How Britain plotted coup d'état to topple Italy's Communists

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Britain and its Nato allies considered organising a coup in Italy in 1976 to prevent the Communist Party from coming to power, Foreign Office papers reveal.

The documents, made public after 30 years, were unearthed by an Italian researcher in the government archives at Kew, Surrey. In 1976, the Cold War was still raging, Henry Kissinger was the US Secretary of State and Italy's political situation was a shambles.

After 30 years of domination by the corrupt Christian Democrat party (DC), the country was ready for change. The Partito Comunista Italiana (PCI), led by the moderate Enrico Berlinguer, was the only political force which seemed to offer it. In an election scheduled for 20 June 1976, there was a strong chance it would beat the Christian Democrats into second place and lead a coalition.

A secret Foreign Office memo dated 6 May 1976, entitled Italy And The Communists: Options For The West, floated one possible course of action as "action in support of a coup d'etat or other subversive action". The authors admitted: "By its nature, a coup d'etat could lead to unpredictable developments." But they added that, in theory at least, "it could be promoted. In one way or another, the force of the right could be counted on, with the support of the police and the army". The idea of a coup to remove the PCI or stop it coming to power "could be considered attractive" – but the idea was rejected as "unrealistic".

The growth of Italian communism had worried politicians in the West all that year. In January, Kissinger told Willy Brandt, the former West German Chancellor and leader of the Socialist International organisation, of his "strong anxiety" for the developing situation. The "political nature" of Nato, Kissinger said, would change if communists seized power of a Nato country.

The rest of the alliance shared his worries. For all its reformism, Berlinguer's PCI was still close to Moscow. The biggest fear was about what would happen to Nato's nuclear security if the PCI came to power. "To put it crudely," as the Ministry of Defence put it, "sensitive documents could end up in Moscow." In the event, the PCI finished second in the election, with 34.3 per cent of the vote to the DC's 38.7 per cent.

* Crowds gathered in east Berlin yesterday to commemorate the assassination of founders of the German Communist Party. Around 8,000 activists from 50 left-wing groups gathered at Friedrichsfelde cemetery to mark the deaths of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. They were killed on 15 January 1919 by right-wing militia.

Comments