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The World: Communists Shouldn’t Panic Us’

4 minute read

The patriarch of the huge Fiat automobile empire, Gianni Agnelli, 55, is perhaps Italy’s most influential industrialist. He is also one of the country’s most astute and articulate analysts of political affairs. Last week, in an interview with TIME Chief European Correspondent William Rademaekers and Rome Bureau Chief Jordan Bonfante, Agnelli spoke out on some of the major problems facing Italy today.

Q. What is your assessment of the Italian crisis?

A. Italy needs an austerity program. It is the only country in Europe where in the past two or three years wages, in real terms, have continued to go up. And they are still going up. We shall have an inflation rate of between 18% and 20%. The rest of Europe will have an average of something under 7%—a 3-to-1 difference. This makes it difficult for Italy to stay in the same community unless we can do something about it —pass an austerity program. But it’s difficult to get an austerity program without a national consensus, and we can’t get a national consensus unless we have the parties of the left tied one way or the other with the government, backing the government or in some program close to the government.

Q. Does this mean you expect to see the Communists in the Italian government?

A. We definitely don’t want Communist participation in the government—definitely not. But we would like the Communist Party or the trade unions to commit themselves in some way to a joint program with the conventional parties to push through tax reforms, investment in the infrastructure, more employment, and so forth. I don’t think we should panic about the Communists. Communist behavior depends to a great extent on what we do. If we panic, if industrialists get nervous and stop investment, if some people get out of the country, it makes the Communist position more authoritative; it gives the public the impression that the only stable force is the Communist Party.

Q. What about the American attitude toward Communists in power?

A. It’s rather difficult for the Americans to understand what is happening in Italy because America never had a serious Communist party. The Italian Communist Party has really been the only opposition party to the Christian Democrats since the second World War. This is why we have had the Christian Democrats in power for 30 years—because of the impossibility of the alternative. At the same time, that role in opposition has made the Italian Communists milder, different, trying to prove that they could be an acceptable alternative in Western society, which is a situation different from that of any other Communist party in the world. I’m not saying they are acceptable, but they are surely trying to become so. When a party has one-third of the voters in a country, it represents a vast spectrum of the electorate, not necessarily just the working class. This different category of voters—intellectuals, middle class and others—also makes the Italian Communist Party different from the American popular impression of Communism.

Q. What about Secretary of State Kissinger’s strong warnings against Communist participation in the Italian government?

A. I think the official position of the U.S. can only be what it has been, saying that Italy is free to choose the government it desires, but that if the Communists come to power the American attitude toward Italy will have to be reappraised. I think if Kissinger changed that attitude it would be disturbing, because it would be interpreted to mean that the Communist Party has the blessing of the U.S. But if the Communist Party ever came into government, I believe the U.S. would behave in a totally different way. They know it and we all know it.

Q. What impact would Communists in the government have on NATO?

A. The Italian Communists say they would not walk out of NATO. Personally, I think that when you have NATO countries with Communists in power, it becomes a different NATO. I think that would really call for a total revision of the nature of the alliance. Among other things, we could conceive of NATO as having among its aims that of defending the Western Communist parties from the influence of Moscow.

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