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Henry Judd

World Politics

Italy’s Crucial Election

(19 April 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 16, 19 April 1948, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Italy votes at the end of this week. Approximately25 million people are expected to cast their ballots in one of the most crucial and decisive elections of modern times. Months of campaigning and propagandizing are drawing to a close in an atmosphere of strife, conflict and widespread belief that the outcome of the election will be driven home perhaps by mass violence and civil war on a wide scale.

The campaign has developed into a test of strength. This test is not merely between the Italian Stalinist movement and the ruling, capitalist class of bourgeois Italy. In a far greater sense, it is a political test between American and Russian imperialism, their powers of propaganda and persuasion and their strength in determining the fate of Europe. This is why all of Europe in particular is watching the elections closely. The ability of America to develop and enforce its Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Western Europe will be influenced by its capacity to hold the Italian Stalinists in check. Actually, the elections are more crucial for Washington than for Moscow. This is why American intervention, in the form of speeches, letters, threats, declarations, naval maneuvers off Italy’s coast etc. has been on a more open basis than Russian intervention, limited to newsprint shipments for propaganda and secret financing of their Italian Stalinist agents.

How the Blocs Shape-Up

How do matters stack up on election eve? The parties of the so-called “left,” organized in the Democratic Popular Front constitute a solid group, entirely under Stalinist leadership. This bloc, headed by the sinister GPU agent Togliatti (a cynical and ruthless Stalinist agent if one ever existed), stretched out to include the pro-Stalinist Nenni Socialist Party and even the left-wing youth of the recently split Saragat Socialist Party which is supporting the Stalinist candidates in the elections. The electoral lists of the Stalinist bloc include some individual bourgeois candidate’s, placed there by the Stalinists who were disappointed by the fact that no bourgeois party adhered to their bloc. This fact has led certain ignorant theoreticians to denounce the Stalinists for “running after capitalists to capitulate to”! The Trotskyists in Italy, who are heavily influenced by“Bordhigist” (ultra-leftist) ideas, are not participating in the elections, while the European Fourth International leadership is supporting the Stalinist electoral bloc! Meanwhile, it is clear that the Stalinists will receive the overwhelming support of the working class and poor peasantry to whom it has promised a quick distribution of land if it comes to power.

An exception to this is the Saragat Socialist Party, now part of the government, and an extremely conservative and right-wing Social Democratic party. It is running candidates and will obtain a measure of support from the more skilled and privileged workers, particularly of northern Italy. This party is committed to full support of the Marshall Plan and a coalition government for Italy. It is reported that many members of the pro-Stalinist SP of Nenni are leaving it in disgust,and going to the Saragat Party. This party may reveal surprising strength in the elections.

In the bourgeois camp there is, of course, primarily the Christian Democratic party which has governed Italy for over two years. It is the Party of Catholicism,the Pope and American imperialism. It is committed entirely to a conservative, pro-American course and its victory is naturally strongly desired by Washington. Unlike the parties of the labor movement, adhered into a single bloc by the Stalinists, the parties of the Right are sharply divided among themselves and could not form any kind of an electoral bloc. The Stalinists are counting heavily upon this division to give them, at least, a plurality in the election results and thus a semi-legal basis to demand the right to be the governing party.

For the Right, there is the Christian Democratic party and the Republican party, representing the so-called liberal forces; then, further to the Right, stand the various nationalist, neo-fascist and monarchist movements (l’Uomo Qualunque, Italian Social Movement, etc.). They will effectively split the rightist vote, but clearly the Christian Democrats and the Stalinists are the two great mass parties squared off against each other. The elections are for candidates for the new parliament that is to be created under the recently constituted Italian Republic. This, the first election, may well turn out to be the last!

Who Will Win the Elections?

The Italian Stalinists seek to come to power legally and constitutionally. Above all, they would like to gain 51 per cent of the votes, form a government under the new Constitution – perhaps invite a few Nenni Stalino-Socialists and even some liberals to participate – and, having peacefully gained control of the state apparatus,set about their job of building a totalitarian state in Italy. This was their road in Czechoslovakia. But this cannot be their road in Italy, for the situation is much different. Russian armies never penetrated into Italy to set the stage for an eventual seizure of power. The Italian bourgeoisie controls the army and state apparatus at present and presents far greater capacities for resistance than did that of Czechoslovakia. Finally, the presence of American imperialism is far more direct and potent than was the case elsewhere.

There is no peaceful road to power for Italian Stalinism. Even if the Stalinists should legitimately gain51 per cent of the votes, it is clear that the present Italian government would never admit this publicly but would count the Stalinists out by fraud and miscounting of ballots. To admit that the Stalinists have won the elections (that is, have the right to be the government) would be tantamount to suicide by the Italian bourgeoisie.

But it seems most unlikely that the Stalinists will win a majority of the votes. Present indications of the most objective kind give them between one third and 45 percent (maximum) of the total. This is more than enough (8 to 11 million!) and would indicate their solid base among the masses! The Christian Democrats, while not winning a majority, will probably gain close to this. A plurality is sufficient for them to stay in governmental power, since the Saragat SP and other right-wing parties will give them a majority in the new Parliament. In this sense, the electoral vote will constitute a roll call of the nation’s politics, but will hardly decide the issues in themselves. The struggle will go on. The Saragat SP, particularly if it gains in strength, will probably hold the power balance in the new Parliament.

And After the Elections?

And what after the elections? Armed with their vast popular vote which fell short of a majority, what will the Stalinists do? The Christian Democrats, still in power, and now reinforced by operation of the Marshall Plan, will appear to have a durable perspective in the country. Can Stalinism take this lying down? Clearly, this will be a crucial test for Stalinist perspective in Italy and Europe. Will the Stalinists launch civil war, attempt to seize power by extra-legal means, arm the workers who support them? Will they limit themselves to a partial civil war, seizing only key industrial centers in Northern Italy and attempt to hold out there, reinforced by aid from Jugoslavia (that is, Russia)?

Certainly these are possibilities and Stalinist calculations, dealing with the masses as so much capital to be expended for definite goals, will not quail before such adventures provided, that (1) the conviction existed that American imperialism would not fight over this, and (2) such a civil war could be isolated and confined as, for example, that of Greece is. While we do not believe this possibility will materialize, it certainly cannot be excluded. However, there is good reason to believe that civil war is not imminent in Italy at present. Why? Even the Stalinist supporters are unprepared, politically and psychologically, for such a desperate adventure and gamble whose consequences are too involved for anyone to foresee. Furthermore, since American imperialism would have so much at stake (control of the Mediterranean and future of its Marshall Plan), a quick and major intervention could result. This might lead to what Stalin dreads before all else – a premature world war between Moscow and Washington. There are other reasons that make open civil war unlikely.

Far more likely is that the Stalinists will confine themselves, for the present, to a protracted hit-and-run game against the Marshall Plan. This means strikes,open sabotage, a constant stirring up and disturbance of the country. Keep the Italian pots of discontent boiling – this will be the probable Stalinist strategy. They will attempt to prolong the confusion, uneasiness, uncertainty and insecurity for an indefinite period of time.

The great tragedy of Italy, it goes without saying, is that no alternative political party to that of Stalinism, Christian Democracy or the hopelessly conservative Social Democracy of Saragat has been thrown up. The Italian worker, seeing no alternative to the Christian Democrats, goes to the Stalinists. The problem in Italy, now, as before, is to create a new party of the workers – neither Stalinist, nor Social Democratic – but a revolutionary socialist party. Late as it is, it can still be done.

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