358. Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1



A. The mid-June regional and local election results presented the Christian Democrats with their most serious challenge in nearly 30 years as Italy’s dominant party. The Communist Party’s (PCI) gains of about 6 percent brought it to within 2 percent of the Christian Democrats at the regional level. Unless the Christian Democrats act soon to improve their standing, the Communists could pull ahead of them in the next national parliamentary election—to be held no later than the spring of 1977.

B. The vote had little to do with Italy’s foreign policy. It reflected increasing frustration over inefficient government, inadequate services, tax inequities, and a host of other complaints for which the Christian Democrats were held responsible. It also reflected the sentiments of several million new voters enfranchised when the voting age was recently lowered to 18 and economic strains (which have hit the middle class harder than in the past). A marked deterioration in the economy, though we do not think it likely, would hurt the Christian Democrats and thus might help the Communists duplicate or improve on their success when the next national elections are held.

C. In the period before the next national parliamentary elections, the Christian Democrats have enough maneuvering room to avoid seeking Communist support in forming a governmental majority. The Communists, moreover, do not want to press the issue. After the elections—even if the Christian Democrats remain the largest party—their options are likely to be cut down to a choice between allying with either the Socialists or the Communists.

D. The Christian Democrats are likely, in the pre-election period, to consider:

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Keeping the Moro government in place. The chief advantage of Moro’s government—in which only the Christian Democrats and Republicans hold cabinet posts—is that its existence affords the parties time to sort out their options and deal with internal problems. But it is increasingly clear that the government’s weaknesses prevent it from taking actions that could help contain Communist gains in the next election.

Making concessions to the Socialists, whose moderate gains put them in a pivotal position. The Socialists want major programmatic changes, some of the more important ministries, and an arrangement that would force the Communists to share some of the government’s programmatic responsibilities, without actually holding cabinet posts.

Forming an all-Christian Democratic “monocolore” cabinet. This is a traditional way of letting the dust settle, but it is only a stopgap.

Setting up a centrist coalition, substituting the small and conservative Liberal Party for the Socialists. Although mathematically possible, the centrist coalition’s slim parliamentary majority would make this alternative just another stopgap.

Calling early national elections. This choice does not look very inviting now, but the Christian Democrats may consider it, if failure or inability to put together an effective government convinces them they would lose more by waiting until 1977.

E. The next national elections are likely to deprive the Christian Democrats of all options except an alliance with the Socialists—on terms more favorable to the Socialists than in the past—or a deal with the Communists. A centrist coalition will no longer be possible, because the losses suffered by the Liberal Party in the local contests are almost certain to be duplicated in a national race. The mathematical possibility of a center-right alliance—this has never been a politically feasible option—will also be gone if, as is likely, the neo-fascists lose as much in the national elections as they did in June.

F. The Socialists will drive a hard bargain, because they have concluded that current political dynamics threaten their survival as a separate party. They believe that they are being hurt at the polls by their subordinate association with the Christian Democrats while the Communists are helped by their opposition status. On the other hand, the Socialists are afraid they would be overpowered in any alliance with the Communists at the national level. That is why the Socialists want concessions from the Christian Democrats that would give the government a more leftist cast and obligate the Communists to support its program.

G. While the Communist Party works for a formal share in national power it will continue the soft line toward NATO, Europe, and the US which Berlinguer has pushed since taking over the party in 1972 and which has been vindicated by the party’s electoral successes. This means:

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—Tolerating Italy’s NATO membership while resisting any broadening of its commitment to the Alliance or any expansion of the US military presence in Italy.

—Encouraging West European Communist parties to work out coordinated positions on social and economic issues, whether or not these positions coincide with the prevailing view in Moscow.

—Calling for eventual dissolution of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact as part of the détente process.

H. How much this soft line would harden should the PCI come into the national government and how responsive the PCI would be to Soviet influence are questions on which differences of opinion remain in the US Intelligence Community.2 There is no doubt that the greater the PCI’s influence on or in the government the more difficulties NATO will have in Italy. And for all the PCI’s clear differences with Moscow, there are close ideological ties and the policies of the two are parallel in many respects. In addition, there is evidence of division within the PCI on questions of foreign policy; some PCI leaders, at least, would probably prove more responsive to Moscow once the party got into the government.3

I. If they entered the government, the Communist leaders would probably avoid at the outset any precipitate move (trying to pull Italy out of NATO, for example) that could endanger their position over the longer run. They would realize, moreover, that allowing the Soviets a strong say in how Italy is run would jeopardize the PCI’s painstaking efforts over the years to stress its Italian identity. The PCI leaders would be heavily influenced by tactical considerations. They would want to move cautiously, at least at the outset, in order to avoid the risks of conservative counter-reaction, or alienation from Western Europe and the US, which would arise from all-out opposition to NATO or from behaving, for example, like the Communists of Portugal. The PCI’s cautious approach would be complicated, however, by increased pressure for results from its own rank and file. In any event, there is every reason to believe that the Communists would be able to influence government policies substantially.

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J. While Communist membership in the national government may have been brought closer by the PCI’s recent success, the Christian Democrats have other options and will take them—at least in the period before the 1977 elections. In terms of real political influence, however, the PCI—which now participates directly in the governments of most major cities, five of the 20 regions, and nearly a third of the 94 provinces—is much stronger today than before the elections. Communist leader Berlinguer has always stressed the gradual nature of his “historic compromise” strategy and will welcome additional time to consolidate these gains. Continuing his cautious approach, Berlinguer’s major aim will be to demonstrate that the party can deliver the efficient local-level administration it promised during the campaign. Any success he achieves in that respect will go far toward breaking down the remaining psychological and traditional barriers to PCI membership in the national government.

K. Our estimate of probable PCI behavior is based on the near certainty that the PCI would not only have to share power with other parties if it entered the government, in the near or medium term, but would also have to take account of public opinion. Farther into the future, the Communists would work to gain predominant power and, if this were achieved, constraints on their behavior would clearly diminish. In such circumstances, the PCI could be expected to become more aggressive and doctrinaire.

[Omitted here is the remainder of the memorandum.]

  1. Summary: The memorandum updated NIE 24–1–74, “Prospects for and Consequences of Increased Communist Influence in Italian Politics.”

    Source: Central Intelligence Agency, National Intelligence Council Files, Job 79R01012A. Secret; [handling restriction not declassified]. For NIE 24–1–74, see Document 349.

  2. See NIE 24–1–74: Prospects for and Consequences of Increased Communist Influence in Italian Politics, 18 July 1974, pp. 8–20, and paras 47–48 of this memorandum. [Footnote in the original.]
  3. The Defense Intelligence Agency, The Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Department of the Army, the Director of Naval Intelligence, Department of the Navy, and the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, Department of the Air Force believe that the relationship of the PCI to Moscow is a more fundamental one than suggested here. Although the PCI is no longer fully subservient to the dictates of the Soviet Politburo, the text does not sufficiently emphasize that the party would be responsive to Moscow, particularly on East-West issues, once in power. [Footnote in the original.]