ON THE WORLD TODAY
THROUGH the winter and spring, the Italians have been struggling for national recovery. People are working like beavers at whatever they can lay their hands on; and especially in the small communities, life is growing new tissues over the sores of devastation But the fight against hunger, unemployment, and inflation is making no headway. Within a few months, meat has risen from 600 to 1500 lire, butter from 700 to 1800, potatoes from 18 to 70. Wages cannot keep up with the spiral, for the state does not know where to find the money to bolster them.
Europeans are frozen with a sense of doom as they watch countries drifting one after another into conditions which are almost beyond repair in our time. Italy feels that her turn may come next. That is why, from Left to Right, Italians are of one mind in eschewing civil war or a division along class lines; they will not be precipitated into an EAM situation. What will happen, now that the Truman doctrine proclaims that the United States has made up its mind to “grasp the nettle of authority”?
Communism in Italy
European nations have reached the conclusion that no help will come from the United States unless their Communist parties are curbed. How far will restrictions go? Should they drive the Communists underground, on the principle that every Communist is a foreign agent? Or should they simply bar Communists from any position of power or influence?
Either course would have momentous implications. The Communists in the United States are a negligible minority, whereas in France and Italy they are respectively the number one and number three parties and, what is tactically more important, they control the General Confederation of Labor. Any attempt to drive them out of political life would result in civil war, whether open or covert.
The problem, then, is how we are going to intervene actively without having a Greek situation on our hands. Even if we exercise exceptional restraint, and respect the precarious political balance, where are we going to find the party, or how are we going to promote the coalition that can be entrusted with the immensely difficult task of reconstruction?
The signs are there, but they may be read many ways. Accordingly, there is an intense shuffling among parties to maneuver themselves into the best position or to avoid being pushed out in the cold.
Church and State
It is clear that the Christian Democrats consider themselves the logical candidates to carry out the reconstruction of their country. In an Italy more than 95 per cent Catholic, all parties are, of course, composed in the main of members of that faith. The Christian Democratic Party, however, is practically operated by the Vatican.
For more than a year, Italy has been run by a coalition cabinet, with control in the hands of the Christian Democratic Party. Premier de Gasperi, leader of the controlling party, made sure, on his visit to Washington last January, that he was persona grata with our Administration. He secured the promise of an initial 100-million-dollar credit, and on his ret urn he sprang a cabinet crisis in which he tried to gather the reins of power more firmly in his hands.
How far de Gasperi thinks he can go has been shown in the Constituent Assembly. Not only did the Christian Democratic Party bring about the inclusion of the Lateran Pacts into the Constitution, which had been its long-standing program, but it pushed through by a majority of only five votes an article which curtails freedom of worship to an extent hitherto unknown in modern constitutions.
The Federal Council of Italian Evangelical Churches has sent a bitter protest to the government against the goings-on of the police. Its churches have been closed in southern Italy, where the movement had been making headway, members have been forbidden to gather, and church elders have even been arrested at Castelli in the Abruzzi and at Giarratana in Sicily. The official reason given is that the cult is “against public order.”
The same constitutional shortsightedness appeared in the Cabinet’s handling of freedom of the press. The editor of a satirical sheet has been sentenced to thirty-one months in jail for “offense to the state religion,” and de Gasperi explained again, as he had last year, that if the press offends public sentiment, it must be curbed. The authorized interpreters of public sentiment are, of course, the police authorities.
The result of this policy has been a wave of anticlericalism. The Communists were astute enough to avoid an open fight with the Church, notwithstanding its attacks, and even voted for the Lateran Treaties in order not to offend the religious feelings of the masses. They are now reaping a heavy dividend of votes in the South, which used to be traditionally anti-Communist. In the regional elections in Sicily in April, the Left (including the Republicans) made surprising gains: 41 per cent of the votes, against 18 per cent in the elections of last June.
Is American aid enough?
All this puts us in a quandary. Shall we go on supporting the Christian Democrats against all odds? Even if we ease their problem by putting no drastic anti-Communist strings to our coöperation, we are taking on what is bound to prove a growing liability.
The test of a year’s government has demonstrated the Christian Democrats to be incompetent except in machine politics, inert, and unexpectedly corrupt in high places. Not one urgent problem has been solved, not one serious economic measure taken. The budget is only 30 per cent covered. The capital levy, which ranges from 6 to 41 per cent, is expected to bring in $200,000,000 a year over five years, but inflation and evasion will reduce it to a fraction of that.
It is true that Italy cannot lift herself by her bootstraps at this point. But it is also true that foreign help alone would not be enough. The Christian Democrats would be in no position to carry through a reform program, even if they were inspired and supported from outside. On the one hand, they lack the respect of business as a whole; on the other, they do not command the confidence of the workers.
The Christian Democratic Party has never been able to establish a real left wing where the workers could feel at home. After halfhearted attempts in that direction, it always went back to its real nature, which is feudal, moralizing, and paternalistic. It has no tie with modern economic realities. And it is losing votes even among the scared middle classes.
Support to the Right?
Should we try, then, to broaden the Christian Democratic base with other “safe” parties? This would mean tying it up with the fascist Uomo Qualunque, the remaining conservatives, and a few scattered groups. It would mean, in effect, committing it to a Rightist concentration, controlled by the Qualunquists.
This would be a weird platform for the United States to stand on. What the UQ means really, except a bonanza for the black marketeers who finance it, its bosses do not trouble to explain. In spite of the absence of a program —in fact, just because of it — there is real danger that they are becoming what Fascism never was, a genuine mass party.
A hurt and humiliated people are taken in by the Qualunquists’ brassiness, their abuse of the authorities, and their foul language, uninhibited histrionics, and vituperation. The UQ is a collection point for the embittered, the impoverished, the resentful, the cynical, the hopeless, the helplessly confused. Such emotions are common to a large number of those Europeans who once used to believe in conformity as a safe haven.
Free capitalism is dead
Some Americans think that a Rightist cabinet would make for free enterprise and all sorts of desirable things. But even Premier de Gasperi, who is no friend of socialism, has said, “Free capitalism can never again rise in Italy.”
The state-controlled Institute for Industrial Reconstruction, by last August, owned 60 per cent of the steel industry, 90 per cent of shipbuilding, 65 per cent of the telephone network, 35 per cent of electric power. It also controlled 87 per cent, of savings banks and similar institutions. Since then, the “standstill” arrangement whereby employers are forbidden to dismiss idle workers has meant further government advances to industry and therefore an increase in the mortgage held by the state.
A national plan, with a rigid husbanding of resources and a shifting around of manpower, has proved necessary in Britain. A similar plan is inevitable in Italy, with its poverty and its 10 million excess population. The assistance of our efficiency experts will be greatly welcomed. The problem is simply, then, which political group will get our nod to administer the plan. This is at least how Italians of good will see the picture. Their more cynical friends, including the Communists, point out that there is no precedent yet for such bighearted American intervention.
The Communists themselves, of course, insist that they would prove the cheapest and most efficient chosen instrument. They are admittedly competent, modern, hell-bent for reconstruction and “national union,” and their great effort is to show the Italians how to help themselves so as to need as little help from the West as possible. The Communists, however, would be extremely dangerous partners for us.
On the other hand, the policy of the present cabinet seems to he to let the situation drift out of control, so as to ensure quick and extensive American intervention in its favor. But they are playing a risky game.
Playing with inflation
The hard-boiled Right, count on our help to promote a controlled inflation as Karl Helfferich did in Germany in 1928. Like him, they expect inflation to force foreign credit, clean up industrial debts, wipe out social loads, and consolidate the landed class as a whole, from landlord to small peasant. They expect I inflation also to neutralize the capital levy. They do not hide the simple hope that it will provoke socialist insurrections, which can then be put down with American armament and with a great show of virtue.
This is really the danger point. The large-circulation press, which is almost totally controlled by the Right, is openly trying to prepare for a coup d’état. If it should occur, no one could prevent a civil war, for there are still hundreds of thousands of armed partisans who once fought for democracy. Their leaders, however moderate, would have no choice but to go with them to the hills, and would be branded in no time as subversive Reds.
In preparation for a conflict, the Right are trying to tie the Center to their chariot, and the Left, whose chief strategist is Togliatti, now top man for Communism in Western Europe, are trying to find solidarity, in the name of common sense and patriotism, with as many moderate groups as they can. The Socialists are hoping that some, even indirect, encouragement to them from Washington will allow them to balance the Communist influence in the left-of-center bloc.
The militant Left think that if we refuse help to them they can at least make it impossible for the Right to rule. They, too, consider the weapon of inflation, which they can use to very different purposes, and let the chips fall where they may.
Between the two organized groups, the great mass of Italians, both Left and Right, are hoping and praying that we will simply promote a Center coalition, something like the Labor bloc in England, which will he able to unite the workers and the middle classes.