A Rose by Any Name


Changing the name of Italy's Communist Party to "Democratic Party of the Left" won't fool Italian voters who are against the Communists. It might fool voters who are for them, but won't find them on the ballot.

What a sad state of affairs for the giant political machine that for decades threatened to come to power by democratic means and that pioneered something called "Eurocommunism," supposedly tolerant and pluralistic and democratic, before the Communist empire of Eastern Europe even thought of self-destructing.

The Italian Communist Party just did change its name to Democratic Party of the Left. Then its conference, under democratic procedures, held an election for leader. There was only one candidate. He lost. There were sufficient delegates not voting, to show disgust with dumping the hallowed name and hammer-and-sickle symbol, that the party secretary of three years and designer of the new image, Achille Occhetto, failed to win a majority of delegates. He promptly quit and told the party to find someone else. Meanwhile a rump delegation quit the party and is planning to unveil a new, truly Communist party for true believers.

This is what's left of the party that in 1976 won 35 percent of the vote against the ruling Christian Democrats' 39 percent and the Socialists' 10 percent, and that as recently as 1987 won 26.6 percent of the vote. The prospect of it someday leading a coalition of the left to victory is still imaginable.

That won't happen soon. Mr. Occhetto picked an issue to show that his party is distinguishable from the Socialists. He came out against the Italian participation in the gulf war, which the Socialists favor. Politically, he got that wrong.

Communism is on the ropes. There are still countries such as Cuba and Cambodia where the Communists don't know that yet. In Italy, they know. "Democratic Party of the Left," indeed.

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