21 June 1971), Prospects for and Consequences of Increased Communist Influence in Italian Politics (National Intelligence Estimate 24–1–74, dated 18 July 1974) [1½ lines not declassified]. [Footnote in the original. For NIE 24–1–74, see Document 349.]