Commentary Magazine

Communism, Italian-Style

To the Editor:

The two excellent articles published in November 1976 under the title, “Italian Communism at Home and Abroad” [“The New Class,” by Mauro Lucentini; “The Soviet Connection,” by Michael Ledeen] are quite different from what the international press has been reporting about the Italian situation in the past year and a half. . . .

Messrs. Lucentini and Ledeen have brought to light the hidden intentions and ingrained political attitudes which lie behind the reassuring statements that leaders of the Italian Communist party (PCI) have been making to foreign journalists. Instead of merely reprinting these statements, the foreign press should be deluging readers with analyses of the real transfer of power and the transformation of the regime that is actually going on in Italy today—a qualitative change that is turning Italian social and political structures into something very different from the Western model. As a result of this qualitative change, whole areas of Italian society today can no longer be reliably assimilated into any plan for cooperation or union with the West. These are the strategy and tactics of conquest from the periphery toward the center—an industrial-society version of Vietnam.

Where I disagree with Mr. Lucentini is about the nonviolent character both of this conquest and of the regime that it will lead to. It is through violence—by breaking the heads of dissenters—that the schools and universities have been conquered; it is through violence (sabotage, physical assault, kidnapping of management personnel, and systematic intimidation) that the unions have maintained their rigidity and brought the Italian economy to the brink of catastrophe; it is through violence that representatives of the law on all levels have been intimidated (judges have been murdered, etc.); it is through violence that attempts are being made to prevent the free flow of information from abroad (TV transmitting stations have been destroyed) and to destroy freedom of information domestically (the presence of Communist cells, under the guise of union representatives, in the editorial offices of most newspapers). Even as I write this, an Italian court is being prevented, by violent means, from bringing to trial a group of terrorists who have been indicted for serious crimes. It is true that these acts of violence have for the most part been perpetrated by extremist groups to the Left of the PCI, but it is also true that the PCI has always made strenuous efforts to keep these groups from being prosecuted. It has done so because the activities of such terrorist groups have been very useful to the PCI in pointing up the confusion and impotence of the Italian ruling class, and in opening new breaches in the fabric of society through which the PCI has been able to advance.

At this point, however, the most important question—not only for Italians but for all of the West—is whether the situation is still reversible. It is necessary for public opinion in the free nations to be informed that if the government of Italy continues to remain in the hands of this particular Christian Democratic party, with its present leaders, the situation will soon be reversible no longer. It is this ruling class, with its corruption and weakness, its lack of ideas, of programs, of culture, and of courage, and undermined by its own ambivalence, that has handed over entire areas of Italian society to the PCI without even putting up a fight. These are the; people who have given birth to and nurtured the New Class described by Mr. Lucentini. It is they who have lacked the necessary energy to keep the country bound to the West—when he was Foreign Minister, Aldo Moro resorted to Communist advisers on the Middle East question, for example. What are we to make of it when Prime Minister Andreotti reassures Business Week about the NATO loyalties of the Italian Communists? Can he be unaware of the duplicity so well documented by Mr. Ledeen? . . . But in any case, it is not he or people like him who are able to provide leadership to the 65 per cent of the Italian people who do not want the Communists in power. It is not people like these who can rally the still vast energies of the Italian people to restore law and order and reconstruct the economy. People like these—and the Christian Democratic party is largely in their hands—can only pave the way for the conquest of power by the Communists. If the friends we have in America want to help prevent this from happening, they must help us to get rid of them.

Giuseppe Are
University of Pisa
Pisa, Italy



To the Editor:

Mauro Lucentini and Michael Ledeen come as a welcome relief to those accustomed to the selective reporting and reassuringly bland analysis that have become the norm in American coverage of Italian affairs. Mr. Lucentini’s account of the extraordinary success the Italian Communist party has already had in making itself an indispensable part of the Italian political establishment sheds new light on the meaning of the “historic compromise” between Communists and Christian Democrats which the former represent as their preferred solution to the political crisis.

It would be worth pursuing the implications of this analysis with regard to the much-advertised commitment of the PCI to pluralism and democratic processes. That the PCI’s tolerance for political parties to the Left of the Christian Democrats (particularly those least connected with the political establishment) is less than exemplary is suggested by a series of incidents—wholly unreported in the American press—that occurred in the period preceding the June elections. The small Radical party had decided to turn an old Communist trick to advantage by having its supporters appear outside courthouses with their electoral lists almost two weeks before the filing date in order to insure that their party would be placed at the top of the ballot. What happened in Verona was evidently not atypical: PCI goons were brought in from another town to insult, terrorize, and finally beat up their Radical comrades, with the approval and at the apparent direction of local Communist officials. At Ancona, Radicals were beaten and dragged away to shouts of “Viva Stalin!” What is perhaps more disturbing is that legal charges brought by the Radicals in connection with these incidents were summarily dismissed by the highest court in Italy. The PCI has enjoyed similar impunity for the Fascist-style “punitive expeditions” reportedly mounted by some of the faithful against officials of the far Left Democratic Party of Proletarian Unity.

While the parallels between the PCI and the Fascist movement of the I920’s multiply (as Mr. Lucentini indicates, a variety of less violent methods has been no less effective than those just described), the Christian Democrats appear to be too interested in protecting acquired positions and their precarious dominance in the current government to respond effectively to the challenge of the Left. Increasingly, the “historic compromise” has the aspect of a favor to be granted not by the Christian Democrats but to them.

Carnes Lord
Washington, D. C.



To the Editor:

In a static world, the Lucentini-Ledeen view of Italian politics would not be entirely without merit. RAI-TV is certainly nepotistic, overstaffed, and fairly stupid. But it almost always has been, and long before Mauro Lucentini’s “New Class” (representing a third of Italian voters) began asking for its share of the jobs formerly monopolized by the patronage of the Christian Democrats (which now represent a third of Italian voters). As for Marxism in education, Mr. Lucentini’s eloquence would be more effective if it had been supported by statistics and analysis. When he says that “Communist activists have been installed as teachers at all levels, and many textbooks even in the elementary grades read like Marxist treatises,” he is hardly making a statement of degree or significance. Nor is it surprising that the world of publishing and journalism is affected by a Left whose growth has been in direct proportion to the inability of the bourgeois leadership to cope. For the situation, to judge by the criteria of techno-capitalism, is unmanageable. Italy’s tropism toward decline and fall is a few years ahead of the rest of Western Europe’s, . . . and perhaps three decades ahead of the United States. . . .

That the Left is trying to find places in the key sectors of industry, communications, and education in the Italian corporate state structure can mean either one more in the long list of corrupt bureaucracies which have governed Italy, or it can mean an administrative cadre which, given power and public approval, will honor its Marxist commitment. To support the first hypothesis, there is Italian history almost back to Romulus and Remus. To support the second, there is the discipline, sobriety, and commitment of the Italian Communist and Socialist parties, their conservatism and integrity almost guaranteed, first by bourgeois Italian social tradition, and second by the presence of well-organized and aggressive far-Left and far-Right criticism. Mr. Lucentini believes that under Communist tutelage “the corrupt, nepotistic aristocracy that has been formed in Italy would settle down to its final and undisturbed reward.” This is a static view of society as a perpetual pawn of palace revolutions. But Marxists who believe that change is the law of life hope to be able to influence consensus politics long enough to effectuate their long-term rescue plan for a collapsing Italy.

Michael Ledeen wishes to disprove the idea of national, semi-autonomous Communism. That the PCI raises funds through business connections with the USSR seems no more or less significant than that Lenin used Armand Hammer or that Willy Brandt had American support for the chancellorship which initiated his Ostpolitik. . . .

If, as Mr. Ledeen says, “the PCI simply does not see anything wrong with Soviet imperialism,” why did it condemn so strongly the Soviet intrusions into both Hungary and Czechoslovakia? As for Angola, along with San Thomé, it had long been one of the most brutally exploited areas of the Third World. Back around 1906, the three great English Quaker chocolate families, Cadbury, Rowntree, and Fry, horrified by the excesses in these two fiefdoms of British and Portuguese money and power, boycotted Angola’s cocoa exports in an attempt to force a semblance of societal decency. The boycott failed. If Fidel Castro’s troops have succeeded, are Italian Communists wrong in calling them “freedom fighters”? Or are all incursions of one state into another equivalent forms of “imperialism”? . . .

That political rhetoric must now suit itself to the century of the common man should not blind us to political realities. In terms of Italy, it is better to look at the facts of life than at l’Unità, which is, after all, only a PCI house-organ. These facts are: the Italian mentality and tradition; the bankruptcy of the neo-Keynesian, marginal utilitarian model for Italy; the independent Italian political stance, always keeping its options open (and, hence, displeased with the rigidity of the NATO obligation); and the frightful insecurity of the global military, political, and economic context in which Italy is trying to survive.

Somebody once said, “Italians are all born old.” Old people want, above all, to stay alive. If “a major security problem for NATO” would be “a Communist government in Italy,” perhaps a major security problem for the USSR would be what must, in fact, become a democratic-socialist government in Italy, a national compromise serving national needs and committed to a national independence beholden to neither Western nor Eastern militarism. To world-power determinists, Eastern or Western, the concept may seem illusory. To Italians, however, illusion is the stuff of history.

Robert Wuliger
Oakland, California



To the Editor:

The statistics on government employment in Italy cited by Mauro Lucentini are indeed extraordinary. In the United States, approximately 19 per cent of employed persons work for the government. I don’t know the relative relationship of population to employed persons in the United States and Italy, but probably it is roughly the same. Thus if “the public payroll [of Italy] is, in proportion to its population, ten times as large as that of the United States,” Italy would have 190 per cent of employed persons working for the government. This is particularly remarkable when you remember that “more than half of the total Italian labor force is already retired on official pension plans,” and there is a “vast army of the unemployed.” It would appear that “Italy indeed has become the first major Western country to produce a New Class,” but the New Class is a very peculiar one. It is the class of those who are retired and drawing a pension, holding two government jobs, and, at the same time, paying enough taxes to support themselves.

In fact I find myself rather in sympathy with the general conclusion drawn by Messrs. Lucentini and Ledeen. What I am criticizing, however, is what we might call the a-numerical approach of many literary scholars. Anyone who thinks about the numbers at all immediately realizes that they are absurd. The same points could be made with the correct numbers or by using literary terms which imply a large bureaucracy without using numerical values which are obviously wrong.

Gordon Tullock
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Blacksburg, Virginia



To the Editor:

I found Mauro Lucentini’s article on Communism in Italy very interesting. I was astonished to learn that so many people in Italy receive an income quite divorced from providing a productive economic function. If such facts are true, this is certainly a finding of considerable importance.

Paul Samuelson
Department of Economics
Cambridge, Massachusetts



To the Editor:

Mauro Lucentini’s persuasive description of the development of the New Class in Italy has direct relevance to the U.S. A recent example was the defeat in Michigan last fall of a ballot proposal for a constitutional amendment setting a limit to expenditures by the state government. The proposal was defeated, primarily through a last-minute propaganda blitz—highly deceptive and misleading in content—financed by the Michigan Education Association behind the veil of the League of Women Voters—a typical coalition of New Class interests with a group pervaded by precisely the kind of “cultural left-wing conformism” to which Mr. Lucentini calls attention.

A somewhat older example was described at length by Daniel P. Moynihan in his book analyzing the defeat of the Family Assistance Plan, primarily by the welfare bureaucracy.

We have not yet reached Italy’s state, and I trust that we never shall; but with government spending already amounting to 40 per cent of the national income, it behooves those of us who are concerned with strengthening and maintaining a free society to look to our defenses.

Milton Friedman
Department of Economics
University of Chicago
Chicago, Illinois



Mauro Lucentini writes:

Since, in Italy, it is so difficult to distinguish between people who work and people who don’t but nevertheless get money from the government in a variety of ways, I deliberately spoke of people “on the public payroll”—not only of government employees—when making the comparison that Gordon Tullock finds absurd. Mr. Tullock also says that in the United States approximately 19 per cent of employed persons work for the government, but this figure is too high since it includes occasional government contractors and the armed services which are not pertinent in this context; moreover, it is derived from a Census Bureau estimate which, for the purpose of determining the number of employed persons, does not take into account the whole of the labor force. Mr. Tullock should therefore scale down his figure for U.S. government employees by about half. If he then also considers the fact that the relationship of employed persons to population in the two countries is not “roughly the same,” he will find that my comparison stands up very well.

Both Mr. Tullock and Robert Wuliger reproach me for being “a-numerical,” but the few statistics I cited in my article were the best approximation I could produce for a country where statistics are unreliable or chaotic. A mission of the International Monetary Fund that visited Italy to investigate a possible loan was unable to get an estimate of Italy’s indebtedness abroad and one of its members was heard to remark that “we got better figures in Gabon than here.” The Communist leader, Giorgio Amendola, when asked recently how many people are jobless in Italy, replied: “And who knows?” So it would be very difficult to satisfy Mr. Tullock’s and Mr. Wuliger’s wish for exactitude insofar as even the main outlines of Italian life are concerned, let alone to quantify an assertion like “. . . many textbooks . . . read like Marxist treatises.”

But the unreliability of official Italian statistics is, in itself, beside the point. Any numerical approach would be misleading precisely because the New Class regime that has been created in Italy is based on such a complicated set of false labels and inverted truths. How do you arrive at a numerical judgment of Italian politics in a country where Communists masquerade as democrats and democrats (Christian and others) are often more to the Left than Communists? How do you arrive at numerical conclusions in a social situation where people getting state pensions through political patronage hold two or three jobs simultaneously, also obtained through political patronage—as Mr. Tullock very correctly divines? Mr. Tullock finds the statistics in my article “extraordinary.” But I will provide him with fresh ones that are even more so. In the province of Avellino (400,000 inhabitants) one out of three adults gets a disability pension, yet, judging from medical reports, people seem to be just as healthy there as elsewhere. In another area, the province of Chieti, forty people getting pensions for blindness were found to have drivers’ licenses. In the large city of Potensa, the number one source of income, according to INPS, the Italian welfare agency, was found to be state pensions.

More meaningful than an attempt to get at exact statistics and numerical comparisons between two radically different situations like the Italian and American ones are calculations like the one recently arrived at by independent Italian economists that the money spent by the Italian government on maintaining failed portions of the nationalized industrial system is two or three times larger than would be necessary if the government simply paid a salary to the involved people and closed down the plants. Or the fact that Alfasud, the new giant automobile plant installed with government funds in the South, is kept open even while one million lire are lost on each car it produces. (Actually, the portion of the nationalized economy that is not in the red is minuscule, and government industry is losing money “on everything from steel to panettoni,” as one observer has remarked.)

The distortion and camouflaging of the Italian economy have been proceeding on a wholesale scale, not only because the New Class has by now a vested interest in obscuring the truth, but, perhaps more significantly, because people excluded from the New Class are finding deception necessary for survival. In order to get work, vast numbers of people have renounced the “official” status of workers, and given up all the fringe benefits guaranteed by the welfare state, in collusion with employers who otherwise would be unable to operate. These secret workers do not figure either in the ranks of the employed or in those of the unemployed (officially defined as “those actively looking for work” through labor offices). Moonlighting, multiple and false enrollments, altered employment records, parallel sets of budgets—“official” for fiscal use and “real” for internal use—have become the order of the day. Economists in Italy are now talking of two separate economies—an official one, recognized by the government, the unions, and the law, and a “black” or “underground” one, for which nobody possesses any records, but which nevertheless appears to have great impact on and great relevance to Italian life.

This dual reality is the result both of the destructive forces put into motion by “socialization” and of the ingenuity shown by Italians in escaping them. This takes me back to the Italian character and its importance in understanding Communism, Italian-style. I do not quite understand whether Mr. Wuliger is accusing me of being “static” (of missing “the locomotive of history,” as Communist newspapers would put it) or of being too dynamic (since he says that I lament things that are as they “almost always [have] been”), but I certainly agree with him when he says that a plausible guess about what’s going to happen in Italy can be based on Italian character as evinced from “Italian history going almost back to Romulus and Remus.” Italians, throughout this long history, have always been masters of opportunism, change, and survival. They have acquired a marvelous knack of not taking things too seriously, which has been both good and bad. This is also the reason I do not share Giuseppe Are’s fear that, in case of a Communist takeover, we would witness a great wave of violence in Italy. I do not deny that the Communists are exploiting episodic violence strategically, by preventing the repression of the activities of extremist groups, or even using it directly, as pointed out in Carnes Lord’s letter. But I do not see in the Italian character the premise for any bloodbath on a Stalinist scale, and again I would refer to the comparison with Fascism and its relative blandness. Which is certainly small comfort, I admit, in viewing the approaching “historic compromise.”



Michael Ledeen writes:

Both Giuseppe Are and Carnes Lord make an important point, one which Robert Wuliger would do well to ponder. The point is that, unless we choose to believe the propaganda of the PCI, its behavior is so much like that of the Communist parties of Eastern Europe just prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain, that the differences appear relatively minor. Among the most striking similarities, the recourse to violence—particularly against left-wing critics—is one of the most alarming.

Mr. Lord, like several other careful observers of contemporary Italy (including Walter Laqueur, who made the same point in his article, “ ‘Eurocommunism’ and Its Friends,” COMMENTARY, August 1976), sees parallels between the PCI and the Fascist movement of the 1920’s. I must say that I find these comparisons forced. While neither party has any love for democracy, the Fascist notions of the state, of human nature, and of nationalism are very far removed indeed from those of the Italian Communists. I think we miss the point if we insist on making such comparisons; the most useful paradigm is that of the Czech Communist party before the defenestration of Masaryk.

Finally, we have Robert Wuliger, smacking his lips over the imminent fall of capitalism (or is it the fall of the West?). Mr. Wuliger believes that the PCI strongly condemned the Soviet “intrusion” into Hungary in 1956, which it did not. Indeed, its failure to do so cost it many of the finest minds and spirits in Italy, ranging from the historians Renzo De Felice and Pietro Melograni to the editor of l’Unità, Renato Mieli, and the former ambassador to Poland, Eugenio Reale. Furthermore, Mr. Wuliger has a bad habit of putting words in my mouth. I pointed out that the PCI condemned the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, but stressed that conflicts between the PCI and the Soviet Union were limited to relations among socialist countries and/or parties. Conflicts do not exist over broader question of foreign policy. Mr. Wuliger may believe, if he likes, that financial ties between the PCI and the Soviet Union do not compromise the possibility that the Italian Communists really want to become independent of Moscow; but most intelligent people will notice that such ties provide the Soviets with considerable leverage over the PCI. If the Russians were upset with Berlinguer, they could simply turn off the spigot (as they have done on several occasions in the past, with quick results).

The PCI’s foreign policy is not that of a Western democratic party. But this is not important to Mr. Wuliger, who prefers to think that the PCI’s opposition to a firm NATO commitment stems from a traditional Italian desire to keep its options open (why, then, has the PCI changed 180° on the question?), and that “the neo-Keynesian, marginal utilitarian model” is bankrupt (why, then, does the PCI accept the model?). But Mr. Wuliger’s most incredible fantasy is that the PCI wants a “national compromise . . . beholden to neither Western nor Eastern militarism.” This, too, is supposed to be part of Italian tradition. What does Mr. Wuliger do with the tradition which, throughout this century, has tied Italy to the West, and which the PCI is attempting to destroy? And if the PCI wants a real compromise, what is it doing supporting Soviet-financed mercenary armies in Angola?

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