THE April 18 elections in Italy were a referendum for and against Communism, the Marshall Plan and collaboration with the western world. A large majority of the Italian people chose the democratic western course. They were voting for a way of life, not primarily for a political party, but, since the de Gasperi Government embodied the only force which could make this choice effective, they tended to vote for the Christian Democratic Party which is the basis of that Government.[i] Many who do not much favor the Christian Democrats cast their votes for the Catholic Party because they wished to see one non-Communist party predominant in parliament.

Prime Minister de Gasperi, who presented himself as a national leader, was the principal author of the victory. He is a man of long political experience, formerly a Catholic member of the Austrian Parliament, born in the borderline city of Trento under the Austrian Empire. When the electoral results were made public a great mass of people gathered before the headquarters of the Christian Democratic Party to cheer him, and after he had addressed the crowd he turned to some of his intimate friends and said: "I am still the Social Christian of my youth." The words Social Christian express his creed and, in a sense, his program. De Gasperi, his party and his Government adhere strictly to the Christian doctrine both in the moral and the social fields. He has often pointed out that the Communists have made reform difficult or impossible for his Administration because of their insistence upon making every economic problem a social problem and every social problem a political problem. Now the responsibility for Italian policy for the next five years rests on his shoulders.

From 1870 to 1922 Italy was the liberal state created by the Risorgimento. It suffered a crisis under the Fascist régime but did not completely disappear, for much of the old framework was retained by the dictatorship and men like Sforza, de Gasperi and Bonomi kept the ideals alive. The new régime is more democratic than any Italy has known. It has brought the masses into the center of the political arena, and has made the Catholic Party -- once on the margin of the national life -- the driving force of the new democracy. For the first time in the history of a united Italy, the Catholics have a leading rôle in the affairs of the state. This is their great test.

The formula upon which political procedure was based in Italy for the last 50 years (save in the Fascist interlude) was an expression of the multiplicity of political parties and splinter groups. It now seems likely to be greatly modified. The April 18 elections have wiped out, or considerably reduced, some of the small right-wing and left-center parties. Though at the time of writing no one knows whether the democratic Socialists and Republicans will participate in the new Government, the outcome seems likely to be a coalition formed by Catholics, Right Wing Socialists, Liberals and Republicans, and, in opposition, there will be a coalition made up of Communists, the Nenni Socialists and minor groups allied to the Communists. This is a development in the direction of the British two-party system. But, of course, there is one great difference between the system which appears to be taking shape in Italy and that which exists in Britain. Should the Government fail, the alternative would not be a government formed out of a loyal opposition, but the rule of a party pledged to revolution, which would totally transform the political, moral and social structure of the country.

The extreme importance of maintaining the coalition explains why the Christian Democratic National Council, which is soon to meet in Rome to plan the future program of the party, explicitly spoke of the need of agrarian reform, and insisted that the Government must be oriented toward the left center as well as toward the Catholic center. "The Christian Democratic Party is a party of the center which keeps to the Left," declared de Gasperi in Il Messaggero the day before the elections; and he added that his aim was the creation of an "Italian Labor Movement." Such reforms are in the tradition of the Christian Democratic Party, and will be influenced by the fact that the Christian Democrats are now a mass party, as well as by the participation of the left-center in the Government.

Togliatti and the Communists lost the election because they advocated a reversal of Italian foreign policy, and because they threatened the disintegration of Italian society. The Communists aimed at the annihilation of the independent left-wing forces. They hoped to divide Italy into two extreme factions, forcing de Gasperi to take a reactionary position. This is in keeping with the Marxist dialectics for the creation of a revolutionary situation, i.e. Communists versus Conservatives. Viewed from this angle, it is apparent that Togliatti did not suffer a complete defeat; by manœuvring preferential votes, he practically crushed the Nenni Socialists and the smaller parties. But thanks to Saragat and Lombardo, who refused to become prisoners of the Communist Popular Front, democratic Socialism was kept alive.

The historic battle of the Government will not be won until the 8,000,000 Popular Front votes have been reduced to the few million which are cast by people who really are aware that they are voting for Communism, and not for the popular image of Garibaldi. This sets the shape of the Italian political problem, and indicates the importance of the left-center Socialists and Republicans, even though they sit in parliament in small numbers. Only a broadly-conceived social policy which makes possible a truly progressive Italian life will cut down the Communist vote, undermine the influence of Communism which is very strong in the General Confederation of Labor, and permit trade unionism to play its old part in the protection of the economic interests of the workers.

The two great economic problems are agrarian reform and industrial reconstruction. Before discussing these, however, I should mention the extremely delicate political problem of adjusting the measures of regional reorganization (as distinct from administrative decentralization) passed by the Constituent Assembly. The Constituent Assembly was in revolt against the political centralization of Fascism, and forgot the old evils of excessive decentralization. After the Liberation, Sicily asked and obtained regional autonomy, as did Val d'Aosta. This is a tendency that holds great dangers; Italy is too rich in regional and even municipal traditions. Though the verdict of the voters was clear-cut on April 18 and the Government will have a stable majority in parliament, the Regional Assemblies must now confirm the results of the elections. If they fail to do so -- and it is not easy to mobilize 90 percent of the electors again -- some regions may be administered contrary to the directions of the central government.

II

The problem of Italian agriculture is twofold: first, to increase production, and second to distribute agricultural income more equitably. No democratic solution is possible for one aspect of the problem which does not embrace the other. In pursuit of a policy of national expansion, Fascism disregarded the question of equitable distribution of income and concentrated, with some success, on enlarging agricultural production. It utilized the simple and traditional device of maintaining artificially high prices for farm products, thus increasing the cost of living for the whole population and conferring great benefit on landowners.

The wartime destruction reduced agricultural income by more than 50 percent. The supply of livestock was cut drastically and land was for several years deprived of fertilizers. Democratic Italy inherited these problems. Mine fields had to be cleaned up, areas flooded by the destruction of irrigation had to be redeemed, communications and houses rebuilt, ports restored, and so on. Considering the amount of devastation, the results obtained were noteworthy. Agricultural production in 1947 was 78 percent of that of 1938, which may be considered a normal year. This 1947 output was achieved despite unfavorable weather; "normal" weather conditions would probably have made possible an agricultural production of 90 percent of the prewar total.

Moreover, in spite of the confused political situation, the Government adopted courageous measures of social reform. By enforcing earlier decrees of October 1944 and September 1946, it distributed to peasants 190,000 hectares of untilled or partially cultivated land belonging to private citizens or to public enterprises. It made loans amounting to about a billion lire to small landowners and farmers. An arbitration award issued by de Gasperi granted peasants a 10 percent increase on the stipulated share of production; and a recent decree of February 1948 provided special arrangements to facilitate the establishment of small farms. No one would claim that such measures are more than a small beginning, but they show that the Government is aware of the problem; and the masses of Italian folk backed the Government at the election. With Marshall Plan aid, agricultural production should soon return to the prewar level.

Meanwhile, the National Institute of Agrarian Economy, in coöperation with the governmental department which administers landed property and the Central Institute of Statistics, has made a very interesting survey which for the first time reveals the actual distribution of landed property in Italy, and throws fresh light on the entire problem of Italian society. It was found that in Italy there are about 10,000,000 farming "enterprises." In Italy landed property is mainly acquired through inheritance and therefore the "enterprise" is generally owned by more than one person; it includes brothers, or uncles and nephews, or husband and wife, or mother and sons, and so on; 22,930,909 people out of a population of about 45,000,000 inhabitants (comprising 11,000,000 families) have a share in the ownership of agricultural property. Land ownership is far more widely diffused than is commonly supposed.

The complexity of the agricultural structure is further indicated by the fact that 82.9 percent of the total landed property is in parcels of less than two hectares (a hectare is about 2.5 acres); 10 percent of the holdings are between two and five hectares; 3.5 percent are between five and ten hectares; 3 percent are between 10 and 50 hectares; and .6 percent are larger than 50 hectares. Contrary to the general supposition, the largest estates are well cultivated, and therefore yield a proportionately greater income than the small ones. The survey indicates that 55.2 percent of agricultural income belongs to small landowners, but that the average income from these holdings is less than $500 a year; 29.9 percent of landed property yields an income between $500 and $1,500 a year; and only 14.9 percent yields an annual income of more than $5,000.

Though there is a real problem of the equitable division of land, the statistics show that redistribution is, at most, applicable only to a small part of the total. And they make plain that Communization would prejudice the interests of about 23,000,000 people who share the ownership of the land. The real solution of the agricultural problem lies in achieving a better use of the soil. Farmers must be provided with capital, equipment and fertilizer. They must be better educated, and taught better farming methods. And along with this there must be a program of redemption of useless land. To say that the difficulty is simply that Italy is dominated by big landowners avoids the realities of the situation. The question of agrarian reform is the problem of increasing production. In this sense the future of Italian agrarian economy is bound up with the success of the Marshall Plan.

III

In 1947 Italian industrial production reached a level of about 78 percent of average prewar production, after three years of extremely low output averaging about 40 percent of the prewar level. The recovery was made possible by financial aid from the United States which enabled Italy to purchase the raw materials indispensable for the operation of her industry. Italy has practically no essential raw materials. She depends upon imports of coal, iron, oil, wool, cotton, copper, minerals for light alloys, and so on. The effort of the Fascist régime to establish a self-sufficient economy on such a base paved the way for the crisis which was brought to a climax by the war. Of all the countries participating in the Marshall Plan, none depends so much on the rest of the world as Italy.

At present, the Italian balance of payments shows a considerable deficit, since a much greater share of currency resources must be used for the purchase of foodstuffs than was the case before the war. Here again we see the imperative necessity of an increase in agricultural production, which will put a stop to the drain on currency. This should be possible; and, given this, what are the prospects for reaching a balance between export of manufactured products and raw material imports -- in short, stability in the balance of payments?

We have noted that Italian industry is a typical processing industry, based on manufacturing skill. Production ranges from textiles to shipbuilding, from fabrication of steel to manufacture of airplanes, motor cars, industrial engines, various metal and rubber products, and so on. Some of these industries, as, for instance, textiles and shipbuilding, are sufficiently up-to-date to meet world competition. The systems of production in some others are obsolete and the production costs are high.

Capital goods (as well as currency stability) are needed to modernize and reëquip industry, but they can for the most part be supplied in Italy, if the necessary raw material is obtained. Such a program is one of the objects of the Marshall Plan in Italy and is indispensable to offset unemployment. It is sometimes said, in certain quarters, that Italy is a country moving through the "first stage of capitalism" -- in plainer language, that her economy is characterized by the conflict of an "exploiting class" and a class of exploited workers. The fact is that in Italy a high percentage of industry is owned by the state. The big banks, including the commercial banks, virtually belong to the state, as does a substantial share of shipyards, shipping companies, airlines, the heavy metal industry, mines, and many more. Private citizens find themselves in direct competition with state production in almost every branch of industry, and competition between state and private industry seems to be a factor for progress.

For about a year, the Italian Government has pursued a policy of a steady stabilization and normalization of currency, based mainly on the limitation of credit -- the Einaudi policy, directed by the former Minister of the Budget (the new President of the Republic). It has resulted in some internal deflation. There has been a falling-off in business transactions, a slowing-down of production, and a shift from a sellers' market to a buyers' market in nearly every field. Many enterprises are in difficulties, and industrialists are exerting pressure on the Government to reverse the present deflationist policy. They argue that a moderate inflation, harmful though it is in some respects, would make available lire with which to purchase the Marshall Plan commodities.

But is it possible to contain an inflation within moderate limits? There is no doubt that the Government wants to encourage a general resumption of the productive cycle which will assure a complete utilization of American aid; but there appears to be a difference of opinion between the state financial administrators and industrialists as to the proper method of achieving that objective. The Government wants a resumption of the productive cycle within the limits of monetary stabilization; industry argues that production is more important than stabilization. It is difficult to foresee which counsel will prevail, but at any rate the firm attitude of the Government is likely to prevent serious inflation. The Marshall Plan makes possible, within certain limits, self-financing through banks; once the productive machinery is put in motion through the first ERP aid, the Italian economy should pick up momentum.

Outlets for manufactured products are necessary for the Italian economy, and thus the incentive of the Marshall Plan offers a problem of foreign trade. The policy of international collaboration, sponsored by Count Sforza since the ratification of the Peace Treaty, which has strongly backed the Marshall Plan and also arranged for the numerous commercial agreements with the countries of Eastern Europe, is an important part of the Italian response to the problem of European industrial recovery.

Two special tasks face the new Government in addition to the broad problems of agriculture and industry -- the old question of southern Italy, and of improving the condition of the depressed Venetian area. Much that has been said about Italian agriculture applies, of course, with particular force to southern Italy; but underlying that is the fact that this region has developed a separatist mentality, originating as a protest against the growth in importance of northern Italy. The south must be brought back into the mainstream of Italian life. The Venetian region has depended in the past upon trade with the Danubian basin and the Balkans, which is now languishing. This district also has a considerable production of fruit and vegetables which will find an outlet only through the revival of international trade. Merchant shipping and tourist traffic are very important to this area also. Success in the great effort to create an economically healthy Europe is the ultimate requirement for Italy's special problems no less than for her welfare as a nation. This is the supreme task of Italian democracy.

The elections have opened a new page in Italian history. Communism has been stopped for the present at least and a deep change has taken place in Italian political life. So far as the omens can be read, the outlook for the future is favorable. Signor de Gasperi has proved himself an able leader. In five years we shall see whether the Christian Democrats have measured up to their opportunity.

[i] The final results in the election for the Chamber were: Christian Democrats 12,751,841 or 48.7 percent; Popular Front 8,025,990 or 30.7 percent; Right Wing Socialists 1,860,528 or 7.1 percent; National Bloc 1,100,156 or 3.8 percent; Monarchists 729,987 or 2.8 percent; Republicans 650,413 or 2.5 percent; Italian Social Movement 525,408 or 2.1 percent; other parties 618,644 or 2.3 percent. The Chamber will be composed as follows: Christian Democrats 307, Popular Front 182, Right Wing Socialists 33, National Bloc 18, Monarchists 14, Republicans 9, other parties 11.

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  • VITTORIO IVELLA, formerly Chef de Cabinet of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rome, now Foreign Editor of La Voce Repubblicana
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