WHEN Italy holds her major election this spring, the present parliament--the second in the history of the Italian Republic--will have lasted longer than anyone foresaw after the indecisive election of 1953. This is because of the responsible behavior of the democratic parties, and primarily, if I may say so, of the Christian Democrats, who had to carry the burden of an extremely difficult parliamentary setup which precluded the formation of any kind of broad, stable and effective majority. The election of this parliament, on June 7, 1953, produced a very small non-Communist preponderance, and when this was resolved into its component parts there was no way in which the democratic parties could alternate the assumption of responsibility; the whole burden lay upon the Christian Democrats, and they did not have a majority.

A long series of changes of cabinet leadership and would-be cabinet leadership ensued--the generous but ill-starred effort of De Gasperi, the withdrawal of Attilio Piccioni, the so-called holding operation of Pella, my own attempt to make up a single-party government, and finally the Scelba cabinet, based on an unstable coalition of the center parties. Scelba was followed by Segni, who functioned on the same basis as his predecessor. This state of affairs ended in May 1957, when the situation was resolved by Zoli, who self-sacrificingly undertook the difficult task of ruling the country with a minority cabinet.

The last five years, then, have been marked by much difficulty and tribulation, with seven governmental crises and eight attempts to form a cabinet, of which four were successful. But in spite of everything, these years have not been sterile. Italy has become a member of the United Nations, has reëntered Trieste and has signed various treaties of European collaboration. The Cassa del Mezzogiorno, the financial institution formed to further the economic and social development of the South, has been broadened in aim and reinforced with larger means; funds for the relief of depressed areas in the central and northern provinces have been nearly doubled; and the financing of the Land Reform program is almost completed. The INA-Casa plan, which aims at providing housing for the very poor, has been extended, and steps to eliminate unsanitary dwellings have been approved. Unemployment has decreased. Budget liabilities have been diminished from year to year. Economic progress has been continuous, as proved by the steady increase in the national income; this now surpasses what were supposed to be optimistic estimates of the Vanoni Plan.

Even more could have been accomplished, of course, if the parliamentary situation had been clearer. The principle of majority government was damaged by the frequent indulgence in freewheeling by the other democratic parties. Every time they withdrew they created a situation disadvantageous to the Christian Democrats and favorable to the Communists. In fact, the 1953 election was a cause of rejoicing for the Communist chieftain, Togliatti. It facilitated the manœuvres of Nenni's left-wing Socialist Party and brought it increasingly under Communist control. Today Togliatti naturally is hoping that the new elections will repeat the 1953 pattern and produce a similarly unstable parliamentary situation.

Exactly what does Togliatti have in mind? Our guide is the resolution signed recently in Moscow by the representatives of 64 Communist Parties calling in substance for the choice of parliaments which, helped by judicious political agitation, will open the way for the overthrow of democratic régimes. By means of other "June 7s," Communism aims to put in office all over Western Europe the weak sort of parliaments which can serve as "ramps for launching the missiles of Communist revolution." Moscow will certainly lend its support to its Italian puppets in the coming election. I believe, however, that this will produce the contrary effect to the one intended, as happened in the German election of last September.

If the Soviet Union wished to give an honest demonstration of its will to peace, it would leave the Communist fifth columns in Italy and other Western countries to fend for themselves. Italy is ready and willing to seek peaceful relations with any and every other nation, but only in an atmosphere of freedom and security; it cannot have such relations with a nation which places a fifth column inside its gates and thus shows that it is playing a double game. In all the Russian peace offers there is this obvious joker. It is out of the question to come to a serious understanding with Russia until she ceases to use parties operating under her direction to influence the domestic policies of the countries with which she professes to want to negotiate.

Many Western observers, especially in countries where there is no strong Communist Party, seem not to be aware of this fundamental ambiguity. Those of us who have constantly to deal with large Communist groups therefore must pass on what experience has taught us. Khrushchev did away with the cult of Stalin for his own political purposes, but for some reason he cannot seem to see what an obstacle it is to his policy to support Communist Parties in nations with which he wishes to reach a truce or even, perhaps, a permanent agreement. He has launched rockets and sputniks carrying helpless dogs into outer space, but until he makes up his mind to dissociate Russia from the Western Communist Parties none of his peace proposals can obtain belief or welcome. On the other hand, he must know that the Soviet Union cannot venture to start a war without condemning itself to destruction. The thought that other countries, too, would inevitably be destroyed is no consolation. Yet the Soviet Union continues to arm itself to the teeth. Whenever it discovers a new weapon it launches another shadowy peace proposal, but without demobilizing a single one of the Communist Parties which are paid to work in its behalf in nations belonging to the opposite camp.

Since armaments are enormously expensive, especially in the nuclear and intercontinental ballistics field, Russian economic and social advancement is blocked. This cause and this effect are both in direct contradiction with two loudly proclaimed Russian aims: social progress and international peace. Out of this contradiction grows the state of turmoil which now prevails in the Soviet Union for all to see. In their confusion the Soviet leaders alternate, within the space of only a few days, between offers of economic aid in the Middle East and menaces of aggression there; and in the West they alternately launch sputniks and peace letters. In all world history there has been no one to compete with Bulganin in sheer volume of correspondence addressed to the heads of other governments. But the more promises the Russians make to the Middle East, the more suspicions they arouse, as was shown by the Cairo conference and its aftermath. And the combination of sputniks and peace messages has not lessened the Western mistrust that assumed such proportions after the disillusionment over the summit meeting at Geneva.

There is one proof of good faith to which Khrushchev can still have recourse: he can shelve the two-way collaboration between the Russian régime and the Communist Parties abroad. Actually, unless he thinks they can be successful in bringing about a violent revolution, they are nothing but an expense and a source of embarrassment to him; and I can assure him that in Italy, at any rate, their violent aims will never succeed. In plain words, Khrushchev must choose between two courses: either he must act as a Communist seeking world revolution or as a patriotic Russian intent upon preserving world peace. The two are incompatible. When Bulganin sends Italian Premier Zoli proposals of coexistence, why does Khrushchev continue to second Togliatti's effort to win an electoral victory that would change Italy's present relationship to the Soviet Union into one of subservience and dependency?

Common-sense Italians see this. They realize that even in the midst of a debate over the feasibility of coexistence there can be no slackening of the struggle against Communism. If Communism is going through a crisis, there is hope that opposition may aggravate it; if there is no crisis, then the aim must be to provoke one that will lead to the possibility of genuine coexistence.

Some Italians will object that we have struggled for ten years, and Communism is still with us. They should stop to think that whereas in some parts of Europe the Communist Party has grown from a minority status to one of absolute power, here in Italy we have the opposite situation. Ten years ago, just before the April 1948 election, the Communists claimed that they would throw out De Gasperi and the other democratic leaders. Now they are on the defensive. They publicly admit a drop in Party membership; leaders in Milan, Naples and Sicily have fallen away; the Communist labor unions have been steadily losing ground to the democratic ones. No, the democratic parties--and chief among them the Christian Democrats--have not waged their ten-year anti-Communist struggle in vain. And I can add that they have managed to conduct it in an atmosphere of liberty.

Nevertheless the Communists are still sufficiently strong for us to need to continue the effort to weaken their grip on the various groups that serve, believe in or submit to their ideology. We must not only confute their errors of ideology but stress the wrongness of their violent acts, as in Poland and Hungary. We must strengthen the defense of liberty, not allowing ourselves to be intimidated by the clamor which this liberty allows the Communists to raise against us, and despite the fact that if ever they should come to power they would instantly suppress it.

Recent Russian successes in the field of missiles should not make us forget that Khrushchev himself confessed political bankruptcy in his report to the Twentieth Party Congress in Moscow in 1956. The true significance of this report and of the motion which the Congress subsequently adopted was not so much that they condemned the personality and achievements of Stalin, but that they admitted the failure of the Communist system and its fundamental doctrines. For they tacitly admitted that the fall of Tsarist autocracy was succeeded by another tyranny equally brutal. Khrushchev's report did not stop with criticism of Stalin and a call for the abandonment of the cult of personality, but quite unintentionally went on to demolish a whole system and the principles on which it is founded. This is why it can be said to mark the opening of a Communist crisis, a crisis on a world scale, because it is not limited to ways and means but concerns essential doctrine. The Communist leaders, big and little, of course deny all this. What else can they do? But despite their smoke screen, the entire world has understood the fact of crisis, and I do not mean only non-Communists and Socialists but the Communists themselves also.

If the purpose of Khrushchev's report and the Twentieth Congress's interpretation of it was to reinvigorate the Communist Parties abroad the effect must have surprised him, for it took the form of an earthquake in almost all of them. In other words, Khrushchev's revelations overshot the mark. If the second purpose was to increase the flexibility of the Communist system all over the world, by facilitating so-called independent action by the Party organization in various countries, here too the effect was unexpectedly far-reaching. Local Party organizations began to originate directives of their own which did not necessarily coincide with Moscow's. Hence the reëvaluation of Tito and the consolidation of his heresy, the encouragement of Poland's move to differentiate itself from Russia and the impetus given to independent thinking in Hungary, which led in the end to insurrection.

The third purpose of the Twentieth Congress was to rebuild a common front with workers' organizations abroad. The actual result has been that more and more workers have deserted the Communist front in favor of democracy. The fourth purpose was to recreate unity of action between Socialist and Communist parties and pave the way for the latter's rise to power. Again, failure. Social Democratic elements have reëmphasized their traditional independence. Some extreme left-wing Socialist parties have split, as in the Republic of San Marino, or, as in Italy in the past two years, have continued to bicker and dispute.

As time goes by and we get a longer look at events in Poland and Hungary the Twentieth Congress assumes increasing importance. Poznan, and later the debate before and following Gomulka's accession to power, showed that the evils denounced by Khrushchev existed not only inside Russia but in the satellite world also. Marxist predictions and Soviet propaganda concerning the liberty, progress and well-being to be brought by Communist rule proved simply not to be true. The Hungarian revolt gave even further confirmation of the failure. It showed that the weakness of a Communist society cannot be blamed simply on one or more individuals. The reasons for the revolt went far deeper than that; for the misery of Hungary the system as a whole was to blame.

Those who have not detected the conceptual character of the Communist crisis have fallen in with the attempts of Khrushchev and his foreign lieutenants like Togliatti to minimize the whole thing and reduce it to its mere consequences. From the start they did not appreciate the real vastness, character and import of the crisis; and after "order" (slavery) was restored in Hungary, and the Soviet empire did not collapse, they concluded that the crisis either was non-existent or was trivial and passing. Those who confuse the essential crisis with its superficial repercussions, particularly in the organizational and electoral fields--who evaluated it, that is, in terms of Communist Party membership losses and diminished voting power--fell into a similar error. They did not even admit the existence of a crisis until a few intellectuals broke away from the Party or some thousands of voters failed to cast a Communist ballot. And when this decline leveled off, they imagined that the crisis itself was finished.

These unseeing people have in fact followed the line of the Communist leaders. When uneasiness and dismay were at their height in the Party how did Togliatti deal with the doubting Thomases? By distributing a manifesto which claimed that a large part of the globe was under Soviet domination. Later, at the first faint sign that the Communist electoral losses were being checked, he issued another statement accompanied by a map with arrows pointing to the localities where Communism had ceased losing votes.

Are we to accept Togliatti's way of reading the Communist temperature? If the health of the Roman Empire was to have been judged by the extent of its conquests, why, in the second century after Christ, was it well on its way to an irreparable decline? Or why did Spain suffer the same fate, halfway through the sixteenth century? Or Napoleon, at the beginning of the last century? And all the European colonial Powers in the first half of our own century? The validity of a social and political system and the strength of its foundations are not to be measured in square miles of territory. Indeed, territorial expansion is more likely to bring out its underlying weaknesses, if such there be. In the light of history, Togliatti's map foretells future decline rather than future aggrandizement. Similarly, the mere number of favorable votes, no matter how enormous, means nothing at all if they have been obtained by coercion.

Though the Communist crisis has so far been in the field of theory and doctrine and thus has been chiefly felt among the intellectuals, it probably will spread to wider circles. How rapidly this happens depends on, first, the degree of friction within the Communist system itself, and second, the vigor of the democratic response. Moscow has already put on the brakes. Has the reaction from our side been consciously thought out in adequate terms? Has it not, rather, been confined to an ingenuously optimistic feeling that the whole Communist edifice would crumble of its own accord? Those of us who are so complacent have not meditated sufficiently upon the Gospel warning that even a house built on sand does not crumble until a torrent sweeps it away.

Perhaps the skill of the Communist leaders was a less influential factor in producing this reaction in the West than was the shortsightedness of Western intellectuals, the laziness of Western organizers and the mutual jealousies of Western nations. Let us face the fact that neither individually nor as a whole have the confessions of failure made by the Twentieth Congress, Khrushchev's errors, the unrest in Poland or the insurrection and repression in Hungary brought the Western cause the advantages they should. It was not that the Communist crisis was unimportant or superficial. It was that our side was totally unprepared to put it to good use. Today, if we really were aware of our deficiencies we should not simply be lamenting the opportunities we have lost but we should be proceeding to make what we can out of the tail-end of the situation.

I do not mean to advise impatience. Our aim is not to die in a bloody war against Communism. Our aim is to outlive Communism, to build a better society that will make Communism seem old-fashioned and sterile.

Meanwhile, even if Communism ceased to function, the non-Communist world would still have to worry about the empire to which Communism has given birth. The Communists are wrong in saying that the construction of this vast empire proves the validity or solidity of their political system. But they are right when they claim that the non-Communist world has got to take the world of their creation into account. The clamor about coexistence gives us--and is meant to give us--the illusion that the risk of a world war is less. But not even the Moscow theoreticians who have dreamed up the coexistence idea go so far as to say that it means an end to Communist expansion. On the contrary, they view peaceful coexistence as a period of truce, the period in which will be prepared a still greater triumph of Marxist and Leninist ideas.

If free men can accomplish such great things as they do for human progress, there indeed is ground for hope that internal Communist revolutions can be avoided in their Western societies. But how are they at the same time to stave off risks from the outside? The Soviet Union is a great territorial, economic and military Power, with a large population, immense natural resources, a very big army equipped with both traditional weapons and the new arms of the atomic age, and an adroit foreign service.

Against these the free nations must mobilize vision, generosity, firmness and keen intelligence in forming a united defense of peace and freedom. As early as September 25, 1956, Chancellor Adenauer warned: "Thanks to the political disunity of the West, Russia is continually strengthening its position as a world power." Facing the danger represented by a billion people living in a society of definitely atheistic inspiration, it is the duty of Christians to unite all available forces; and where unity is not possible, to integrate and coördinate economic and political action. Already the Western countries have many organizations in common: the Council of Europe, NATO, Euratom, the Common Market, the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Economic Community. These must be put and kept in good working order if we are to match the monolithic action of the Soviet bloc. The United Nations must also be made to function more effectively. All these undertakings face obstacles. The very respect which Western nations have for the human person, the individual nation and the democratic procedure limits the prerogatives which they are disposed to grant to organizations and permits only certain forms of coöperation. This means that we must intensify our efforts to prevent discord and disagreement. In the ten years between 1945 and 1955 unity of purpose has accomplished great things against the Communist danger. The recent instances of disharmony should recall to us all the more forcefully the accomplishments of harmony.

The leaders of specifically Christian parties who have been active in European political life have never aspired to create a Carolingian Europe or one under Vatican control. They most emphatically have wished to see Europe attain a necessary degree of unity, and in office or out they have continued to work toward that end. Thus in 1955, at a time when many proponents of European unity were profoundly discouraged, Christian leaders, meeting at Salzburg under the auspices of the Nouvelles Equipes Internationales, gave fresh impetus to the ideas formalized under the names of Euratom and Common Market.

By proposing a policy of coexistence, the Communist leaders are trying to make hesitant peoples believe that their civilization can triumph by strictly peaceful means. In this connection, we recall the contest of soft words and smiles at the Geneva conference in 1955. But this conference did not turn out to be entirely a psychological defeat for the West. The fact that in the end the Russians turned down Eisenhower's proposal of aerial inspection showed their fundamental bad faith and convinced many doubters of his disinterested zeal for peace. This episode, considered as a phase of the psychological or cold war, must not be forgotten.

Now, after marking time following the Twentieth Party Congress, the Communists have come up again with the proposal of coexistence. The whole idea demands reëxamination. Undoubtedly it has practical reasons behind it, above all, of course, the frightening advance made in the field of atomic weapons. The Communists have hastened to explain that another reason is the conviction that, in peaceful competition, their system would win. With the idea that they could conquer without fighting, they have chosen not to fight. We should have even greater confidence than they. The fact that in Poland, Hungary and even Eastern Germany the younger generation, educated by the Communists for Communism, have initiated criticism and revolt shows that control of the educational system is not enough to negate independent thinking. There, and in Berlin, too, the ideals of political liberty, real elections and free speech were sufficiently powerful for men to die in their behalf.

To accept coexistence does not mean that we must tolerate Communist preparations for subversion and localized war. We must accept it only in the belief that Communism eventually will give way to justice and liberty. We must enter into it with open eyes, ready to discuss disarmament and ready both to practise it ourselves and to insist that the Russians practise it too. We must condemn aggression and we must prevent it from occurring. We must combat subversion. Above all, we must achieve such social progress that there is no need and no excuse for internal revolution. It is in this spirit that the Christian Democrats combat Communism in Italy.

In the hope of prolonging the present weakness of the Italian Parliament, the Communists are attacking the democratic parties with every means at their command. Their prime target is the Christian Democratic Party, which they accuse of hoping for a repetition of April 18, 1948, so that it can assert absolute sway over its democratic collaborators. But what was in fact the meaning and result of this April 18 to which the Communists refer? The Italian people on that date gave the Christian Democrats an absolute majority in one house of Parliament, and with it a chance to bear witness to the genuinely democratic character of their ideals and their honest desire to collaborate with other democratic forces. Under De Gasperi's leadership they used their majority not as a blunderbuss, but only as a reserve weapon. Through collaboration with other parties they sought to obtain an even broader majority than was necessary to them. These parties collaborated when and as they chose, according to their various principles and opportunities. The very fact that the Christian Democrats had reserve strength enabled the other democratic groups to act freely.

We hope that in the coming election the Christian Democrats will emerge stronger than before, both in order to ensure freedom of movement to at least a part of their political allies and at the same time to forestall any risks that might arise from such freedom. Is this result possible? Possible but not easy. Changes in the electoral laws make it unlikely that we shall see a repetition of the election of June 7, 1953; for the 10,857,000 Christian Democratic votes cast on that date would today elect 250 instead of 262 deputies to Parliament. In order to secure 262 deputies this time we shall need 911,000 additional votes. And we must take these votes not from the center parties but from the extreme Right and Left. Carrying the comparison back to 1948, if we were to obtain the same number of votes as we did on April 18 of that year, we should have not 302 deputies, as then, but only 275--that is, 21 less than needed to constitute an absolute majority. In case we do obtain an absolute majority, we shall seek a broad basis of collaboration with all democratic groups; and, of course, if our majority is less than absolute, it is even more obvious that such collaboration will be our aim.

The analysis made in these pages will have made plain that the West cannot brace itself to meet the mobile diplomatic offensive initiated by Khrushchev with the single weapon of diplomacy. Every member nation of NATO must be internally strong in order to contribute effectively to the combined defense effort and the international peace effort. In this perspective the forthcoming Italian election is of far more than domestic importance; it is a matter of concern to free men everywhere. For it will provide a new reading of the temperature of Communism after a series of critical international events, including the recent Russian political manœuvres and the readjustments which have since been taking place in various parts of the world.

One thing is certain. A great transformation of the Communist system and of international relations is under way. It would be sad if the West were to fight tomorrow's political battle with the weapons of times gone by. On the other hand, the crisis which has now opened presents opportunities as well as dangers. It can be of positive benefit if, as has so often been the case in the history of free peoples, we grasp the nettle firmly and do what must be done to recover the initiative.

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  • AMINTORE FANFANI, former Prime Minister of Italy; Secretary of the Christian Democratic Party since 1954; former Minister of Labor, Minister of Agriculture and Minister of the Interior; author of historical and economic works
  • More By Amintore Fanfani