• U.S.

ITALY: Creeping Toward The Compromise

5 minute read

For nearly a week, mounds of garbage piled up in Rome, disfiguring historic piazzas and reeking in the narrow streets. A wildcat strike of street cleaners and truck drivers called by right-wing unions showed no sign of letting up. Meanwhile, urgent administration pleas to send the strikers back to work had—as usual—no effect.

In a scenario becoming familiar to millions of Italians, the situation was saved largely by the Communists. Mobilizing neighborhood committees throughout the city and 80 Communist youth federation centers, the party called out 350 private trucks and 1,500 volunteers. In two days, an estimated 10,000 tons of garbage were cleared in a campaign led by the Red volunteers, and joined by many street cleaners who shamefacedly returned to work.

The big cleanup in Rome was only the latest example of the imposing organization and vaunted efficiency of the P.C.I. (Italian Communist Party). More important, it was another indication of the Communists’ political savvy as they continue to move, under Party Secretary Enrico Berlinguer, slowly but relentlessly toward the heralded “historic compromise”—an alliance with the Christian Democrats that would bring them into a broad coalition government. “The people know that we are a force that acts and accomplishes,” one Communist official boasted after the garbage pickup. “They know the situation in the country is only getting worse, that time is short, and that the country is going to need the Communists in the government before it’s too late.”

Long considered the most moderate Communist party in Western Europe, the P.C.I, is acting as if it were already part of the government. As a result of their stunning triumphs in regional elections last summer (TIME, June 30), leftist administrations now control every major Italian city except Rome and Palermo. At the national level, although theoretically the largest opposition party, the Communists tacitly support the Christian Democratic government of Premier Aldo Moro. In fact, Moro’s weak coalition Cabinet faces a bedeviling paradox: the Socialists, who are supposed to support the government, are increasingly at odds with it, while the opposition Communists help to keep the coalition on its feet. With only a touch of exaggeration, one Communist official boasts: “At this point, I would say we are ‘the government’s only support.”

Historic Compromise. The tacit accommodation is based upon mutual need. Although the Christian Democrats oppose the notion of the historic compromise, they must have the Communists’ good will to pass legislation, maintain labor peace and stay in office. The Communists want a stable political atmosphere so that their gradual ascent to power will seem plausible, logical and even inevitable.

Since Moro became Premier a year ago, the Communists have voted against only twelve of 76 government-proposed bills in Parliament. Most recently, they joined with the Christian Democrats on Italy’s most explosive issue, the question of legalizing abortion. After months of emotional debate over reform of the country’s strict anti-abortion law, millions of Italians were surprised to learn last week that the Christian Democrats and the Communists had tacitly agreed on a compromise. The Christian Democrats endorsed a provision under which abortion would no longer be considered a criminal offense; the Communists accepted another clause in the proposed legislation giving the power of decision on abortions not to women themselves but to doctors. The joint purpose of the two parties: to stave off a referendum that the Christian Democrats fear they would lose and the Communists fear would upset a political atmosphere they now feel is working in their favor.

Major Blocs. The Communist willingness to risk alienating major blocs of support on this issue stunned Italian leftists. “It’s a compromise wrought on the belly of women!” protested Socialist Civil Rights Champion Loris Fortuna. Nonetheless, it was only the latest proof of how far the party will go to achieve the historic compromise. While center and right-wing parties have had little success in strengthening Italy’s weak stock exchanges, the Communists, of all people, are pushing for reforms to revitalize the markets. On the labor front, Communist-led unions have deplored wildcat strikes and worked to avoid the kind of industrial warfare that could shake the government. Italy’s 1.2 million unemployed workers have not been impressed by the be-kind-to-the-bosses approach of a party that is theoretically committed to the triumph of the laboring class. During a recent one-day general strike in Naples, extremist protesters flung vegetables and bread rolls at union leaders, Communist and otherwise, and interrupted their speeches with whistles and catcalls.

Opposition to the Communist-Christian Democratic partnership comes from other quarters as well. Last month, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, with the “profound communion” of the Pope, issued a pastoral declaration sternly warning the faithful that “one cannot be simultaneously a Christian and a Marxist.” Meanwhile, the Socialists left no doubt that they will try to pull the government down after their party congress next February by withdrawing support from the Christian Democratic-led coalition. Many Socialists feel that only a new election can strengthen their position in the face of Communist advances, and thus avert the creeping compromise.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com