Since the war, the Italian Left has become well known abroad for four reasons: first, because it was the only movement where Communists and Socialists maintained a united front uninterruptedly through the depths of the cold war; second, because the pci built itself into the largest Marxist party in any capitalist country (roughly five times the members of the pcf); third, because Togliatti was in the vanguard of the move towards ‘polycentrism’ after the Twentieth Congress; fourth, because in the late fifties and early sixties Italy was often considered to be the centre of the most advanced political practice on the Left in the industrialized societies of today.

The purpose of this article is to examine two phenomena: the process of forming the Centre-Left régime (by which the ruling class tried both to split the unity of the Left and to pressure a sector of the proletarian movement towards the Right); and the reactions of the pci and the psiup (left socialist party) to this political shift. In this way, it is possible to examine briefly two of the alternative strategies open to the Left in Italy in the present situation: either to join a coalition with parties to the Right (as the psi opted to do); or to attempt to devise an opposition from the Left, while being a minority (the pci & psiup). The way these problems have been handled theoretically as well as practically relates very closely to the specific situation in Italy (in particular to the multiplicity of parties, which forces coalitions).

One of the Left’s main claims in the post-war period was working class unity—mistakenly identified with pci-psi collaboration. The 1968 election has shown that a solid third of the country continues to oppose the Centre-Left; but the student revolution and the nature of recent industrial revolt have thrown into question the representativity of the traditional left parties. Is the pci capable of using its strengthas a party? Can it build up a new kind of organization against the dominant structures of the system—which in present conditions means winning over much greater forces to a new political position, rather than forming coalitions with existing political forces as they are now? The party has over 1½ million members and one quarter of the electorate. Apart from Czechoslovakia in the immediate post-war period, this is the most advanced point reached by any Communist movement in an industrialized capitalist society. What has been achieved? What has Italian politics been like in this last decade?

The most important event in Italian politics since 1948 has undoubtedly been the formation of the Centre-Left régime. The political questions surrounding this event provide much of the material from which the theses of ‘structural reform’ were constructed. Immediately, there are two particular factors to be borne in mind. There is first the specificity of the party-political configuration in Italy, with its fast-changing social background (there are both more parties and more classes than in ‘solidified’ industrial societies): especially the importance of psi-pci unity in the unions and the local councils, the traditional absence of any powerful social-democratic force in the country, and the predominance of an inter-class clerical formation (the Christian Democrats). The second factor is the rotten condition of the Italian State, which is the context within which the theory and practice of ‘Structural Reform’ in Italy must be set.

From 1952 to 1962, the year when the Centre-Left really began, 16 million Italians changed their residence.footnote2 Internal migration involved an average of 1½-2 million people per annum. About 2 million people emigrated abroad during the decade. The entire natural demographic increase was absorbed in urban growth (municipal capitals grew by 3 million). Emigration was particularly severe among the young (Italy has had by far the youngest émigré workers).

Employment within Italy itself rose from 16,840,000 in 1950 to 19,199,099 in 1965. Over 5 million women are now employed as wage-earners. In agriculture the number of dependent labourers fell from 2,660,000 in 1950 to 1,573,000 in 1965. Total labour in agriculture fell by 31.5 per cent in the decade 1951–61 (from 8,261,160 to 5,657,440).

Working conditions have remained utterly unsatisfactory by any standards. The first firm government guarantee of a minimum wage was a law in July 1959. The 1939 (Fascist) law on residence certificates and the 1949 law banning unemployment registration except in the municipality of legal residence were not removed until 1961. Apart from being used to expel pci organizers from other provinces, these laws had meant that hundreds of thousands of ‘clandestine’ workers were being exploited in the North (without a residence permit they could not apply for work through the labour office). Even now the position of the working class and its organizations is de facto extremely weak. The Economist has pointed out that from the beginning of 1964 ‘wage payments actually lagged behind negotiated wage scales’—a phenomenon it describes as ‘negative wage drift’.footnote3 At this basic level capitalism still maintains iron and ruthless control. The major working class gains in the early ‘sixties were essentially belated sops from capitalism for the immense exploitation perpetrated throughout the decade of the ‘miracle’. Vera Lutz has shown that the real income of a single worker rose only 9 per cent in the period 1950–59.footnote4 The trade unions are still fighting for a workers’ statute (promised by the Centre-Left). Even with the contractual successes of the early sixties the working class was easily thrown completely on to the defensive by the ‘recession’ (i.e. controlled reorganization) of 1963–64, when unemployment rose to 1,400,000 with a further 1 million workers on short time. In Turin alone 250,000 people were hit by full or partial unemployment, and the population of the city decreased by 51,000 people in the year 1964 alone. The total number of people employed fell by 1 per cent over the period 1960–64 (compared with a rise of 6 per cent in the gross domestic product for the period 1959–64).