IT IS the fashion in Italy to abuse the political parties -- those genuinely anti-Fascist groupings which, in spite of their widely differing aims, combined in 1943 to form the national and regional Committees of National Liberation (in Italian, Comitati di Liberazione Nazionale, always referred to as CLNs). These Committees made a great contribution to the defeat of Nazi-Fascism; but its magnitude was not appreciated outside Italy at the time and is now being forgotten at home. For reasons peculiar to Italy, the disillusionment which followed the end of the fighting has been even more devastating in that country than elsewhere, and Italians have found it easy to throw the blame for present conditions upon the CLN parties which are governing the nation until a Constituent Assembly can be elected. This irritation with politics and parties is exceedingly dangerous, for it is pregnant with a totalitarian mentality.

In Italy today the most urgent economic questions must be politically determined. Poverty is so great that social peace is impossible without a radical redistribution of the little wealth that, more than ever, is concentrated in the hands of a few; and this necessitates action by the state. One may be Socialist or anti-Socialist in theory in Italy today, but it is difficult not to be temporarily Socialistic in practice. This is the basis on which CLN plans for the future were worked out. The Action Party, in some ways the most interesting of the CLN groups, has evolved a program synthesizing guaranteed liberty for the individual with socialism in industry and, to some extent, in agriculture. The program is close to the line of British Labor, though more particularly to the conceptions of Beveridge. The Action Party is, however, a small one, born out of the anti-Fascist Giustizia e Libertà group; it appeals to intellectuals and has many distinguished sympathizers of the caliber of Count Sforza.

The CLN parties which have hitherto represented large masses of the population are the Christian Democrats, the Socialists and the Communists. Of these the Christian Democrats tend to be passive because, while their rank and file is probably Socialistic, their leaders -- with the notable exception of Don Sturzo -- are predominantly conservative. The Socialists and Communists have similar aims and represent a certain homogeneous body of opinion, but in Italy as in so many other countries their rivalry makes coöperation difficult.

Some of the worst enemies of Communism will agree that the Italian Communists played a magnificent part in the resistance offered to the Germans and neo-Fascists; the record of the Fiat workers in Turin -- mainly Communists -- is, for example, a particularly fine one, at least since the strike in March 1943. The Communists suffered heavy casualties in the Resistance and emerged with high prestige. The success of Russian armies added to their popularity. They were, as usual, the best organized party; and naturally they advocated a Socialist-Communist fusion, which was likely to work out to their own advantage.

There was no little logic in the policy. Italian large-scale industry is young and half its existence has been spent under the shadow of Fascism. Yet the factory hands of Milan and Turin and the dockers of Genoa are politically conscious to a relatively high degree. They have long suffered from a low standard of living and from the effects of the overpopulation of Italy. (Overpopulation in Italy is a painful actuality, not a matter of specious propaganda as it was in Germany.) They believe, not without considerable justification, that most of their employers subsidized Fascism in order to enjoy monopolistic privileges, and they therefore desire not only a redistribution of the huge fortunes but also a reorganization of industry which gives them some degree of control. But they desire no less to be free to say and read what they like. To these north Italians, this spells the expulsion, not only of the Fascists, but also of the monarchy which countenanced Mussolini, and which, both before and after the Fascist period, is felt to have shown extreme distrust of its people and a lack of understanding of their needs. In other words, the Italian working people favor a democratic republic. Most Italian workmen are probably Marxist only in so far as their leaders may insist upon using Marxist terminology: Mazzini still competes with Marx for their allegiance. The older generation habitually regards itself as Socialist, though this may mean nothing more than a gentle reformism in the Bissolati tradition. The younger people are likely to call themselves Communist, precisely because they are young and have known only conditions conducive to extremism. All of the above groups get on well enough together in the Confederazione Generale Italiano Lavoro (CGIL), which corresponds to the British TUC.

The Socialist leader, Pietro Nenni, favored the fusion which the Communists suggested: it seemed to him deplorable that this great body of common political opinion should be divided in so critical a period. As far back as 1934, a pact of unity had been made between the two working-class parties in exile. Yet, in the interval between the Italian armistice and the final liberation, the party leaders were estranged by the question of monarchy versus republic. One of the strongest impulses in the CLN (quite independently of social class) was that of revolt against the monarchy. The Risorgimento of Mazzini and Garibaldi had been hostile to the church as the enemy of national unity and friendly to the House of Savoy, which was the instrument for unity. This second and more national uprising of the Italian people -- more national because more general -- reversed the old allegiance. It was more hostile to the monarchy than to the church, for it looked upon the monarchy as the ally of Fascism, against which the Vatican had reacted slowly but with a rising determination. The growth of this spirit also helps explain why the Christian Democrat Party was integrated with the CLN.

In September 1943, the King and his son fled and the question seemed to have settled itself. Great irritation was felt, therefore, especially by the Socialist and Action Parties, when the Communists, presumably obeying orders from Moscow, accepted the monarchist Badoglio Government without protest. Then at the time of the Sforza crisis, December 1944, the Communist Party broke a pledge to Socialists and Actionists overnight and entered the second Bonomi Cabinet; irritation developed into a bitter resentment, which has never been completely effaced. The members of Bonomi's first Government had sworn allegiance to the nation alone. Henceforward ministers swore allegiance to the Prince of Piedmont, who had been nominated by his father as provisional Regent with the title of Luogotenente del Regno. All republican ministers felt humiliated by the action of the Allies in thus forcing them to violate their convictions, and republicans tended to describe the Communist share in the compromise in phrases suggestive of the Russo-German Treaty of 1939.

Liberation came at last, and the political solidarity of the north made itself felt. A government was formed from all six CLN parties under an Action Party republican, Professor Ferruccio Parri, as Premier. All six had shared the Partisan mystique and were determined that their sacrifices were not to be vain. The second Risorgimento seemed to have been achieved and the majority of the nation looked forward to the early election of a Constituent Assembly which should establish the republic and provide the legislative machinery for social reform.

Unfortunately, the CLN leaders displayed political immaturity. To the consternation of some of his Socialist colleagues, Pietro Nenni, at a National Council of the Party in July 1945, rushed through a motion in favor of fusion with the Communist Party. The Socialist Party has never ceased to regret the move. The Communists in Italy, as elsewhere, are rigidly disciplined, but the Italian Socialists allow their leading personalities to jostle one another in anarchistic fashion. They do so partly because they have a wealth of leaders and partly because they believe in the value of discussion and controversy, but it results in so many definitions of policy that the party program is never clear, even on points of cardinal importance.

Nenni himself appears to be without tact or tactics; it would be foolish to question his honesty, but he seems unreliable in the sense that he often seems to make statements and propose motions without pausing to reflect. Under Parri, he undertook to be high commissioner for the purge of Fascists and minister responsible for preparing the election of the Constituent Assembly -- all this in addition to his party activities. The tasks were too great for a man whose political experience consisted of little more than journalism in exile, and the slow execution of them brought him much unpopularity -- more, indeed, than he deserved. A new anti-Red scare came at this time and the CLN was said to be nothing but the tool of the Communist Party, which was charged with distorting the alliance into a Communist National Front. The high-handed action of Russia in eastern Europe added fuel to the flames and the Jugoslav menace to Trieste and Istria shook the Italian Communists themselves.

Toward the end of October 1945 the Socialist Central Committee met in Rome. Urged on by its right-wing leaders, notably the Italian Ambassador in Paris, Giuseppe Saragat, and his friend the writer Ignazio Silone, it took measures to rectify the situation. Fusionism was renounced, and though the Committee said that it intended to reinforce the pact with the Communists calling for unity of action, it also declared that the Socialist Party sought agreement with the other mass parties. At the same time the Party said that it intended to strengthen its own unity and independence. Various public statements were made by Socialist leaders (including Nenni) to the effect that the Socialist Party was a champion of individual liberty and had long ceased to be anticlerical. These advances to the Christian Democrat Party prefaced a curious reorganization of the Cabinet. The campaign organized from the Right by those who feared the spirit of the CLN drove Parri from office at the end of November, and after long-drawn-out negotiations, Parri's Christian Democrat Foreign Minister, Alcide de Gasperi, succeeded him. Nenni was made sole Vice Premier. A right-wing Socialist, Giuseppe Romita, took the key position of Minister of the Interior. The CLN six-party alliance was somehow preserved on paper; but before taking office de Gasperi had expressed sympathy with those who attacked the CLN regional committees and had accepted the advice of the provisional Regent, Prince Humbert.

The Socialist Party was demoralized by the compromise with de Gasperi. During this period, toward the close of 1945, the Socialists were, moreover, faced with big Communist successes in various trade-union elections: for example, in the tram and busman's union in Rome, 2,256 voted Communist, 1,251 Socialist, 858 Christian Democrat and 500 voted for candidates of other parties. It was evident that a superior party organization gave the Communists a great advantage in elections.

Both local elections and elections for the Constituent Assembly were imminent. The resignation at Christmas of the party Secretary, Sandro Pertini, made it plain that the Socialists were faced with a crisis. Pertini's place among the most influential leaders of the Italian Socialist Party is unchallenged. It has never been said of him, as of most of his colleagues, that he is motivated by personal ambition; and his splendid Resistance record had endeared him especially to the Socialist Youth Groups. Led by men like Matteotti's son, Matteo, these groups were in a state of revolt; they disliked the new government and they regretted the Saragat-Silone attitude as destructive of their party's revolutionary working-class character; at the same time, they wished the Party to emphasize its independence of Communism.

The sympathetic outsider who attempts to analyse the situation in which the Italian Socialist Party found itself cannot but conclude that the attitude of Pertini and young Matteotti, and the October declarations of the Socialist Central Committee, created an almost hopeless dilemma for the rank and file of the Socialists. The situation jeopardizes the political future of Italy. It seems clear that the Italian Socialists should either act as Marxists, and in that case fuse with the Communists in order to work for the dictatorship of the proletariat, or they should abandon the notion that they are "proletarians" striving for "dictatorship." They might then at last make room for the politically neglected middle classes and become a non-Marxist party like British Labor, which aims at social justice without the sacrifice of individual liberty and the constitutional procedure which protects it. To insist, as the Italian Socialists are trying to do, upon revolutionary Marxism and also on love of constitutional liberty is a contradiction in terms, and it divides rather than reconciles opposing wings of the Party. On the one hand it is dismissed as a mere imitation-Communist opportunism, while on the other it risks losing the working people en bloc to the Communist Party, whose objectives are easier to comprehend.

The Italian Socialist Party has never been so foolish as to think only in terms of the industrial working class in a country where the peasantry is at least twice as numerous. There is a Socialist tradition which cannot be ignored among the peasants of Emilia, Romagna and southern Lombardy. There are, of course, many other influences in the countryside. That of the Catholic clergy is strong, especially in the Veneto. And in southern Italy and Sicily the influence of the big landowners, on whose estates the laborers work under shocking conditions, is considerable. But the unsolved problem, par excellence, is that of the political orientation of the middle class.

The middle class in Italy is very numerous, probably almost as large as the industrial working class. It includes large "blackcoated" worker and professional groups -- office clerks and shopkeepers, doctors and lawyers -- and it contains a veritable army of major and minor state officials, including university and school teachers. This Italian middle class need not be dismissed as potbellied and docilely Fascist, that is to say, as "German," for it descends directly from Mazzini and the other idealists of the nineteenth-century Risorgimento, and it has provided nearly all the Socialist and even Communist leaders, from Turati to Togliatti. It has given birth to an academic tradition which survived 23 years of Fascist oppression with credit. The Giustizia e Libertà group, from the Rosselli brothers to the founders of the Action Party, is middle-class in origin: this class supplied many true martyrs of the Resistance, like young Gasparotto or Beltrami. The middle class Action Party worked enthusiastically with Socialists and Communists during the Resistance, and it published its own clandestine papers for workmen and peasants; in so doing it expressed the aspirations of Carlo Rosselli and the enlightened middle class of which Parri is typical.

The Christian Democrat Party is predominantly peasant, but its middle-class element is not inconsiderable. The CLN spirit, which ruled the times, drew the Christian Democrat Party to the Left, toward the Action Party, which was abandoning its traditional anticlericalism. The growth of republicanism among Christian Democrats, especially in the north, helped strengthen the affinity. Both parties also advocated government decentralization.

Two small parties were coöperating with these larger groups. The first was the old Republican Party, a small intransigent group gathered from all classes of society, and led by the eloquent Randolfo Pacciardi, who believes that the Allies excluded him from a share in the liberation because of his hatred of the monarchy. Although, unlike other twentieth century politicians, Republicans have kept their politics innocent of economic content, they are Socialists and internationalists in Mazzinian fashion. Though they dislike Marxism, they feel real sympathy for the practical aims of the Socialist Party and are intimately associated with the Action Party. Another small party is Democratic Labor. This group is essentially middle-class, corresponding to the French Radicals before 1940; its main support comes from southern Italy and it is closely associated with the former Socialist, Ivanoe Bonomi. One of its leading members is the staunch democrat, Meuccio Ruini, a founder of the CLN in Rome in 1943 and Minister of Reconstruction under Parri; significantly, he followed Parri out of office when de Gasperi came in.

All these middle-class elements might have been united with the working class by a non-Marxist Italian Socialist Party in 1945; the long series of disasters which has reduced most of the middle class to proletarian poverty might have been used to emphasize a community of interest. Instead, almost the opposite result seems to have been brought about. The catastrophic disappointment which followed liberation, plus the inflationary rise in prices, created fear which degenerated into panic and swept the rank and file of the middle class off its feet. A reaction against the idealism of the Resistance period was inevitable, and it was nourished by the indifference of the Allies (who had also been idealized) toward social questions and by their inability to understand the case against the monarchy. But the reaction was far more violent than it need have been. Marxist members of the CLN, especially in the north, contributed to it by talking as if they intended to use these committees as soviets. The Action Party also was responsible for costly follies, such as allowing its more exuberant members to indulge in childish Jacobinism.

A number of persons, groups and even institutions were waiting eagerly to reap the harvest of disillusionment. A fantastic number of "Liberty Fronts" sprang up, each making use of the name of some known anti-Fascist or military man, each exhorting the Italians to forget all disputes and rally around its particular leader. A Socialist, Zeniboni, made confusion worse confounded by forming a separate "Social-Democratic Union" without, however, resigning from the Socialist Party. Following the insidious example of the Nazis and Fascists, these Fronts (or whatever else they chose to call themselves) began to buy supporters by organizing social relief for the starving population. The most skilful and therefore most dangerous of these affairs is the Fronte del'Uomo Qualunque, organized by a former Fascist, Guglielmo Giannini, who brought out a popular weekly paper, L'Uomo Qualunque (The Ordinary Man), and is now also publishing a daily, Il Buonsenso (Common Sense). His slogan is, "The Fascists deprived the Italians of their liberty but no one has yet restored it to them." With this he entices all sorts of well-meaning people into his ranks. Giannini's papers pour out torrents of abuse against all kinds of people and against "politics" and "parties" -- as if a Front of this kind were not itself a bastard political party. His most extreme tirades are directed toward everything related to the CLNs, which are equated with Communism. These papers say nothing against Fascists of any kind nor against the monarchy; they frequently speak favorably of the marines and the repatriated prisoners-of-war who habitually raid Socialist and Communist centers in much the same way their fathers did when Mussolini was coming to power. The prisoners-of-war, indeed, present a most difficult problem. They returned to find their country in ruins, and it is not surprising that their Fascist education asserts itself. There is no lack of secret neo-Fascist organizations -- usually with a monarchist orientation -- angling for them, and the general feeling that the Allies have trifled with CLN governments makes it difficult for the Socialists to compete with their propaganda. The unpopularity of the Socialist head of the British Foreign Office does not help the Italian Socialists in this regard.

The problems of the parties on the Left cannot be adequately stated without a brief examination of that anomaly, the Italian Liberal Party. This party is ultra-conservative; it would like to turn the clock back at least twenty-five years. Many of its members -- men like Luigi Einaudi, Governor of the Bank of Italy, and Benedetto Croce, whose philosophy had developed a liberalism of its own -- were consistent opponents of Fascism, but they believe in liberty in terms of Adam Smith or Jeremy Bentham. Thus from the first the position of this sixth party in the CLN was an uneasy one. Many Liberals, especially in the north, became republican, most of them fearing the redistribution of wealth which was generally felt necessary. Some were motivated by a genuine devotion to the idea of liberty: they did not understand that no starving man is free. But the most powerful members of the Party were northern industrialists, or owners of the big landed estates in the south where reform was long overdue -- people who had bought Fascist protection when it was useful to them between 1922 and 1943. In the name of liberty, the Liberals constantly accused the CLNs (on which they did not cease to be represented) of high-handed action, and their right wing drove Parri out of office. Yet they tended to champion only the liberty of Fascists and those who sympathized with them, and the effect of their action was to impede the punishment of Fascist criminals and to delay the election of the Constituent Assembly which alone could provide a legal basis for the government of liberated Italy. They maintained that legal government could be found only in the discredited monarchy, advancing the questionable theory that the Constitution of Charles Albert had never been abrogated. It would be inaccurate to label all monarchist Liberals as Fascist, but they persistently advocated a return to pre-Fascist conditions -- for instance, backing the octogenarian Orlando, or Francesco Nitti, as Prime Minister instead of Parri. They likewise pressed for the restoration of prefects appointed by the Crown in the place of those provisionally chosen by the CLNs. It is true, however, that there were dissidents among them; some republican Liberals who disliked the manœuvres which forced Parri out of office seemed prepared to join forces with the Action Party or the Socialists.

But now it is almost certainly too late for the Socialists to create the big anti-Fascist bloc which once seemed possible. The Communist Congress held in Rome at the turn of the year skilfully stole what should have been the Socialist thunder. This Congress made a greater impression upon both its friends and its enemies than either had expected. In the first place, Palmiro Togliatti, whose discourses were masterly, was able to announce that his party at the end of 1945 had around two million registered members, a tremendous figure for Italy. Secondly, he and Luigi Longo now offered federation to the Socialists on a basis of equal representation, although the Socialist Party was obviously the weaker. Thirdly, Longo made an able appeal to all true democrats to continue CLN coöperation, and to work closely with non-party organizations such as the CGIL or the UDI (Union of Italian Women). In other words he suggested a democratic republican bloc of exactly the kind which the Socialists might have created on a non-Marxist basis. Longo, naturally, wishes to harness this bloc to the Communist Party. In reply to the "minions-of-Moscow" reproach which is often made by Saragat and his friends, Longo replies that the Communists are as independent of Molotov as the Socialists are of Bevin.

The upshot is that the divisions in the Socialist Party seem more likely to deepen than to heal. The opponents of the proposed anti-Fascist union will label it "Communist" more ardently than ever. Indeed, if such a union is formed, and if it endures at least until the Constituent Assembly has been elected, thanks will be due the Communist Congress. Leadership in the union is bound to be mainly supplied by the Communists.

Out of this whole situation three general conclusions emerge. The first is that the Fascist mentality has by no means disappeared in Italy and that neo-Fascism is plainly in evidence. The second is that the Communist Party has shown marked political ability and has taken the leadership of the anti-Fascist forces. The third is that Britain and the United States analyzed the Italian situation crudely when they failed to perceive that republicanism represents the dynamic "middle-class" force in Italy.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • ELIZABETH WISKEMANN, author of "Czechs and Germans," "Prologue to War" and articles on current Central European affairs
  • More By Elizabeth Wiskemann