Italy’s Communists

Jonathan Steinberg

‘1983 is the most important election since the war,’ said my Italian friend, a sociologist, exultantly. ‘After nearly forty years everything is in flux.’ I had rung him the day after the election. He could hardly speak for excitement. The country was stunned. The results had completely flattened the opinion polls, which has been caught with their predictions down. They had not foreseen the landslide of voters leaving the ‘party of relative majority’, as the Christian Democrats tend to be called.

The voters in motion had not gone to the Communists. The Partito Comunista Italiano, or PCI, just about held its own. Compared to 1979, the PCI had got.5 per cent fewer votes and lost three seats in the Chamber of Deputies. The Christian Democrats had lost 5.4 per cent and 37 seats. The gap between the two mass parties of left and right had narrowed to just over 3 per cent and only 27 seats in the Chamber of Deputies.

The Communists celebrated the fact that they had not lost, but for the Partito Socialista Italiano, their perennial rival on the left, the two days of voting had been nearly as disastrous as they had been for the Christian Democrats. Their leader, Bettino Craxi, had caused an election which nobody else wanted in one of those sly moves that make Italian electoral politics so labyrinthine. The PSI gained 11 seats in the Chamber and raised its share of the vote from 9.8 per cent to 11.4 per cent: not nearly enough to give it the balance of power or the right to claim a victory. The PSI had inadvertently pushed the rock which started what my sociologist friend kept calling the ‘landslide’.

Who won? The little parties of the centre gained considerably. The Republican Party, the party of the liberal business classes, did unusually well in raising its share of the vote from 3.8 per cent to 5 per cent, a major shift by the standards of Italian elections. It would now have 29 members in the new Chamber. The tiny Liberal Party, ‘all Gucci handbags and alligator shoes’, as another friend remarked, the fragile remnant of the great party which had unified Italy, celebrated a famous victory. They had grown from 1.9 per cent to 2.9 per cent and Valerio Zanone could now lead a group of 16 Deputies. The right-wing Neo-Fascists also took votes of exasperation from the Christian Democrats and gained 12 seats and 2.5 per cent of the vote. The little parties, swollen with their gains, would cost much more in ministerial posts, under-secretaryships, chairmanships of para-state agencies, directors-general of this and that, than they had ever done before. The Christian Democrats could no longer form a government without them.

The deeper meaning of the election lies in its effect on the two mass parties. Christian Democracy is not a party in our sense but a way of conducting business and life. In traditional Catholic areas like the Veneto, the people have lived from cradle to the grave within the Catholic organisations which nurtured them. When the Bishop in Verona said, ‘Vote!’ to his flock, he had no need to name the party. That a good Catholic would vote anything other than Christian Democrat never occurred to him. In the South, the Church was less strong but the party no less dominant. There the Christian Democrats ruled by elaborate structures of patronage, corruption and violence. They ran client-systems through kinship networks and practised the politics of the bustarella, the little brown envelope filled with cash. 1983 saw this system of patronage and protection crumble. The greatest losses suffered by the Christian Democrats were in Palermo and Naples – to paraphrase Croce’s remarks, the only oriental cities without European quarters. Generations of dealing with Mafia and Camorra, of building ‘abusively’ – that is, without permission – of rake-offs, promises, favours and force, finally pushed the meek too far. They might have to keep silence for fear of the lupara, or sawn-off shotgun, but they could at least vote.

The Communist Party is no less a way of life. In 1982 I went to a congress of the Neapolitan Regional Federation of the PCI. The hall was freezing but the reception warm. After the chaos, crime and violence of the streets of Naples, the Communists received me into their large, orderly family. One became compagno automatically: ‘There’s a comrade here from England who ... ’ they would say and pass me on to somebody who could answer my question or give me a lift through the interminable traffic jams to my hotel. A tough working-class regional councillor explained to me, as we sat in the stalled traffic, that Communist councillors never take their salaries. All payments from the state go to the party, which gives to each what he needs. The PCI takes a puritanical pride in its honesty and sobriety. The late Giorgio Amendola recalled in the second volume of his memoirs how he returned to Paris in 1931 after a particularly hazardous clandestine mission, to be scolded by Palmiro Togliatti, the party’s leader, for having travelled second-class. Amendola was supposed to be a student, wasn’t he? Everybody knew that students were poor and had to travel third-class. After the liberation of Rome in early 1945 Togliatti came into the headquarters of the PCI to find a young militant preparing copy for L’Unita, the party’s daily newspaper. He was wearing battledress left over from his time with the partisans in the North.

‘Are you very poor, comrade?’ Togliatti asked the startled young man.

‘No, not especially,’ he replied, puzzled.

‘Well, if you need money to buy a proper suit,’ said Togliatti, ‘the party will pay for it.’

This severity is reflected in the national headquarters of the party at 4 Via delle Botteghe Oscure in Rome. The building has a plain, unadorned façade, an aseptic modern lobby and long corridors without ornament or decoration of any kind. When I went recently to interview a high functionary, I was given an appointment at 8.30 a.m.

The party’s ‘diversity’ arises from what Amendola called ‘un orgoglio di partito’, ‘a pride of party’, that pride in being a Communist which, he writes, restrained Communist prisoners from masturbating during their imprisonment and made them ashamed that they could not discipline their dreams. I saw it in the contempt with which the young Neapolitan spoke of the corruption and soft living of the other parties. We, they tell you in word and gesture, are not like the others.

In March this year a corruption scandal broke out in Turin, the Vatican City of Italian Communism. Six Socialist regional and city councillors were accused of taking bribes. That was not unusual. Scandals involving Socialists have been common ever since the Italian Socialist Party took its place in the first centre-left government of Aldo Moro in December 1963. Joining the PSI, a cynic observed to me, is a left-wing way of getting a government job. This time, the leader of the Communist group in the regional assembly was also implicated. PCI headquarters in Turin were so stunned that for 24 hours the party did not stir. Then it opened its telephone lines day and night for a kind of collective therapy session until the shame and anxiety had been talked out. Older comrades rang up and wept.

In his wonderful short story, ‘The Death of Stalin’, Leonardo Sciascia describes the dream which an old Sicilian militant, Calogero Schiro, has at dawn on 18 April 1948, the day of the Communists’ greatest post-war electoral defeat. Calogero was dreaming that he was signing ballot papers as village representative of the PCI when suddenly a heavy arm in a military tunic fell on the pile of ballots. He looked up and saw Stalin. Calogero’s first thought was: ‘He’s pissed off. We must have done something wrong.’ In fact, Stalin, speaking in a strong Neapolitan accent, has come to say to Calogero: ‘Cali, we are going to lose these elections. There’s nothing we can do. The priests have the upper hand.’

A messianic faith in Stalin and the Red Army kept militants like Calogero Schiro from giving in during the twenty years of Fascist darkness. Paolo Spriano, the official historian of the PCI, describes an Apulian peasant who kept a map in his stables where he would mark with a pin the progress of the Russian advance during 1943 and 1944 and then calculate how many hours it would take them to cross the Adriatic and get to his village. In Sicily, militants like Calogero waited for ‘Uncle Joe’ (in Sicilian dialect, lu zi Peppi) as their grandfathers had waited for Garibaldi and the day when peasants would have justice. Organised workers in the North called him il Baffone, ‘big moustache’. For both the faith was the same. For tens of thousands of Communist militants the tie with the Soviet Union represented the guarantee that the PCI had been and always would be, world without end, a genuinely revolutionary party.

Every Communist Party must to some extent be a copy of the Bolshevik party of Lenin, for Lenin invented the modern revolutionary party with its professional, highly-trained cadres, its taut structure of command, its moral flexibility and its preference for conspiracy. Those attributes reflected perfectly the Dostoevskian world of Tsarist Russia, where double and triple spies were common and where at one stage the leader of the Bolshevik party in the Duma was a police spy. The PCI reflects the realities of Italy, a country with more continuous history than any other in Europe. A Communist Deputy today goes to vote in a Renaissance palace built by a Pope, converted by 19th-century liberals into a sort of Verdi theatre of politics, sits under a huge plaque commemorating the Savoy dynasty and presses electronic buttons on his seat to record his vote. He walks along ancient Roman alleys to Via delle Botteghe Oscure, past the jumble of millennia of art and culture, evidence of the rise and decline of regimes. However Stalinist he may be by temperament, his culture turns Italian Stalinism into something other than its Russian original.

The man who made that change most explicit was Antonio Gramsci, the intellectual founder of Italian Communism. Gramsci saw from the beginning that Lenin had transformed Marxism. In a newspaper article written scarcely a week after the Bolshevik seizure of power he called Lenin’s revolution ‘the revolution against Das Kapital’, the revolution against that concept which saw socialism as the consequence of the inexorable unfolding of the laws of capitalism. Gramsci was born in Ghilarza in Sardinia in 1891. He had a hard childhood. The family was desperately poor. He developed a curvature of the spine as a small boy and remained undersized and hunch-backed all his life. He was near-sighted, suffered from migraine and later from consumption. Yet like so many poor Italians from that background, he was willing to pay any price for culture. Here is a description of life at the liceo in Cagliari: ‘I began by not having coffee in the morning, then I put off having lunch until later and later, so that I could do without having supper. So for eight months I ate only once a day and reached the end of my third year at the lycée in a state of severe malnutrition.’

By one of those ironies that history throws up and which Hegel called the ‘slyness of reason’, Gramsci got a chance to go to the University of Turin in 1911 at the age of 20, because the ruling dynasty, the House of Savoy, chose to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the unification of Italy by remembering the island of Sardinia which had given Piedmont its royal status as the ‘Kingdom of Sardinia’ and which successive generations of Pied-montese rulers had forgotten. They set up two scholarships to the University of Turin. The two poor but worthy lads who won them were Antonio Gramsci of Ghilarza and Palmiro Togliatti of Sassari, the two founding fathers of Italian Communism.

Gramsci’s and Togliatti’s social ascent from poverty to university education stood out in the years before 1914. Now millions have done the same. Italy is full of company directors, avvocati, secondary and primary school teachers, who, like Gramsci, escaped peasant backgrounds. Gramsci and Togliatti were, indeed, a vanguard but not quite in the Leninist sense. To understand the rooted institutional quality of the PCI one has always to bear in mind that it stands for the poor boy’s love of culture, a severe, serious, high culture. In 1916, Gramsci wrote of himself: ‘From his own university apprenticeship [the writer] recalls most vividly those classes in which the teacher made him aware of the intense toil of centuries underlying the perfection of the research methods being employed. In the natural sciences, for instance, the great effort it took to free men’s minds from prejudices and from philosophic or religious apriorism, to the point where they could recognise that springs of water arise from atmospheric precipitations, and not from the sea. Or, in philology, how the historical method was arrived at through all the trials and errors of traditional empiricism, and how in the work of Francesco De Sanctis – for example – the criteria and basic ideas were all truths slowly winnowed out from a great mass of laborious experience.’

Togliatti, like Gramsci and like the millions who have followed them in their ascent from illiteracy to high Italian culture, had a passionate commitment to thought, to study and to good writing. Amendola, who came from an upper bourgeois background – his father had been a cabinet minister and a famous anti-Fascist – had to be reminded by Togliatti not to take for granted those things which others had sweated for. Amendola often received ‘cruel little notes from Togliatti about misprints or mistakes in composition or style’. ‘The Divine Comedy was widely read by Communist detainees,’ Amendola recalled. ‘Celeste Negar-ville had even managed to learn whole cantos by heart.’ During the Thirties, as a prisoner of the Fascists on the island of Ponza, Amendola lectured to his fellow Communists, working-class or peasant almost to a man, on the history of Italian literature and philosophy. In this wider sense, when Berlinguer said in his 1983 New Year’s message that the PCI ‘was deeply rooted in the history of the country’, he underlined a social as well as a political reality.

The PCI is proud of its cultura. Members of the party point to the fact that prominent leaders such as Natta, until the March 1983 Congress Berlinguer’s deputy, or Bufalini, are ‘Latinists’, a word which has a more literary resonance than our rather dusty ‘Classicist’. The party has its philosophers and historians too. What it lacks, interestingly, is much real contact with the world of business or economics. Engels was, after all, a member of the Manchester Stock Exchange. It is inconceivable that a leader of the PCI should also be a member of the Milan Stock Exchange.

Gramsci (born 1891), Togliatti (born 1893) and Angelo Tasca (born 1892) formed the nucleus of a group which in 1919 began to preach an Italian version of Leninism. The auspices seemed right and similarities with Russia strong. In Turin, as in St Peterburg, industrialisation had come within one generation. Vast plants had sprung up. Huge gangs of workers filled them up, a first-generation proletariat with no skills, often not literate and without any sort of trade-union experience or background. The spontaneous emergence of the Soviets, a kind of village council system transferred to the factory, had parallels in Turin where very similar factory councils emerged from the shop floor. Gramsci saw in these spontaneous expressions of proletarian self-awareness the beginnings of a new state and a new order and so the young socialists called the paper which they founded in 1919 L’Ordine Nuovo, the New Order. From the beginning the paper stood out from its contemporaries by the freshness and originality of its Marxism, a Marxism in which ideas, culture, or what the older orthodox Marxism tended to dismiss as the ‘superstructure’, influenced and determined the unfolding of historical events in the ‘substructure’. The failure of the great Turin general strikes of 1920 pushed the young ordinovisti closer to Moscow and in 1921 they and their Neapolitan allies left the Italian Socialist Party to form the Communist Party of Italy, as it was first called.

The party is, then, only slightly older than its present General Secretary, Enrico Berlinguer, who was born the following year. Its age structure says a great deal about its subsequent history. The first generation of leaders were young when they found themselves thrust onto the world scene, and they dominated the party until 1972. Togliatti, who was, in fact, if not always in name, general secretary of the party after the arrest of Gramsci in 1926, continued to run the party until 1964. He was succeeded by Luigi Longo, born in 1900, who directed the party until 1972, when Berlinguer, who had not been born during the early days of L’Ordine Nuovo, became General Secretary. The whole history of the party is contained within the life-span of one man. Indeed Umberto Terracini (born 1895), a founder member of L’Ordine Nuovo, is still alive and still a member of the Direzione. The second generation of the party, Amendola, Ingrao, Natta, Pajetta, many of whom are still very active, joined the party under Fascism and largely for that reason. They knew the life of the zealot, the underground, the small cells. For reasons that are not entirely clear, Longo ‘skipped’ Ingrao and Amendola to choose his successor among the next generation, the generation who joined the party in the great rush which transformed a tiny Leninist cadre party of, perhaps, five thousand members at the beginning of 1943 into the great mass party of 1,770,000 by the Fifth Congress held in December 1945. This, writes Spriano, was Togliatti’s ‘masterpiece ... the creation of the new party ... the party of the masses’. Yet the great post-war party carried into the Forties and Fifties the spirit, zeal and devotion of its clandestine days. It remained rigidly centralised under Togliatti’s control. It kept itself firmly in line with Soviet policy on foreign affairs right through the crises of the Fifties and it practised in its administration the code of ‘democratic centralism’ in which the party line, once established, bound each and every member.

Another heirloom from its underground period, indeed its most important legacy, was contained in some thirty hardback notebooks smuggled out of Italy and stored in Togliatti’s Moscow office: the famous Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. As Gramsci explained in a letter to his sister-in-law in March 1927, ‘I am assailed (and this is a phenomenon peculiar to prisoners) by the idea that I have to do something für ewig, according to a complicated conception of Goethe which I remember tortured our Pascoli. In short, I should like to occupy myself according to a pre-ordained plan, systematically and intensively, on some subject, which would absorb and centralise my inner life.’ What came out of this effort stands as one of the greatest monuments to the human spirit ever recorded, although they are only notebooks. Occasionally Gramsci devotes a paragraph to an idea, sometimes a whole notebook, as in the case of the wonderful last notebook of 1935, called ‘Notes for the Study of Grammar’. Long or short, the pieces have a freshness, originality and sheer intellectual exuberance which must astonish anyone who remembers that they were written under conditions such as this: ‘It was not a haemorrhage in the proper sense of the word, not the irresistible discharge I’ve heard other people describe: I heard a gurgle in my breathing – as when one has catarrh – then there was a cough, and my mouth filled with blood. The coughing was not particularly violent – it was like the cough one gets when something sticks in one’s throat, single coughs, not a fit or a spasm of coughing. It lasted until about four o’clock and in this time I coughed up 250 to 300 grammes of blood.’

These were not comfortable texts during the darker days of Stalinism. Gramsci’s position on a whole range of subjects was heterodox and he criticised the party’s line during the inter-war period. Gramsci’s version of Marxism gave to culture in its broadest sense a power to work back on the economic substructure that orthodox Stalinism had ruled out. His tolerant attitude to the Catholic Church, his sympathy with and analysis of the peasantry, his interest in the functions and importance of the intelligentsia, but, above all, his reflections on revolution as a process not a unique set of events embodied in one infallible party, were literally unthinkable under Stalin. Togliatti stored Gramsci’s notebooks in his Moscow office throughout the war: it is a tribute to Togliatti’s vision but also to his political cunning that he sent for them in 1946 and published them between 1948 and 1951.

The impact of Gramsci on the Italian intellectual world cannot be assessed even now. Since Gramsci had written with brilliance on everything, and since he had taken intellectuals seriously – indeed devoted one of his most notable efforts to them – he gave posthumously a lustre to the PCI which no other Communist Party in the world has been able to equal. Togliatti knew that his own prestige as one of the most prominent leaders of the Comintern would fuse with that of the Gramscian legacy and that those texts, the only ones in the modern history of Marxist thought to be placed alongside Lenin’s, would give him the ideological foundations and the intellectual allure to secure the attention of the intelligentsia. There was a period from roughly the end of the war until 1956 when the PCI had a near-monopoly of wide areas of Italian intellectual activity.

The party reached its highest point of membership in the election year 1953, when it counted 2,134,285 registered members. The number of voters rose steadily from 4,358,243 to nearly eight million by 1963. Yet the growth, the sense of inevitable onward development, could not conceal a basic dilemma. On his return to Italy in March 1944, Togliatti chose the path of co-operation with the status quo – in this case, the hated institution of the monarchy and its prime minister, a right-wing general. At the Constituent Assembly in March 1947 the PCI compromised with a more important institution, the Roman Catholic Church. The 104 Communist Deputies, disciplined as always, cast the decisive vote to include in Article Seven of the new Constitution of the Republic the phrase that relations between church and state ‘are regulated by the Lateran Pacts’ – that is, by the agreement reached by the Fascist regime and an authoritarian Church in 1929.

At the same time the party continued to talk the language of Marxist revolution. It would be naive to think that such doctrines were not believed. Indeed, when somebody tried to kill Togliatti on 14 July 1948, as he was leaving Parliament, the PCI nearly had its revolution on the spot. Togliatti was hit at 11.40a.m.: by 1.30 p.m. Milan was paralysed and the most spontaneous rising of the working classes in the history of Italy had begun. There are several versions of what happened next, but most concur in saying that Longo, Secchia and the other members of the inner circle recognised from the start that they could not seize power irrespective of Togliatti’s life or death.

From the moment he returned to Italy in 1944, Togliatti had ruled out a revolutionary seizure of power: whether under orders from Stalin is much debated. He wanted to avoid any action that might provoke military intervention by the American and British forces who had the ultimate control of internal politics. Instead, Togliatti joined a broad coalition and took office under the Christian Democrat Alcide De Gasperi. Togliatti and the PCI served loyally until De Gasperi surprised them by his decision to turn them out after his famous trip to Washington in May 1947. They went out peacefully and have been out of power in Rome for the last 36 years.

The PCI governs on local and regional level with notable success. Most of the bigger industrial cities of the North have had Communist-Socialist administrations for many years. In Tuscany 218 of 282 communes and eight of the nine provinces have coalitions of the left and in the last few years the PCI has brought real changes in the city administrations of communities as intractable to govern as Rome and Naples. Red Emilia has been an agricultural stronghold of the PCI since the war and the Sicilian PCI has dedicated a string of martyrs to the struggle against the Mafia, the most notable among them the Honourable Pio La Torre, killed in 1982 by Mafia thugs in the streets of Palermo.

Yet none of this has been enough for a party with cosmic ambitions and world-historical claims. If revolution in the accepted sense were ruled out, not least by the ineluctable fact that Italy belonged firmly to the West for defence and economic purposes, what was the PCI to do? In the early Seventies, shocked by the violence of 1968, by the Russian intervention in Czechoslovakia and by the emergence of student and women’s movements which rejected the PCI as too old and stolid, it began to rethink its position. Out of that emerged the experiment of the ‘historic compromise’. For three years Italy was governed by the Christian Democrats with the support of the Italian Communist Party. While the PCI had no seats in the Cabinet, its very large delegation in Parliament was used to support successive Christian Democratic regimes. This period, the worst period of red and black terrorism, was a less successful replay of the ideas behind the post-war coalition. It culminated in the murder in 1978 of former Prime Minister Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades. Moro’s body was placed at a point symbolic of Italy’s politics: half-way between the Piazza del Gesu, headquarters of the Christian Democrats, and the Via delle Botteghe Oscure, headquarters of the PCI. The elections of 1979 brought the first set-back for the PCI since 1948. In 1976 the PCI had 34.5 per cent of the vote, which was just under the Christian Democrats’ 38.7 per cent. By 1979 they had fallen back to 30.4 per cent while the Christian Democrats had stayed put.

The ‘historic compromise’ had not gained the PCI its breakthrough. To its left, small noisy parties such as the Partito Radicale took up the cause of women, of the young, of the world’s hungry and of the environment. The Radicals gained votes and publicity not only by unorthodox tactics, such as the frequent fasts carried out by Marco Pannella, the party’s charismatic leader, but also by attacking the PCI as part of the odious ‘system’. The ‘historic compromise’ had ended by compromising the PCI and leaving the realities of politics unchanged.

Poland, Solidarity and the crisis brought about by martial law plunged the PCI into new difficulties. Italy had much in common with Poland: the central role of the Roman Catholic Church, the broad base of its peasantry, very rapid industrialisation and a fierce tradition of independence. Polish news dominated Italian television, radio and press throughout 1980 and 1981 and no West European country felt the shock of martial law as keenly as Italy. Where the French Communist Party toed the line on Poland and Afghanistan, the Italian did not. In its Resolution of December 1981, published in After Poland, it condemned more strongly than Mrs Thatcher had done not only the events in Poland but the very model of the Russian Revolution itself, based on an ideology which had ‘ossified’. It rejected utterly the attempt by the Polish military authorities to blame agents or reactionaries for the workers’ rising. It was Solidarity, the PCI declared, and not the Polish Communist Party, which represented the Polish working class.

This is strong stuff, and even in the English version the ferocity of the attack, the violence of the Russian reply and the equally fierce Italian rebuttal make After Poland compelling reading. The debates in the Central Committee reproduced in the book show how very strong the PCI’s cultural traditions still are. The contributions by Ingrao, Garavini and others set the crisis of socialism in the wider crisis of the prolonged depression, the structural changes in the world’s economies and the social consequences of those changes. The Gramscian tradition is clearly not dead and can still yield insights of great originality.

The break with the Soviet Union has been called a strappo or ‘wrench’. It tore Italy’s Communists from their historic origins. Sixty-four years had passed since 1917. In December 1981 the PCI declared that phase of the history of socialism to have ended. In spite of rearguard actions by old Stalinists like Armando Cossuta, the break seems to be permanent. Without its ‘umbilical cord’ to the Soviet Union, the PCI drifts toward an uncertain future in what it has chosen to call the ‘third phase’ of socialism. Under Berlinguer the party has broken with the Soviet Union, accepted Italy’s membership of Nato and of the Common Market, rewritten its statutes to reinforce its commitment to ‘a society founded on pluralism of political parties and associations and on the guarantee by the public authorities of all the liberties in the exercise of the arts, scientific and cultural research, of information, of the rights of national and linguistic minorities. It reaffirms its respect for the religious conception of life and of all religious liberties. It is aware that the Christian conscience, in the reality of the contemporary world, can become the stimulus for a struggle for the socialist transformation of society.’ It has eliminated clause 5(b) of its Constitution, which required militants to keep themselves informed by frequent study of the principles of Marxism-Leninism, and has long since opened its doors to those who believe in neither Christianity nor Marxism.

Today’s PCI has become a broad church. In the vigorous debates which preceded the party’s 16th Congress in Milan at the beginning of March 1983 local parties indulged in criticism and debate on an unprecedented scale. Shrewd observers outside the party, such as Eugenio Scalfari, the editor-in-chief of La Repubblica, Italy’s best daily newspaper, saw that the real issue was no longer the strappo, nor even the degree of internal democracy, but the more basic question which he addressed in a leader on 5 December 1982: is the PCI proposing an ‘alternative to the system or the better management of it as it stands’? In a later article he likened the party to a crustacean which had lost its old shell and not acquired a new one.

After Poland came the events of the end of June. The Partito Comunista Italiano could for the first time since the war form a coalition government. The combined forces of the Communist, Socialist and Social Democratic Parties together with the Republicans would add up to 323 members, eight more than an absolute majority. Such a coalition might expect the support of the seven members of the Proletarian Democrats and possibly, if suitably feminist, environmentalist and dedicated to the eradication of hunger, of the 11 Radicals. It could govern. The ‘alternative’ on which Berlinguer based his campaign is just within the party’s grasp.

On paper the PCI can govern: in reality it will not. The secretaries of both Republican and Social Democratic parties have categorically ruled out a coalition of the Left. Craxi and the Socialists have more to fear from the Communists as partners than as rivals. Besides, the Christian Democrats know the price they must pay to continue to share power and its spoils. Craxi is costly but necessary, more so than ever.

What has changed – I suspect, for ever – is the automatic sovereignty over great masses of people which Christian Democracy has exercised. The Italian people have stirred. No wonder that the bosses and the apparatchiks feel the ground moving beneath their feet. The 26th and 27th of June was just possibly the first rumble of an earthquake.