Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Fourth International, May 1948


World in Review

Italian Elections Mark Interim Setback For Stalinists


From Fourth International, Vol.9 No.3, May 1948, pp.69-71.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The results of the Italian elections marked a signal victory for American imperialism in its “cold war” against the Soviet Union. Only a few months ago the tide seemed to be running irresistibly in favor of the Popular Front. The same demands for peace, land and bread which were the slogans of the Russian Revolution were on the tongues of the Italian workers and peasants. The Stalinist-led bloc won the important elections in Rome last October and made further inroads in the local elections at Pescara in February.

There was even talk that the workers and peasants under the leadership of the Communist Party might surge forth and seize power before the elections. Many capitalist observers had expected the Popular Front to obtain a clear majority and very few doubted that it would become the leading party. There were many defeatists in the ranks of the American bourgeoisie who openly counseled withdrawal from this uneven race lest US economy be endangered by pouring more billions into the rat hole of Europe.

Yet the exigencies of the situation permitted of no retreat on the part of the American capitalists. The disastrous defeats of their Chinese puppet Chiang Kai-shek at the hands of the CP-led armies and the ease with which Czechoslovakia came under the complete domination of the Stalinists made it all the more essential for Washington to stand its ground in Western Europe. What perturbed American imperialism still more was the fear that Stalin would be unable to control the forces of revolution unleashed in, Italy, and that even a new deal with the Kremlin would not prevent revolution from spreading throughout Europe. It was at this juncture that Washington went all out in its desperate attempt to influence the Italian elections. It threw aside the last pretense of non-intervention and got its faithful ally, the Catholic hierarchy, to do likewise. Together the new Holy Alliance staged one of the most coercive election campaigns ever held under the banner of “democracy.”

Unprecedented Intervention in an Election

American imperialism openly and brazenly lined up its citizens of Italian extraction to appeal to their compatriots abroad by means of the radio and through hundreds of thousands of letters to vote “against Communism.” This was only to supplement the more direct intervention on the part of Washington. Marshall’s “European Recovery Program” was rushed through Congress three weeks before the elections while the previously passed stop-gap aid was utilized to send ships loaded with food for the hungry Italian people. The ships were routed to various Italian ports where they were met by Ambasador Dunn who expatiated on the generosity of Uncle Sam. This was to be a token of more extensive aid to follow under ERP. And with the hope of better days to come was the threat of ending this help in the event that the CP-dominated Front won the elections.

American imperialism also let it be known in unmistakable terms that it would regard a victory of the Popular Front as another indication of Soviet expansion, which would lead to direct armed intervention by Washington. Democracy was to be cherished as long as the Italians followed the directives of the American industrialists. Otherwise Truman was prepared to play the same role in Italy as Hitler and Mussolini did in Spain in 1936. The fear that a victory for the CP-SP bloc would lead to war thus had its influence with the Italian electorate.

What the Vote Figures Show

The Catholic hierarchy, always ready to support the most reactionary force in society, did yeoman work on behalf of its patron in Wall Street. From the Pope right down to the village priest the whole Church together with its lay organization, Catholic Action, took to the rostrum and invaded every home. Sacraments were denied to those espousing the Popular Front. The faithful were warned that it was a sin not to “vote for God,” who, unlike Stalin, was able to watch them in the polling booth. Civil Committees were organized by Catholic Action in every one of the 3,000 dioceses and in 18,000 of the 24,000 parishes. Units were formed in every building by the 3,000,000 members of Catholic Action. Thus the “red tide” was turned back, by the black legion, causing joy in Washington ind the Vatican.

The Christian Democrats obtained 12,751,000 votes, 48.7% of the total. They thereby got 307 out of 575 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, an outright majority. They also obtained 151 out of 350 seats in the Senate. With the help of his allies, the party’s leader, Premier de Gasperi, will have no difficulty in controlling both Houses. The Christian Democrats gained 4,875,000 voles over their tolal in the June 2, 1946 elections for the Constituent Assembly, increasing their percentage from 35.2. to 48.7. However, all but approximately a million of the votes gained by the Christian Democrats were at the expense of the parties of the right, the balance being due to the larger turnout at the polls.

The Popular Front received 8,026,000 votes or 30.7% of the total. They obtained 182 seats in the Chamber and 115 in the Senate. Comparison with the 1946 elections is difficult since in the interim the “right-wing” Socialists, led by Saragat, split from the Socialist Party, and in 1948 polled 1,860,000 votes or 7.1% on their own ticket. If we assume that the relative strength of the Saragat party remained stationary during the two years, then we can estimate the combined 1948 vote of the CP and SP minus the split-off “right wing” as 7,233,000 votes or 32.5% of the total. Thus we find the forces comprising the Popular Front today gained nearly a million voles but percentagewise dropped 1.8%.

Trends Indicated

Inside the Popular Front, according to incomplete returns available at this time, the CP made deep inroads upon its SP ally. Whereas in the 1946 Constituent Assembly the CP had 103 seats, it now occupies at least 139 in the new Chamber, a gain of 36. The Nenni-led Socialists, however, are expected to obtain no more than 37 seats while the Saragat group now has 33 seats. In 1946 the united Socialists together held 115 seats. Again assuming that the Saragat bloc remained stationary, the Nenni Socialists appear to have lost at least 45 seats.

From this brief resume it might appear that American imperialism and its agent de Gasperi have little to be jubilant about since the Communist Party made a 33% gain in the Chamber to become the second largest party in Italy. But a comparison with 1946 does not tell the true story since the situation did not remain static in the interval.

All the economic factor’s favored a victory for the CP-led Front. Starvation and hunger were the lot both of the Italian workers in the city and of the peasants on the land. Uncontrolled inflation had sapped the purchasing power of the Italian people. More than two million were unemployed at the end of 1947 with another sharp increase since then. On more than one occasion the workers took possession of the factories while the peasants seized the land. Fascists were being systematically hunted down. Had the Stalinists not dampened the ardor of the workers and peasants to conform to the diplomatic policy of the Kremlin, revolution would have been the order of the day.

Thousands of advanced workers saw through the aims of the Stalinist leadership, which were calculated merely to enhance the bargaining power of the Kremlin in its frantic desire to come to terms with the American imperialists at the expense of the Italian people. The large drop in the vote of the Popular Front in the industrial cities of the North attested to this fact. According to unofficial figures of American correspondents, the Popular Front vote in North Italy dropped from 40.9% in 1946 to 32.9%. The big gains for the CP took place in the less decisive sections of Central and Southern Italy and in Ihe Islands. In Central Italy, where the influence of the Church is stronger than in the North, the Popular Front nevertheless increased its vote from 37% to 45.3%.

The real crimes of Stalinism are reflected in these figures. The industrial workers of the North who had been following the leadership of the Communist Party turned away in disgust as the result of the sell-outs. Thoroughly confused they realized that the road to socialism was not by the Stalinist path.

The peasants of the South, turning to revolution as the only way to obtain the land from absentee land-holders and the Church, followed Stalinist leadership for the first time, after disillusionment with the Catholic politicians.

This confusion among the Italian electorate was doubly confounded by the reprehensible role of the American labor leaders who both in Italy and from abroad added their voices to the bellows of the capitalists and the Church. They were the most insistent in affirming that American aid under the Marshall Plan would be cut off in the event of a “Communist victory.” They denied the obvious truth that ERP was intended to line up the Italian people for the war against the Soviet Union and for crushing world revolution. Without their aid, given free of charge, American imperialism would not have been able to sell its reactionary program to the Italian people.

Premature Celebration

However the celebration of the bourgeoisie may prove to be premature. De Gasperi cannot solve the problems confronting the Italian people even with the help of ERP. It is beyond the province of capitalism to grant land to the peasants. Since land is mortgaged to the banks, the whole capitalist structure would be in danger of collapse. The ERP cannot build up Italian industry, for most of the aid will be in the form of food and coal. Marshall Plan aid will not exceed by much the average yearly sums thus far granted to the Italian government. The Plan may not even be sufficient to take care of the excess of imports over exports required by the Italian economy.

Italy lacks markets for its products even were it to obtain the necessary raw materials and machinery. While giving with one hand at the expense of the American tax-payers, US imperialism is itself taking away Italy’s foreign markets. It is also utilizing ERP to permit American industry to buy into Italian business firms. Wall Street already controls a large sector of Italian economy and has just concluded a trade agreement which forces Italian business men to permit American monopolists to compete on equal terms. Far from aiding Italian economy, American imperialism is in effect squeezing Italy dry.

Disappointment and disillusionment with the de Gas-peri regime should not be long in coming. It will be accompanied by deep and bitter hatred toward American imperialism and the Vatican who stumped so brazenly for their puppet, de Gasperi. The workers and peasants will be obliged to look elsewhere for a solution of their problems. Signs are already apparent that a new regroupment of the Socialist and Communist forces are in the making! The program of the Fourth International is beginning to find fertile soil in the unsettled conditions in Italy, it will not be long before the Italian workers and peasants will surge forth in another mighty effort to overthrow their masters. The final words will be spoken not in the ballot box but in the factories, on the land and in the streets.

Top of page

Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 25.2.2009