In Italy history repeats itself: a general election has been called one year early to avoid a referendum whose result might shake the political and economic establishment represented by the dc, iri and Confindustria. In 1987 nuclear power has taken on the importance of divorce in 1972 and abortion in 1976, with Fanfani being forced into the farcical position of engineering his own parliamentary defeat to stave off the dreaded referendum. Yet, something has changed. However briefly, Alessandro Natta—scorned as grey and bureaucratic by the British Eurocommunist intellectuals who lavished praise on Berlinguer—has shown unexpected political courage in using the April crisis to pursue an alliance with the Socialists and the minor parties of the Left and Centre against the Christian Democrats—to form a maggioranza referendaria, as he puts it. The pci’s offer came a decade too late: Craxi was able slyly to refuse it by insisting that Spadolini from the Republican Party should stand as candidate for the premiership, whereas he knew this to be an impossibility given the Republicans’ commitment to nuclear power as a symbol of scientific progress. Against this background there is little cause to modify the historical analysis that I offered in ‘Judging the pci’. Any hope that the pci might carry through its new-found and as yet hesitant commitment to a potentially very fruitful Left Alternative will depend on the balance of forces revealed by the polls.

Just as the pci appears to be on the verge of abandoning its belief in Historic Compromise, Stephen Gundle operates an even more dramatic volte-face of his own and rushes in to defend Berlinguer’s blunders. Not so long ago, Gundle wrote of ‘the long decade from 1968 to the opening of the 1980s, during which the pci . . . policed the working class through different forms of controls and pressures and . . . [committed] itself to the preservation of existing institutions at all costs.’ footnote1 Rather than dwell any longer on Gundle’s earlier positions, however—positions which involved more or less undiluted adherence to the spontaneist theories of Autonomia Operaia—I will confine myself to four of the principal questions raised in his critique.

First, Gundle argues that American policy towards Italy in 1977–78 is hard evidence of the pci’s radicalism; that if Washington was so anxious to exclude it from office it could not have been a ‘sheep in sheep’s clothing’. In reality, however, this episode tells us far more about the extremely aggressive nature of the American imperialist wolf than it does about the intentions of the gentle Berlinguerian sheep. US imperialism has long been accustomed to regard even the mildest of reforms in the smallest of Latin American countries as a direct threat to its own security—Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Chile, El Salvador, Argentina, Grenada and Nicaragua have all experienced American intervention, direct or indirect, successful or unsuccessful. Even Harold Wilson’s Labour Government of 1974–76 was subjected to a concerted campaign of destabilization, in which the cia made ample use of its subservient British counterparts. Most recently, Kinnock’s illjudged visit to the United States, far from placating Reagan, revealed a bipartisan American consensus that British Labour governments are not to be trusted. If Washington believed that Harold Wilson, who had given unwavering support to its outrages against the Vietnamese people, was an agent of Moscow, American hostility to Berlinguer hardly proves that the Italian leader was an ardent revolutionary.

Secondly, Gundle maintains that the contrast between the 1968 and 1972 election results indicates a decisive decline in the strength of the Far Left groupings associated with 1968, limiting the pci’s ability to shift to the left. Despite appearances, this argument does not rest on firm foundations in empirical psephology. In 1968 the psiup gained 4.5 per cent of the popular vote and 23 seats, and it is true that this figure had fallen to 3.2 per cent by the time of the 1970 regional elections. But it must be remembered that while Lelio Basso’s longstanding advocacy of Luxemburgist Marxism had made the psiup very responsive to the movements of 1967–69, a good part of the psiup’s electoral support was drawn from an older generation of traditional Socialists angry with Nenni for reunifying the psi with Saragat’s psdi and allying with their traditional opponents in the dc, and that after the schism of 1969, which once more separated the psi and psdi, these older voters may have been prepared to transfer their allegiances to Riccardo Lombardi’s leftwing current within the psi. The 1972 general election itself was not quite the disaster for the Far Left that Gundle claims it was. The failure of the psiup, Il Manifesto and mpl to secure a single deputy was a result of their self-destructive sectarian competition; their combined vote, 3 per cent, would have not only exceeded the quota but nearly equalled the Radicals’ 1979 peak of 3.5 per cent. Moreover Lotta Continua, the dominant far-left organization in Turin and the largest nationally, upheld a rigidly abstentionist position until 1973, when it suddenly turned to a line of support for the pci that first took practical effect in the regional elections of 1975. For its part, Potere Operaio remained rigidly abstentionist and anti-parliamentarian until its dissolution in 1974. Needless to say, none of these facts is offered as any sort of apology for the grave political weaknesses and errors of the Italian Far Left, which I have discussed at some length in ‘Judging the pci’.

Thirdly, Gundle lays great stress on the argument about secularization in Italy. In fact, his strangely worded references to ‘civil rights issues’ leading to an ‘opening up of family law’ have made me acutely aware that ‘Judging the pci’ did not state with sufficient clarity my position on the close relationship between the struggle for socialism and the struggle for women’s rights, although the relevant section (pp. 24–25) should have given an attentive reader some indication of where I stood. To put it bluntly, Gundle, despite his talk of ‘ethical and cultural problems’ and a considerable openness to Green themes, still adheres to a view of politics in which issues connected with gender have little or no place—or, at least, to a politics that has never engaged with the demands of the women’s movement. In 1919 or 1921 the Italian Left could still seek a majority from an entirely male electorate; since 1946, when women won the vote, this has no longer been possible, let alone desirable. But while a large number of women were involved in industry or agriculture, many were not. As long as the Left concerned itself exclusively with economic questions, it risked appearing irrelevant to the needs of women, who, if isolated from the community of the factory or trade union, would be inclined to listen respectfully to the promptings of the parish priest. It is also worth pointing out that the pci’s traditional patriarchal attitudes were undoubtedly one of the major factors in the defection of a number of its leading female cadres in the late 1960s—Rossana Rossanda, Luciana Castellina and Maria Antonietta Maciocchi being the prime examples.