Q: Mr. Berlinger, during the Carter administration, something has changed in the attitude towards the Italian Communists. Several of them have been granted visas for coming to the United States, and in 1978 I heard that you, too, were to come, on an invitation from New York University. But you did not. Why?
A: I received many invitations in the last years, all of them from American universities. They asked me for lectures, debates. I did not accept because I judged that the moment wasn't mature. You see, I would like to come when a contact with the academic and also political milieu is more useful than it would have been in the past or in this election year. Yes, I must go to America when a visit of mine represents a step forward in the rapport between the Italian Communists and American public opinion.
Q: Imagine how pleased the Soviets will be.
A: I promise you that I couldn't care less for what they would say and think. Besides, it seems to me that my trip to China didn't please them very much. So, knowing that I go to America wouldn't be worse for them than that.
Q: But, politics apart, aren't you curious to see America?
A: Very much so. Personally and culturally. And this shouldn't surprise you because the United States as a country has always interested the Communist leaders, since the time of the Soviet revolution. Even then we knew that in America there are many things to learn: efficiency, spirit of enterprise, an immense possibility to study not only in the field of scientific research. And today we shouldn't forget that European feminism owes much to the American feminism: The first ideas came from American women. On the social reality I wouldn't like to say anything before seeing with my eyes, yet what intrigues me mostly is to understand why the very great majority of the working class doesn't wish to change the social system. There must be a reason. Then, I'm intrigued by the alienation of the American laborers. It seems related also to the welfare. And such things must be studied.
Q: Forgive a disgression that you'll probably judge rather frivolous, Mr. Berlinguer. Once an American journalist asked Tito: "Had you emigrated to America as a boy, what would you have become?" And, very seriously, Tito answered: "A billionaire, of course!" So tell me, what would you have become in the same case?
A: certainly not a billionaire. First, because I think that being a billionaire is immoral. Secondly, because I never wished to become rich.
Never, I think I understand what Tito meant with his answer . . . that is, expressing himself through that kind of success, money, power . . . but I get horrified at the hypothesis that I could become a billionaire. So, I emigrated to America, I guess that I now would be . . . Let's see . . .
Q: A teacher in some university? Yes, a professor in mathematics.
A: Well, you didn't go too far from the truth because, if you ask me what I wanted to become when I was a teenager, I answer a philospher. And few sciences today are as compatible as philosphy and mathematics. In Italy this cultural stream, opened by Galileo, died because of Vico and then because of Croce. In America instead it developed as it should. Yes, like England, America made a great step ahead in overcoming philosophy seen as an exclusively humanistic science.
Q: See, my digression didn't turn so frivolous after all. Now tell me, how do you comment about the long-standing flirtation which seems to exist between Washington and the Italian Socialist Party? Some say that Washington is directing its attention to them.
A: If it is so, I would remind you that having pushed Soares in Portugal has not brought good luck to Soares. He has been a short interlude. The fact is that the American rulers are obsessed with the idea of avoiding the participation of the ICP in the government. So, they always navigate by following the wrong compass of "what men or party might serve such a goal." For many years the compass needle has pointed to the Christian Democrats and, in the end, I think that it still does. Today, however, they look with interest to the socialists because they think that their alliance with the Christian Democrats may delay or prevent the presence of the Communists in the government. My comment can be only this: Americans have made many mistakes in Italy and in Western Europe, not to mention the mistakes they have committed in Latin America. Think of Chile. And these should drive them to be more cautious, more realistic. Yet, saying this, I don't want to create misunderstandings. I don't want to make someone believe that I am searching for American approval. I say say this as a matter of principle and because I realize very well that the time when the Americans will shout "Hail the Italian Communist Party" is far away.
Q: Mr. Berlinguer, how do you look at the next elections in America? I wonder if your view is the same as the joke they have: "Carter or Reagan? Answer or I shoot." And the citizen answers: "Shoot."
A: Do they really say so? Well, by now you must have realized that saying "This or that or shoot" isn't my style. Because it isn't realistic, or rational. The American elections . . . I wouldn't dare judgments. In America it has always been difficult to foresee what candidate will win and how the winner will behave once elected. There have been presidents who promised beautiful things and didn't do them, others who didn't promise much and yet did good things both in the domestic and in the foreign policy. In fact, if you ask me who was the best president the Americans had during our lifetime, I inevitably answer Franklin Delano Roosevelt. That is, the man of the New Deal and of the great American struggle against Nazism and Fascism. But it you ask me a second name, I'm going to amaze you a lot. Because the second name is Gerald Ford.
Q: Ford?! Do you know what Ford says? He says that Eurocommunism isn't Communism with a human face, it's masked Stalinism and hidden tyranny.
A: Everybody has the right to be wrong or to say absurdities. Ford should probably be told that Eurocommunism is the marriage of socialism and democracy in the rigid respect of autonomy and freedom. The fact remains that on foreigh policy Ford was a rather wise president. He was so because he understood what Carter has not understood or Brzezinski: In order to maintain the peace in the world, the United States must have good rapport both with the Soviet Union and with China. They must not play the Chinese card against the Soviets or vice versa.
Q: Kissinger knew it.
A: Yes, he knew. He had understood it. But he hadn't understood other things. Because he followed the concept, then brutally explained by [former Kissinger aide Helmut] Sonnenfeldt, that the Soviet Union could do what it wanted in its area, the United States could do what they wanted in theirs. The sharing of the world, in other words. And nothing is more negative than such a policy in a world where the multipolar reality is taking the place of a bipolar reality. Something that Cyrus Vance seems to have realized well, instead. He knows that too many countries today don't accept to have their destiny shaped or decided by the United States or by the Soviet Union. Even at the Havana conference a rigorous line of non-alignment prevailed in the end.
Q: There are various ways to be nonaligned, Mr. Berlinguer. The Tito way, the Castro way . . .
A: It depends how the Americans intend to bahave in order to escape the fact that Cuba's independence remains so strictly tied up with the Soviet support, also economically. It doesn't seem to me that the United States is doing much in that sense. And in my opinion Castro cares overall for Cuba's independence. He inherited a past of poverty, yes, but also of dependence from the United States. And he doesn't want to fall again into that.
Q: I don't ask you about Castro, otherwise I must ask you what you think about the Cubans' flight from Cuba, then about the Vietnamese flight from Vietnam, then about the wars that the Communist countries wage against each other. And finally I must ask if you ever suspect that socialism has failed its test. But we haven't time for that.
A: This is what I call a hard way to put questions. Well, first of all you forget to consider that Communist countries aren't Communist only. They are nations with their conflicts of interests and rivalries and resentments. Also, different ideological formations and fanaticisms. If you recall what the Cultural Revolution in China has been in that sense if you think the even Pol Pot believes he is a Communist, and I cannot imagine anything more disgusting and more an aberration than his so-called Communist ideology . . . but such discussion would drive us far away, I agree, so I simply answer no: I do not think that socialism has failed its test. Because socialism and even more communism as I see it, as I want it, doesn't exist in any part of the world. So I don't even admit that its test has taken place. Socialism, which according to Marx is the first-stage of communism, is at its very dawn, its very beginning of youth, and what can be regarded by some as its initial test produces dramas, yes, contradictions, vices, naivetes, crimes, tragedies, yes. But they are the tragedies which accompany the rise of a new world.
Q: Later I'll make an observation about that, but now I want to conclude with the Americans. Mr. Berlinguer, the Italian Communists often accuse the United States of having cracked the detente before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But, before Afghanistan, I only remember the occupation of their embassy in Tehran.
A: Instead there was something more. First, the campaign for the human rights that Carter launched unilaterally at the beginning of his presidency. I mean, when the human rights are invoked only for the faults of the Soviet Union and of the socialist countries and do not mention the regimes which crush people in Latin American countries, which by the way are protected by the Americans . . . I ask: Are the human rights respected in Chile, in Bolivia, in Argentina, in Guatemala, in Haiti? Secondly, the Middle East problem. Here the United States passed from the Gromyko-Vance declaration -- I mean from the search for a solution that saw Soviet participation -- to the Camp David agreement where one single power participated. You can object: "What has the Soviet Union to do with it?" But then I answer: "What has the United States to do with it?" Neither the one nor the other should have to do with it, I agree, but it seems to me that a major conflict like the one taking place in the Middle East cannot be solved without the participation of both the great powers, unfortunately. Thirdly, the missed ratification of the SALT II agreement. When a president is not able to have his Senate ratify a so very important agreement, and one day he says a thing, one day he says another, without knowing what he wants, then it's legitimate to say that he doesn't contribute much to detente.
Q: Some Americans say that SALT II would ratify a lack of balance which goes to the advantage of the Soviets. Furthermore, they say, while the Pershing and the cruise missiles are not deployed as yet, the Soviet SS-20 are being deployed at the rate of four or five a month. These without mentioning the 160,000 surplus of troops belonging to the Warsaw Pact.
A: I wouldn't buy blindly such a thesis, because you also have to calculate the French and the English araments, then the American nuclear submarines which navigate in the Mediterranean and along the Atlantic coasts. We don't know how many they are, but we know that they can hit the Warsaw Pact countries. Listen, in my opinion the balance exists, but I don't discard the possibility that Americans are rights, so the proposal that we Italian Communists made and was rejected in the Senate reveals itself very valid: Stop the fabrication of the cruise and Pershing, stop the fabrication and the installation of the SS20, then verify. This doesn't mean to be in favor of Brezhnev.
Q: Some say that your position has analogies with Giscard d'Estaing's and Schmidt's.
A: I wouldn't say Giscard d'Estaing. Really not. Besides, we're against his idea of fabricating the neutron bomb. Even the Americans have given up the neutron bomb, and now the French come with it! France cares too much about becoming a great power. The case of Schmidt is different. His travel to Moscow was useful not only for Europe but also for the Soviet Union and the United States because it reopened the possibility of a dialogue on the missiles. And if we do not keep a dialogue, if we do not go back to detente, this crisis becomes irreversible and we go straight to war. People refusing the logic of exacerbations and developing a moderate policy without failing the Atlantic Alliance are necessary: Americans must understand it. Nor would I accuse Schmidt of not caring for the West. Is there anybody in America who accuses him of not caring for the West?
Q: Maybe there is someone who thinks that he's ready to pay for the reunification of Germany with the price of neutrality, and in any case there are many who don't like the Paris-Bonn axis.
A: The idea that two leading powers might arise in Europe doesn't please me, either. Nor do I like the idea that France aims to assume and guarantee the security of Western Europe. Today Western European security isn't conceivable without the American atomic umbrella. France will never reach the military power that the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries have, so French ambitions are senseless. But this is what happens when Europe doesn't function and the European Community hasn't initiatives of its own: Two strong countries like France and Germany intervene with their initiatives. Besides, I don't like either the idea of an European army which faces the Warsaw Pact without American support. It would mean the run to armaments for the nine countries of the Community also. Maddening.
Q: And what do you think about the veto that Brezhnev put against a possible participation of Spain in the Atlantic Alliance?
A: Also Carrillo and Gonzales don't want that participation. I mean, also the Spanish Communist Party and the Spanish Socialist Party. It would alter an established balance. Just as if Italy abandoned NATO or Yugoslavia entered the Warsaw Pact, something that I firmly discard . . .
Q: So, in such a case, you think that Brezhnev is right.
A: I prefer to say that Carrillo and Soares are right.
Q: Mr. Berlinguer, the ICP always says that it wants to stay in NATO. And now you give a motivation: the international balance. But we know that another motivation exists. That is, you feel safer on this side of the barricade. Because, on this side, the NATO side, you don't risk to end as Dubcek did in Czechoslovakia. True?
A: Yes, I said many times that in the Soviet system they wouldn't let us build the socialism we believe in. But I said it without forgetting, of course, the enormous obstacles that the capitalistic forces oppose to us in Italy and in Western Europe. See, in a certain sense we are gambling because neither the one or the other likes us.
Q: You also said many times that, should the Soviet Union attack Western Europe and Italy, the Italian Communists would be on the front line to fight the invaders.
A: I said it and I repeat it.
Q: Then, why do you always speak of autonomy and dialectics inside NATO? I mean, NATO is a military pact. And, in a military pact, either you stay or you don't. You cannot stay in it with limitations and discussions.
A: One cannot stay in it either as an obedient soldier, as in a barrack. That is, without disagreeing from the Americans or forgetting that NATO is a defensive pact with a geographically limited area, thus belonging to it doesn't mean to blindly follow all the American initiatives beyond that area. Belonging to NATO means to be allied to the Americans, yes. It means to respect the engagements which guarantee the security of the other countries belonging to the alliance, yes. Yet, if the United States asks to be followed in other political or military acts, for instance in the Persian Gulf or in the Middle East or in Africa or Asia, we must refuse. The same if they ask us to participate in their sanctions or retaliations against some country. How do you answer to this?
Q: I answer that one cannot belong to NATO because it is comfortable, useful, because otherwise he ends like Dubcek in Czechoslovakia, and then refuse solidarity against a tyrant who keeps 50 hostages for months.
A: And I reply that we cannot follow the logic of sanctions, of retaliations, otherwise we all go straight to war. The world war, the nuclear war. I reply that we need to follow the logic of dialogue, discussion, detente, and also disarmament. Yes, disarmament. Because something new has happened to humanity, something called nuclear weapons. And nuclear weapons mean the end of everything, of civilization, of life itself. Don't you realize that the atomic arsenals on both sides already have the capability of destroying the whole planet seven times? The Pope is right when he says pay attention if you go producing armaments, you will end with using them. So we must stop with this balance of terror which helped us to avoid war till today and which, in the end, will provoke it. The rest is talk, illusions, fanaticisms.
Q: Mr. berlinguer, here is the observation I promised a while ago. You always condemn fanaticism, and this is good. It's consoling. Yet when you say, "I am horrified at the thought that I could become a billionaire," when you say, "We're born and we live to fight capitalism, to wipe it out," when you blindly believe in the rise of communism seen as panacea for every evil, the City of the Sun, aren't you guilty of fanaticism also?
A: No, because mine isn't an act of faith to an ideology, to a religon. It is a belief which derives from reason.
Q: Mr. Berlinguer, I don't remember where Karl Marx wrote that the highest virtue of man is doubt. Doesn't doubt ever touch you?
A: Of course. Doubt is the sense of the modern, western, critical thought which started in 1500 with Galileo and Bacon. The doubt that we need to verify our beliefs continuously. We must always think with doubt. But the doubt that could drive me to be not a Communist anymore, no. Until today it never touched, and I hope that it never will.
Q: Well, had it happened or should it happen, you wouldn't certainly tell it to me.
A: But I would tell it to myself.