If you think that keeping the Communists out of the Italian government is like keeping the camel's nose outside the tent so the rest of the animal won't come in, you've got it all wrong," said a longtime American observer of Italian politics.
"The camel's already inside the tent, but the Italians keep its nose outside of it just to try to fool us Americans."
The Christian Democratic government, hardly does a thing without consulting with the Communists, those in the know agree.
Ugo Pecchioli, the Communist Party's specialist for police affairs, said in an interview that he and the interior minister, who resigned last week to accept the blame for the death of kidnapped former Premier Aldo Moro, used to be on the telephone to each other frequently, often three or four times a day.
The Christian Democrats huffily deny that they intend to give the Communists a veto over the new interior minister, but they readily admit that they are not about to name a sucessor who would be unacceptable to the Communists.
The crisis surrounding the kidnapping of Moro only strengthened the ties between the two parties. The results of the regional elections, in which the Christian Democrats gained a large sympathy vote and the Communsits lost some ground, have apparently done nothing to weaken the agreement under which the 228 Communists support the 262 Christian Democrats in the 630-seat lower house of parliament.
Morning after comments by Communists leaders indicate surprise that the swing they had expected toward the Christian Democrats was so strong. Some Communists said that the party should press harder for fundamental social reforms but that the party should also work harder to sell the "historic compromise" linking the two parties to its less-committed voters. There was no hint of changing its tack.
The eeal in parliament was negotiated between Moro and Communist Party Enrico Berlinguer. The day Moro was kidnapped, the Communists agreed in a show of solidarity to cut short the debate on the joint program and to accept those Christian Democrats about whom they had reservations as Cabinet ministers.
"When I saw Berlinguer there in the front rows in the church at the service for Moro, it struck me that the pope was leading not so much a funeral mass for Moro as a benediction for a new united party of Communists and Christian Democrats," said the journalist, who is a Communist with personal reservations about the historic compromise.
"The Christian Democrats," said the journalist, "are like white blood corpuscles that eat red corpuscles. They have managed to eat up every other party in Italy in succession - the Liberals, the Republicans and the Socialists. Now they will try to eat us, too. I don't think they'll succeed because we are about the same-sized party as them, but they'll try."
A Western diplomat who has also had strong reservations about Moro's policies but for the opposite reason - feared a Communist takeover of the Italian state - said: "Moro was at heart a fatalist. He felt you could only postpone Communist participation in the government. He was trying to make the process gradual and nontraumatic, so that by the time they got in, maybe they would be committed to democracy. The Red Brigades perceived correctly that he was the key link in the historic compromise."
One of the main questions is what will happen to the dialogue between the two parties now that Moro, the Communists' rusted interlocutor is gone.
The answer given by Giormni Galoni, one of the coming men in the Christian Democratic Party, is: "One o or two people can take Moro's mantle. It must be done by the party as a whole . . . Most of the tip personalities recognize that this is no time for personal power games."
In many ways, the Italian Communists and Christian Democrats are closer to each other than to any of the other existing Italian parties.
They are both interclass parties with what one Western diplomat called "remarkably similar social profiles." The Communist party is as much a middleclass party of teachers, professionals and small shopkeepers as workers.
The Communists are fond of saying that a majority of their members are practicing Catholics, and there are professing Catholics right up to the Party's top reaches.
"Both parties represent churches," said a diplomat. "It's as easy for them to hold a dialogue as, say, the Anglicans and the Greek Orthodox. They understnd each other's approach and language."
In their conversations, top Italian Communists demonstrate an obsession with Catholicism. They refer to it constantly draw malogies between themselves and the church.
The Italian Communist Party's willingness to put up with the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] . . . contradictions of its militants who are both Communist and Catholic "makes us different from almost all the other Cum. 7,7 t parties in the world," said a Communist member of the Parliament.
3333 Long gone are the days when the church threatened such heresy with excommunication.
The president's power to dissolve parliament is universally seen in the Italian political world as the ultimate bar to the Communists joining the Cabinet.
On all sides, it is expected that the Communists will try to take the last step toward power-sharing with the Christian Democrats by binding to join the Cabinet after a new president has been elected.
Then, the president will be crucial. He can either let Communists in or force the Christian Democrats into an election campaign on the issue of Communists in the Cabinet. More was seen as the only Christian Democrat with the skills both to keep the Communists out and keep them happy about it.
That made him seem the inevitable choice as president.
He sold Communist membership in the parliamentary majority to the recalcitrant right wing of the Christian Democratic Party, and it was thought that he could sell Berlinguer on the idea that Communists in the Cabinet was too much to ask of that Christian Democratic right wing.
However much the party leaders may want to enact the final phase of the historic compromise, the greatest real stumbling block may be the electorate, said Christian Democrat Galloni. "The bases of both parties would not follow their leaderships," he said.
Meanwhile, he said, the job of the Christian Democrats is to keep confronting the Communists with the contradiction that they want to broaden their already large appeal to the middle class and still continue to espouse a working class ideology.
"The party must choose," says Galloni. "It must either renounce its ideological baggage or decalre itself frankly to be a working-cladd party. If it chooses democracy, the basis is laid for a two-party system. If it chooses orthodoxy, then the way is open for the Socialists to make a comeback. The Communist Party must be kept out of the government and the diologue must continue until this is clarified."
Decrying that approach, a Communist said, "the Christian Democrats are going to keep posing so many conditions to our entering the government that finally they will demand that we say that we are not Communists."