Urban One of the surprises of the last Italian elections was your candidacy for the Chamber of Deputies on the Communist platform. Your decision to run for election in support of Communist policies was received with a mixture of horror and disbelief, not least because you were one of Italy’s two Commissioners on the Brussels Commission and a leading European Federalist. Those not familiar with the intricacies of Italian Communist politics had reason to be puzzled. Has the PCI sufficiently changed its attitude to Europe for Altiero Spinelli to embrace it, or has Altiero Spinelli changed his politics because the Italian Communists appeared to be set for victory? In either case, there were questions to be asked, both in respect of your attitude to the Communist Party and of the Party’s attitude to the policies you represent. What made you decide to run on the Communist ticket?
Spinelli My mandate at the European Commission was about to expire when the elections were announced (it expired at the end of 1976); and as I was close to 70, I decided to return to Italy and retire from public life. In the meantime, I was keeping a close watch on the Italian situation, and expressed my views in a number of articles and interviews. The brunt of these was that Italy was drifting away from the European Community and that only a coalition of all political forces could stop the drift. I saw that the Communist Party had gone through a certain evolution in its internal policies, and I was persuaded that the Party’s offer of a ‘historical compromise’ was both right and feasible. It was right not only from the European point of view, but it was also an essential step toward creating a consensus without which Italy could not overcome its economic crisis or restore the authority of law and orderly government. Without the Communists, I argued, no Italian government could be strong enough to make democracy work. I also observed that the Communist attitude to Europe as displayed in the Council of Europe showed a certain progress towards accepting the idea of European unification.
When the elections were announced, the Communist Party and also the Christian Democrats felt that they ought to broaden the bases of their respective parties by obtaining the support of certain independent politicians who understood and were willing to support their programme, without, however, either becoming Party members or identifying themselves in every case with the line of the Party. The Christian Democrats ‘co-opted’ Umberto Agnelli, offering him a safe seat in Parliament, and on the Left I was one of several persons to whom the Communists made a similar offer. I accepted this on the understanding that would not belong to the Communist group in Parliament, that I would vote independently, and speak with complete freedom on any issue I chose. There was a certain risk in all this for the Communists. But they felt confident that as we saw eye to eye with one another on most points of general policy, the risk was worth taking.
Urban What were these points of general agreement?
Spinelli That the Party was committed to democracy; that the idea of an ‘historical compromise’ was seriously meant and would be respected; that European unification was to be supported and the country’s present position in the East-West equilibrium maintained.
On all these points we reached agreement. The result is that I am indeed outside the Communist parliamentary group, but by virtue of my support of the Communist platform I can influence the Party’s policies in those areas which matter tome most – its policies on Europe. I do not think I am boasting when I say that the Party has, in fact, adopted the line which I had sought and supported for many years, especially the need to transcend economic unification and move towards a European political union. I put it to the Party leaders that political union could only be achieved if all political forces in Europe willingly agreed to work for it. For the European Left, however, political union was a divisive issue in most countries. If this could be overcome, the Left might take the lead in guiding Europe to political union and shape that union according to its own lights. I therefore urged the Party leaders that the Party should get out of the Communist ghetto and establish workable relations with the European Social Democrats so that political unification would bear the imprint of broadly Socialist policies.
Urban It was on this understanding that you ran for election and were in fact elected.
Spinelli Yes, and our understanding on these points has so far not been disturbed.
But, of course, there is another point here. News of my decision to contest the elections from a Communist platform caused a minor sensation at the time. Many people were unwilling to believe it, others were profoundly scandalised, including some of my colleagues in the European Commission. I was subjected to a number of interviews in the press, on radio and television and, as one might expect, the recurrent theme of questioning was: could the Communists be trusted? Would they keep faith, seeing that the historical record showed them to be saying one thing before they were in office and quite another when they have attained office? I should imagine your own thoughts run along similar lines.
Urban They do.
Spinelli My answer to this is as follows. The Italian Communist Party has been part and parcel of our political life for more than half a century. It is an organic element of our political thinking and political culture. For good or for ill (and I will not prejudge the issue) it is physiologically and psychologically a large part of Italian reality. It may well be that it will be the death of us, but if so, it will destroy us in exactly the same sense as any other political force might – through ineptitude, poor leadership, corruption and so forth – but not because it is a Trojan horse that will disgorge Soviet warriors once it is within the walls of Rome.
Now, this Party was formed under the impact of the Bolshevik revolution. Its avowed objective was to seize power and turn Italy into a dictatorship of the proletariat. The Communist Party was to lead the revolution and head the dictatorship. This was Lenin’s prescription and practice in Russia in 1917, and the Italian Communist Party was founded on this model. Moreover, the Italian Party, as a member of the Comintern, took its orders from Moscow, and behaved in its unquestioning obedience to Stalin as the Jesuits obey the orders of their Generals – perinde ac cadaver (with cadaver-like obedience). Togliatti was an important leader of the Comintern, so that the Party’s obedience had an extra guarantee in the person of one of Stalin’s cardinals. This was the ideological and organisational basis on which the Italian Party began to function.
But if you look at the record of the Italian Communist Party you will find that at no time did the Party actually pursue antidemocratic, anti-liberal policies. Mind you, this was not for any lack of trying. Our Communists owe their good record to the political conditions into which they happened to be born: from the very beginning they were forced into opposition to Fascism and had eventually to go underground.
Urban — Shouldn’t we, at the same time, remember the Party’s common roots with Fascism, both having sprung from the Socialist Party of which Mussolini was one of the leaders?
Spinelli This is certainly true. But the only historically significant connection between Fascism and Socialism is that Fascism was a degenerate form of Socialism; and so in fact was Hitler’s National Socialism —
Urban — of which we have telling proof in the presence, in the late 1920s, of left-wing revolutionary groups in or on the fringes of the Nazi Party, such as Otto Strasser’s Union of Revolutionary National Socialists and the National Bolsheviks. In the 1920s it was not always clear whether Nationalism or Socialism predominated in Hitler’s thinking. Goebbels, who served his Nazi apprenticeship in Otto Strasser’s Revolutionary National Socialist faction, demanded in 1925 that ‘the petty bourgeois Adolf Hitler’ be removed from the Party!
Spinelli The point that matters for the purposes of my argument is that the Italian Communists were forced into illegality and fought Fascism with more determination than any other party; and when the political parties were dissolved by Mussolini, the Communist Party became the centre of the entire Italian Resistance. Eighty per cent of all political prisoners were Communists – not unnaturally, I might add, because they were the ones who took most of the risks. In their rhetoric the Communists stuck to the line that their struggle was not only against Fascism, but against ‘the rule of the bourgeoisie’, of which, they claimed, Fascism was but one of the symptoms. But the fact was that they were in alliance with several other parties and individuals who were also opposed to the Fascist dictatorship but were determined not to be dragged into another dictatorship after the fall of Fascism. This inhibited the Communist Party’s radicalism: the dictatorship of the proletariat never got off to a start. One of the first things Togliatti said after his return from Moscow – and it was a great surprise to all – was that the Italian Communists must work within the context of parliamentary democracy and cooperate with other political forces. We might as well, he said, start with Badoglio; and they did! After the first post-war elections, in which the Communists came third, the Party took full part in hammering out what was after all a bourgeois Constitution. Indeed the veteran Communist Umberto Terracini was at one stage President of the Constituent Assembly. Not only that, but the Communists also voted for Article 7 of the Constitution, retaining Mussolini’s Concordat with the Vatican. For this they were bitterly attacked by the Socialist Party and other parties on the democratic Left. But I would say with the benefit of hindsight that the Communist vote was an act of great political wisdom. The Communists could have prevented the Concordat from being retained in the Constitution, because without them the Constitution would not have received the requisite majority. But this would have meant war between the incipient Republic and Italian Catholic opinion. The Communists rightly felt that the peace of the state was more important than a controversial decision on the merits and demerits of the Concordat. In time, they must have thought, they might change it, but their first priority was not to prejudice but to build up what was inevitably a bourgeois democratic republic.
Urban Mussolini, with his strongly anti-clerical background had reached his decision to make his peace with the Vatican on similarly ‘pragmatic’ grounds. And he, like the Communists in 1946, had been attacked for it by his own ‘revolutionary’ left.
Spinelli Yes – what one has to remember is that in Italy, unlike Poland for example, the Church has been a force against national unity. The unification of Italy was achieved in the teeth of the Pope’s opposition. Rome had to be occupied before Italy could be united. At the same time, the Italian people’s religious loyalties to Catholicism were, and are, strong, and the Church, on its part, has always known how to live in relative harmony with different regimes. It recognised Fascism, but exacted as a quid pro quo the Concordat from Mussolini. When the Republican Constitution was drawn up, the Church’s attitude to the new state was unchanged: ‘We’ll respect your institutions if you honour the Concordat’. And the Communists were prudent enough to see that it was imperative under the given conditions to underwrite the Concordat – it was proof that they were not bent on disruption and revolution. Had they been so minded, they would have sabotaged the Constituent Assembly, wrecked the Constitution, and invested their energies in creating the maximum amount of tension and disorder.
Urban All this may be clear to us 30 years after the event, but at the time it was far from being obvious. 1945-48 were the years of the Stalinist take-over of the whole of East and Central Europe. Everywhere the arrival of ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ was preceded by honeyed words about the Communist Party’s democratic parliamentary intentions.
The great national task facing our country cannot be solved by either the Communist Party or by any other party alone. The Communist Party holds that it does not have a monopoly, and it does not need a monopoly, to work among the masses for the reconstruction of the new nation. The Communist Party does not approve of the idea of a one-party system. Let the other parties operate and organise as well.
These words were spoken before the 1945 elections by Ernö Gerö — the same man who became one of Hungary’s most ruthless and most hated leaders when the Communist Party took monopolistic power in 1947-48. In Czechoslovakia, at the time of the post-war coalition government, Gottwald spoke repeatedly of ‘the specific Czechoslovak road to Socialism’. This, he said, would not be a road ‘through the dictatorship of the proletariat’; it would be a ‘regime of a peculiar, Czechoslovak type’ embodying a Marxism ‘under new conditions’ – ‘not a Socialist revolution’ (and Benes, let it be said, told Bruce Lockhart as late as May 1947 that ‘Gottwald was a reasonable man who believed in parliamentary democracy’).One could quote many other examples from every one of Stalin’s satellites. Therefore the Italian Communists’ prudent words in 1946 and 1947 were no convincing indication, in the perspective of those days, that their intentions were different from those of Rakosi, Gerö, Gottwald, Dimitrov or Gomulka, all of whom spoke of democracy, parliamentary government, independence from the Soviet model and the ‘strictest guardianship’ of the Constitution (Gottwald). What was different in Italy was the absence of the Red Army, but in 1945-47 even this offered insufficient reassurance because Italy had, in Tito’s Yugoslavia, a particularly aggressive form of Stalinism sitting on its north-eastern frontiers. Let us not forget that, until Yugoslavia’s expulsion from the Cominform, Tito’s brand of Communism was in successful competition for extremism and brutality with Stalinism itself.
Spinelli This is true. When, for example, the Marshall Plan was announced, Togliatti, like Gottwald in Czechoslovakia, was eager to accept the American offer. But Stalin vetoed participation and Togliatti obeyed. The Italian Communists then fell in with the Stalinist device of trying to take power by popular front tactics in the 1948 elections – but failed.
Urban What is the character of the political forces to which the Communists were, and are, opposed, and what alternative policies do they offer?
Spinelli The Communists are facing in the Christian Democratic Party a force which has been in power for so many years that it has come to be regarded as Italy’s natural government party – what the Germans call a Staatspartei. This party has had an embarrassing past which it has taken pains to live down. Its long symbiosis with the Church made it both anti-liberal and opposed to the secular nation-state. Its support of the policies of the arch-reactionary Pope Pius XII, and its associations with Fascism, would have made the Christian Democratic Party a sinister force in post-war Italian politics had it not been for the reforming influence of genuine democrats such as de Casperi, Scelba and others. It is their merit to have recognised, as the Communists also had to recognise, that the country’s democratic reconstruction would be gravely prejudiced if the Party started life under the Republic with the ballast of an anti-democratic and anti-liberal ideology.
Urban The Church was their Stalin, in your reading?
Spinelli – Yes, and as the Communists cut their links with the Stalinist heritage, so the Christian Democrats shed their dependence on the Church without being in any way disloyal to Catholicism, much less to Christianity.
Urban It sounds like an appealingly symmetrical arrangement – a harbinger perhaps of the ‘historical compromise’ – with each side jettisoning embarrassing bits of ideological furniture and concentrating on what the traffic would bear. Luigi Barzini’s image of the Italian modus operandi is not dissimilar from yours. Italy’s capacity for good sense and bad policies never ceases to surprise.
Spinelli I fear the Christian Democrats’ good sense had its strict limits. Their long years in government have confirmed Acton’s tag: power corrupts – absolute power corrupts absolutely. While the Christian Democrats did not, and do not, have absolute power, they have entrenched themselves in every domain of Italy’s life with the permanence of a dynasty. The result has been corruption, nepotism and mismanagement in all areas of public and private enterprise. This, I must hasten to add, was not so in the early years of Christian Democratic rule. Italy’s phenomenal rise, in the 1950s and early 1960s, as an industrial power, as well as its very significant contribution to creating the European Communities (as they then were), was largely the work of Christian Democratic leaders. But, as I say, the Party’s stock is now exhausted.
Under these conditions the Communists became the natural point of reference for the entire opposition. Every election brought them fresh votes. Today they are in charge of many of our best run municipalities, and their influence in the trade union movement is paramount. Their respect for the law and for the conventions of parliamentary democracy is scrupulous. Is this the same Party of revolution and dictatorship which Lenin and some of the early Leninist leaders of the Italian Communist Party thought they were building? I hardly think so. The Italian Communists are men and women whose principal concern is the welfare and general good of the Italian people, who want social reforms to that end, and who are perfectly prepared to ally themselves with others to that end. They are people of the stamp of the Austrian, Belgian and British Socialists – in fact, Social Democrats.
Urban Social Democrats at the top of the Party as well as at its grass roots?
Spinelli The votes the Communists attract are, ideologically speaking, Social Democratic votes. This is not a party of militants – it is a party of millions of ordinary, reform-hungry people, and the apparat at grass-root levels is also Social Democratic much more than Marxist or Leninist.
Urban What about the apparat at the all-important middle level where vested interests and calcified minds are normally guarantees of orthodoxy?
Spinelli The apparatchiks at the middle level – the Deputies, the men who run cooperatives, trade unions, municipal governments and so forth – are anything but apparatchiks in the Soviet, or any non-Italian, sense of the word. They are neither revolutionaries nor a self-perpetuating caste of bureaucrats. They are ordinary people of the people and of Italian culture. They are indistinguishable from the kind of men and women one finds running similar organisations for the Social Democrats.
In the upper crust of the Party there continues to exist a small number of leaders steeped in the Stalinist past. Their ranks are thinning out and their influence is small. They have come to recognise that the secret of the Party’s spectacular success was, and is, the distance it has managed to put between itself and the Soviet model of Socialism. They know that, if the Party had preserved its original character as a Leninist vanguard of the elect, it would never have attained the influence it has. Facts have taught them that there is an inverse relationship between ideology, Leninism and Stalinism on the one hand, and popular success on the other.
In the Italian Communist Party, too, nothing succeeds like success. When the choice had to be made between loyalty to the purisms of the established faith, and the promise of power based on the Party’s popular appeal, the ideology was promptly dropped and the promise of power embraced. This is the way in which every ideological party proceeds when faced with the choice – it has happened in Italy and it is happening in France.
Urban I am a little disturbed by the unanimity with which the French Party has erased ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ from its programme. Seventeen hundred votes were cast for repudiating it – none against. Earlier resolutions endorsing ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ were (as Kissinger recently observed) carried by the same 1,700 votes for, with none against. The French Communist leaders must be extraordinarily persuasive….
Spinelli I share your disbelief. France is intellectually more liberal than Italy, yet the French Communist Party has, until quite recently, been a direct appendage of the Comintern and the Kremlin. Maurice Thorez was not a product of French Communism; he was directly appointed by Stalin. No such thing ever happened in Italy. From the very beginning, the Italian Party had Gramsci as its principal apostle, closely followed by Togliatti, Longo and others. There was no need to scour Lenin or Stalin for suitable quotations when such could be readily found in Gramsci. The Italian leaders were home-grown Communists; their intellectual habitat, their social and cultural terms of reference were Italian. Consequently the critique to which they subjected the entire philosophy and programme of Italian Communism was profound and grounded in the realities of Italian life. Nothing of the sort could be said of the French Party. The manner in which they repudiated the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ would be unimaginable under Italian conditions: they rejected dogma — dogmatically! I am inclined to take French protestations of change with a pinch of salt. After Khrushchev’s secret speech at the 20th Party Congress the following story was doing the rounds in Moscow: An anthropologist visits a cannibal tribe in darkest Africa. ‘I’m told’, he says to the tribal chief, ‘that you still practise the shameful habit of cannibalism around here. “Oh no’, protests the chieftain, ‘we consumed our last man yesterday’. .
Urban I am not quite clear how and why the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ vanished from the Italian Party’s vocabulary. I can see that, in the Soviet Union, where ‘Socialism’ has been on the books for 60 years, the party theologians had grounds for saying that, after those 60 years of ‘building Socialism’, the dictatorship of the proletariat has been superseded by “the all-peoples’ state”. This is, in fact, what the draft of the new Soviet Constitution says. But on what doctrinal grounds have the Italian and French Parties neglected or dropped the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, seeing that they have not begun to take the first steps towards ‘Socialism’? I can understand their fear that ‘dictatorship’ is no vote-catcher in Western Europe – but could there be a profounder challenge to the entire concept of Communism, or a more opportunistic and possibly self-defeating way of selling it?
Spinelli The ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ has never been officially dropped from the programme of the Italian Party, but it was quietly buried a long time ago. Not only that, but at the first legally held Congress of the Party in 1946 Togliatti stated: No one in the Italian Communist Party is expected to be a Marxist! which goes way beyond repudiating the dictatorship of the proletariat. Togliatti added that most members and supporters of the Party were, of course, Marxists, but he saw the Party as a rallying ground for a practical programme, not a catechism. And this is naturally the way in which practical matters are handled in politics. There are Christians who believe that Christ’s second coming will mean the end of the world, and there are scriptural sources to support their expectation. But show me a Christian who bases his daily life on it – any more than any convinced Communist would expect a just society to emerge from the dictatorship of the proletariat! Such people no longer exist.
The Italian Communists had two great obstacles barring them from eligibility to power: the dead weight of ideology and their loyalty, or suspected loyalty, to Moscow as the ultimate defender of the faith. It has taken many years of free debate to overcome them, but overcome them they did. Incidentally: no one in the Italian Party is subject to party discipline or the ‘whip’ system. The Party’s debates are entirely free – as free, shall we say, as those of the German Social Democrats.
Urban I am intrigued by your repeated reference to Social Democracy. In their Bad Godesberg programme (1959) the German Social Democrats renounced Marxism as their official philosophy, which the Italian Communists have never done — even though Togliatti opened the gates of the Party to non-Marxist supporters and Lombardo Radice tells us that the Party might repudiate Marxism at its next Congress. In fact, not many weeks ago, Giorgio Amendola said: ‘We are not going to go to Godesberg’.
Spinelli The notion of ‘the historical compromise’ is in my judgment the Italian Communist Party’s repudiation of Marxism. I can interpret it in no other way.
Urban Why doesn’t the Party say so?
Spinelli No party can utterly disown the principles on which its entire past and entire mythology were built. No party can be expected to say: we have been misguided or ignorant or naive for the greatest part of our existence – but now we are going to start a fresh chapter. If you drive self-criticism that far, you destroy your raison d’être.
Urban But this refusal, and the lessons imprinted on us by the behaviour of the ruling Communist Parties, accounts for the suspicion which continues to surround the Italian Communist Party’s policies. Given the history of the world Communist movement, the Italian Party can hardly hope to benefit from any presumption of innocence.
Spinelli Well, it is a cardinal principle of law that men are judged by their deeds, not their intentions. On that principle, the Italian Communists have been democrats and are democrats. Whatever their occasional rhetoric, they have stuck to the rules of parliamentary democracy. You may well be right in saying that the onus of proof is on them. But, for that, they have to be given a chance te govern.
Urban You have said the idea of ‘an historical compromise’ is the Italian equivalent of the Bad Godesberg programme of the German Social Democrats. What particular circumstances were responsible for this significant initiative?
Spinelli As the economic crisis began to hit Italy and the mismanagement of the country became less and less tolerable — and I am now talking of the late 1960s – the example of a well-run party, with great managerial skills and incorruptible service to its credit, made the man in the street aware that the Communists might offer a solution to Italy’s problems. At the same time, the Socialists, whose alliance with the Christian Democrats had at one stage brought them an ephemeral growth, were losing support and began to talk of the necessity of an alternative government of the Left. All this induced the Communist leadership and the Party intellectuals to believe that the time was ripe for a new policy that would pave their way to power.
But how were they to approach the problem most profitably? The Communists had before them the example of Allende: a government which had the majority of the national vote behind it [In fact, Allende had no majority support. In the 1970 presidential elections he won 36 per cent of the vote, and in the 1973 legislative elections 43 per cent (ed).] and which ought to have been able to govern, but in fact was not. Why? Because the great mass of non-electoral power – the police, the civil administration, the judiciary, the holders of economic power: in brief, the Establishment – was against the elected government. In other words, the constellation of forces outside parliament, which was conservative, was a challenge, and a successful challenge, to the political power vested in the government through its parliamentary mandate. It is almost a law of politics that if the Left enjoys only a small parliamentary majority, its power is precarious and its life is in constant danger because, when the power of the non-parliamentary establishment, which is habitually conservative, is added to the parliamentary strength of the Right, the Right proves stronger. By the same token, a small conservative majority is enough to secure safety of tenure for a conservative government because to itsparliamentary strength is automatically added the support of the non-parliamentary ‘vote’.
The Italian Communists recognised that the coup against Allende was the result of an alliance between Allende’s parliamentary opponents and his enemies in the Chilean extra-parliamentary establishment. Pondering this example they came to the conclusion that a similar fate might befall an Italian Communist government. Even if the Communists and Socialists united, they would, so the Communists realised, still be too weak to govern and resist the combined opposition of the parliamentary Right and that large conglomeration of non-parliamentary power that would try to defeat a Communist-led government.
The next step in the Communist Party’s reasoning was to say that, in order to come to power and exercise power with any chance of success, the Party must come to an understanding with the Christian Democrats. It was argued that, even though the Communists were critical of the Christian Democratic Party’s policies, it had to be recognised that the Christian Democrats were a popular party with a strong and honourable democratic component. It was with this Party – it was now recalled – that the Communists had shared the writing of Italy’s new Constitution and the creation of the Republic. On such foundations a consensus could once again be created.
Urban A most un-Leninist way of going after power.
Spinelli – Oh, highly un-Leninist and anti-Leninist! It is the way of men who have learnt to deal with the real world. Lenin was an irrelevance. The Communists as co-founders of post-war Italian democracy were aware that democracy was in deep trouble and that the sole way of rescuing it was through a broad consensus similar to the one that existed just after the war. The Communists’ ambition was (and is) a modest one. They realised that the mistrust which their past inspired would take them many years to expunge from memory and that they could not rule single-handed for the reasons I have just stated. Hence they concentrated on trying to obtain a share of power in coalition with the Christian Democrats, and that continues to be their present policy. The Communists were, in fact, saying: ‘You distrust us. Very well, you need not advance us your confidence. If you agree to share power with us in government, in some areas you will be watching us, in others we will be watching you. You will see for yourselves that we are not plotting a revolution – we have no Red Guards, no armed workers and no Soviet Army to foist us on an unwilling majority.’
This perspective made the Party re-examine its entire political programme. Very briefly: their platform continues to include the nationalisation of certain major enterprises and the abolition of the market economy. But they propose to do this in a way that would amount to socialisation, on the model of strongly motivated Socialist Parties such as the Swedish and Dutch (the Germans are not so motivated), and not on the model of Soviet state-Socialism. This is, broadly speaking, where the Party stands in 1977.
Urban My scepticism is unassuaged. One famous Communist poster before Hungary’s first – and last – free elections after the war showed a protective hand extended in a gesture of benediction, with this (originally rhyming) couplet for a caption: ‘The Communist Party’s concern is the private wealth of the little man’.
Spinelli Well, this is the kind of past from which the Italian Communists have to detach themselves. But, as I say, they are conscious of their handicap and they are, I think, on their way to overcoming it. The Party’s evolution in its external policies has been every bit as significant as the one mapped out by ‘the historical compromise’. And, of course, the crucial problem was its relationship with the Soviet Union. More and more, the Italian Communists came to feel that their links with Moscow were a millstone round their neck. Luckily for them, their efforts to cut the umbilical cord coincided with a number of favourable developments – de-Stalinisation after Khrushchev’s secret speech in 1956, the Sino-Soviet dispute, and the ensuing collapse of the monolithic character of the world Communist movement. When church unity no longer exists, everyone is much freer to think and act as he likes. Togliatti fully exploited these opportunities by adding the idea of polycentrism.
The Communists revolution did not, of course, follow a straight line. The 1956 Hungarian Revolution found the Party still deeply mired in dogmatism. The uprising was branded a ‘counter-revolution’, the arrest and execution of Imre Nagy were strongly supported, and the Soviet reasons for suppressing Hungary were approved. But certain hesitations could already be observed. For example, Ciolitti (my current successor as European Commissioner in Brussels) left the Party in demonstration of his disapproval of the Party’s attitude to the Hungarian events, and so did others. But by the time Soviet troops marched on Prague in August 1968, the Party leaders got the message. They realised that sticking to the Soviet line would lay them open to the accusation that, whatever they might be saying in their propaganda, the moment a decision had to be taken in a critical situation, they would always come down on the side of the Soviet Union. They therefore criticised the Soviet action and have sustained their critique to this day. They are now manfully supporting Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, the Polish Workers’ Defence Committee, dissent in East Germany, and civil rights in the Soviet Union.
But this break with the mother church left the Party’s foreign policy in a state of disorientation. As you know, a Communist Party’s attitude to Moscow is the bench-mark of its general perceptions and in ‘ tentions. For much the greatest part of its history the world Communist movement was governed by the idea that the might and influence of the Soviet Union coincide with the interests of mankind. Proletarian internationalism was the doctrinal umbrella under which gains made by the world Communist movement were never given up and central discipline was enforced. But with this monolithic conception broken up – where was the Italian Party to go? A swing to America would have been too drastic to be imaginable. There were attempts to learn from the French Communists and invest in left-wing nationalism. But while in France the coupling of Nationalism with Revolution had a long tradition in the French Revolution and the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, no such tradition existed in Italy. I do not, mind you, approve of the French Communists’ nationalism, but I can understand its rationale —
Urban — ‘National-Socialism’ with an anti-American and anti-German face —
Spinelli — That kind of thing. The German Socialists’ nationalism under Kurt Schumacher was an equally poor model, though for different reasons. In Italy, nationalism under the aegis of the Communist Party would have entailed the country’s rapid detachment from Western Europe and its relegation, culturally and politically, to the status of an increasingly off-centre Mediterranean nation. It would have put Italy in the company of half-developed countries nursing their grievances without much hope of putting them right. This might have been an acceptable prospect for a certain type of atavistic Fascism, but not for a modern and progressive party.
Urban There is, though, a highly respectable democratic and nationalistic tradition in Mazzini and ‘Young Italy’. Wouldn’t these have offered the necessary historical precedent?
Spinelli Despite their fame and formative cultural influence, Mazzini and the Republican Party have never been central to Italian politics. The popular traditions have been Catholicism on the Right and Socialism on the Left. Both were rather indifferent to the Risorgimento which was compromised, especially through the misuse of the name of Garibaldi (always a hurrah-word), by the Fascist regime. True, the Communist Party too paid tribute in its rhetoric to the Risorgimento, and there was a time when the Party had its own ‘Garibaldi brigades’. But this was merely pandering to popular emotions – the intolerant nationalism which comes so easily to the French, whether of the Right or the Left, was absent.
With all these roads closed to them, the Italian Communists had no choice but to adopt European unification as the central plank in their new foreign policy. This carried the promise of many advantages, the main one being that a united Europe would assert its independence from both Moscow and Washington. In the event, our Communists did, in fact, walk down the European road, and I have been able to follow their development from close quarters and in some ways to influence them.
Urban Without wanting to interrupt your story, let me just say that Moscow is extremely hostile to any idea of an independent united Europe, especially as advanced in Santiago Carrillo’s Eurocommunism and the State. This is, on the face of it, surprising – after all, an independent Europe would diminish Washington’s influence. But this is not the way the Soviet leaders look at it. Carrillo may very well have put his finger on the real motives behind the Soviet criticism when he said with his customary frankness on 28 June 1977:
What I cannot understand is how the USSR can prefer a Western Europe in NATO, in a certain manner under the control of the United States, to an independent and autonomous Europe such as we propose. This forces me to think that the existence of a NATO Europe, controlled by the United States, justifies a second Europe on the other side, controlled by the Soviet Union.
Spinelli I would not take issue with Carrillo’s suspicion – it is probably well-founded.
You will no doubt know that I used to be a Communist. I broke with the Party while in detention because I refused to toe the line on the Moscow show-trials (more of which later). After my imprisonment, which lasted from 1927 right up to the fall of Mussolini in 1943, I was considered one of the Party’s worst enemies, and I am certain that if the Party had taken power after the war, I would have been among the first to be liquidated.
Fortunately for me, it did not take power.
When the idea of European unification began to get into its stride and I was heavily involved in the campaign for European Federation, I was first wondering whether, as a man coming from the Left, I should not try to work for the acceptance of my policies through and with the European Left. But I soon realised that this would be taking too narrow a view, and I decided to count my allies and adversaries not in terms of Left or Right but according to their willingness or refusal to work for European unification.
Well, it so happened that the Christian Democrats were the first to support the idea of Europe, and I have been closely associated with them, not only with Alcide de Gasperi who led the Italian side of the movement, but also with Robert Schuman in France and Konrad Adenauer in Germany. We had, as European Federalists, a certain impact on them.
After the Hungarian Revolution, the Italian Socialists (who were then in electoral alliance with the Communists and shared the latter’s Moscow-centric loyalties) decided to cut the Soviet tie and were, as the Communists were to be ten years later, in a quandary as to what they should do next. Pietro Nenni invited me to collaborate with him in working out a European programme for his Party. I was most willing to do so, but when asked to join the Socialist Party, I declined. Nenni eventually became Foreign Minister and appointed me as his special adviser on European affairs.
Urban It seems to me that in a sense the Socialists were joining your ‘Party’ —
Spinelli — They were, and so were the Communists, because after the occupation of Czechoslovakia, the Communists approached me with a similar problem: Would I help them to devise a Communist policy on Europe? They had some vague idea that Europe was the road they ought to be taking, but they were not sure how to go about it.
Urban Did the Communist leaders approach you directly?
Spinelli Oh, yes. I was at the time director of an Institute of International Affairs which I had founded, and it was there that Leonardi for example came to see me with this problem. A little later Amendola re-established contact with me (we had been friends and comrades in the Communist Party until my expulsion) and it was Amendola who then took the lion’s share in working out a European programme for the Party.
I was watching his evolution with great interest. He first spoke in vague Gaullist terms – ‘Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals’ – that kind of thing; but when he saw that this kinship with Gaullism put the Party in an equivocal position, he began to limit the scope of desirable unification to Western Europe. Next, he shifted his position to demanding a ‘confederal’ Europe – a Europe of nation-states – but this was, of course, still very far from what Federalists like myself were seeking. Amendola then let it be known that the Party ought to assume a more positive attitude to the European Community, but he used a curious reasoning. The European Community, he argued, has been created by the bourgeoisie. Once the Communist and other leftwing parties could work from within it, they might turn it to their own advantage – ‘exploit’ it, to use his word, against the bourgeoisie.
Urban Did you hear him say this?
Spinelli Yes, but I did not leave it unanswered. I explained to him that any attempt at ‘exploitation’ would be a dangerous mistake. The European Community, I said, is far from resting on solid foundations. It is still very much in the making and may yet fail.
‘You must realise’, I told him, ‘that if you do come into the Community, you are going to exploit nothing. We want you to come in on condition that you are determined to help us to develop it – not to kill it.’
Amendola, who did not have a closed mind on the problem, understood the difficulties the European Community was, and is, facing, and gradually began to talk in federalist terms. That is where the matter stands at the moment.
Urban There are two questions here. Does Amendola mean what he says, and does he represent the thinking of the Party?
Spinelli My answer is ‘yes’ to both questions, and my reasons for saying so are these. The idea of European unification has different echoes in different countries. In Britain and France, Europe is a divisive issue; in Germany, Holland, Belgium and Italy it makes for national unity. The Italian Communists are well aware of the popularity of the European idea throughout Italian society and they cultivate it as part of their quest for a consensus through the ‘historical compromise’. Europe fits in with their internal policies.
There is, moreover, the fact that in Italy the most fervent supporters of European unification are the workers. This is intriguing because the sad thing we can observe in most European countries is that, with honourable exceptions, the working class has become the most parochial, provincial, and even jingoistic section of society. This is most obviously true in countries which have a large immigrant population — whether as temporary guest-workers or permanently settled. The French and British working class may well be internationalist in the minds of Socialist theoreticians. But in fact their experience of foreigners is limited to two types of encounter: at home, where the foreign worker is resented simply because he is a foreigner, and abroad, where foreigners are met with on the tourist circuit in the shape of waiters and taxi-drivers. This is as good as not meeting them at all and usually serves to reinforce existing prejudices rather than to abolish them. Germany in this respect is an exception. There foreign workers are pretty well treated at every level – but then Germany under Hitler abused the labour of foreigners so badly that Germany’s present fairness is perhaps no more than a compensatory reaction to the past, although I tend to believe that it represents a genuine advance in social tolerance.
In Italy there is hardly a worker or peasant whose father or brother or son has not spent years in foreign countries as a guest-worker. When these people speak of the Germans or French or Dutch, they know exactly what they are talking about: they have lived among Germans and Frenchmen, and they liked what they saw. For them the foreigner is not an alien they cannot comprehend, but a friend and employer and a source of a higher standard of living. The Spanish people have the same attitude, and one can see why Carrillo has no difficulty in leading a strongly pro-European Communist Party.
To sum up: the Italian Communists are responding in their pro-European policies to the real feelings and interests of the Italian people. In designing their new economic profile, too, Europe is of considerable help to them. After much internal debate, the Party decided not to opt for a planned, much less a command, economy. As the European Community makes it mandatory for the Nine to keep their national economies open, it provides the Italian Communists with an excellent justification for declining to do certain things they would not want to do anyway.
Urban What about the vexed question of the Party’s attitude to NATO? In my conversation with Professor Lombardo Radice, he made a highly equivocal statement on what the Party would do in a war-like East-West emergency, notably that it might, with certain qualifications, come down on the Soviet side.
Spinelli The Party’s initial attitude was, of course, extremely hostile to NATO. Then came a period of discreet silence while new attitudes were being worked out. This in turn was followed by the full acceptance of NATO as one element in the world’s existing balance of power which guarantees peace. The current Communist attitude is that if Italy rocked the Western boat either by neutrality or by coming out against the Western Alliance, the imbalance in favour of Soviet power would be unacceptable.
Urban The imbalance in favour of Moscow would hurt Italian Communist interests?
Spinelli Yes, for what would it mean for the Italian Communists in real terms? Italy’s north-eastern neighbour, Yugoslavia, enjoys a position of non-alignment. This is partly due to the Yalta agreement which exempted Yugoslavia from both the Western and Eastern spheres of influence. But it is also due to Tito’s and the Yugoslav Communists’ firm guardianship of their independence.
Today Yugoslavia is one important element in the equilibrium between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. This was well demonstrated after the occupation of Czechoslovakia, when the Yugoslavs let it be known that, if Soviet intervention looked like becoming a reality, they would not hesitate to ask for NATO assistance. The Italian Communists are extremely conscious of two dangers: one is the danger they might be inviting on the heads of the Yugoslavs by toying with the idea of Italian neutrality or directly repudiating Italy’s membership of NATO. This would mean the weakening or disappearance of NATO from Yugoslavia’s Western frontier, and making it, in the uncertainties that are bound to follow Tito’s death, much easier for the Soviet leaders to risk the subjugation of Yugoslavia. The presence of NATO on the Italian-Yugoslav boundary is one of the guarantees, and possibly the guarantee, of Yugoslav independence.
The second danger is connected with the first. For the Italian Communists, with their highly unorthodox, Eurocommunist ideas, nothing could be more unwelcome than the arrival of Soviet troops on their frontiers. Berlinguer made this absolutely clear during the last election campaign when he said that he felt much better protected behind the shield of NATO than he would outside it.
Urban What exactly did he mean by that?
Spinelli He and the other Italian Communist leaders know well enough that working in a Western bourgeois society certainly faces them with great obstacles. Kissinger was against them, the present US administration may also be against them, they are up against old prejudices and so forth. But they feel that in the West they are free to fight these obstacles, and to fail or to succeed on the merit of their case. If, however, they came under Soviet protection, Berlinguer and his colleagues would soon be going the way of Dubcek, or worse.
Urban Their fears are surely justified. When one reads the accounts of Stalin’s treatment of the Communigt survivors of the Spanish Civil War, the roots of Santiago Carrillo’s distrust of the Soviet system are at once revealed. The memoirs of El Campesino, for example, one of the Spanish Civil War’s most famous Communist generals, are proof enough that the horrors of Stalinism implanted in the minds of most Spanish Communists a lasting aversion to the Soviet type of Communism and a determination to run any future Spanish Communist movement (as El Campesino put it) ‘outside Stalinist Communism, or even against it’. Dolores Ibarruri was, of course, not one of them; she chose to be one of Stalin’s most willing and ruthless instruments.
But to come back to Berlinguer’s famous statement on NATO: how did the rank and file react to it?
Spinelli My cooperation with the Communist Party started with the 1976 election campaign. In fact it was the Party that organised my meetings for me, therefore I had ample opportunity to gain first-hand experience of what the Italian voters, and especially the Communist voters, thought. It was clear from the beginning that Berlinguer’s words on NATO produced no adverse comment, much less active dissent, on the part of the militants or anyone else. Interest focused on the state of the economy and Italy’s relations with Western Europe and the United States. The question of the Party’s loyalty or lack of loyalty to the Kremlin was a non-problem. It did not once come up for discussion.
All in all, then, I would say that the thinking of the Italian Communist leadership and of the rank and file are in close harmony. Many people doubt that this is so, but I can tell you as an old politician that deception in politics may work for six months or a year, but you cannot fool all your party all the time. Hitler said in 1932 that he would rise to power through the democratic process, as he did, and then proceed to throttle democracy, as he also did. But if he had committed himself to respect democracy fora period of ten years, not one, I doubt whether he could have got away with killing democracy as soon as he found himself in office. The Italian Communists have been forced by the state of Italian politics to play the game of parliamentary democracy for more than 30 years, and the rules of the game have had a profound influence on them. I am enough of a democrat to believe that if 30 years of democratic education cannot change the minds of men, then democracy is dead and we ought to think of better ways of ordering human affairs. But I am persuaded that it isn’t.
Urban Are you certain that this education in democracy has been assimilated by most of the Party? I often feel that the Berlinguers and Amendolas constitute a liberal and highly educated élite whose hold on the rank and file may not stand the strain of
another rise in unemployment or inflation. Also, isn’t there a modicum of truth in what Novoye Vremya says in its first attack on Carrillo, quoting a passage from the resolution of the 25th Soviet Party Congress: ‘A concession to opportunism may sometimes yield some temporary advantage, but will ultimately be damaging to the Party’? I would have thought a principled Italian Communist on the militant Left would have no difficulty in agreeing with that.
Spinelli Views of this kind can be heard on the far left of the Party. The charge is sometimes made that the Communist leaders are betraying the idea of revolution, that they are too anxious to adjust, and so forth. I would myself not ascribe great importance to these views. The Party leadership is seriously committed to the rules of liberal democracy – they want to make a success of it. It isn’t that they could simply turn the clock back if their present policies failed and start preaching revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat all over again. Any attempt of this kind would generate a serious crisis and probably split the Party.
Urban What exactly do the Italian Communists mean by compromesso storico? Let me take the two words separately in their English connotations and see whether the meaning I read into the phrase does in fact correspond with the one it carries in Italian. In the broadest sense ‘historical’ simply means ‘pertaining to the nature of history’, as in an historical novel. But the word ‘historic’ has a narrower meaning. implying a certain value-judgment: noted or celebrated in history’, and my impression is that it is in this latter sense that ‘Storico’ is being used here.
‘Compromise’ in my interpretation has a weak and a strong meaning. The first implies ‘a partial surrender of one’s position in order to come to terms with another party’. In the strong sense, however, it comes very close to meaning a ‘settlement’ Ausgleich would be the German word for it. This, I would assume, is the meaning we should associate with it in ‘historical compromise’. The phrase thus read would then give us the following: ‘an agreement of lasting significance to settle with our erstwhile antagonists’.
Spinelli When I said a little while ago that ‘the historical compromise’ is the Italian version of the Bad Godesberg programme and a break with revolutionary Marxism, this is broadly speaking what I meant.
Translated into the currency of practical politics, ‘the historical compromise’ is (as I have already said) a very straightforward thing. Mu tatis mu tandis, what the Communists have in mind is an Italian ‘Grand Coalition’ on the Bonn model.’ They cannot see why, given their electoral strength and administrative record,
they should be any less eligible for a share in power than were the SPD. The Grosse Koalition worked because Germany’s conditions demanded that it should, and so – the Italian Communists argue – would an Italian ‘Grand Coalition’ for broadly similar reasons.
Urban If Communists were Socialists, the world would be a very different place.
Spinelli The point I am arguing is that the Italian Communists are Social Democrats. I have already said that they in fact repudiated Marxism in 1946, much before the Bad Godesberg programme. But to that I must now add that the German Social Democrats’ electoral handicap was not the survival of Marxism in their programme but their nationalism. Under Kurt Schumacher, the SPD’s first foreign policy objective was the reunification of Germany. The German people found this a dangerous priority. The important thing that happened at Bad Godesberg was that the Party drew up an entirely new programme. In it nationalism was dropped and the idea of European unification adopted.
But the Austrian example is even more relevant. There, in 1934, the Christian Socialists and Social Democrats fought a civil war over the Vienna workers’ uprising. The revolution was put down by Government forces under the Chancellorship of Dollfuss; and the Social Democratic Party was dissolved. After the war, the two parties discovered that the electoral vote was evenly divided between them; and they came to the prudent conclusion that the frightful legacy of the inter-war period must be done away with. For many years they then collaborated in Coalition governments, which worked extremely well, and showed both parties to be politically mature and acceptable to all sections of Austrian society. My argument is that the Italian Communists are similarly acceptable partners both to the Christian Democrats and to the Italian public.
Urban I would need a lot of convincing that a Party which has spent the greatest part of its history fighting and, literally, burying Social Democrats would now limit its ambitions to those of Social Democrats. The differences between Bruno Kreisky’s Party and even the Italian or Spanish Communist Party remain formidable.
I was watching Berlinguer address a mass Unità festival in Naples the other day. Although Berlinguer said nothing one could describe as ‘revolutionary’, the experience was nevertheless unsettling. Here was a gathering of more than 100,000 people giving the clenched fist salute to the rhythmic chant of party-agitational songs. There were torch-light parades and fiery speeches against the misdeeds of American imperialism in Latin
America and the crimes of the multinational companies – but not a word of criticism of the Soviet Union.
And all this in a vast sports stadium which Mussolini had built for similar purposes. I am not sure whether a Bruno Kreisky would have felt at home in this environment.
Spinelli Social Democracy covers a wide range of political activities. For example, the German Social Democrats have become a very moderate, liberal – almost conservative – force. They have administered Germany rather well but have certainly done nothing to change the structure of German society. Therefore the Italian Communists do not like to be considered Social Democrats in the SPD’s sense. But in Sweden you have a very different type of Social Democracy – one which is radical and has managed to change the face of Sweden in 20 years. Our Communists would hope to achieve something analogous to what the Swedish Socialists have done.
We must not indulge in abstract terminology – there are Social Democrats and Social Democrats. Only puritanic theorists would expect the Communist Party to sit down and announcer cathedra that at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 12 June, the Party political line changed from A to B. They do not expect other parties to do so – but for some reason they think this is the way things should be ordered in the Italian Communist Party! Of course, they are not.
But (as I have already said) the principal anxiety surrounding Communist participation in government concerns the Party’s relationship with Moscow. And I can readily understand this. The Soviet Union is an imperialist, expansionist power. Who knows (so runs the argument) whether the Italian Party has not retained a vestigial loyalty to it? I am personally convinced of the Party’s genuine independence; but I can see what the critics mean.
Urban But isn’t the Party’s money still coming from Moscow through the well-established channels of Export-Import companies?
Spinelli This may have been so for a time after the war, but for many years now the Party has been receiving no funds from Russia. And why should the Russians support it? Could the Soviet leaders, whose outsize stupidity and short-sightedness in all matters concerning human liberty (as witnessed for example by their treatment of Bukovsky and his exchange for Corvalan) put them on a par with the Nazis – could these same Soviet leaders suddenly become so sophisticated as to finance a Party that does nothing but make life extremely uncomfortable for them, on the tacit assumption that these attacks on Moscow are
merely a display of clever electoral tactics and that at the decisive moment the Italian Party would toe the line of its paymasters? I cannot attribute such Machiavellian sophistication to men whose stubborn obtuseness is one of the marvels of modern politics.
Urban So you do not believe the Party enjoys Soviet financial support?
Spinelli I believe it does not. In any case, the Italian Communist Party has the most open financial administration of all parties. It would be extremely difficult to cover up funds received from Moscow. We must not fall back on the ideas of the ‘conspiracy theory of history’. The Italian Party is master in its own
house. You can see this every day in all its actions. But I would say this: if the Party entered a Coalition with the Christian Democrats, I for one would be hesitant to see their leaders fill such posts as Minister of Defence or Minister of the Interior in charge of the police forces. I’d be a little worried if they did, and so would others.
Urban But if you say that the Communists are externally independent and Social Democrats in their internal policies — why should you be worried?
Spinelli Because I am a cautious animal – because they have the record they have, and because after all, my reading of them may be incorrect. Therefore I’d be happier if they were given other posts. If they are not put in control of the Police and the Army, they cannot do serious damage.
Urban But you do want to see the Communist Party change the face of Italian society – how can the Party do that without having its hands on some of the important levers of power?
Spinelli It can do a great deal by concentrating on economic planning, rebuilding the civil service and civil administration, reorganising higher education and so on. It is not true that you can do nothing unless you have the police at your beck and call.
But to come back to my main argument. The Communists accept that they have to work within the Atlantic context, the European context and the parliamentary democratic context, in coalition, as they hope, with other parties.
You have asked: Would the Italian Communists honour Italy’s treaty obligations in a warlike East-West emergency? My answer is to answer your question with another question. Would all NATO governments honour their obligations in an East-West crisis or war? My estimate of the intentions of European governments would be that the Germans would fight because the war would be fought on their territory – but the French, and the British, and the Danes, and the Norwegians? I have my doubts. And if the conflict was limited to the Soviet take-over of Yugoslavia, would the French and British stand up to be counted? I hardly think so. The Americans might, and the Italians would, because they would have to. In other words, NATO is an unsure thing, quite irrespective of what the Italian Communists might do in government.
But, fortunately for the balance of power, the Warsaw Pact is an equally unsure thing from the Soviet point of view. If war comes, it would be a very unwise Soviet high command that entrusted the defence of Soviet Socialism to Polish, Czech, Hungarian and East German troops. The Soviet marshals’ fear must be, if they have taken the measure of their allies, that these troops would either not fight, fight poorly, or indeed do an about-turn and join the enemy.
Both systems, then, suffer from great internal Uncertainties, and because neither system really functions, the equilibrium between them functions extremely well – as long as they do not go to war. But this useful state of uncertainty is now beginning to outlast its usefulness. It is tempting to prolong it because it has worked. But this must not blind us to the fact that this balance built on imbalance is fragile – not because the West is in any danger of Soviet attack, but simply because, certainly on our side of it, the balance rests on too many unpredictable elements which erode confidence. The European powers are reluctant to take full responsibility for their defence and indeed for their relationship with the Soviet Union – they prefer to rely on the Americans for both, and for footing most of the bill. Consequently, the Americans have been made to feel that their primary relationship must be with the Soviet Union. Henry Kissinger pursued this primary relationship with unflagging zeal, but we must admit in fairness to him that he never failed to warn the European allies that the United States would in the . long run be neither able nor willing to carry the Western defence and decision-making burden virtually single-handed.
Now, Europe cannot assume its responsibilities unless it moves towards some form of political union. If and when it does, the question of common European defence will come up again and will have to be dealt with. A European defence community would make it much more difficult for the United States to go over the heads of the EEC countries and deal with Moscow direct. It would stabilise Western defence by making every partner’s commitments and rights of representation crystal clear. The Atlantic alliance would become a genuine partnership of equals, as President Kennedy envisaged it; and the political rationale of Western defence would be reasserted in a new and more convincing framework. I am persuaded that the Carter administration is anxious to encourage this kind of development. But if European faint-heartedness and dithering continue and no progress is made towards political unification, then we have no right to expect better than some future Kissinger who would treat us (as Kissinger was forced to treat us) as second-class citizens. In the meantime the absence of political confidence bites deeper and deeper into the Western alliance and may, by accident or political miscalculation, push us into war with the Soviet Union.
But, you may ask, can we be sure that the Italian Communists would go along with all this? No, we cannot be 100 per cent sure – can one ever in human affairs? But what our five senses tell us is that the Italian Communists are not in the business of engineering international tension so that they may, once a crisis has been created, go over to the other side. Much rather do they fear such a situation and hope to extend their influence under the protection of a balanced relationship between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
Urban Lenin’s famous slogan during the first world war was: ‘Turn the war into international civil war’. Things have come to an interesting pass if the Italian Communists now feel that their best chance of pushing ahead with Communism is under conditions of peace secured by the military umbrella of NATO! The Italian Communist case has yet to be tested, but Lenin’s formula has been borne out by history. After the lost war with Japan, Tsarist Russia was shaken by the 1905 revolution. The first world war produced the Bolshevik seizure of power. The second world war saw Communist rule expand to the whole of Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, and eventually China. The war in South-East Asia ended in the triumph of Marxism-Leninism, despite three American Presidents’ solemn pledges to the contrary. ‘We will stand in Vietnam’, President Johnson said on 28 July 1965. America did not stand in Vietnam. ‘We … cannot now dishonour our word and abandon … those who believed us and who trusted us to terror and repression and murder that would follow.’ America did abandon its allies and genocide in Cambodia followed.
No Soviet leader worth his salt (or job) can ignore these lessons and expect less gratifying results to follow from yet another conflict. War is a Communist success story.
Spinelli This difference in Soviet and Italian Communist expectations is precisely what convinces me, for one, that Socialism in the Soviet perception and Socialism in the Italian perception are opposed and probably irreconcilable.
Urban Could the Italian Communists be trusted with the military secrets of NATO?
In 1975-76, when the Portuguese Communists seemed close to seizing power, the Portuguese Government was denied access to NATO’s secret documents and excluded from its inner councils. Admittedly, Cunhal’s people are Moscow loyalists.
Spinelli I would formulate the question differently: Are there military secrets in NATO? I remember asking a close friend and colleague, the Belgian Commissioner, Henri Simonet (now Foreign Minister), who is a leading Socialist and has also held posts in earlier Belgian governments: ‘How many NATO military secrets came your way when you were a member of the Belgian Covernment? ‘None’, he said. And this goes for NATO as well as every government. If military secrets were known to all or even several members of a government, they would be secrets no longer. NATO’s military secrets have an extremely restricted circulation. Communist participation in an Italian government would not be tantamount to giving them away to Communists. To get at the real stuff, spies have to be used, as I suspect they are being used, by both sides.
The protection of military secrets is just one of many excuses for keeping the Italian Communists out of power. The real issue is different. The arrival of the Communists in power or partial power would upset the vested interests and privileges of a great many people, not only in Italy, but in France and Spain too. Southern Europe is in many ways a highly inequitable society. The Communists make no secret of their intention to change it. Those to be deprived of their privileges naturally do not like this prospect. For them the alleged unreliability of Communists in government is an excellent alibi for barring them from power.
Urban But surely you would agree that Kissinger is right in saying (and the Carter administration is pretty close to saying it too) that the American public would not be able to understand why the United States should find untold billions of dollars and keep 200,000 of its troops in Europe in order to support one Communist government against another? NATO was built on the concept that the Soviet Union and the system it represents are inimical to the interests and institutions of Western democracy. Whatever the intentions of Berlinguer and Carrillo may be – and I am not questioning your judgment of them – the US public would be incapable of making the fine distinctions, much less acting on the fine distinctions, of your argument.
Only a few years ago I had great difficulty in telling American undergraduate audiences that Communism ire Yugoslavia and Chinese Communism were very different both from one another and from the Soviet model. Nearly 30 years after Tito’s break with Stalin, says George Kennan, writing in 1977, ‘It seems incredible … that one should find oneself still obliged to emphasise that that country [Yugoslavia] is not under Soviet domination … that it does not belong to the Warsaw Pact . . .’ and so on.
Spinelli Of course the facts of life in Europe would have to be explained to the American people, but I don’t think the Kissingerian argument is a strong one. After all, Kissinger spent large sums of money giving the Soviet Union technologies it badly needed and, more spectacularly, grain at punishingly low prices. I did not see the American public make more than a momentary fuss. Indeed the farmers and grain-dealers would have made a great fuss if the deal had not gone through.
The American aversion to having Communists in government in Western Europe is rooted in the simple fact that in every alliance the dominating partner likes to have its own men in power. In Eastern Europe the Russians rely on apparatchiks and policemen who share their way of thinking and have a vested interest in the survival of the system. In Western Europe, the Americans would like to see the affairs of their allies run by directors of multinational enterprises, civil servants trained in the Harvard Business School, and men of generally conservative inclination.
There has never been any question that the post-war division of Europe was here to stay. Kissinger and Sonnenfeldt made it repeatedly clear that Europe was divided into two spheres of influence and that the name of the game continues to be no poaching in the other man’s preserve. President Ford’s Freudian slip to the contrary may have cost him the presidency.
Urban It is widely expected that the image of a Communist Party that succeeds in combining Socialism with freedom will have a magnetic attraction for the East European parties and governments and weaken, or indeed destroy, the Soviet hold on them. I wonder whether the Soviet leaders would allow this to happen. But even if there were some ‘give’ in the Soviet grip on Eastern Europe – wouldn’t the damage which Eurocommunism would inflict on NATO’s entire justification be far greater than the one it might inflict on Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe? Eastern Europe could be held down by the addition of another three or four Soviet divisions and a purge of leaderships; but NATO without full US participation would collapse.
Spinelli Without any doubt, the Italian Communist Party has already had an immense influence on Eastern Europe. For one thing, it is so much easier for East European Communists to express dissent by pointing to Italian Communism as their model, than to say that they want to become liberal democrats on the Westminster pattern. If they modelled themselves on Solzhenitsyn, their protest would not have the slightest chance of getting off the ground, and probably they would stand genuinely discredited.
I have often told the Italian Communists: every time there is trouble in Eastern Europe you come out with disapproving comments five minutes after the event. Why don’t you sit down and make a fundamental critique of the East European Soviet system and issue your warnings before trouble arises?
Urban You’ve told this to some of your friends in the Party leadership?
Spinelli Yes, I have told Amendola and other leaders I normally see. I said to them: once trouble in Eastern Europe has come out into the open, everyone condemns the Russians, and the Italian Communists may be plausibly accused – as indeed they have been accused of being mere opportunists by clambering on the bandwagon. You can do this without being untrue to the Communist past. You can argue that the Russian revolution was the greatest hope mankind has ever had, but then degenerated into a despotism which must be surmounted. You do not even have to re-open the question whether Stalin was a necessity. All you have to see clearly is that the present generation of intelligentsia are Soviet to the bone – you can no longer say that their minds have been formed under Tsarist influence or in French universities – and yet they feel (and are) oppressed, alienated and rebellious. You must take a deep breath and denounce this publicly, in speech as in writing, before a really big upheaval engulfs Russia and Eastern Europe, for I am certain that within ten years, possibly within five, the pressure for fundamental change will become irresistible in these countries. There is no stability under Soviet suzerainty.
Urban Will the Italian Communists come forward with the principled critique you have suggested?
Spinelli They are hesitant. They have apparently made a negative decision: if there is another upheaval in Eastern Europe, they will not be on the side of the Soviet oppressors – they will support Sakharov and the Polish Workers’ Defence Committee and Charter 77. But whether they will come up With something more positive than that, I do not know. The demand is there. One highly important Communist – Jacoviello — has recently written a series of articles in L’Unità in which he admits (to summarise him in a sentence): we haven’t yet summoned up the courage to produce a thoroughgoing critique of the social and political system in Eastern Europe.
Urban How important is the East European nexus to the Italian Communists? That the Italians are important to Eastern Europe is obvious. Is a new centre being quietly formed in the birthplace of polycentrism?
Spinelli The Italian Communists are not constructing a centre of their own – certainly not by any act of conscious deliberation. But they undoubtedly derive a certain sense of satisfaction from the fact that their ideas have found a ready response in Eastern Europe. It is psychologically of great importance to them to be able to say: ‘Well, we are receiving support even from within the Communist countries.’
Why is this so important? Because our Communists feel isolated. Apart from the vocal and by no means negligible support Of Carrillo and the Spanish Party – the French are a very doubtful asset – they have, or may, with the death of Tito, very soon have no allies. Carrillo is, of course, a staunch friend and he has had the courage to take on Moscow with no holds barred. But the Spanish Communists are a small party, and the Italians feel that they have no satisfactory links with anyone else – not even the Chinese. For a party which is used to internationalism, isolation is exceptionally inhibiting.
If you look deeply into the politico-psychological motivation of Italian Communism, it boils down to one factor: the split which occurred in 1921 in the body of the Italian Socialist Party – the Communists going one way, the Socialists another. The Italian Communists now feel that the fratricidal war must be ended — Socialists and Communists must come together and sink their differences. I do not think they would want to hold up this reconciliation as a model to be followed by others, any more than Tito wanted to, or did, advertise his model after the break with Stalin. If the model attracts people in Eastern Europe and the Third World, well and good, but our Communists have far too much on their plate to turn their hands to the exhausting and open-ended game of fostering a new Communist centre-
Urban – which will, of course, not prevent Moscow from saying that that is precisely what they are, ‘objectively speaking’, doing….
Spinelli Nothing will prevent Moscow from making that accusation.
Urban I am much interested in the conditions surrounding your expulsion from the Communist Party while in prison under Mussolini. It sounds almost incredible that conditions in a Fascist prison should have made an active Party life possible.
Spinelli As you know, the Communist Party is like the Church: wherever two Christians gather together, there is a congregation – wherever two or three Communists meet together, there is a Party cell. In prison, the Communists were organised – we had our cells and leaders and communication with the outside world.
But remember that Fascist prisons were not of the Nazi or Stalinist type. Nor were they anything like concentration or labour camps. They resembled more closely those old-fashioned Tsarist prisons where the prisoners read (and wrote) books, and educated themselves to be more effective revolutionaries. We, too, had all these facilities. For example, when we decided to write a book, we could, through permitted channels, obtain all the documentation and research materials we needed. The Communists in particular have always held that imprisonment is a period of intense revolutionary education which the bourgeoisie bestows on them in order to make them better revolutionaries! I began studying philosophy, history, economics and sociology, and my education in prison turned out to be revolutionary indeed – because I soon discovered that there are more things in heaven and earth than Marx and Lenin suspected.
For many years, therefore, my comrades and I were involved in sharp discussions, but as we were in prison, we agreed that the decision whether I should remain in the Party or leave it should be deferred until we were set free. In the meantime, however, along came the Moscow show trials, and word reached us from the Central Committee that all Communists were expected to give written testimony of their condemnation of Zinoviev, Kamenev, Evdokimov and all the others condemned at the time as spies and saboteurs. The procedure was the usual one: first a resolution by the Central Committee, then one in the sections, and finally a resolution by each Party cell. So, one day news reached our little Communist community on the island of Ponza, in the Bay of Naples, that we had been ordered to sign a statement of loyalty to the Stalinist line.
Urban Was Ponza your place of imprisonment?
Spinelli No. In 1937 I was transferred from prison to confino on the island of Ponza together with 3 other Communists. But the Soviet order would have reached us in prison, too, for our clandestine channels were working perfectly. As political meetings were not permitted in confino, we had to reach our decisions in small groups of three. Groups like these were allowed to walk together over the island without anyone discovering what they were discussing.
One day I was taking a walk with Amendola and a woman comrade [the companion of another Party member]. Amendola told us he had received documentation about the Moscow trials,
that we had to take a position, and he suggested that we declare our loyalty to Stalin and condemn the wreckers, spies and saboteurs. This was the hurdle I could not clear. I told my two comrades that Stalin’s action represented in my opinion a degeneration of revolutionary thinking; that the Soviet Union was clearly in the grips of a serious crisis which Stalin was cynically turning into spy fiction. Amendola replied that my recalcitrance would cost me my membership of the Party, and he added that perhaps this was what I really wanted. I had no further meetings with the Party cell. About a week later Amendola formally told me that I had been expelled from the Party for petty-bourgeois deviation and ideological degeneration. (Two years later the same fate befell Umberto Terracini, one of the Party’s oldest and most respected leaders, who objected to the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact and was booted out by Togliatti.) After my expulsion I spent six more years in confino on the island of Ponza. But from the moment of my refusal to sign, I became an un-person in the eyes of my former friends and comrades. They ignored me when they saw me – for them, I ceased to exist.
Urban Ciorgio Amendola has come a long way since Ponza.
Spinelli He has. I remember chatting to him not so long ago, after he had made a fine speech in the European Assembly in support of European unification. ‘Amendola’, I said, ‘you expelled me from the Party more than 38 years ago, and now – what do I see but that you and your comrades are Spinelli-ites to a man!’ Amendola smiled: ‘Well, we have changed.’