19 MARCH 1965, Page 13

Italy: Communism in Evolution


NOT long ago the head of the Polytechnic of Milan, which incorporates the faculty of architecture, decided to suspend the lectures of the town planning course. The official reason for this very serious decision (which had seldom had a precedent in the recent past) was that the students had gone on strike to bring pressure to bear on the holder of the Chair to change his programmes in order to accommodate direc- tives inspired by extreme left-wing (i.e. Com- munist) considerations.

The incident was widely discussed by almost all the leading newspapers in Italy. The Milan- ese Corriere della Sera (considered the most in- fluential newspaper in Italy, where circulation figures are equated with quality) put one of its top writers on to deal with the matter in a series of articles. The writer concluded that, in spite of their eupper-middle-class social background, students of architecture are Communists because this is an advantage when applying for jobs with Communist-controlled municipalities.

The explanation is a typical example of how most Italians try to rationalise everything that does not follow the pattern of traditional sub- mission of the underling to the overlord. For most 'respectable people' it is quite a shock to discover that students could go as far as daring to discuss what has been decided for them. They brand them as Communists in the secret hope of making them ashamed, and the word Com- munist is still used today (especially in the deep South) as a smear to insult anybody who does not match up to the ideal laid down by the powers that be. In fact, students from all over Italy have been showing their dissatisfaction with an educational system which is anything but equipped to prepare a managerial class fitted to assume responsibility in the world of today.

The question of Communism had little or nothing to do with the incident at the Milan Polytechnic. Yet it is important to understand this habit on the part of extremely conservative Italian circles of considering university under- graduates immature the moment they suggest what is good or bad for them. After all, this was largely what enabled the Fascists to domin- ate all aspects of Italian life, almost without opposition, for a quarter of a century. In more recent years the same kind of Victorian patern- alism to a large extent helped the PCI (Partito Communista Italiano) to increase its vote con- tinuously from the first post-Mussolini election in 1946. The rising trend of Communism remained unbroken, even last November, when, in spite of the extensive coverage given to the Khrushchev debacle by the Italian press, the PCI increased its share of the vote by a further 0.5 per cent. This had already reached 25.5 per cent in April 1963, when the national Parliament was chosen.

Up to now, the Communists have benefited from many factors. First, they enjoyed an efficient party machine. Secondly, there was the more impartial policy of Pope John, the first Catholic pontiff of recent times to sponsor an uncommitted attitude when tackling problems concerning the general state of Italy's affairs. Thirdly, a fast rate of economic develop- ment forced many people to turn their backs on their native lands to experience a different pattern of life.

This last point is worth elaborating. At the peak of Italy's 'economic miracle' floods of people from the backward areas of the Mezzo- giorno moved into the wealthier region of the North, where the chances of finding remunera- tive work were much greater. On his arrival, say at Milan station, the southern immigrant found Communist officials ready to meet him in the most friendly way. He was directed to the address of a likely job, and given such assistance as he needed. The party even organised lectures where the speaker was chosen for his ability to talk in the workers' own dialect—an important point in Italy, where dialects are so very diverse.

Many Italians, again, have chosen to vote PCI in protest against the more unsavoury aspects of national life, like the recurrent scandals in various sectors of public administration. Often these have involved highly placed officials, minis- ters and Members of Parliament. Such episodes are skilfully handled by the PCI -national daily, L'Unita. which is able to compete successfully with the most sophisticated publications.

Apart from the Christian Democrats, the

Communists are the only Italian political organ- isation which can afford to employ a large permanent staff of full-time officials. But while the finances of the Christian Democrats have recently been dwindling, the assets of the PCI continue to flourish. Unlike other parties, it has many ways of raising money. For a long time it was thought that the chief source was the Russians, but funds come too from party mem- bership, the sale of periodicals, the profits from entertainments, subscriptions to L'Unita, the profits made by Italian firms trading with Communist countries, and, finally, from contri- butions paid by the 'red employers.' In Emilia, for instance, a region particularly affected by the economic -boom, a good number of small• craftsmen, and even ordinary workers, have suc- ceeded in becoming the proprietors of medium- sized concerns in a very short time. Many of the new bosses saw the advantage of keeping their PCI cards for the practical benefits involved. Thus they increase their bargaining power with Italy's largest trade union, which is under Com- munist control, and get a better deal with the local public administration, which again .is Communist-dominated. For this contributions to the PCI are a small price to pay.

The party has happily turned its back on the working-class Communist image and become a more respectable middle-class party. On many occasions the late Signor Togliatti, the popular leader of the party, affirmed that if it should be voted into power, it would never dream of abolishing the capitalist system in Italy. At the time, his death seemed a very hard blow for the party. It might still bring, however, radical changes in the party line for achieving govern- mental responsibility. The younger elements seem tired of waiting for the revolution of the Italian proletariat to seize the opportunity of running Italy. They want to get there as quickly as pos- sible, and in this light it is worth noting that two tactical approaches have recently been put forward within the party.

Pietro Ingrao, a former prot6g6 of Togliatti, wants the PCI to preserve its own image, but at the same time to be prepared to gain more ideological autonomy from Moscow in order to develop something like Tito's brand of Com- munism. Another faction, which apart from Signor Longo, the general secretary who took over from Togliatti, has a major exponent and another product of the younger generation in Signor Amendola, believes that the only way to get the PCI into the government is to per- suade the other Italian left-wing parties to join them in aiming at a common target. These latter tactics were successful last December when the Communists united with the Socialists to elect Signor Giuseppe Saragat President • of the Republic.

It is a far cry from this episode to the prospect of a Communist government in Italy. Under the strong new leadership of Paul VI the Church is more determined than ever to stand firm against any competitor, to perform the same job, even if in a different way.

However, more than seeing the Church return to the times of fierce anti-Communist crusade when electors were threatened with excommuni- cation, one would wish to see the country managed by a ruling class more alive to the task of getting it through the present transitional stage.

If this should happen, then Communism might recede into the dim background of Italy's twelve second-grade parties which at present make up the wide political geography of the country. But until then the chances of the PCI gaining further ground are distinctly good.