WHEN Fascism fell in Italy, the old Italian Socialist Party, survivor of many vicissitudes since its founding in 1892, reappeared upon the political scene bound by a "joint action" agreement with the Communists. The pact had been drawn up first in France in 1934, at a critical point in the struggle of the anti-Fascist underground and on the eve of the creation of the French Popular Front. The aim was to assure the future unity of the working class to which both Socialists and Communists appealed on the basis of Marxist principles. After the war, the agreement continued to function smoothly enough so long as all the anti-Fascist parties hung together in the Italian governments stemming from the Committee of National Liberation and so long as the Western Powers continued to be on good terms with Soviet Russia. In October 1946 it was officially reaffirmed.

But gradually the structure of Italian political life became more complex. Each of the parties assumed a function of its own, and at the same time the rift between Russia and the West widened. Now there was less harmony within the Socialist Party regarding coöperation with the Communists. One group held that an organic bond with them was essential in the interest of the working class; another, represented by two periodicals, Critica sociale and Iniziativa socialista, took a stand for independence of action and accused Pietro Nenni, the leader of the first group, of having subordinated the interests of the party to the strategic designs of the Soviet Union. At the party convention in January 1947 the second group, led by Giuseppe Saragat, cut itself away. Saragat resigned from the presidency of the Constitutional Assembly and organized the Right-Wing Socialists, now the Italian Social Democratic Party; Nenni left the vice-presidency of the Cabinet and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, though retaining leadership of the group which continued under the Socialist name.

At first Premier Alcide De Gasperi did not alter the make-up of the government, in which all the anti-Fascist parties from Liberals to Communists were represented. But in May 1947 he set up a cabinet which excluded both the Nenni Socialists and the Communists. These together proceeded to form an opposition. By the following December, De Gasperi's cabinet was composed of Christian Democrats, Liberals, Republicans and Social Democrats--a governing coalition which has continued to this day. In the elections of April 1948, Nenni's Socialists presented a "Popular Front" list in partnership with the Communists; his group won 48 seats, the Social Democrats 33. The Christian Democrats secured an absolute majority and continued to enjoy it for the next five years.

The disagreements of the two Socialist parties meanwhile were accentuated by conditions abroad. The Social Democrats accused the Nenni Socialists of subservience to international Communism, while they, in turn, were attacked for their support of the all-powerful and clerically-oriented Christian Democrats and the interests of the capitalist West.

As early as 1953 I saw signs that Nenni was modifying his view of the whole political setup. The first such sign was his party's abandonment of the Popular Front platform of the 1948 elections and the adoption of the slogan, "Socialist alternative." The phrase implied an intention to participate in the give-and-take of the democratic process in a manner to some extent independent of the Communist Party. The agreement for "joint action" remained, but the action was no longer to be led by the two parties together or by the Communists alone; the Socialists had assumed a measure of initiative. This independent stand was so well received that in the 1953 elections the Nenni Socialists increased the number of their seats in the Chamber of Deputies from 48 to 75, while the governing coalition lost ground; the Social Democrats, most unfortunately, dropped from 33 seats to 19.

In these 1953 elections the Italian public clearly showed that it was looking for a party in opposition to the Christian Democrats--a party not allied to the Communists (as the Socialists were in 1948) but truly independent enough to provide, in Nenni's apt slogan, a "Socialist alternative." Meanwhile, as Nenni's party gingerly inched away from the Communists, thereby winning an immediate reward, the non-clerical, left-wing parties (the Republicans and Social Democrats) gave signs of moving toward the Socialists, or at least of drawing away from the Christian Democrats--and for somewhat the same reasons. Some Republican and Social Democratic leaders felt that to continue to collaborate with the Christian Democrats in a position of marked inferiority would gradually drive their membership into the arms of Nenni.

The second sign of Nenni's independence came at the Socialist Party convention at Turin in April 1955, where he launched two more trial balloons. He spoke of an "opening to the Left" and of the possibility of "conversation with the Catholics." Quite aside from his gift for phraseology, there were grounds for belief that the Socialist Party was moving still further away from the Communists and nearer to the democrats. In view of the strong anti-Communist position of the Christian Democrats, Nenni could not expect them to come to terms with him, nor could he believe that his own party was any more ready than they to find a middle ground. Nevertheless, the Socialist Party was taking a fundamentally political step, even if the phrase "opening to the Left" was meant to be applied primarily to social questions. Although the "joint action" agreement was not abrogated, the position taken at the Socialist convention on several issues was strikingly new. The Atlantic Pact and the Western European Union were accepted as alliances which could not be broken. In the domestic economy, it was acknowledged that there was a basis for collaboration in the Vanoni plan, a ten-year economic program to which all the democratic parties are dedicated. There was assurance of respect for religion, modified only by a plea against "extremism and discrimination."

The initial response of the Christian Democrats and other democratic parties to the Socialist advances was very guarded. Later the Socialists' "open-door" policy was strengthened by the support which they gave on various occasions to the Segni government, successor to that of Scelba. This support and the coalition's tacit acceptance of it have established a fluid state of affairs which may, if good fortune attends, lead to a widening of the country's democratic foundations.

The "Socialist alternative" of 1953 and the "conversation with the Catholics" of 1955 were only forerunners of the turn taken by the Italian Socialist Party after the Twentieth Party Congress in Moscow in February 1956 and the publication of the famous Khrushchev report. What was the effect of these events on the differentiation of the Italian Socialist and Communist parties and the effort to bring all Italian Socialists together?

In the March issue of his party organ, Mondo operaio, Nenni said that the accusations against Stalin were concerned "not only with the man but also with the events in which he played so large a rôle." He wondered "in what new forms Soviet democracy will express itself in the future, not only within the Party but in the structure of the State." Regarding his own party, Nenni concluded that "the parliamentary government of which there has been so much talk implies recognition not only of a numerical law, based on majority and minority and the legitimate attempt to attain a majority, but also of democratic legality, as sanctioned by the Constitution, on the part of both the majority in power and the opposition."

In the June issue of the same publication, which came out after the Khrushchev report, the discussion was still more lively and the democratic attitude of the Italian Socialist Party became still more clear. We read that "Collective leadership is certainly preferable to that of one man, but though this is an improvement over one-man rule, whether tyrannical or enlightened, it is not a guarantee of democracy." The whole problem of Soviet society and of the peoples' democracies which have copied Soviet institutions is "the necessity of democratization, the circulation of ideas, in a word, political liberty. Every last vestige of wartime Communism must be eliminated from the laws and customs of the State. New means must be found to establish the citizen's right to enjoy political liberty without there hanging over his head the accusation of being an enemy of the people, a deviationist or a saboteur. In this way the Soviet crisis concerns not only the 'errors' of Stalin but the whole Soviet system, as it was shaped by factors which are now in the process of rapid transformation."

The Social Democratic Party did not remain indifferent to Nenni's words. As early as June 1955 the left wing of the party had shown itself well disposed toward a new alignment. Now the entire party, under the influence of its young secretary, Matteo Matteotti, began to ponder the question of socialist unification. Right in the middle of the furor aroused by the debunking of Stalin, the party leadership issued an appeal to all socialists to join forces, independently of Communism.

Just at the time of these events, local elections were held all over Italy and their results gave a further impetus to unification. The Socialist Party made gains, although not as large as Nenni had predicted, while the Social Democrats recovered several hundred thousand votes which they had lost in 1953. For the first time the Communists suffered a loss. One result was particularly symptomatic: the Social Democrats polled 400,000 more votes in the provincial elections, where the Socialists and Communists presented a joint ticket, than they did in the municipal elections, where the Nenni Socialists presented a list of their own. It was plain that many people voted for the Socialists only on condition that they were fully independent.

Since these 1956 local elections were held on the basis of proportional representation (in contrast to the former majority system and the joint list presented by the four parties of the democratic coalition), only in rare cases could local governments be made up solely of parties represented in the national government. In the big cities, particularly, it was necessary to include either the Socialists or the right-wing groupings, Neo-Fascists and Monarchists. Since the Socialists offered to coöperate, the Republican and Social Democratic members of the coalition could hardly turn them down, in spite of the fact that the attitude of the Christian Democrats had stiffened. It was comparatively easy to accept the Socialists, however, on the condition that no Communists should be brought into the deal.

In view of the fact that the elections had given "unmistakable signs of Socialist unity," the leaders of the Social Democratic Party voted on June 1 in favor of including Nenni Socialists in executive bodies at the municipal and provincial level. A few days later Matteotti and Nenni held a public and official meeting, and the possibility of unification took on a concrete character despite all the obstacles in its way. In the American New Leader Saragat set forth his view of the problems of unification and of the clarifications which must be obtained from Nenni before further progress could be made. If the Socialist Party undertakes the rapprochement from a democratic standpoint, he wrote, then the cause of democracy will be well served. But if the terms are hazy and based on a watered-down Communist ideology, then this cause will suffer a setback from which it may never recover.

On August 25, there was another step forward when Nenni invited Saragat to a personal meeting at Pralognan in the Aosta valley. After the meeting Saragat stated that positive gains had been made. "In the course of our conversation we examined the fundamental points of both foreign and domestic policies based on socialist and democratic premises. On all the problems which we considered we found convergent points of view." Nenni issued statements of a similar tenor, although certain reservations were made in the days that followed.

Meanwhile international interest was aroused. After Mario Zagari of the Social Democratic left wing had been to Paris and London, and the French senator, Pierre Commin, had paid a visit to Italy, the president of the Socialist International asked Commin to undertake an "exploratory mission" to Rome. He was to study ways and means of unifying the two Italian socialist parties and to report his findings at a meeting of the executive board to be held in London on September 20. Commin's visit to Rome was the occasion for important personal meetings. In a subsequent interview published in the French Populaire he declared that "most of the active members of both parties are convinced of the necessity of unification and believe that it is the object of widespread public demand as the means of achieving a new national policy." It was his impression that "Nenni was resolutely and sincerely in favor of such unification." Commin transmitted these same positive conclusions to the London executive board meeting. A three-man committee was appointed to pursue the matter.

The Pralognan meeting and Senator Commin's visit were followed by deliberations in both party organizations. The Social Democrats showed that they were definitely open to the idea of unification. The resolutions passed by the Socialists reflected internal differences between Nenni's point of view and that of certain leaders either more closely attached to their former point of view or more cautious about adopting a new one.

This generally promising state of affairs was marred by one disturbing factor: the incomprehensible error made by Nenni's party in renewing its "joint action" agreement with the Communists. The story of this renewal is somewhat obscure. Some say that it was forced upon Nenni by surprise at the last minute; others say that it was his own idea, but that by modifying the agreement he intended to reassure the Social Democrats rather than to alarm them. The agreement is indeed a tenuous one and explicitly states that "the new situation implies for both parties forms of collaboration different from those established by the 1946 agreement." However, the reaction to the text when it was published on October 5 was most unfavorable. For a few days it seemed that the process of unification had come to a halt, but it was revived by a series of clarifications and rectifications and by Nenni's tenacious activity within his own party. The doubts and difficulties to be overcome nevertheless seem more formidable now than they did during the hopeful period immediately after the Pralognan meeting and Senator Commin's visit.


If we now look at the problem of socialist unification in the setting of the general political picture in Italy we are able to draw some important conclusions.

It is plain that Italian democracy suffers from having too narrow a choice. There is a strong government party, the Christian Democrats, and a powerful opposition made up of Nenni's Socialists and the Italian Communist Party. The Republicans, Social Democrats and Liberals, which belong to the governmental majority, have little strength in parliament and are generally considered to be Christian Democratic satellites. Moreover, we must not forget that in the Italian Risorgimento there was a struggle between democratic and nationalist groups on the one side and the Papacy and ecclesiastical organizations on the other. On this issue strong popular feelings still persist. As a result, collaboration between the secular parties and the Christian Democratic government is not looked on with favor. A substantial segment of public opinion wishes that there were some secular force strong enough to counterweigh the Christian Democrats and give the national political life a better balance. Nenni's electoral successes in recent years are due to the hopes he held out in this direction. And socialist unification, followed by an accord among all the left-wing secular parties (Republicans, Radicals and Socialists), is looked forward to just because it would bring about a real balance of power in the place of the present single-party predominance.

Another factor in the political equation is the Communist crisis resulting from the extraordinary turn of events in Soviet Russia and in Eastern Europe. Although there are no signs of any real weakening of the Italian Communist Party, it is certain that the debunking of Stalin has hit the Communist leader, Palmiro Togliatti, very hard and cramped his Party's political initiative. The intellectuals who contributed so much to the Party's prestige during the anti-Fascist struggle and immediately after liberation are in a state of confusion and mistrust. They are no longer certain that the Communist form of government is superior to democracy, and like their more alert Party colleagues in the working class, they are speculating about the future of liberty. Events in Jugoslavia, Poland and Hungary have given them food for profound thought.

To imagine that such misgivings will throw them into the arms of the Christian Democrats would be an obvious error; their education and development have been along completely secular lines. On the other hand, the secular democratic parties, weakened by years of collaboration with the Christian Democrats, do not hold a strong attraction for them. The creation of a unified Socialist Party might very well drive the Communists out of business and rally young people in general and intellectuals in particular to the democratic way. This would be especially true if the party represented all the left-wing secular forces, offering the prospect of a modern democratic movement such as the New Deal in the United States or the Labor Party Government in England.

We must not forget that, in spite of their hedging and backsliding, Nenni and his followers have shown considerable independence of the Communists and have outlined, however sketchily, a new political line. If Nenni's efforts in this direction fail and unification does not take place, then he must lose face and his party will fall back on a close alliance with the Communists. In this case the Socialists and not the Communists would be weakened, for by their abortive insubordination the Socialists will have thrust themselves into a definitely inferior position. It may be thought that a defeat of Nenni would be advantageous to Saragat. But anyone familiar with the Italian political situation knows that the advantage would be very small. Most of the votes now cast for Nenni's party would go either to the Communists or to some new socialist party totally subservient to them. The stakes of the game thus are very high.

Such are the factors in favor of socialist unification. Let us now examine those which are either opposed or imponderable. The international situation is one of the steepest hurdles in the way. All the parties in the government coalition favor Atlantic ties, European union and a decidedly Western orientation. The Socialist Party, while recently accepting the Atlantic Pact and admitting Italy's place in the European community, had consistently supported first a policy of neutralism and then of relaxed tension between the Eastern and Western blocs. In the matter of European union, the Socialists have shifted from complete opposition to a willingness to consider the possibility. They are ready to take part in the Assembly of the Coal and Steel Community and they have been disposed to ratify the Euratom treaty on condition that there be supranational control of atomic energy turned to peaceful use. But how far and through what arduous parleying can such different and often opposite points of view be reconciled?

In the domestic field the differences are of a simpler kind. After the crisis precipitated by the downgrading and disgrace of Stalin, the Socialist Party made an explicit profession of democratic ideas and a denial of Communistic ones. If the Socialists come to power they are unlikely to repudiate the position they have now taken. It could hardly be expected, however, that they would show the same attitude toward their former colleagues as that of the democratic parties. Is it possible to find a meeting-ground on this point?

During Senator Commin's visit and in the course of more recent discussions, the trade-union problem has proved particularly thorny. There are at present three large labor organizations: the C.G.I.L., composed of Communists and Socialists; the C.I.S.L., of predominantly Catholic character; and the U.I.L., composed of Social Democrats and Republicans. The Socialists have demanded that in case of political unification these three unions should be merged into one. But because in a single union the Communist apparatus would be in a position to exert majority control, the C.I.S.L. and U.I.L. have refused to coöperate. Surely Nenni's party might yield a point here and allow Socialist workers to join the union of their choice.

Economic and social problems are the least difficult of all. The Socialist Party has abandoned its maximum demands and is ready to support the Vanoni plan, which is the basis of the government's program for social and economic development.

Unification is no simple matter and the problems that hinge upon it have no easy solution. But even taking into account all the ponderable and imponderable risks involved, it is my opinion (and one which I have expressed in the Chamber of Deputies, the press and before the Republican Party, of which I am a member) that Socialist unification and the union of all the left-wing secular parties are deserving of help and support. Ever since 1953, as I have shown above, Nenni has followed a new road. It is not likely that he will abandon it. Nor do I believe that he has acted out of purely tactical considerations, in the service or for the benefit of the Communist Party. If Tito holds his own and if Gomulka retains power in Poland, it is unthinkable that Nenni, a Socialist, should show himself less enterprising than they. On the other hand, Nenni's defeat would mean the engulfment of the largest group of Italian socialists and a great Communist victory. This we must do all we can to prevent.

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  • UGO LA MALFA, member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies; Minister for Foreign Trade in 1946 and again 1951-53
  • More By Ugo La Malfa