Tuesday, December 9, 2014


By Emery Barcs 1968-8-29

AN unprecedented rebellion of Western Communist Parties against the Kremlin leadership has been the most important side-effect of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union and its Polish, East German, Hungarian and Bulgarian satellites.

The Western comrades' denunciations of Brezhnev and his associates have varied in phrasing and intensity.

The French, for instance, have been more guarded than the Scandinavians while the Italians, who run the largest Communist Party west of the Iron Curtain, have been the most outspoken in their condemnation of Moscow's Czech policies.

Italy's Communists, led by Secretary - General Luigi Longo, have a special reason for feeling upset and for clearly expressing their indignation. The occupation of Czechoslovakia by "fraternal" forces may have robbed them of the long-awaited chance of participating in the Government in Italy.

During my recent visit to Italy, Communist intellectuals never tired of explaining to me that Stalinism was dead, that Communist strong-arm methods were a thing of the past and that their party, the PCI, was a "democratic parliamentary force something like the liberal Communist Party of Czechoslovakia."

When I expressed my doubts that the Soviet leaders -- or any other Communist regime -- could tolerate freedom in Czechoslovakia because the Czech example would start an epidemic of demands for freedom in the whole Soviet bloc undermining the Party's power everywhere, the standard answer was that I lived and thought in the past which was no longer applicable.

Last week this past was applied in Czechoslovakia and no wonder that the PCI felt cheated.  In a Press statement, the Party declared the military intervention "grave and unjustified," and added that the PCI was "unable to reconcile it with the right of independence of every Communist Party."

Despite this stand, the Italian Communist Party undoubtedly feels --  and rightly -- that it will take time before it can make the country's non-Communist Left forget what happened to Czechoslovakia and to persuade it to enter into an alliance with the PCI.

Admittedly, even before the Czechoslovakian events there was only a slightly chance of a Grand Left coalition, as advocated by the PCI.  Such a coalition would have included Communists, the Left Wing of the Christian Democratic Party, Social Democrats and the new Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity (a dissident Social Democratic group) which ran for the first time during the last parliamentary elections in May and gained 23 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 14 seats in the Senate.

But the point is that there was some chance of a Grand Left. Before the occupation of Czechoslovakia, the Left Wing of the Christian Democrats (DC), led by Donat Cattin, was inclined to open a dialogue with the Communists to further long-overdue forms blocked by the DC's conservatives.

Now Donat Cattin and his followers will almost certainly have second thoughts about the advisability of flirting with the PCI, despite the Party's denunciation of the suppression of freedom in Czechoslovakia.

It is also improbable that the ludicrous political situation in which Italy now finds itself and which has contributed to the Communist hopes of sharing power will arise again.

Since last June, Italy has had a minority Christian Democratic caretaker Government led by Signor Giovanni Leone, 60, a Senator for life and a Professor of Penal Law and Procedure at Rome University.

The reason for the formation of this "Government for the bathing season," as it is facetiously called, must be one of the oddest in the history of parliamentary democracy.

Last May general elections were held in Italy and the governing Centre Left coalition of Christian Democrats, United Socialists and Republicans was returned with a handsome majority. It won 366 of a total of 630 seats in the Chamber of Deputies.

However, while the Christian Democrats increased their seats by six, the United Socialists lost the same number.  Some of the Socialists (among them, I was told, Giuseppe Saragat, President of Italy) blamed their loss of seats on the Christian Democratic hesitancy to carry out reforms.

Hence they decided to withdraw from the coalition until after the United Socialist Party congress next October which will decide whether the Centre-Left regime should be re-established. (The Republicans also withdrew from the coalition.)

Many influential Socialists, including veteran party leader Pietro Nenni, now believe that their withdrawal from the coalition was a political mistake and that they ought to rejoin the Government as soon as possible. Few people in Italian politics seem to doubt that the Socialists will do so after their meeting in October.

But they want a firm assurance that the Christian Democrats will cooperate fully during the next five years in developing Italy into a fully fledged social welfare State, and that certain reforms -- such as the modernisation of education and public administration -- will be put through in the life of this parliament.

The Communists had hoped that the uncertainties caused by the coalition crisis would provide the chance for establishing a Grand Left regime in which they could join and hold some of the key Government positions.

At the beginning of this month when I was in Rome many politically articulate Italians to whom I talked (including some strongly anti-Communists) did not rule out the possibility that the comrades might succeed.

The Kremlin's rape of Czechoslovakia has un-doubtedly ended the PCI's high hopes because -- at least for the time being -- it has made Communism as unpalatable in Italy as it is elsewhere in Western Europe.

But whether the PCI will regain its popularity in Italy depends less on the Communist Party than on the regime which will emerge after next October's United Socialist Congress.

For under the gay and congenial surface of Italian life there is serious discontent in the country. The reason for this is that while Italy's economic progress since the end of World War II has been impressive, the improvements in living conditions have been spread unevenly and have hardly reached some categories of the people.

The industrial worker is relatively much better off than he was, say, 30 years ago. It is the white collar worker -- including public servants, teachers, minor academics -- who feel they do not enjoy any of the benefits of the overall economic progress.

It is this class of people, numbering many millions, whose income lags badly behind its zest for life, and it is here one finds some of the most acid criticism of the present state of affairs in Italy, and the greatest disaffection with the regime. 

Some of them have been Communist Party members. Many more have consistently voted for the party in the past.  And unless sound politics remedy their grievances they may do so in the future, helping the Italian Communist Party ultimately to stage a strong comeback -- unlikely as this may appeal in the present atmosphere of disillusionment with Communism.

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