The Kremlin gingerly backed off from a confrontation with the Italian Communist Party today by proposing an end to name-calling and urging Italian Communists to support Soviet foreign policy.
The unusual about-face came three weeks after the Soviet party virtually excommunicated leaders of the Italian Communist Party from the world communist movement for their "monstrous" and "truly sacrilegious" criticism following the military takeover in Poland.
The Communist Party newspaper Pravda had singled out Enrico Berlinguer, the Italian party's general secretary, and three other Italian Communist leaders for charges that they had renounced Marxism-Leninism and "everything that links them" to other Communist parties. The Italian leadership had condemned the Polish crackdown as reflecting a fundamental crisis of the socialist system.
Today, Pravda referred repeatedly to Berlinguer and other Italian leaders as "comrades" before concluding that the Soviet party "is not interested in sharpening the polemic, but neither will it retreat if a polemic is imposed on it as was the case" with the Italian condemnation of the Polish crackdown.
"It nevertheless is calling on the Italian party to view more seriously the severe and ruthless reality of class struggle in the international arena" at a time of East-West tensions. Pravda suggested that the Italian Communists should struggle "against the aggressive policy of imperialism, the arms race, against the deployment of new U.S. missiles in Italy."
The new Soviet stand on the Italian view appears to reflect assessments here that continued public arguing with the Italians was not in Moscow's interest and could do more political harm then good for the Soviet Bloc.
There was speculation here among diplomats that the shift in position may reflect the departure of Mikhail Suslov, the main Soviet ideologue who died last month. Suslov had been known as an unyielding supporter of orthodoxy. His place was taken by Konstantin Chernenko, a Politburo member close to President Leonid Brezhnev.
Pravda today repeated basic Soviet charges that the Italian party had failed to show "genuine internationalism."
But the sharpest criticism leveled against the Italians today was that their actions "do not serve the cause of peace and socialism"--which is the mildest form of condemnation in the Soviet party's arsenal.
The Pravda attack of Jan. 24 was described as an act of "defense" against Italian charges and "not an attack on the Italian Communist Party."
Pravda said that since the first article some Italian Communist leaders have stated publicly that "the Italian Communist Party did not even think of denying the role of the Soviet Union in the defense" of peace and the working-class movement. It said that the Italians have since spoken of Lenin, the founder of the Soviet state, "with much greater respect and much more seriously."
The tone and substance of today's article suggested that the Kremlin hopes to narrow the gap with the Italian Communists or at least to forestall further polemics that could become the topic of discussion among other Communist parties.
It seems also clear that the question of the planned U.S. deployment of new medium-range nuclear weapons in Europe next year remains Moscow's primary concern and that the Italian Communists are expected to play an important role in the antiwar movement against the prospective deployment.