As Italy rapidly approaches its 40th government crisis since the fall of fascism in 1943, the government is showing increasing concern over the possibility that the powerful Italian Communists may be inching closer to government power here.
Communist pressure on the ruling Christian Democrats for a greater say in solving Italy's spiralling economic and social problems is expected to come to a head in the next week or two with the resignation of Premier Glulio Andreotti's 17-month-old minority Christian Democratic government.
It is unclear what type of government will succeed Andreotti's but concern that the Christian Democrats might agree to Communist demands for government membership has led the Carter Administration to call ambassador Richard N. Gardner home for consultations.
Gardner flew to Washington today for talks with State Department and White House officials. His departure, requested by Washington last Friday, has led to accusations by the Italian left of interference in Italian domestic politics.
Coming only a few days after President Carter told French Socialist leader Francois Mitterrand that the United States is concerned about a possible Socialist-Communist alliance there, Gardner's recall has led to speculation here that the Carter Administration is thinking of toughening its hitherto "low-profile" position on Western Europe's Communist parties.
Embassy officials insist that the Gardner trip does not indicate a change in the administration's policy: noninterference in the domestic affairs of sovereign nations, but not of indifference toward Communist membership in their governments.
They point out that Carter administration officials have stated on various occasions that they prefer democratic parties in power in Western Europe and that Communist membership in the government of a NATO member would be damaging to the Western alliance.
Informed sources say, however, that some administration officials believe that stronger action is necessary. These officials are said to favor a public warning, like those issued to Italy during the previous administration, of possible consequences to U.S.-Italian relations should the Communists gain a role in an Italian government.
Such a warning would contrast with the low-key style adopted by Gardner since his arrival here last year. That style favors explanations of U.S. policy in private contacts with Italian leaders rather than public statements that could be interpreted as threats.
Some Western diplomats here believe that by calling Gardner back for consultations, the U.S. government has already given an adequate signal of its concern. "Given Italian sensitivity to outside interference, anything more might be counterproductive and anyway is probably 1 less," one Western diplomat said.
The Communists, who have given crucial support in Parliament to Andreotti's government since its formation in August 1976, recently began calling for a six-party national coalition, which they claim is the only government capable of dealing with the grave economic problems and deteriorating public order.Political violence, which has risen as the government crisis mounted, broke out again over the weekend.
The leadership of the Christian Democratic Party has given signs of willingness to revise a six-party program worked out with the Communists last July and to upgrade the Communists' current role.
But opposition within the Christian Democratic Party to an alliance with the Communists makes their actual participation in an Italian Cabinet unlikely at this time. Numerous Christian Democratic deputies and senators recently threatened to break party discipline and vote against the party if it bows to Communist demands.
Socialist and Communist spokesmen said today that any attempt by the United States to influence events here would be considered "intolerable" interference. Nevertheless, newpaper editor Indro Montanelli, known for his anti-Communist point of view, said that "if Gardner's visit to Washington is a sign of greater concern over the situation here by the United States, then it is most welcome."
Montanelli, like other stauch anti-Communists here, believes the U.S. position so far has been too soft and would like the American government to take a firmer stand. "I hope they find a way to make their position clear, because until now it hasn't been clear at all," he said, adding that the United States has given the impression of being "indifferent."
A top aide to Andreotti said the United States has every right to call its ambassador home for discussions but any further action was unnecessary, "because the Communists will not be getting into the government."
Another Christian Democrat close to party secretary Benigno Zaccagnini warned that a more rigid U.S. position could have negative consequences. A hard-line stance could encourage those in the Christian Democratic Party who favor early elections, he said.
The party's top leaders believe that if elections were held, both the Christian Democrats and the Communists --Italy's two largest parties -- would make further gains. "And the result would be either a government with the Communists or civil war."