Max Shachtman

The Second Stage
Opens in Italy

A Caricature of Kerenskyism

(April 1944)

From The New International, Vol. X No. 4, April 1944, pp. 106–108.
Also published as The Present Stage of the Italian Revolution, Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 18, 1 May 1944, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The decision of the “six parties” to enter a new Badoglio government with King Victor Emmanuel still on the throne marks a new stage in the development of the revolution in Italy.

When the revolution first broke out in Italy, the masses who came out into the streets by the hundreds of thousands gave ample evidence of their long-suppressed desire to put an end to fascism, to all it stood for, and to the war which it had imposed upon them.

This display of popular hatred, which drove the Black shuns from the streets, was overwhelming enough to topple the Mussolini regime. It proved to the capitalist class and the monarchy that Mussolini did not retain enough support of any kind to keep the masses of the people in check any longer. To save themselves, they hastily abandoned their old savior, Mussolini himself, and all his more discredited henchmen.

A new figure was needed who could perform the task of preserving the old order. The ruling class and the monarchy picked Badoglio, in the hope that even though he might not be able to win the support of the masses, he could maintain “order” by the control over the remnants of the army which they expected would come to him from his previous military position. In addition, they felt, what he lacked in popular authority would be made up by the support he would receive from the Anglo-American forces. With the mantle of friendship for the “great democrats” of Washington and London draped around Badoglio, they thought that this butcher of the Albanian and Ethiopian peoples, who was Mussolini’s military tool in maintaining fascism in Italy for years, might pass as a democrat and appease the discontent of the people. The bread handouts of AMG would help, too.

The ruling class reckoned without its host – the masses of the people. We pointed out at the very beginning of the revolution that Badoglio was only a man of an hour, that his apparent triumph represented only the first stage of the struggle, and that this stage would not last long. The passing of the Badoglio regime, at least of the Badoglio regime as it was first constituted, bears out this prediction.

Why did it pass?

A Phantom Ruler

Badoglio and his master, the King, failed to obtain even as much social support, or even tolerance, as Mussolini had before the crisis broke out. The military forces he expected to command, and base himself upon, disappeared like water in sand. What was not retained by Mussolini’s gang in the North and incorporated into the Axis divisions, simply went home, fed up completely with the war and leaping at the first opportunity to withdraw from it. The famous “army” that Badoglio and Victor Emmanuel were going to contribute to the great Allied “war for democracy,” in which they blandly made themselves at home, simply failed to materialize.

The masses of the people did not rally to the support of the new regime, either. They did not do it in the South, which is weak industrially and backward politically, and they certainly did not do it in the North, the industrial heart of the country and its most advanced section politically. The masses of the people had not made their superb and successful effort to fling Mussolini into the discard only to accept in its place Mussolini’s general, Mussolini’s King, and a mob of discredited fascist politicians and gunmen who set themselves up as the new government in every southern locality. They did not overturn Mussolini with the idea of “really getting into the war,” but of getting out of it. They got neither the freedom, the peace, the republic, nor the end to starvation for which they yearned and still yearn.

The Anglo-American imperialists would have preferred to have Badoglio remain in power just as he was. Wherever possible and efficacious, they want just such a “strong man,” that is, a hard-boiled reactionary who does not yield to the aspirations for freedom of the “mob.” Darlan was no accident; Badoglio was no accident.

But Badoglio’s regime proved inefficacious even from the standpoint of Washington and London. And that for two reasons. First, it showed itself incapable of winning even the passive support of the people in the south, in “liberated” Italy, because it could give them nothing except a slightly modified version of what they had in the old days. Second, it could not win the support of the people in the German-occupied North. The North is decisive for Italy, as indicated. The military progress of the Allies in Italy depends in considerable measure upon the “cooperation,” so to speak, of the rebellious workers of the North. At the same time, the further North the Allies move, the more difficult the problem of dealing with the Italian population would become. The workers of the North could not be sold the idea of a Badoglio regime for even five minutes.

A Little Face-Lifting

Hence the Allies, Moscow of course included, began a campaign to lift the face of the Badoglio regime, to give it a more popular aspect, to make it more acceptable to the people, both in the South and in the North. Here, as in nine-tenths of the cases which involve Allied political moves in Europe, they were dominated above all by fear of revolution. The campaign involved putting as much pressure as needed on Badoglio and Victor Emmanuel to accept a government reorganization that would include the “democratic” panics of the Committee, or Junta, of the “Six Parties”; and putting similar pressure on these parties, especially on the party of Count Sforza and the Socialist Party, to enter a Badoglio government without insisting upon the abolition of the monarchy or even the abdication of Victor Emmanuel.

The Allies were forced into this policy by the considerations mentioned above. The Badoglio government had to be “democratized” without running the risk of anything so” upsetting as the overturn of the monarchy, hi order to win the support of the masses without really giving them what they want and need. The government had to be “democratized” in order to trick the masses out of fighting for democratic rights and powers.

The “Six Parties,” which are mostly bureaucratic committees without real organizational strength or following, were reluctant to be pushed into this compromise. This was especially the case of the most important of them, the Sforza party and the Socialist Party, which does have some support among the people. Their reluctance was not due, despite their lofty declarations, to any noble principles. They are showing this by their present action. It was due to fear of compromising themselves too badly – and so early in the fight! – in the eyes of the people. They know the bitterness the people feel toward the monarchy; they know the hatred of the people toward Badoglio and the black gang of cut-throats supporting him. They were compelled, from the very beginning, to make the most highfalutin and indignant denunciations of the monarch and his Premier. They swore the most solemn oaths that they would never enter a government of so discredited a scoundrel as Badoglio, that they would take no part in a government that did not first receive the abdication of Mussolini’s co-criminal, the King.

Never? Well, hardly ever! When the pressure grew, these fake democrats collapsed like a jack-knife. They burned all their solemn oaths, they threw all their grandiose principles down the drain, hoped against hope that everybody would forget their heroic speeches and articles and posturings, and went with hat in hand to visit the detestable Marshal in order to bargain with him about the jobs they would get in his new cabinet, formed with the blessings of the High Seats of Democracy, Washington, London and, last but not least, Moscow.

The Stalinist Role

The filthy, the perfectly characteristic, role of the Stalin regime is especially noteworthy. The professional perjurers and bootlickers who edit the Stalinist press throughout the world had been shouting at the top of their bought-and-paid-for lung-power against the Badoglio regime for months. They clamored that it was reactionary; that it was hardly a hair’s-breadth different from Mussolini’s; that it represented nobody but a cabal of despots and criminals. They denounced and pleaded with Washington and London to cut loose from Badoglio.

Then, for his own good reasons, including the aim of breaking through the “freeze-out” policy practiced by AMG against Moscow in Italy, Stalin granted diplomatic recognition to the government that was reactionary and represented only a handful of despots and criminals. The Stalinist editors and press thereupon made one of their typical turnabout-faces, without so much as the flicker of an eyelash. They know what side their bread is buttered on.

The recognition of the Badoglio regime by Moscow was, however, only the first step. Stalin wants influence in Italy. His imperialist aims do not stop at the shores of the Mediterranean, but extend to the sea itself. Besides, he must always be on the spot to prevent any socialist revolution or revolutionary movement from rising to any strength – the beginning of the socialist victory in Europe means the end of the Stalinist tyranny in Russia.

To Naples, therefore, came one of the most despicable characters in the foreign machine of Moscow, Palmiro Tagliatti, alias Ercoli. Ercoli was for years one of the most unscrupulous tools of Stalin in the Communist International. This cold-blooded, cynical, corrupt flunkey stood by applauding while the best militants in the Italian communist movement – the genuine communist movement, not the present-day caricature of it – were driven from the party, or went sent to prison, or even executed. He cheered with the mob of bureaucrats when the flower of the Russian Revolution was framed up in Russia and executed in the cellars of the GPU. He was just the man for Stalin’s job in Italy.

His job in Italy was, first, to force the “Six Parties” to enter the Badoglio regime to give it a more palatable appearance. With Stalinist pressure on one side and Allied pressure on the other, the rest of the Six Parties capitulated.

It is of the highest interest to learn that the job demanded by the Stalinists in the new cabinet is the Ministry of the Interior. They may not get it, but that is what they want first. The Ministry of the Interior in Italy is in charge of ... police and prisons. That is what the Stalinists want to control. That is how they have trained themselves and their representatives to deal with all dissenters – by police and prisons. Success in this field would mean that Stalin has sunk an entering wedge deep into Italy – the wedge of the GPU, this time a GPU clothed with the official authority and power of the Italian state.

But acting officially through the police of the government, or unofficially and in the dark, the knife of Stalinism is directed against the independence of the people, against their democratic and socialist strivings, against all those who represent these strivings to any serious degree – be it our comrades, the revolutionary Trotskyists of Italy, or the socialists who are not ready to take orders and a stipend from Moscow, or even ordinary democrats and liberals who will not do Stalin’s dirty work. It is in the Stalinists that the Italian revolution will find its most sinister enemy, its most potent menace.

The first stage of the revolution in Italy could only give way to the present stage, the second. But the second is no more durable than the first. It must, in turn, give way to a new stage.

A New Staff to Come

The very circumstances in which the new Badoglio regime – the “democratized” Badoglio regime – is coming into office clearly indicates that it can give the people little, if anything, more than did its predecessor. Will these “democratic” governors now try to recruit and mobilize the Italian people for a “more active” part in the war? But that is precisely what the harried masses, ruined by the war, do not want. Will it give them food, which is a burning question for the starving masses now? It is more than doubtful. The profiteers will continue their shameless profiteering, the masses will continue on the brink of exhaustion.

The profiteers, capitalists and princes will not be crushed by a gang of cowards who dared not even break completely with a zero like Badoglio – much less with that other master of food, AMG. Will it give them a republic? What the masses want now, these “democrats” will probably continue to promise them ... in the future. Will it give them democratic rights, the genuine right of free press, free speech, free assem-ly, the right to vote for a government of their own, a National Constituent Assembly which will decide the government of Italy? Yes ... When? Tomorrow, always tomorrow, and never today. “After the war,” they say. But the people want these rights now, and promises made by those who have already condemned themselves by their cynical violation of solemn promises are not a substitute.

The events leading up to the second stage of the Italian revolution that has just opened, emphasize what we and, we are glad to note, our Italian comrades whose first proclamation we printed recently, have said from the beginning. The people of Italy cannot expect to get their liberation from foreign imperialism, and they cannot expect it from the Stalinists, the Sforza-Croce “democrats” or the right-wing socialists. The winning of their freedom is their own job, and it can be achieved only in the course of an independent struggle.

Real freedom, peace, security, abundance – these are not to be won short of the victory of socialism throughout Europe. The old Europe, the Europe of capitalism, can bring the people only what it has brought them, suffering, war, exploitation, despotism, national hatreds, poverty, weakness. There is not a single country of Europe that can solve its problem by itself. The problem of each of the countries is the problem of all of Europe, to be solved unitedly by the free nations and peoples of Europe, organized in a Socialist United States of Europe There is no other road but leads to despair and ruin.

This does not mean that each country of Europe must wait until all the others are ready for revolution. One can start; the others will follow. For various reasons, it is Italy that has started. If it continues, the purifying fire will light in other lands.

Struggle for Democratic Rights

In Italy, the developments have already showed the tremendous revolutionary significance and power, both from the standpoint of the masses of the people, and from the standpoint of revolutionary socialism, of the struggle for democratic rights. So far as the fascists are concerned, it is all clear. But especially so far as the “democratic” imperialists are concerned, and the totalitarian Stalinists, and the capitalist liberals and right-wing socialists as well – they all fear the exercise of democratic rights by the people. They want to do everything from above, without the masses “interfering,” in the hope that this is an easier way to keep the masses in check.

All of them are afraid of what the masses will say about them if they have the unrestricted right of free speech. They fear what the masses will say and plan in their halls and do in the streets if they have the right of assembly. They fear what the masses will organize if they have the right to organize. If the strength of the masses were unleashed, they would not hesitate for a moment to step right into industry and the machinery of distribution and, disregarding the profit interests of capital, see to it that there is food for the people and food equitably shared. This is especially what the capitalist politicians fear. They fear the power of an independent and untrammelled press at the service of the masses.

They are afraid of elections, for then they must submit themselves to the suffrage and judgment of the masses, especially masses of people who are in a revolutionary frame of mind, who demand deeds and not only words, who demand that promises be taken off paper and carried out in life. They are therefore also afraid of calling for a National Constituent Assembly on the basis of universal suffrage to decide the government of Italy. They prefer to do that in the dark of the moon, by bureaucratic arrangements with Anglo-American imperialism, with Moscow, with the monarchists and the bankers – all behind the backs of the people.

Our Italian comrades, who are concentrating their efforts under the most difficult circumstances to build up a truly revolutionary socialist party, a party of the Fourth International, rightly point out to the workers of Italy that they must set themselves the goal of a Socialist United States of Europe.

At the same time, they call upon the workers to fight now for the democratic rights we have outlined above. They call not only for the right of free speech, free press and assembly, and the right to organize, but the right to vote and the convocation of a National Constituent Assembly. In this call, our Italian comrades once more show that the revolutionary socialists do not merely talk about democracy and democratic rights, but are the most consistent and fearless fighters for it. They show that the fight for democracy for the masses of the people lies along the road of the fight for socialism and is best conducted under the leadership of revolutionary socialists.

Our comrades are not deceiving themselves, however, or the workers to whom they speak. They do not ask the workers to look to AMG for the realization of their legitimate demands. They do not tell them to expect it of the King, the bankers, the industrialists, the “ex-fascists” like Badoglio, or even from Sforza and his ilk. To the contrary, in their very first pronouncement, our Italian comrades warned the workers against such illusions. Their warning has already been more than amply justified, and the recent decision of the “Six Parties” serves to underscore it.

Our Italian comrades tell the workers that they must organize and fight for these rights, that they themselves must acquire these rights, including the calling of a National Constituent Assembly. To organize themselves most democratically and most effectively, the workers, soldiers and peasants of Italy, say our comrades, must organize their own councils. It is in such organization that the future of the Italian revolution is assured.

From our standpoint, the course recommend by our Italian comrades is not only thoroughly wise and correct, but corresponds perfectly to the needs and interests of the people of Italy.

Meaning to American Labor

Are the events in Italy, its future, of concern only to the people of that country? No, to the people, especially to the workers, of the United States as well. We have a stake in the development of the revolution in Italy. For if it is defeated, that is a direct blow at us here, and reaction will know how to deliver it. If it is victorious, it is a victory for us, because labor will be as encouraged and emboldened as the capitalists will be upset and demoralized.

We have our duty to perform. It is a downright shame that our labor movement has kept silent while Anglo-American authorities are maintained as conquerors over the Italian people, while these “liberators” continue to deny the Italian people the most elementary democratic rights. We must raise our voices in protest against this disgraceful state of affairs and demand: “Hands of the Italian people and their rights! Hands off the Italian Revolution!”

There is much we can do, of a most concrete kind, for our Italian brothers. Labor must not be remiss in its duty. The freedom of a people is involved.

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Last updated on 14 October 2015