A three-man Italian Communist delegation that returned here this week from talks with Soviet leaders in Moscow has made it clear that the two parties disagree on several important issues but that Italy's Communist "continue to be part of a great international movement."
Upon his return here, the delegation's leader, Giancarlo Pajett, said that disagreements with Moscow existed "on more than one point," including dissent, Czechoslovakia and Euro-communism - but said those differences "seem natural to us."
The long scheduled visit to Moscow by Pajetta, the Italian party's top foreign affairs expert, and two other high ranking Communists attracted considerable attention because it took place shortly after a stinging soviet attack on Spanish Communist leader Santiago Carrillo.
In the past the Italian Communist Party, perhaps the strongest Marxist movement in the West, has been closely allied with Carrillo, who is considered the major exponent of a mixture of socialism and Western democracy that has come to be called "Eurocommunism."
Carrillo's recent outspokeness - he says Soviet society is Stalinist and non-socialist - last weekl led Italy's Communists to react cautiously to an attack on the Spanish leader by the Soviet weekly New Times.
The returning delegation underlined that caution this week by stressing that "we did not go to Moscow to act as Carrillo's lawyers" and by repeating that although they will publish "Eurocommunism and the State" - the controversial book by Carrillo that provoked the Soviet attack - "we do not endorse it."
The outcome of the talks in Moscow with leading Soviet party officials thus indicates while Italy's Communists are committed to independence from Moscow, they will limit, at least for now, their allegiance to Eurocommunism.
"If they were interested in a break with the Soviet Union, they wouldn't have gone to Moscow at all at this time," one experienced Western diplomat said.
Pajetta and the two other members of the delegation, Paolo Bzzini and Emanuele Macaluso, have said repeatedly, since their return that they told Soviet party officials that the attack on Carrillo was "negative" because it reminded them of a past period in which "excommunication and condemnation" took the place of debate.
They have stressed that during their three-day stay in Moscow they defended the autonomous policies of Western Europe's Communist parties and reiterated the Italian party's criticism of the harsh Soviet position on dissent, as well as its long-standing condemnation of the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.
A stilted final joint communique issued in Moscow over the weekend indicates that sharp disagreement on some of these issues still exists. In a rare demonstration of annoyance, the Italian Communist Party daily "Unita" ran a front-page report on Monday and Tuesday of Continuing Divergencies."
Pajetta, a man with a reputation for being pro-Soviet, told Italian reporters waiting for him at the airport that "as soon as we start talking about democracy and freedom, we disagree."
Top-level Italian Communists have said privately that they expect disagreements with the Soviets to continue because, as one Politburo member said, recently "They can't tolerate Eurocommunism or any other challenge by Marxists to the correctness of their own appoach."
The party's leaders nevertheless have no intention of letting differences of opinion with the Soviets get out of hand at a time when the Communist Party, which is seeking government status here, needs maximum support from its 1.7 million members.
In an interview published yesterday in Rome's left-wing daily "La Rebubilea," Paolo Bufalini, an executive committee member, said that the Italian Communist Party still nurtures strong affection for the Soviet Union. None of us can forget what the Soviet Union meant for the struggle against Nazi Fascism and for the spread of socialism in the world" he said.