on the World Today
WITH Socialist André Le Troquer again presiding over the National Assembly, and with minority minister Guy Mollet as Premier, France’s new government opened on a somewhat somber note. On the first round for the election of the president of the National Assembly, the Communists voted solidly for old war horse André Marty, its oldest member and a lifelong Communist. Socialist Le Troquer, who was president in 1953, received only 133 votes — less than a quarter of the total membership of the Assembly. On the second round, the Communists threw their entire 150 votes to Le Troquer, which assured his election and secured their mortgage on him and his party.
Mollet’s and Mendès-France’s contention that they were the victors in the elections of January 2 was exposed as a hollow claim by this vote. As a matter of fact their coalition stood third on the first ballot, as the Communists and the Center groups both received more votes. For the safety of parliamentary government in France, the real choice was not between the so-called Republican Front and the Center, but between the Communist-backed Popular Front and the union of all the national and republican parties, which both Vincent Auriol and Edgar Faure had urged.
The Mollet ministry can only hope to put its Socialist program across with the help of the Communist bloc. Eastern Europe should be a serious warning. Here a “ temporary ” alliance of socialist and radical parties with a Communist minority in every case resulted in extermination of the Socialists and satellization of their country. The so-called Republican Front, which is running the show in France at the moment, is at best a shaky combination. Mendès-France not only failed to attract restless youth as he had hoped; he actually polled fewer votes than paper-dealer Poujade, and was badly hurt when Mollet refused to name him Minister of Foreign Affairs. This is exactly the kind of situation the Communists know how to exploit.
The First Popular Front
The political background today is very similar to that in the years following 1933. In May, 1934, ten months after the “Battle of the Barges,” Maurice Thorez, titular leader of the Communist Party in France, and Jacques Doriot were summoned to appear before the Executive Committee of the Communist International in Moscow. Doriot refused to go, but Thorez went and on his return a few weeks later brought with him Moscow’s instructions to work for a Popular Front.
For years the Socialists had been insulted and despised by the Communists, who called them “lackeys of the bourgeoisie,” “ straw men for the fascists,” “ traitors to the working classes.” Suddenly the campaign of hate was changed, as Thorez explained to his comrades on June 23, 1934, at a meeting of the French Communist Party called by him to deliver the directions he had received in Moscow. Instead of insulting their Socialist “ brothers,” the comrades were to cultivate them, while the party leaders were to urge a political union on their Socialist opposite numbers. Within weeks the trick was turned, and in mid-July, 1934, an agreement for united action was signed.
This move turned out to be of great international importance; France was merely the pilot plant. The 7th Congress of the Communist International was twice postponed in order that the results of the Popular Front might be watched and evaluated. When finally the 7th Congress was summoned in August, 1935, the experience in France was considered conclusive proof of the value to militant Communism of cooperation with left-wing parties which preach evolutionary socialism. Orders were issued at once to the comrades of all countries to work for an alliance with socialists and radicals.
World War II gave party members a wide-open chance to pick off their enemies during the days of the resistance and the early years of the liberation. From 1945 to 1947, France was slipping rapidly into the Communist slough. Domination by the Communists was prevented largely by Marshall Plan aid and the energetic measures of Socialist Paul Ramadier, who threw Communist subversives out of his cabinet. But the snake was not killed, it. was only scotched. And today, with Poland, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany as shining examples of the success of its strategy, Moscow has decided to try it again in France. Just as if he were a loyal citizen, Jacques Duclos was called to the Elysée Palace: by President Coty. Oozing good will and crowned with a coexistence halo, he modestly admitted that as the time had not arrived for him to become Premier of France, the President had best call on a Socialist. The orders had again come from Moscow to let the left-ofcenter minority try to govern with Communist support.
The Communist vote
In actual numbers there were 588,931 more ballots cast for Communist candidates this year than in 1951, an increase of 10.6 per cent. But the total number of voters for all parties was 12 per cent higher than in 1951, so that the Communists fell slightly below the general increase in votes. Of the total cast, the Communists polled 25.6 per cent, exactly the same proportion as in 1951. From the point of view of popular support there has been no change during the past five years. But there is no room for complacency as long as one quarter of the electorate votes Communist.
Left-wing politicians and publications declare that no party can govern without Communist support, claiming that Communism is again on the march, especially in industrial centers. This contention is not proved by the facts in France.
Of the districts where industry predominates, the Nord and Pas-deCalais slightly increased their Communist vote in 1956 compared with 1946, but in both it declined as compared with 1951. In the Bouches-duRhône district, the Communist percentage in 1951 dropped 1.2, and in 1956 it was 4.2 per cent below 1946. In the Corrèze, where there is practically no industry worth mentioning, the Communist vote was 4 per cent below 1951; and in the PyrénéesOrientales, almost entirely agricultural, the decline was 6.2 per cent. The other districts do not present any clear pattern. Belfort, a trade and small textile center, jumped the Communist vote up 10 per cent, and in the agricultural Cher it increased 1.3 per cent over 1951.
In ten northeastern districts, close to Germany and menaced with atomic devastation in the event of an attack on the NATO air bases located there, the Communists increased their total vote by 10.9 per cent in the Vosges, and by 2 to 5 per cent in the other districts. In the three districts closest to the eastern frontiers, the Communist vote in 1956 showed a sharp increase.
In eleven western districts, of which five are on the coast with important maritime industries and shipping activities, the showing of the Communists was spotty. In Seine Maritime, where the port of Le Havre is located, more than 30 per cent of the people voted Communist; but in the Loire Maritime, which contains SaintNazaire, La Pallice, and Penhoet, only 13 per cent voted Communist; and in the Manche district with Cherbourg, a feeble 8 per cent. In central, and southeastern France the Communist percentages were practically unchanged, and south of a line drawn from Bordeaux to Geneva, Communist influence as expressed by the voters definitely declined.
A study of these figures shows that Communism is not always a revolt of the masses against poverty or industrialization, as Marxist doctrine claims. Communism uses every kind of revolt, whether or not it is justified, for its own purposes. In the recent elections, where a Poujadist appeared stronger than the Communist candidate the latter was withdrawn and the “ Commies ” were told to vote for Poujade’s man. In other places, the militant Communism left over from the resistance movement of 1941-45 has suddenly been converted to peaceful coexistence and even, in some cases, to defeatism.
Whatever may have been the motives behind the voting on January 2, eight million Frenchmen registered disillusion and disgust with the parliamentary regime and indicated a greater concern for their own skins than for the safety and political health of their nation.
Will Italy follow suit?
The revolt of the merchants and shopkeepers in the small towns and cities of France which snowballed into the Poujade movement and won 50 seats in the recently elected Assembly seems likely to have a counterpart in Italy. Political conditions there are very similar to those prevailing in France, and it is possible that some of the reactions will be the same. Signs of a popular protest against parliamentary inefficacy are already evident.
In Milan, at a recent meeting of merchants and artisans, it was proposed to organize on a national scale the movement which was started last year in Novara, Pavia, and Vercelli, when several thousand small agricultural proprietors and workers protested against and opposed the “ fiscal excesses” of the government. These two movements were spontaneous local incidents expressing the profound dissatisfaction of small owners and shopkeepers, and were in no way connected with the Communists.
Eyes are on Giuseppe Sguazzini of Novara, who gathered together the several thousand small farm-owners and workers to denounce the “fiscal oppression ” of the government, and whose elementary arguments and simple techniques are the same as those used by Poujade. The Italian leader makes no political pretensions; he discusses questions of primary interest to his auditors with considerable skill. At one meeting, a resolution was passed asking the government to lighten the tax burden on the small landowners to protect and maintain rural production against the attraction of the industrial towns and cities. The resolution threatened suspension of tax payments if the government failed to act; but Signor Sguazzini cautioned prudence, as under Italian law those who do not pay their taxes may incur severe penalties.
The Ministry of the Interior castigated the movement as “seditious” and threatened action, but so far it has done nothing. As the movement spreads and attracts adherents, it may no longer be advisable for the government to try to check what was first considered local insubordination. If several hundred thousand farmers, small merchants, and artisans refuse to pay their taxes, the courts could not handle the cases brought before them, and the seizure of the properties of the protesters would rapidly block local economic activities. If thousands of properties were seized by the government for taxes, the government would find itself smothered by its own action.
The Italian left wing
The success of the opposition vote in France has been a warning to the politicos in Italy. With 12 per cent of the electorate behind Ponjade and 25 per cent Communists, the opposition movements control well one third of the seats in the Assembly and could disrupt orderly government if they combined forces. In Italy there is a Communist bloc equal in size to that in France, and the left-wing Socialists under Nenni have voted with the Communists more often than with the Socialists. No one party has a working majority, and the Christian Democratic Party which de Gasperi held together is now split into left and right, wings, flanked by the powerful Communist-Socialist combination on one side and by the Neo-Fascists, who have doubled the number of deputies since 1918, on the other.
As a result of these gains on the left and on the right, the center group which supports Prime Minister Segni has a tough time mustering a majority, especially since a section of the Liberal Party, which has worked with the Christian Democrats, has split off toward the left.
Quite apart from the political rivalry in the national chamber, popular dissatisfaction is resorting to extrapolitical means supported by the sound middle classes, which have always been a stabilizing element in Italy. Having lived through the fascism of Mussolini, the German and Allied occupation, the fall of the monarchy, and the uncertain years of the present republican regime, the Italian common man finds his own condition and that of his family one of increasing uncertainty. He is no longer interested in the political competition between the various parties and has no faith in Communist promises.
Protecting the little man
A movement for the protection of this common man and his local interests and problems without affiliation with any political group appeals to him as his solution. The progressive mayor of Florence, Signor La Pira, has won considerable commendation for his program based solidly on social justice and a better deal for the middle-class citizen. Two years ago, Mayor La Pira backed the workers of a machine-tool factory who took over and ran the plant which the management had decided to close down. In February, 1955, he turned over to the workers a foundry which was in liquidation, in order to head off the unemployment which would have caused great privation, especially in the middle of winter.
As a result of these wise, humane decisions all labor groups, whether Christian Democrat, Socialist, or Communist, staunchly support Mayor La Lira. In a country with two million constantly unemployed, any bold action which gives work to those who want to work is sure to receive popular support.
A parliamentary subcommittee headed by Signor Vigorelli has reported that most of the unemployed are undernourished and badly housed, and have no means of improving their situation. The Vanoni plan for the underdeveloped South and Sicily is intended as a remedy for this chronic unemployment, but several years will be required before any real relief can be realized.
Ducking the tax collector
As in most other countries, Italians of all classes consider the tax collector public enemy number one and all means of evading taxes legitimate. This is an old custom in many countries on the Continent, where, throughout history, foreign conquerors havemade heavy levies on defeated nations, and local princes and royal rulers have regularly required heavy payments from the people to support themselves in unnecessary luxury. Naturally, the exploited resorted to every means of concealment to defraud the collectors of revenue, whom they quite correctly considered their enemies. The habits and customs of these unruly times have been carried over into the present day.
The successive governments in Italy have tried to root out these practices ever since 1945, when a
plebiscite deposed the House of Savoy and installed the republic, But their efforts have met with little success. Some observers claim that the more severe the measures adopted to collect the taxes, the more determined is the opposition to defend what it considers its own right, with the final result that the state collects less than it would have by milder methods. It will be well worth watching Signor Sguazzini and his movement, which, if it can steer clear of polities while working for social justice and a better deal for the little man, may become an important factor in Italy.