Last fall when rome's Communist city administration closed a bridge to traffic so that a party propaganda festival could be held there, many Roman drivers just grumbled and found an alternate route.
For this country's anticommunists, however, the move was seen as a sign of what they may be in for when and if the Communists -- characterized by a frequent tendency to identify the public interest with their own party's needs -- actually come to power.
As Italy draws closer to the formation of a new government over which the Communists are expected to have more influence than ever before, anticommunist Italians on both the left and the right are troubled.
Their concern over the Communists' impact on Italy's future is no longer based primarily on the party's remaining ties with the soviet Union.
Today, with the cold war a fading memory and the Communists capable of winning the allegiance of some 12 million Italian voters, few Italians appear convinced that Italy's Communist Party is either politically or financially dependent on Moscow.
What worries the anticommunists are those signs of undemocratic intolerance, arrogance and even inefficiency that have emerged from the Communists' behavior in some of the six regions, 49 provinces and numerous cities they now govern or help to govern.
Many believe that despite the Communists' verbal commitment to pluralism, there are enough party members with "antidemocratic tendencies" to make Italy -- under the Communists -- a less pleasant place to live.
The Italians who feel this way are a mixed lot. Their number is hard to judge but in a 1976 poll 45 percent of those queried accused the Communists of "wanting to limit freedom."
Those who feel this way include Catholics who, despite reassurance from Communist leaders, worry about the future of religious education. They also include businessmen who doubt recent Communist pledges of support for Italy's mixed economy, and civil rights supporters who accuse the Communists of only lukewarm support for basic freedoms or fear that the party's growing law-and-order commitment will lead to more repressive government measures here.
They also include a number of "average" Italians whose possibly dormant anticommunist reflexes --those instilled in the cold war years -- may have been brought back to life by the attitudes of some party cadres.
"I couldn't believe my eyes." said one politically moderate Milanese Mother who was shocked one morning last year to find her son's nursery school-room decorated with politically-slanted alphabet panels.
The colorful boards, which were later removed, had been ordered by an official of the Communist-Socialist administration that took office in mid-1975. "There was an R for resistance, an S for strike, and believe it or not a B for 'bandiera rossa' or 'red flag'," she recalls. "I was appalled to see the schools being used for political propaganda."
The tendency of some Communist Pary members to ignore the classic Western distinction between political party and body politics are usually set right by Communist higher-ups whenever they become known.
Thus, the "unity festival" on Rome's "Ponte Sisto" bridge disappeared after three days, and the alphabet panels were removed. A young Communist mayor whose first act in office in late 1975 was to remove the town hall crucifix was reported severely chastised, and the crucifix was replaced.
Some Italians living in tradional Communist strongholds like Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany and Umbria, insit, however, that non-party members are discriminated against when they look for public jobs or apply for public housing.
No proof of such discrimination has been offered, but Deputy Mayor Gavriele Gherardi of Bologna, a Socialist, said that "while there's no left-wing McCarthyism here, party members and sympathizers certainly feel more comfortable than those who are not."
Alessandra, a 37-year-old kindergarten teacher in Bologna, agrees. "If you're not a Communist and don't go to party meetings you are somewhat ostracized," she said.
A 39-year-old manager from Bologna has based his decision to switch from the Communists to the Socialists on the party's growing support for stronger law-and-order measures. "Today it's the terrorists they're against, but against whom will these instruments be used tomorrow?" he asks.
The Communist Party also gets criticized for the actions of party members or sympathizers acting on their own. Last year a group of leftist employes at a Rome publishing house called a strike in an unsuccessful attempt to keep a book on the Israelis' Entebbe rescue mission from appearing.
"The party is probably not directly responsible for such things, but it is the mentality of individual Communists or leftists that worries me," said an anticommunist Christan Democratic deputy. He said that an interview he had given to a leading Italian women's magazine was held up by the leftist editorial staff until they were allowed to write an introduction describing him as a fascist.
Anticommunists also read arrogance, as well as a frightening lack of humor, into a Communist historian's recent letter of protest against a cartoon showing Communist Party Secretary Enrico Berlinguer trying to relax at home despite the street noise from a workers' demonstration.