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International Socialism, June 1976


Bob Lumley

The Italian General Election


From Notes of the Month, International Socialism (1st series), No.89, June 1976, p.6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Bob Lumley writes: The June general elections in Italy were forced on the Moro government and the politicians, none of whom wanted to take the country to the polls a year before they were due. However the Christian Democrats could not struggle on; the prospect of the abortion referendum, the Lockheed scandal and the massive devaluation of the Lira brought down the political house of cards. The conditions are ideal for major electoral advances by the parliamentary left, and political commentators predict that the Communist Party (PCI) will supercede the Christian Democrats (CD) as the biggest national party. The regional elections last year put the PCI and the Socialist Party (PSI) into power in nearly every town of central and Northern Italy (see map), so a combined majority nationally would give them the chance of forming a government far stronger in votes than Allende’s in Chile.

The political wheeling-and-dealing between the parties in the Moro coalition has been like a glorified game of poker; each player has been waiting for the others to break-up the game. Nor is this new. In the past 30 years there have been 38 administrations made up of the Christian Democrats and a combination of the other parties – the PSI, the Radicals, the Social Democrats. But the economic crisis has brought to a head the crisis in the old political and ideological system. Since January this year the Lira has fallen in value by 33 per cent (the same as the £ over the past five years); food prices have rocketed by 7 percent in March and April; unemployment has reached 1,300,000, and in Naples one in three of the workforce is out of a job. The Christian Democrats have been demanding sacrifices and trust from the workers, and yet have lost too much respect to enforce them without the helping hand of the PCI. In April the Lockheed scandal, coming hard on the heels of the Shell-BP scandals, directly involved a member of the cabinet code-named Antelope-cobbler. The Italian press has been consulting every English dictionary available, only to arrive at Leone (translated ‘lion’). Not surprisingly the national sport of detecting corrupt ministers has cut away many illusions in the Christian Democrats, especially among younger workers who are being given the vote for the first time. Many are out of work; most of the 800,000 unemployed ‘youth’ have never had a job.

Anger with the corrupt old Catholic regime has also developed from a quite new quarter – among millions of Italian women. Ever since the majority vote for divorce in the referendum in 1974, the womens’ movement has become a significant political factor. It has been the main force behind collecting the 800,000 signatures that forced Moro to call a referendum on abortion for June 13th. Since opinion polls indicated that a substantial majority of the population were in favour of abortion, Moro prefered to have a general election instead. The whole abortion issue is dynamite for the Christian Democrats who have relied on the Vatican for support in the fight against communism, and who rely on women for 60 per cent of their votes. A cultural hegemony formed of superstition and the systematic oppression of women is in crisis.

The response of the PCI to the current situation has been to press forward with its proposal of the ‘historical compromise’ with the Christian Democrats. Ever since the Chilean coup, which Berlinguer, the general secretary, partly blamed on the Popular Unity government’s failure to win the middle classes with moderation, the PCI has relegated socialist demands to the attic. The PCI has instead pledged itself to ‘a strategy to get Italy out of the crisis, to renew it and to save and develop democracy’. The practical consequences of this policy of wooing the CD has been to sell women short over abortion, to agree to wage controls and to demand tougher law and order measures. Instead of trying to organise a union offensive to topple the Moro government, the PCI, through its bureaucrats in the CGIL, has accepted three year contracts based on 8 per cent wage increases and a total freeze on plant bargaining.

The Economist commented:

‘If the Communists come to power and were to push through a series of radical social reforms, union leaders say they would find it a lot easier to sell a policy of moderation. and strike restriction to their membership.’ (1.5.76)

Even though the PCI and the PSI gain an overall majority, it seems likely that they will form a government with other parties and ask the Christian Democrats to join it. However they will not have an easy task selling a policy of sacrifices to the workers who have great hopes for a new social order after the long night of Christian Democrat rule. On the other hand the government will be under heavy pressure from Agnelli and co at home and the bankers abroad to follow in the footsteps of Mr Healey.

The situation provides revolutionaries in Italy with unprecedented opportunities for presenting an alternative to the parliamentary Left.

For the first time all the major groups – Avanguardia Operaia, PDUP and Lotta Continua – are fighting the campaign on the joint platform of Democrazia Proletaria (DP). It is no electoral threat to the PCI, but in the last regional elections DP got 400,000 votes (despite Lotta Continua’s refusal to participate). Their programme of opposition to any compromise with the Christian Democrats, demands for systematic anti-capitalist policies (including immediate establishment of free abortion on demand) is likely to get a sympathetic response from large sections of workers. But the election for the revolutionaries is only the launching pad for a perspective of working class struggle against any government that continues to act in the interest of the capitalists. If there is a good Left wing majority the situation will be significantly more favourable for raising the political struggle to new levels by confronting the PCI wherever it tries to compromise with the capitalists. And whatever the composition of the new government, the severity of the crisis in Italy will mean continued political instability.

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