WILL Italy remain a parliamentary democracy, based essentially on a coalition of parties, or will she become a one-party "Demo-Christian" régime of the Salazar type? This has become the main political question in Italy in the last few months.

So far the answer is clear. The great Christian Democratic Party is continuing to coöperate with the minor parties which are its present associates in the Government: this was shown at the national congress of the Party in Venice last spring and at the meeting of the National Council held in Fiuggi in July. It must be added, however, that this liberal and democratic orientation is the work of Premier De Gasperi and of his friends in the Government more than it is a reflection of the spontaneous wishes of the Party itself. The Christian Democratic Party emerged from its 1948 electoral victory very proud of its strength, and many of its members felt that it should have responded to the popular mandate by assuming the whole responsibility of governing. But Premier De Gasperi and his general staff considered that a one-party government would force the Christian Democrats to bear all the inevitable disadvantages of a difficult situation, and in addition would reopen the old sore, never completely healed, of clerical rule.

These considerations must have been in Premier De Gasperi's mind when he spoke at Fiuggi. The policy of the Christian Democratic Party, he declared, is founded not only in doctrine but in "historical experience." He then drew a distinction between the Demo-Christian creed, of a Catholic type, and therefore potentially all-embracing, and the practice that each political party must follow. From this "historical experience" he defined his Party's rôle as that of a center party which should be the pivot of a parliamentary coalition and a link between the broad masses and the state.

Members of the Christian Democratic Party also are displeased with the coöperation received from the Social Democrats, the Republicans and the Liberals. These all confess quite openly that they take a share in the responsibilities of government only to prevent the major party from getting the entire life of the country into its hands. The Christian Democrats term this a merely negative attitude and point out that though they gained an absolute majority in at least one of the two Houses of Parliament in the election, they relinquished the right to control various important branches of the country's economy as well as the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, National Defense and Justice. They complain that while they are held responsible for the conduct of the Government, they lack power over its activities in important fields (the Foreign Ministry is an exception, the "national" policy of Count Carlo Sforza being universally accepted). Moreover, there is a certain amount of resentment against the anti-confessional spirit manifested by the other parties in the Government, especially the Liberals. The Liberal Party -- a small party which is in fact conservative -- dwells much upon the perils of clericalism and opposes land reform as proposed by the Christian Democratic Minister of Agriculture, Segni. It conceals its opposition to the latter measure by raising the flag of the old Liberal Italian state born in 1870 at the Porta Pia. So there is a malaise among the coalition parties. The Democratic Christian Party feels that its generosity is unappreciated, and the others, which led the Italian state in former days, are filled with suspicion for the new masters.

The balance of this complicated mechanism is held by the Prime Minister himself. To his own men he counsels moderation and praises parliamentary methods, while to the other members of the coalition he presents himself not as a supporter of clericalism but as a statesman above parties. It is not an exaggeration to say that, in this sense, the moral unity of the Italian people and the political stability of the country are largely his own work; he is doing for the Italians at the present juncture something on the order of what Lincoln did for Americans. Though he is a target for the attacks of the extremists, he is the stabilizing element of a continuously moving center.


Such is the relationship of the various government parties. What deep political forces does each represent?

Catholics as such were virtually excluded from the political life of the country until 1918. Italian unity was achieved against the will of the Pope, and for a long time the Catholics were unwilling to share in any political activity. They would take a hand only in local government. The fact that no political party was identified with Catholicism, except in the town councils, had one particularly important consequence: no Catholic party was allied to the great interests of the Right, as happened in France or Germany. When a Catholic party was formed, it drew its following mainly from the masses and the lower middle class, but in opposition to the dominant political trend represented by the liberal régime of the House of Savoy. Thus the foundations were laid for Christian Democracy, a popular movement founded by Don Sturzo to put a stop to Socialism after the First World War. Christian Democracy had a parliamentary character and hence was a liberal movement, but it was hostile to bourgeois anti-Catholic liberalism. The result was that it developed into a broadly-based democratic party. This was the source of its strength.

After the fall of Fascism, the Christian Democrats gathered round their banner diverse anti-Communist forces, including some of the big landowners, and Christian Democracy thus became a coalition. There is a right wing, led by Senator Jacini, which was monarchist (and in part still is) and expresses the interests of some great landowners and industrialists. Then there is the center headed by De Gasperi, Vice-Premier Piccioni and Minister of the Interior Scelba, the man who succeeded in keeping in check the largest Communist Party in Europe. These control a large body of deputies, lacking in outstanding personalities but well-trained in democratic methods. In addition there are two left-wing groups, one headed by the Speaker of the House, Gronchi, the other by Deputy Dossetti. Thirty years ago Gronchi was one of the founders of Christian Democracy; today he is De Gasperi's adversary. He wants to see the Government closely linked to the Socialists, and he is filled with the fear of appearing clerical and thus stirring up the anti-Papist feeling which was so strong in Italy after the Risorgiménto. Whereas Gronchi believes that the Christian Democrats should be a left-center party in close alliance with the Socialists and with the other left-wing parties, Dossetti advocates a Christian Democracy of the Left, capable of solving its social problems by itself. In other words, Gronchi is the Christian Democratic partner of the Socialists, Dossetti, their Catholic competitor. But at the Venice Congress the Gronchi movement was utterly defeated. Among the factors contributing to this defeat was Gronchi's personal attitude to the Government's foreign policy, especially his hostility to the Atlantic Pact, which he probably adopted as a means of currying favor with the Left. Another factor was the disappearance of the old Socialist Party, swallowed up by the Communists. In the absence of a great Socialist Party there is no one to whom Signor Gronchi can stretch out his hand. Thus his aims appear abstract and do not command much support.


But if the Christian Democratic movement is modelled on the democratic mass parties, its background is nevertheless the Catholic Action. Christian Democracy was intended by Don Sturzo to be a vast grouping of all those who upheld certain Christian ideals; but Catholic Action is a formidable organization in defense of Catholic interests. Its President, Professor Gedda, is in a sense the true antagonist of De Gasperi, and if the situation in Italy should become critical he would come out into the open at the head of his "civic committees." In the last year Catholic Action has increasingly influenced the Christian Democrat Party, which in consequence has taken more and more the aspect of a Catholic Party and less and less that of the more broadly conceived Christian Democracy. In a sense it can be said that the general staff of the Party, headed by De Gasperi, has become aware of the necessity of strengthening its leadership by associating with it such men as the Foreign Minister, Count Sforza, an independent Republican, and the former Minister of Foreign Trade, Signor Merzagora, an independent. On the other hand, the Party machine and Catholic Action demand (as they said quite openly at Venice and Fiuggi) an all-Christian government, with everyone else excluded.

The key to the whole situation is, therefore, the Premier. The fact that a single man should be the key in itself reveals how unstable the balance is. For this reason the theories of those coalition members -- left-wing-center or right-liberals -- who would like to go into opposition in order to take a stand against the Catholics, are, to say the least, dangerous. The fact that Christian Democracy was such a strong movement attracted into its ranks many who, although they were repelled by the fanaticism of the Communists, might nonetheless have gone along with them out of fear of retaliation. The intransigeance of Communism, moreover, stimulated a corresponding intransigeance in Christian Democracy, and gave the Party a vigor which it did not possess 30 years ago. But this in its turn has stimulated in the Liberal Party the old anti-Catholic trend which is the inheritance of the Italian national state and of the rationalist bourgeoisie educated in the French school of thought. Such forces should be a bulwark against Catholic interference. But the Liberal attitude, as expressed in the recent Liberal Party Congress, overlooks the fact that a deep change has taken place in Italy in the last few years. There has been a change in the composition of the ruling class in Italy no less sweeping than that which has taken place in the countries of Eastern Europe. The middle class has lost its political vitality and has taken shelter behind the Christian Democrats or has stooped to the cheap kind of politics which characterizes the Qualunquisti (Common Man Front) -- or has even withdrawn from politics altogether. The new ruling class is drawn from the provincial lower middle class, minor officials, and the Catholic Action. It expresses a mass mentality in a non-Marxist sense, but perhaps for that reason is a more real expression of popular feeling. In this new world in which the social problem is predominant, and in which the question of the relations with the Communists (whom a Liberal labelled recently "our dearest enemies") becomes all important, anticlericalism is an ideal to which public opinion does not respond. And were Italian opinion to turn against Catholic dominance, it would not express itself through the small group of Liberals.

During the last few months, the discussion between the Christian Democrats and the Liberals has been heated, and recently nearly caused a ministerial crisis. Today the Liberal Party is inclined to a rapprochement with the Republicans and Social-Democrats, for the Liberal Congress put the direction of the Party in the hands of middle-of-the-road men like Casati and Villabruna instead of the rightists who were previously in control. But this ability to move to the Left, in a Party which always stood to the right of the Christian Democrats, shows only one thing: they have such small forces behind them that they can afford any political somersault.

As to the Republicans, their problem is simpler. This is a small party of popular origin, like the Christian Democrats, and without the weight of tradition of the Italian unified state. Under the monarchy, the Republican Party was always in opposition, and after the birth of the republic it lost its reason for existence. It is not a force on a national scale, though there are some regions (Romagna, Emilia, Marches, Lazio, Liguria) in which it is strong. After Randolfo Pacciardi, Minister of National Defense, the most prominent member of the Party today is a young Sicilian Deputy of great ability, Ugo La Malfa. Pacciardi's is still the biggest Republican name, but the advent of La Malfa to a position of leadership is a sign that the old party which during the Risorgiménto fought against Pope and monarchy is giving way to a new group, smaller and younger, composed of liberals, left-wing but anti-Communist. Only the future will tell whether there is a place in Italy for a democratic party to the left of the Christian Democrats.


More important, but also more difficult, is the position of the Socialists. The attempt of Ivan M. Lombardo to detach all or a part of Nenni's Social Democratic Party from the Communists and to link it up with Saragat's Social Democratic Party has failed. If Lombardo had succeeded he would have had an important rôle as the promoter of a new Socialist unity; as it is, he has himself entered Saragat's Party. The same attempt recently was repeated by another Socialist, Romita, who was Minister of the Interior at the time of the declaration of the republic. Romita has pulled away from Nenni's party, but has not joined Saragat's group. The dream of many Socialists would be the rebirth of the united Socialist Party of yore -- a Party not only severed from the Communists but also free from certain of Saragat's attitudes which are considered to represent Socialism in an excessively watered-down form.

This may be a noble idea, but it is abstract under present conditions. Only a small proportion of the workers are with Saragat, and this is particularly the case in the great factories of the north. But in our times what matters are clear-cut positions and firm lines of resistance; and so far only Saragat has shown to have them both. He started from scratch, and today he has his own trade unions with some hundred thousand workers. In a recent Congress in Milan, Saragat won the majority and formed a directorate composed of men trusted by him. He also was authorized to vote in Parliament in favor of the Atlantic Pact.

The dilemma of the Socialists is that they cannot agree to give up their Marxist ideals though they know that the achievement of them will in practice result in a Communistic dictatorship. The inability to make up their minds what they want is the source of their impotence.

As these lines are written, there is talk in Italy of a great congress of Social Democrats, Liberals, Republicans and Independents some time this autumn. The idea is important because it would provide Italy with a potential democratic alternative to Christian Democracy. Since the Communist Party is beyond the pale of parliamentary tradition, Italy has every interest in developing a "loyal Opposition." But the experiment should not be made simply as a negative, anticlerical movement.


Such is the picture of the elements composing Italian democracy today. But outside the Italian democracy of a western type stand two movements -- the Communists and the Fascists (M.S.I.). The Communist Party is no longer what it was. Over 300,000 membership cards -- perhaps more -- were returned this year in northern Italy alone. During the "peace campaign" of the Communists against the Atlantic Pact many scheduled Party meetings had to be abandoned for lack of attendance. The chain of political strikes has tired out the workers, and the tendency now is to avoid even those strikes which are justified. At the great Fiat factory near Turin, the board of directors has suspended the "Workers' Committees" from any activity. This would have produced a strike two years ago; today there is only a mild protest in the Communist press.

The Communist intellectuals have been purged at the slightest suspicion of nonconformity. In the top command the contrasts are acute. Togliatti, still the outstanding figure, remains isolated in spite of his diplomacy. He has become more a patron of the Party than its effective leader; only regarding certain big international problems is his authority undisputed. The machine is in the hands of Pietro Secchia, a great organizer, even if devoid of intelligence; while the military apparatus is a preserve of the fanatical Luigi Longo. The head of the trade unions, di Vittorio, a talented peasant, no longer wields the power of three years ago. The cleavage between reasonable and fanatical politicians, between nationally-minded and Cominform-minded Party members, is a reality in Italy too.

But even if the Communists have lost the vigor which made them the most active political force of the country, it would be a grave mistake to underestimate their strength. The fact remains that no effective opposition to the Government would be possible today that did not include them. They are the only organized and powerful force in existence in Italy today apart from the Christian Democrats, and they exploit every weakness of the Government and every discontent of the governed. They have not only inherited all the provincial and nationalistic attitudes of the Fascists, but even their slogans and much of their propaganda technique. For instance, in the course of the great popular Roman fiesta, "The Feast of Us Others," which takes place every year in July, the Communist Party favored Chinotto Neri, "the Italian beverage," as opposed to the foreign and "imperialistic" Coca-Cola. Apart from all that, the Communist Party is still firmly established with the working and labor world. True, out of 18,000,000 workers, only 1,000,000 are enrolled in the C.G.I.L. (Communist-Socialist Trade Union). That million, however, is composed of highly trained and specialized workers, well-organized and highly class-conscious. Besides, the excess of population will always provide the extreme parties with a large mass with which to manœuvre for demagogic ends.

There has been too much talk abroad of a resurrection of Fascism in Italy. In reality there is small cause for wonder if after 25 years of Fascist rule, followed by so many mistakes on the part both of the Allies and of the new ruling class, and above all, in view of such great and general destitution, a bit of Fascism should remain. The Fascism which was reborn under the name of Italian Social Movement (M.S.I.) is above all a result of pauperism and of psychologic disorientation. Italy has a number of morally "displaced persons" who look back with regret to the days when they had jobs and who believe that those jobs were due to Mussolini; in fact, of course, only an artificial and temporary "swelling" of Italy was responsible. There are also some students, especially in high schools or the Faculty of Law and Letters, who form the inexperienced rank and file of Fascism. And there are some old Fascist businessmen and politicians who have had one sort of experience or another in various branches of public service. The neo-Fascists also have a certain following among workers who formerly were militant members of the Fascist syndicates and are going back to their old love after a short flirtation with Communism. What attracts many small-bourgeois is the revolutionary attitude of neo-Fascism, which is expressed in declarations that Communism must be hunted down with fire and sword instead of being fought with the parliamentary, democratic weapons used by the Christian Democrats. After the failure of the Party of the Common Man, which aimed at being a right-wing opposition to the present régime, it is difficult to say what the future of M.S.I. will be. Undoubtedly the psychologic tendency to neo-Fascism is widespread enough, but up to now its concrete manifestations have been neither serious nor important. As a right-wing movement, the Monarchist Party is more important and is not to be ruled out: under certain conditions and for a certain limited period, it might absorb elements of other Parties. These turbulent tendencies among those who should stand for order emphasize the stabilizing influence of Christian Democracy and its comparatively moderate and liberal character.

The political problem of Italy has by this point become clear to the reader. From the reconstruction of the Italian state, Italian society has emerged with a new face. Having warded off the Communist danger, having controlled and harnessed the neo-Fascist tendencies, democracy in Italy is now at the crossroads. Its crucial decisions will be made next year. What is at stake is the character of the Italian state. While the Communists are getting tired, while the Fascists are trying to revive a past which history has condemned, and while the Socialists are still searching after their true political aims, the Christian Democrats are at work, ceaselessly and efficiently; and in coalition with the moderate parties of the center and left they provide Italy with a democratic régime. Political wisdom requires that Republicans, Liberals, right-wing Socialists and all who want to preserve the democracy which De Gasperi has created and maintains shall not take any action which will lead to a government crisis. That might result in the expulsion of all the minor coalition forces from the Government and might irretrievably cripple Italian democracy.

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