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Stanton H. Burnett (October 10, 2007)

(This article first appeared in US Italia weekly on May 21, 2006)
We have seen that the 1970s effort at make-over by the post-Togliatti leadership at Communist Party headquarters in Via Botteghe Oscure had had enough success in managing the issues of the relation to the U.S. and to NATO, and had found so much social and...


... economic common ground with the leftward currents of Christian Democracy that the question of ties to Moscow was now the pivotal issue, inside and outside Italy, on which the acceptability of the Historic Compromise turned.

So each criticism of Soviet policy by the PCI generated headlines as the only area of legitimate doubt about the comrades’ “candidacy” for entry into the control room of Italian politics. And in many circles, the candle of that doubt was flickering.
These developments, described in our last three columns, were the elements that made it possible for Aldo Moro to broker, with consummate subtlety, a deal for a new Andreotti government that would have the full parliamentary support of the PCI. (Moro’s long-range intentions in playing this role have remained a point of debate, to which the latest contribution is found in Ambassador Richard Gardner’s memoir of those days.) Moro scheduled the parliamentary debate on his formula for March 16, 1978, and was, as we all know, on his way to that debate when his car was surrounded by a Red Brigades squad in Via Mario Fani.
The kidnapping and assassination of Aldo Moro should have been the defining event, at the defining moment, for today’s Italian politics. If history had run on anything like an expectable path, the Historic Compromise, would have led to a boulevard of broad compromise and cooperation (at which Italian politicians are outstandingly adept) that would most certainly have avoided the shoals of Mani pulite and would never have opened the door to Silvio Berlusconi’s striding across a ruined political landscape. (Berlusconi might, granted, have found other doors.)
It is fair to say that the assassination should have furthered the movement toward the Compromesso, not derailed it. The nation understood that Moro was the victim of Red Brigades, terrorists from the same “family album” as the Communists who were about to be embraced by mainstream Italian politics. The brutal slaying of Moro was the landmark expression of the extremists’ dissatisfaction with the whole course of democratic participation that had been followed by the PCI ever since the Salerno Switch (see our early columns), a dissatisfaction that was keenly felt by many within the party. It is cold, but true, to recognize that however important Moro may have been to the conceptualizing of the new path, he was no longer absolutely essential to traveling it.
And now the enemies of the Compromesso were wearing the garb of enemies of the nation. The Historic Compromise had both a martyr and a clear set of enemies. If the game had been played within the confines of the two great parties on which we have focused thus far, Italy most certainly would have entered, eventually, the era of the Compromesso, with good support for it at the polls. Instead, the Historic Compromise was, just a short time later, off the table and very quickly unthinkable. So the few months’ rise and fall of the Compromesso did prove to be, in fact, a defining moment for today’s politics, but the Moro tragedy was not the defining event. That was brewing up elsewhere, and we must now expand our vision to encompass it.
A tough young northerner named Bettino Craxi had ascended to the leadership of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) in the summer of 1976. Craxi led that tiny wing of the party that wanted nothing to do with the PSI’s historic connection as an offspring of the Italian Communist Party, nor with the modern PCI, nor with any coalition involving the Communists. He was the heir to the thought and political action of the great name of post-war Italian Socialism, Pietro Nenni. And Craxi was willing to return to the question of the PCI’s Moscow connection and give it the entirely new twist we will see next week.

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