on the World Today

THERE has been a deep change in the political complexion of Italy in this past year. Half million Catholic youths of both sexes, in green and rust-colored berets, foregathered from all over Italy in September and paraded through the streets of Rome, with posters and banners, led by 50,000 priests and about as many nuns. In Europe this was a momentous revival.

Last spring, the ceremonies of dedication of the city of Rome to Our Lady had brought back for one day the pomp of the seventeenth century, with all the baroque pageant of the CounterReformation — a Bernini or Piranesi motif restored to life. In the September torchlight processions, culminating in a vast midnight Mass in St. Peter’s Square, there was a new political aspect not to be underrated. The marching, the shouting and the slogans, the songs in which the devotional alternated oddly with the national tunes (which had sprung up a century ago in the light against the Church), all showed that another mass party had been brought into action.

The reasons for this sizable initiative of the Catholic Action forces were not far to seek. The workers’ reaction to the attempt on Togliatti’s life, on July 14, had suddenly shaken the complacence of the ruling parties. The assassin’s affiliations have never been established; Pallante was a 25-year-old law student from a small town in Sicily, one of an embittered group of local Fascist sympathizers.

Whatever his motive, he certainly pulled the trigger of a revealing event. The Leftist forces had been discouraged and apathetic ever since their defeat at the polls last April. But half an hour after the shots rang out in front of the Parliament building, Rome was in the throes of reaction on the part of the masses, regardless of parly affiliations. Before union orders could go out, shutters had rumbled down, transportation had stopped, life was at a standstill. Grizzled engineers climbed down from the cabs of their locomotives and went downtown brandishing their wrenches and shouting, “They’ll not get a wax with another Matteotti!" Barricades sprang up, and well-aimed paving blocks kept the police jeeps in cheek.

The Communists hoped to improve on the protest strike by announcing that it would continue until De Gasperi resigned. This pressure was resented inside the unions; much wrangling was going on, when suddenly the radio announced the electrifying news that Bartali had won the Tour de France. Bicycle racing is the pride and passion of the Italian people, and this time they had beaten the French on their home grounds. In no time the streets were filled with cheering crowds, workers were hugging policemen, the strike was forgotten. The winner, “Pious” Gino Bartali, was congratulated by the Pope, and modestly promised to lay off profanity.

But the Left still felt its oats; they came up with a new jeer, “All right, we have shown you our eight million, can you show us your twelve?" The Vatiean’s answer was to step in with its Catholic Action staff under Monsignor Pizzardo to create a mass organization, which was displayed to the people for the first time in the great September parades.

Catholic Action in politics

The cadres of the organization are largely laymen; its administrative chief is a Luigi Gedda, who had his early training in mass techniques as a Fascist official. Its party machinery consists mainly of “Civic Committees,”and it can rely on an embattled priesthood.

All this new “hoop-la" is intended to bolster the political power of the Christian Democratic Party. Party leaders realize that the 12 million people who voted for the Christian Democrats do not make up a solid majority, but are rather a concurrence of many diverse elements stampeded into the fold by fear of Russia.

On the part of the Vatican there is a growing tendency to disassociate its responsibility from that of the party, and to ensure a stable control of Italian life through the solid apparatus of Catholic Action, which is more directly Vat ican-controlled in Italy than it is, say, in France or Belgium. That once done, it is discreetly suggested, parliamentary government might come back on a broader basis, and even participation of the Communists might be possible. Meantime the Christian Democratic Party never splits on any issue, and it uses its massive majority to push through what measures it pleases.

Production but no sale

The needs are pressing. It is true that water power yields 50 per cent more electricity than in 1938, that iron and steel production has increased 36 per cent since 1947. These are encouraging achievements but stocks of coal, cotton, and copper brought in under the Marshall Plan are cluttering up the yards and sidings, tank terminals are bursting with oil, while demand is shrinking. Part of this picture is due to inadequate measures for international exchange of goods; but another part is a specific trouble of Italian economy which has come to its crisis.

Industrial export prices are today almost double those of foreign competition, owing to the artificially stabilized exchange rate, the padded payrolls, and the freezing of workers on the job. Take the Fiat automobile plant. They are working at 60 per cent capacity, instead of a previous 95 per cent, with 15 per cent more employees than before the war, and the price of sheet steel in Italy is double the French price. It is easy to see why Fiat cannot compete with Citroën, Morris, or even Renault on the foreign markets.

Domestic buying capacity has decreased, and production can go on only thanks to an unceasing flow of government subsidies to the industries, which, added to the subsidy on food prices, bring the budget deficit to 800 billion lire (1.45 billion dollars) on a total budget of 2000 billion.

No one could blame the government if they fail to provide a total solution, especially in the face of a tenacious and flexible Communist antagonism. An impoverished country, deprived of outlets, devoid of natural resources, whose population goes on increasing 450,000 a year; a country without capital to provide employment and housing even for those already on the spot, is bound to find itself in the throes of a domestic crisis.

Naturally there is unemployment; 2 million unemployed, about half of the total force of skilled labor. Since industrial jobs require an investment of $4000 per worker, Italy would need about 8 billion dollars to solve this problem in the orthodox way. This amount is obviously not to be found in the capital market. Hence the orthodox alternative would be to open the emigration sluices and create vast resettlement areas in other continents, which would look safer to foreign capital. Such a program to drain off the “coiled" or increasing populations of Europe would be a major task.

The Italians remember only too well that their real period of economic progress was when they could send half a million of their people overseas every year. Failing emigration, it will take drastic measures to readjust the economy.

Reforms come slowly

Mr. Zellerbach, the Marshall Plan administrator for Italy, has outlined some of these drastic steps. They involve cutting down bureaucracy, firing two workers out of five in industry, lopping off dead branches in production, and going after taxes in the higher brackets. A very firm helmsman would be needed to steer the bark through the rapids of such a readjustment, and the Christian Democrats do not even pretend that they are going to try.

Their idea is best represented by what one of their ministers told—or rather tried to tell— an American representative; “We saved Italy lor you in the April elections by promises to the electorate which entail a 400 billion lire deficit in the budget. It is the Americans’ business to fill up that hole, and that is what we understand the Marshall Plan to be about.” He was vividly told that this was not at all the idea, but it is only very gradually that the statesmen are beginning to understand.

Once they have understood that the ERP is not a relief project, what then? Their main thought is certainly not modernization. Too many vested interests, too many prejudices and privileges, especially in the south, would have to be overcome before a real economic reform could be effected, and their ancient experience tells them that maybe there are other ways out, that something or somebody will always turn up to foot the bill.

Meanwhile, under a great show of coöperation, they are patiently and deviously endeavoring to get more consumer goods from us which they can sell for lire against their immediate needs, and less re-equipment goods. The American administrators, in their turn, are patiently working at pulling them back into line.

A winter employment program has been worked out under their supervision which will absorb about 200,000 dismissed industrial workers in land reclamation projects. This is only a stopgap measure. The whole of the Marshall Plan allotments, even supposing an increased trade with the East, would mean little more than a million jobs over four years.

The land reform which the Christian Democrats had explicitly promised both to their people and to our own authorities has been quietly shelved. What next? To leave productive economy to a free readjustment under the Iron Law would also mean iron repression against the unemployed masses, or deep structural reforms and vast re-employment plans. They do not have either the strength or the will to do one or the other.

To cut down the swollen bureaucracy (which has increased 700,000 since the war) to efficient proportions would really mean beggaring two or three million helpless people from the middle classes and creating a very dangerous political situation. Far from being able to retrench on that score, the Cabinet find themselves beset with the pitiful and by now threatening clamor of state employees who cannot live on salaries as low is $20 per month.

Stirrings in Italy

Some easing of the Italian plight may come from a general improvement in Western Europe. The Marshall Plan should soon be implemented by measures favoring international exchanges and by some kind of international currency. There is also some reasonable hope of increased trade with Eastern Europe, thanks to the ingenious efforts of the UN Economic Commission for Europe in Geneva, where Italy has some excellent experts.

But the main difficulties of Italy are not economic, grievous as these are; they are political, and so long as the present setup continues in force, economic planning will not go beyond a multiplying of ERPivores, as they are familiarly called in Rome.

There is a good chance, however, that the pressure of protest may ultimately break the frozen singleparty rule which is keeping Parliament out of business. The liberal wing of the Christian Democrats, led by Giovanni Gronchi, has shown increasing restiveness of late. It may gather enough decision to break the deadlock and vote with the opposition on certain economic issues, and we shall have Italian democracy again.