MODERN Italy was born a hundred years ago, on March 17, 1861, when unity under Victor Emmanuel II of the House of Savoy was proclaimed by the Italian parliament assembled in Turin. This marked the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire in 500 A.D. that the inhabitants of the Italian peninsula had been gathered together as a free and independent nation.

Prince Metternich, in his Memorandum to the Great Powers, written in 1814, said, "Italy is only a geographical expression." Yet, during centuries of disunity Italy was incomparably more than that. Her cultural identity had long been achieved by the towering geniuses she had produced: Dante, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Galileo, Raphael, St. Thomas Aquinas, Marco Polo, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena, Christopher Columbus and scores of other great philosophers, theologians, artists, scientists, musicians and explorers. Indeed, throughout the Christian centuries that followed the fall of Rome the cultural impact and influence of Italians on the life of the West were the very matrix of Western civilization, the strongest fount of its religion, its laws, its humanities and its arts.

The American and French Revolutions, and the stormy days of Napoleonic conquest and reform, inspired Italian patriots to believe that under united leadership Italy too could be free to guide her own destiny. In the early nineteenth century, the Risorgimento emerged as the answer to Metternich's contemptuous challenge, and the first evidence that nationhood was already burgeoning in the hearts of many Italians.

Decades of bitter struggles against foreign invaders and despotic and corrupt Italian rulers (often foreigners) were rewarded with victory when Italy's first great republican military and political leader met with the valiant Victor Emmanuel II at Naples and agreed to unite Italy under the House of Savoy. The resulting unification, in 1861, was only partial. The Papal states were incorporated into Italy only a decade later. Thus, from the Risorgimento to the consolidation of the modern Italian nation took roughly a half century.

The centenary of the birth of the unified Italian nation offers us an opportunity to review the progress--or lack of progress--it has made during its hundred years, and, with special reference to the past decade, to ask these questions: How strong is Italy today? How united are her people? And if today there are weaknesses or disunity, what are their causes? These questions are asked by Americans who have profound sympathy, affection and special gratitude to Italy. For while the world owes a common debt to Italian civilization, Americans have a special feeling for her: one of her sons, Christopher Columbus, discovered America. But before attempting to answer these questions, we must examine the economic and political bases of modern Italy.


Modern Italy's economic difficulties have stemmed from three basic factors: (1) the scarcity of good soil and abundant sweet water in all but her northern regions, preventing the growth of the strong agricultural economy which is the base of a sound industrial economy; (2) the lack or scarcity of basic raw materials, inhibiting industrial growth; (3) the shortage of capital for investment.

It is fashionable to list "overpopulation" as an inherent Italian problem. But Italy's land area is 23 percent greater than the United Kingdom's, her population almost three million less. And today her birthrate is 6 percent lower than that of the United States, and about the same as that of France, Norway and Switzerland. What Italy has always had and continues to have is a chronic unemployment problem, due to the combination of the above basic structural weaknesses.

In 1861, Italy was economically the least developed of the European countries. A land of large latifundia, properties were owned more often than not by absentee landlords. By general European standards, poverty was appalling and illiteracy high--about 75 percent.

By 1921, over-all illiteracy fell to 27 percent. But in southern Italy and its island possessions it stood at 48 percent. Industrialization grew, but very slowly even in the 1910s and '20s which witnessed an explosion of technological progress elsewhere in the West. The increase in semi-skilled workers, with some class consciousness, and the evolution of competent, farsighted managerial talent were equally slow. Also, the class conscious, the ambitious, the enterprising, emigrated in great numbers. Between 1900 and the outbreak of World War I, millions of Italians left their country to seek a better life in other countries--over 3,150,000 came to the United States.

The depression which followed World War I deepened the poverty among the agricultural workers to penury, boosted unemployment in the badly hit, weak and somewhat haphazard industrial complex in the North, and opened the road in 1920 to Fascism. There can be no question that Mussolini's "corporate state" made some welcome and much-needed reforms and, in its initial days, revived a sense of individual hope and public purpose in the new nation. But far from improving the economy as a whole, many of Mussolini's economic innovations compounded Italy's difficulties. Indeed, some of these problems that have plagued postwar Italy are directly traceable to remnants of Mussolini's economic structures.

To Italy's inherent and man-made problems in this field must be added the devastation of World War II. One-quarter of Italy's railroad tracks, over one-third of her bridges and one-half of her power plants were destroyed; two-thirds of the country's highways were rendered unusable. In 1945, her industrial output was less than half of what it had been in 1938. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that, beginning in 1945, Italy had to start rebuilding her economy on the ruins of 80 years of effort.

Between 1945 and 1948, massive American aid helped vastly to restore the basic means of production and transportation, and the rapid infusion of Marshall Plan aid gave a great forward impetus to the Italian economy. But the Italians themselves deserve full credit for stopping, in 1949, a runaway inflation, for a generally wise utilization of American funds, for exhibiting a prodigious willingness to work hard, and above all, for recognizing at long last the imperative necessity of tackling institutionally and on a long-range basis the economic problems of southern Italy.

Italy's postwar economic progress should not be exaggerated. There is still a great deal that needs to be done to correct basic structural defects and to narrow the gap in living standard between the industrialized North and the underdeveloped South. Nevertheless, the average Italian lives better today than at any previous time. A few data will show how fast Italy is advancing.

Since 1953, Italian income and Gross National Product have grown at the average annual rate of about 6 percent. The annual growth rate in the United States during the same period has been between 2 and 3 percent (depending on the economic expert consulted). In Europe only the growth rate of the German Federal Republic has exceeded Italy's.[i]

In 1959, the index of Italian industrial production was 157.9, and moved from 164.4 to 187.8 during the first five months of 1960 (1953 = 100, seasonally adjusted).

At the end of 1954, Italy's gold and convertible foreign currency holdings amounted to $594 million; this rose, by December 1958, to $1,780.8 million. And within one year, 1959, they reached $2,711.8 million--or an increase of almost a billion dollars. On March 31, 1960, these reserves stood at $2,761.1 million; today they are estimated at over $3 billion, which is exceeded only by the United States, West Germany, Canada and Britain.

There has also been a small but steady improvement in Italy's stubborn unemployment situation: the number of registered unemployed fell from 2,181,000 in 1953, to 1,873,000 in 1959. In May 1960, it was 1,655,000--the lowest figure since the establishment of the Republic.

Measured in terms of either money wage or real wage indices, wages have increased steadily. In both agriculture and industry, wages have risen faster than living costs in the last few years. In money terms, the income of employed labor rose from 4,649 billion lire in 1953 to 7,433 billion lire in 1959.

Boom-time Italy is attracting much investment capital. Noting that Italy's industrial output is about 77 percent higher than in 1953, investors throughout the world have been drawn to her enterprises and equities. Foreign investments in Italy passed the $2,220 million mark in March 1960, and have continued to grow at an annual rate of $240 million. Ten years ago such progress would have been hailed as a miracle.


Today, then, Italy's friends see a nation which, while still relatively poor as compared with other Western European countries, is more prosperous than ever before.

A respected member of the United Nations, an effective member of the Common Market, Italy is excluded from no international organization of prestige or importance. A valued NATO partner, armed to the point that her own resources plus NATO aid permit, she stands in no more danger of attack from any quarter than does any of her European neighbors.

The scope of this article will not allow comment on the extraordinary vigor of modern Italy in the field of culture. But not since the Risorgimento has there been more dynamism in Italian painting, music, literature, design, architecture--and all the plastic and graphic arts. Contemporary Italy's productivity in art and her cultural influence (a most sadly underrated factor in assessing the "prestige" of nations) certainly are today as great as, if not greater than, those of any other Western nation.

Thus, viewed as an economic or cultural unit, Italy presents a bright picture. But viewed as a political entity, the landscape is murky and fraught with startling paradoxes.

Italian citizens today enjoy freedom of movement and assembly, of speech, of religion, of equality before the law--all guaranteed by her democratic constitution. Nevertheless, they continue to support political parties whose avowed goal is to change--either by evolution or, if opportunity presents, by revolution--not only governmental policies, but the very structure of the State. The parliamentary conflict created by these parties precipitates successive cabinet crises and a chronic instability in the government. One of the most Catholic of nations, host to the Holy See, Italy harbors the only avowedly Fascist party in Europe and the largest Communist party in the world outside the Iron Curtain. And a small percentage of her people wish the restoration of the exiled Monarchy. What, Italy's friends ask, are the explanations of these extraordinary political paradoxes?

Any explanation of the complex Italian political phenomena, given in a few hundred words, will justifiably be open to a charge of superficiality. Nevertheless, a generalization might be made wide enough to hit the target if not the bull's-eye of truth.

This generalization is that Italy's current political confusions reflect the unhappy historical fact that the Italian people have no cherished tradition of a viable form of truly democratic government. In the 100 years of Italy's independence, Italians have not known any form of government which, over a period as short as one man's normal life-span, has been successful.

It is relevant to note here that in the ten centuries before Italian independence no such government existed for even half a century in any part of the peninsula. The pre-history of unified Italy was marked by endless internal struggles among emperors, popes, dukes, margraves, which invariably brought hardship to the people. Their causes were frequently trivial: a family quarrel among rulers, or their personal greed for land or their ambition for crowns or honors. The troops of Italian rulers, quartered on the people without consent, were often captained by aliens and largely made up of mercenaries. In their fratricidal strife, rulers often sought alliances and the intervention of foreign troops, thus time and time again opening the peninsula to foreign domination and exposing their people to looting, marauding, hunger and death. These facts, as Machiavelli pointed out more than five centuries ago, retarded the growth of patriotism, the spirit of unity and "sense of state" in both rulers and the people.[ii]

Centuries-old Italian ruling habits of divided loyalties and shifting allegiances, of sudden and stupefying betrayals in "affairs of state," plus the ubiquitous presence of the foreign invaders, had psychological consequences for both the rulers and people of the Italian peninsula. They unfortunately nurtured in them the spirit of factionalism, opportunism, expediency, of combinazione, sacroegoismo and sauve qui peut.

The very foundation of Victor Emmanuel II's monarchy (a coalition of republican and monarchic forces) was less a positive assent to the political unity of the people than a negative popular reaction to the unending repressions of foreign invaders. To the extent, however, that the establishment of the Monarchy did represent popular assent to unification, it was the first triumph over the ancient spirit of Guelph and Ghibelline and the first manifestation of "the sense of state" that the Italian people had known since Roman times. Said Cavour, a great statesman and great diplomat, in 1861, "We have made Italy. We must now make the Italian people." As Cavour so well understood, political unity--mutual confidence between government and governed--had to be consolidated if the new State were not to perish.

While the Monarchy itself endured for 85 years, parliamentary government lasted only 60 years--until the end of World War I--that very war into which their Prime Minister had plunged the Italian people without consulting them. By 1920, resurgent factionalism in parliament, postwar depression and Communist hooliganism proved too much for Prime Minister Gioletti's government which, lacking a majority in parliament, had begun to founder. And Gioletti, tempted by the old spirit of combinazione, sought to arrange a parliamentary majority with a small but noisy group of 35 Fascist deputies led by an ex-Socialist from Romagna named Benito Mussolini. Although Mussolini when he first appeared in that same year had only three deputies out of 536, four years later he had the Italian Government firmly in hand. The Monarchy--cherished symbol of independence--was formally preserved. But parliament was dissolved; and until 1943, the real government was vested in a political oligarchy--Mussolini's Fascists. World War II swept away Mussolini and Fascism; and by a national referendum in 1946, the discredited Monarchy which had tolerated if not supported Mussolini's "one-man war" was replaced by a constitutional republic.

In brief, in its century of national independence, Italy has been ruled under three basically different forms of government: parliamentary monarchy (1861-1924), authoritarian dictatorship (1924-1943), and constitutional democracy (1946-1961). If we are to understand at all the confusions in the Italian body politic today about forms, institutions and instrumentalities of government, we must sympathetically ponder this fact: any Italian over 30 years old today has lived under three types of government. (Perhaps, one should say four, the fourth being that most unpopular form--a military government of the conquerors, 1943-1946.) And no Italian born in this century can say he has experienced so much as a 20-year period of peace.

Under the young Monarchy, the people suffered the repressions of the Austrian occupation and the bloody struggle to dispossess the occupants. The Monarchy had hardly begun to mature in the affections of the people when, as we have noted, it called upon them--or rather ordered them--to endure the losses of World War I and its aftermath, which produced Mussolini.

The first surge of hope that Mussolini brought to the Italian people--the hope of peace and economic progress--was gradually dampened by their realization that instead of solving their basic problems he was compounding them by costly imperialist adventures in North Africa. In the end, Mussolini led the unwilling Italian people to the most crucifying defeat in their history. And under the subsequent Allied occupation they suffered not only the spiritual humiliation of defeat but its physical agonies: hunger, cold, homelessness. Plainly, Fascist dictatorship had failed dismally, and monarchy, which had tolerated Fascism, was also compromised in the eyes of millions of Italians.

The Republic came into being, as the result of a popular referendum on the Monarchy held in 1946, during Allied occupation. If we wish to understand the present political paradoxes of Italy, it should be recognized that, at the time, the birth of the Republic seemed to millions of Italians a Caesarean operation. The referendum gives evidence that a new form of government was gestating, but many feel it was delivered prematurely by the Allies. The referendum went against the Monarchy. But this was not to say--as some naïve American policy-makers said at the time--that it had gone clearly for democracy. In that referendum, 10,719,000 Italians voted for the Monarchy, 12,717,000 against. But, of that latter number, 6,000,000 Communists voted against the Monarchy primarily to establish a proletarian dictatorship oriented to and guided by Moscow.

It is interesting to speculate what form of government the Italian people would have today if in 1946 they had been given a clear choice among the three types of government which at that hour appealed to them: parliamentary monarchy, Western-style democracy, or a Soviet republic. The Monarchists would probably have won both a plurality and a majority of the votes, and this for a simple and understandable reason: although the Monarchy had tragically failed to insure peace and progress, it had two great virtues of a modern state--it had been created by the will of the people themselves and it had endured for almost a century. And the loyalties of men tend to cluster about that form of government which they themselves have brought into being and freely supported over the years, in good times and bad.

The political ambiguities surrounding the birth of the Republic were deepened rather than clarified by the United States economic support extended to the proponents and exponents of the Republic in the postwar years. This aid, while it convinced all the Italian people of American friendship, did not necessarily convince all the electorate that Western-style democratic government (free enterprise capitalism) would work in Italy. On the contrary, it tended to raise the painful doubt in many minds--a doubt constantly fanned by the Communists--that their government could not work without continued massive American aid. Accordingly, profoundly grateful though the Italian people were (and still are) for this aid, their gratitude was not transformed into nation-wide loyalty and enthusiasm for their Western-style government, led by Alcide de Gasperi and supported so generously (and sometimes too conspicuously) by the United States.

The natural desire of a proud and patriotic people (which the Italians notably are) is for that form of government which will lead the nation to the maximum amount of economic independence. That is to say, they desire a government which not only promises but produces the greatest measure of self-sufficiency and self-made prosperity for all citizens. The hope which the extreme left-wing Italian parties encourage in the people today is that their brand of socialism and their structures of government will do the most to develop rapidly and to the fullest Italy's economic resources and to distribute the fruits most equitably among the people. Their appeal (and the appeal of their fellow-extremists, the Fascists) is cleverly and continually addressed to the Chauvinist spirit, to the do-it-yourself-for-yourself desire that rests in the hearts of all patriots.

In order to understand fully the divided political loyalties of the Italian masses today one must also understand their profound fear of war. The nation is only 100 years old, and for 82 years it has been repeatedly plunged into conflicts by its rulers. And the worst were the two world wars in which their rulers opportunistically made "strong alliances" with foreign powers.

All Italians are united today in wanting a form of government--and government leadership--which, while maintaining an adequate defense of the country and encouraging international friendships, will not engage the nation in war by personal fiat, as repeatedly happened under the Monarchy and under Fascism, or commit Italy to wars from which she will emerge, whether "victorious" or defeated, bitterly impoverished.[iii]

In the atomic age, sheer survival--the most understandable form of sacro-egoismo and sauve qui peut--legitimately raises the question of what form of government and what leaders espousing what policies can best keep Italy out of a third world war which would be a war of complete annihilation.

Today, there is a firm consensus among the Italian people that a democracy--a government of elected representatives responsible to public opinion and, above all, responding to it--is the best form of government to keep the peace. This they have got. In short, unlike the economic question, the peace question poses itself less in terms of what government structure can keep Italy out of war, and war out of Italy, than what government policies can best do so. Here again, the conscious (if fallacious) appeal of Communism and pro-Communist-socialism is to a common desire: stable peace. In so far as left-wing leaders are successful in persuading the people that their leadership and their policies will keep Italy at peace, whereas pro-Western leaders and policies (especially NATO commitments) will inevitably lead to war, they are successful in holding their voters.

Foreign observers, watching the Republic's continued--indeed almost miraculous--economic progress since American aid ceased, and noting that in pursuing present pro-West foreign policies Italy's "power position" has grown ever stronger and that her people have had 15 years of uninterrupted peace, feel that these questions of what form of government and what policies can best bring peace and economic progress have surely answered themselves. It is not so. In order to see why these questions are still wide open in Italy, we must study briefly the parties and their programs now represented in the parliament, reminding ourselves constantly of two things: (1) that the present composition of the Italian parliament still reflects the political ambiguities and confusions surrounding the war, the referendum and the birth of the Republic, and (2) that allied makers of foreign policy did too little between 1943 and 1948 to clear up these ambiguities.

In short, when contemplating the paradoxes of Italian political life today, we shall do well to remind ourselves that the policymakers in the immediate postwar years facilitated the return of Togliatti from Moscow exile, and tolerated, if not encouraged, the constitutional inclusion and the active participation of Communists in the first government of the new Republic and in many public institutions, most notably in the trade unions.


The main political currents in Italy, as reflected in the last national election in 1958, are represented by eight parties which among them hold all but a few of the 246 seats in the Senate and the 596 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. These eight parties constitute "the government spectrum." The choice of this word is probably dictated by a somewhat universal tendency to position political parties on a horizontal line, moving from right to left. In Italy, the constant use of the word "spectrum" may also be an unconscious association of political ideas with color, evoking on the extreme Right the black shirt of the Fascists and on the extreme Left the red flag of the Communists.

In fact, in Italy as elsewhere in the world, the "geometry" of politics is not plane but spheroid. A better description of Italian parliamentary forces would be to call them the circle of the parties or, even more accurately, the parliamentary kaleidoscope. Certainly, political extremes generally meet; and every shift of the positions of personalities within the political circle, and every jog given the government by internal political or economic events, tends to change all inter-party relations, forming a new political pattern. Let us, then, thinking in circular rather than linear terms, consider how the present parliamentary pie is sliced.

1. The Italian Socialist Movement (M.S.I.), always referred to in "spectrum" terms as "the extreme Right," are neo-Fascists. The party has 8 senators and 24 deputies. It polled 4.8 percent of the popular vote cast in the 1958 elections. The M.S.I. advocates an updated Fascism, is stridently "nationalistic" and passionately anti-Communist in its utterances. Nevertheless, on legislative questions, the party has of late voted with the Communists, or "extreme Left," thus demonstrating the circular movement of Italian political forces.

The strategy of these neo-Fascists is a revival of socialist, nationalistic dictatorship. This determines their parliamentary tactics of disruption and discord, meant to create a situation of crisis in the government that would require their own inclusion, thus opening the door for them to take over the reins of state by evolution or coup d'état. Implicitly they collaborate through these tactics with Communists whose own parliamentary behavior has the same goal.

2. The Monarchist Party (now renamed the Democratic Party, P.D.I.) has today 7 senators and 25 deputies and represents 4.8 percent of the vote cast in 1958. It asserts that the Monarchy was overthrown in the 1946 referendum largely because of American diplomatic and economic intervention (i.e. "foreign intervention") on the side of a Republic, and also because of the 6,000,000 Communist votes against the Monarchy.

Pragmatically, the Monarchists seem to realize that the monarchial question is rapidly fading, even in the poorest areas of the South and in the Islands, historically the seats of greatest popular sentiment for royalism. Patriotic, nationalistic and inspired by the spirit of Cavour, who wisely favored strong and tested alliances for Italy, the Monarchists generally support the pro-West foreign policy, albeit with complaints that the government does not insist more on her rightful position as a "great power" on the world scene. The Monarchists have sometimes sought and always welcomed a cabinet crisis which might lead to their own permanent inclusion in the governing Center forces. But, unlike the extremists, they have no wish to engender a crisis so deep as to bring down the government altogether. It is likely that eventually their votes will be absorbed by the Christian Democratic and the extremist Socialist parties, depending on which pursues economic policies and organizational work that attract them.

3. The Liberal Party, led by Giovanni Malagodi, marks the place where the Italian "Center" begins. A conservative group of 4 senators and 17 deputies, it represents 3.5 percent of the votes cast in the 1958 elections.

This party regards itself as the political heir of both Cavour and Garibaldi, and is pro-Western on foreign policy. Sincerely anti-dictatorship and anti-Socialist, it is also, for historical reasons, decidedly anti-clerical. It therefore tends to view all the other Italian parties with varying degrees of suspicion. Despite its anti-clericalism, it generally comes down on the side of the ruling Christian Democrats on critical questions involving the survival of a Center government.

Programmatically, the Liberals advocate a mixed economy: laissez-faire combined with prudent "government planning" and the minimum of welfare legislation. Their voting base is among the white-collar and professional classes (doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc.). Their future popular support depends on the enlargement of their still very small middle-class base.

4. The Christian Democratic Party, led by Prime Minister Amintore Fanfani, has 123 senators, 273 deputies, and comprises the largest single slice of the government circle. It represents 42.4 percent of the 1958 vote. The C. D. party, founded in 1919, was ably fostered by the priest, Don Sturzo, and was welded into a significant political force by the Republic's first Prime Minister, the late Alcide de Gasperi. It has governed Italy since 1948, generally in uneasy alliance with the other three Center parties.

The C. D. party is committed to the Republic and, in theory, to a free-enterprise economy. In practice, however, it pursues a confusingly "mixed economy," some laissez-faire, some free enterprise, and substantial amounts of socialistic and welfare legislation. The political factions and currents in the party are as mixed as its economic programs and proposals. Ideologically, these currents run to the inside limits of the pro-Communist-Socialist Left and the pro-Fascist Right. Since de Gasperi's death, no leader with comparable prestige has emerged, and the party has consequently been increasingly torn by internal personal conflicts and quarrels with the other Center parties, occasioned not only by sincere disputes over economic legislation and political directions but also by the persistence of the ancient spirit of sacro-egoismo, factionalism and combinazione in some of its leaders. The lack of what in America is called "party spirit," on which sound party programs and organization so largely depend, has too often precluded the formulation or execution of firm domestic policies and organization work among Italian voters. All of this has resulted in what Italian political observers characterize as immobilismo--or government immobility.

Nevertheless, it must be said that immobilismo in the Italian Government is attributable only in part to confusions and cross currents within the C. D. ranks. It also reflects the general mood of the Italian public whose views have not yet solidified about "the virtues of free-enterprise democracy" versus "the vices of socialism." American policy-makers have long considered the Christian Democratic party as the safest exponent of political and economic democracy in Italy. More accurately, it could be said that it is democracy's most trustworthy custodian. However divided C. D. leaders are on economic programs, they are honestly united in the political purpose to preserve Italy's republican institutions from destruction by the extreme Right or Left, and to maintain Italy's pro-West orientation, two goals which are fortunately the goals of the vast majority of the Italian people. Meanwhile, the party marks time--immobilismo--while waiting until public opinion (and its own) is clarified about the best and safest methods of enlarging its electoral base and of making significant economic advances.

The C. D. party is loudly condemned by its extremist opponents as being overly sensitive to two external pressures: that of the Vatican, and that of the United States. Both do indeed support the C. D. party; but certainly the pressures which the United States is supposed to exert on the party or its leadership are grossly exaggerated.

In all democracies the pressures to which a government responds, and must respond if it is to remain in power, come from the electorate itself. In the 1958 election, as noted, the C. D. party received 42.4 percent of the vote. All parties to its right combined, including the neo-Fascists, garnered only 12.1 percent, whereas the parties to its left reaped about 45.5 percent. If the C. D. party has drifted around the circle to the left, it is because the maximum pressure--or rather the pull--comes from the far greater number of Italians who vote for left-wing economic and political solutions than for right-wing solutions.

Since the Fanfani government lacks a clear majority in the parliament, its stability is not assured without the firm support of the Liberal party to its right and the two Center parties to its left; these do not see eye to eye on economic programs. The party's best chance to break out of immobilismo is to increase its own strength by at least 5 percent in the next General Election at the expense of the extremes, the small Right and the large Left.

5. The Republican Party, led by Randolfo Pacciardi, has the smallest piece of the political pie. It has no senators, only six deputies, and received only 1.4 percent of all the votes cast in 1958.

The party's historical roots, like those of the Liberals, lie deep in the Risorgimento movements of Garibaldi and Mazzini. However, as the Republic for which these heroes and their followers fought has at last been established, the party's historic raison d'être has gone, and with it the hope of ideological mass support from the voters. Moreover, it lacks any economic program which has not already been preëmpted by one party or another in the Center forces. Its small group of followers is motivated by historic sentiment or wartime loyalties to its leaders.

This tiny party and its leaders are firmly pro-Western. Small though it is, it is a valuable party in the present political picture, since every vote the C. D. party can get, without compromising its own democratic ideals, is crucially necessary to maintain it in power, and to prevent the apertura a sinistra--a political opening to the pro-Communist-Socialist Left--in order to make a government majority.

6. The Social Democratic Party (P.S.D.I.), led by Giuseppe Saragat, marks where the Center ends. It has 5 senators and 22 deputies, and stands for 4.5 percent of the popular vote. It is a splinter party which split from the Socialist Party in 1951, when the leader of the Socialists, Pietro Nenni, refused to break with the Communists.

Basically pro-West, Saragat's fundamental quarrel with the Nenni Socialists, and beyond them the Communists, is political and to some extent economic. The P.S.D.I. advocates a program much like Sweden's "middle way," or the classic "welfare state" promoted by the British Labor party. Its moderate economic stand, favoring Socialist evolution against Marxist-Leninist revolution, does not hold a great appeal to the dissatisfied masses.

Although their stand is not too far afield from Nenni's, Saragat and his small group of followers will not make common political cause with Nenni; they steadfastly refuse to adopt or even tolerate Nenni's pro-Moscow orientation. Many Christian Democratic elements would like to widen the base of government by including the Nenni Socialists, but on their own terms: that he renounce his political action pact with Togliatti. These C.D. elements have looked upon Saragat (and he looks upon himself) as the most apt political broker between them and the Nenni Socialists. However, Saragat has not yet been able to effect the basic deal involved in a safe "opening to the Left"--the separation of Nenni and his party from their long affiliation with the Communists, a coup which would indeed clarify the Italian political picture greatly for the better. When crucial votes or political manœuvres affecting the life of free, parliamentary democracy and a pro-Western foreign policy are counted, Saragat and his followers as custodians of the non-Communist left have found it necessary to come down on the side of the Christian Democrats.

7. The Italian Socialist Party (P.S.I.), led by Pietro Nenni, has 35 senators and 84 deputies; 14.2 percent of Italy's voters supported it in 1958. Although it has lately been making noise about separatism, it remains so closely allied in its policies with the Communists that for all practical purposes the P.S.I. and the Communists must be considered as one grouping--the extreme Left.

Until recently, any difference between the practical policies and public utterances of Socialist Nenni and Communist Togliatti could be found only by resorting to wishful thinking. But although these leaders differ little between themselves, logic suggests that their supporters do make some distinctions between them. One might venture to guess that many of Nenni's supporters believe--or hope--that his fellow-traveling is tactical and designedly equivocal, and that once in power Nenni would be his own master--a Socialist "Italy Firster." Fearing war between the United States and the Soviets, and dreading all commitments to take military sides with one or the other, they cherish the hope that Nenni is fundamentally a neutralist. From time to time, he has made statements clearly intended to agitate this hope. But whether the hope would be justified if Nenni came into power, or even into the government, no one can tell. There is much evidence that it would not. For whatever reasons, personal or public, Nenni has never found it expedient to make a clean break with the Communist party in the areas of coöperation with labor, the co-ops and local administrations.

The bloody suppression of the Hungarian revolt, the invasion of Tibet, Khrushchev's missile-rattling at the summit, his somewhat schizophrenic behavior at the United Nations, have puzzled and shocked many of Italy's Socialist voters and, to the extent that they have done so, have put a strain on Nenni's alliance with Togliatti. But the strain has not been so great as to force Nenni to break it. Moreover, during the past 15 years not only Saragat but de Gasperi and a succession of C.D. prime ministers and political leaders, including President Gronchi, have sought without success to persuade Nenni to forsake his Communist alliance, as the necessary condition to entering the government.

For this reason, while many people believe that the electoral base of government must be widened if Italy is to end her period of instability and immobilismo, they also believe that Nenni's inclusion in the government, or even the unification of his party with the Center Socialist party of Saragat, might, under present circumstances, open the door to Communist dictatorship.

8. The Italian Communist Party (P.C.I.) led by Palmiro Togliatti has 59 senators and 140 deputies, and polled 22.7 percent of the last popular vote. It is the second largest party.

The real strength of the P.C.I. lies in its cohesion, clarity of purpose and discipline. Without exception or a demurrer, Togliatti and his party members in and out of parliament have followed the line laid down by Moscow. The only difference which Italian Communists have with Marxism (as interpreted at any moment by Kremlin exegetes) is that they have publicly committed themselves to tolerate the freedom of the Church (outside politics) in Italy. There can be little question that this was a Moscow dispensation, recognized as necessary tactics in a country where even the most passionate Communists consider themselves "born Catholics" and desire baptism, marriage and burial by the hands of the Church.

Nevertheless, there has been, even within the monolithic Communist party, some dissidence and some small disaffection from it. Strangely enough, they have been occasioned less by the bloody suppression of the revolts in Hungary, East Germany and Poland than by an understanding of what caused these revolts: hunger and general economic failure. And lately, the belligerent pronouncements of Mao Tse-tung, based on his own (correct) exegesis of classic Marxian Leninism as a system for fomenting and exporting armed revolution, have caused some expressions of dismay among Italian Communists.

The Italians who vote for Communism desire for the most part neither war nor revolution. Traces of the passivity and skepticism which Italian eighteenth century poets lamented in their countrymen (as they made efforts to stir them to their initial battle for independence) still linger on in the Italian character. These traits do not make "revolutionary" Communists; and combined with the passionate love for peace which exists in the hearts of the Italian masses they have long hampered Togliatti's best efforts to arouse his followers to revolutionary fever or even to convince them that all things would be right once the Red flag flew over Italy. Communism is the one form of government Italians have not yet tried. But seeing about them everywhere, as they do, the ruins of mighty empires of the past, they are naturally not disposed to believe that any form of government is either perfect or invincible.

On the other hand, those Communists who are not subject to passivity, skepticism and peacefulness, who have more aggressive, fanatical and ardent natures, after 17 years of Togliatti's presence on the postwar Italian scene and 14 in the Italian parliament, are becoming somewhat disillusioned with the idea that a Communist revolution is just around the corner. If Italy's friends abroad note with alarm that after 14 years of the Republic one-third of the population still votes for the two pro-Kremlin parties, Togliatti's friends abroad must note with equal, or perhaps even greater, concern that two-thirds still do not.

The real appeal of the two pro-Communist parties lies in their promises to better rapidly the economic condition of the people once the reins of government pass into their hands. At the turn of the century, Prime Minister Gioletti said that the rich had so abused their power that "we have a large number of taxes paid predominantly by the poor, but not a single tax that is exclusively on wealth as such." This anomaly (not exclusive to Italy) has been corrected somewhat by recent tax reforms. But Togliatti and Nenni can still justly claim that the tax system is inadequate and unfair, and that while the lot of the poor is substantially better than it was ten years ago, the rich have never been richer; that the country still has close to 2,000,000 unemployed and nearly as many under-employed; and above all, as we have noted, that the gap between the acceptable living standards of the industrialized North and the barely subsistence level of the underdeveloped South is being narrowed too slowly despite enormous efforts by the Mezzogiorno program.

It has been said that if the Communist party had not existed at the war's end, poverty and unemployment in Italy would have permitted Moscow quickly to create it. One can argue this political assertion, but one cannot dispute the persistence of poverty in Italy, or that it could explain the present hold of the P.C.I. on a large section of Italian voters as the party of protest.


Viewing this "spectrum" or kaleidoscope, what conclusion can we come to about the future stability of the Italian Government?

Let it be emphasized again that the basic expectations which the Italian people have of any form of government is that it shall give them a long and concrete period of peace, and the feeling of moving forward in the economic field at their maximum capacity. And let it be repeated again that in relation to their past 100 years of history, the Republic and its present pro-West Center leadership have given the Italian people more of what they have wanted than any other. There is much reason to hope that this fact will be increasingly recognized, however slowly, by the electorate.

The outcome of the provincial elections held November 6, 1960, in which 90 percent of Italy's eligible voters cast their ballots is relevant in this connection. The Christian Democrats polled 40.3 percent of the votes, a higher percentage than that of the two pro-Communist parties combined (Nenni Socialists, 14.4, Communists, 24.5, a total of 38.9 percent.) The total strength of the four Center parties was 51.3 percent. Gains were made by the Communists but clearly not by their Socialist allies--a fact which may clarify Nenni's own views and have considerable consequences for the next general election.

Except for three conditions, one could venture a guess that the Italian Republic will endure, its pro-Western policies will prevail, and it will continue to make progress toward increasing the personal liberties of the people and their welfare under a "mixed economy."

The three conditions which would certainly threaten the existence of the present Italian state and its Center-force government are a general war, a worldwide depression or the failure of Europe as a pro-Western force. The seeds of these events are definitely not in Italy--wherever else they may be--but their emergence would swiftly jog the Italian kaleidoscope into a pattern which is unpredictable, except that a dictator of Right or Left would more than likely be found ensconsed on the ruins of the free Republic.

Despite the persistent if not chronic ambivalences and ambiguities of the political scene in Italy, one thing is clear: the progress the Italian people are now making after one hundred years of trial and travail is largely the result of their own valiant and extraordinary efforts.

[i] According to the latest available statistics, Italian national income in 1956-57, 1957-58 and 1958-59 rose by 7.1, 6.4 and 6.8 percent respectively, in current prices. In terms of constant prices, the growth was 5.6, 4.1 and 5.8 percent respectively. G.N.P. rose, during the same period, by 8, 6.1 and 7 percent respectively, in current prices. In monetary terms, national income rose from 10,798 billion lire in 1954 to 16,908 billion lire in 1959, while G.N.P. (at market prices) rose from 12,469 billion lire in 1954 to 17,734 billion lire in 1959.

[ii] The Italian peninsula, before 1861, had been invaded by Greeks, Germans, French, Swiss, Austrians, Spanish, Turks--indeed by almost every nation in Europe and around the Mediterranean, including (in 1796) Russia. Since 1861, Italy has been invaded by Austria, Germany, France and, spearheaded by the United States, by armies of the World War II Allies--though not by those of Soviet Russia. Compare this with British history: although repeatedly attacked, Britain has not been invaded since 1066.

[iii] Under Article 5 of the Kingdom's constitution, the King was authorized to make alliances without consulting his advisers. Most of the wars of "unified Italy" were initiated by executive decision either with a minimum of parliamentary debate or without any consultation with parliament, and in total disregard of public opinion: this was the case with regard to the Monarchy's nineteenth century adventures in East Africa, ending at Adowa in 1896; war with Turkey in 1911-12; Italy's entrance into World War 1; and under Fascism, the war against Ethiopia in 1935-36; the intervention in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39); and final catastrophe, Mussolini's entrance into World War II on the side of Hitler.

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  • CLARE BOOTHE LUCE, U.S. Ambassador to Italy, 1953-57; Member of Congress, 1943-47; author of a number of books and plays
  • More By Clare Boothe Luce