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New International, July 1948


Notes Of The Month

Saragat and the Italian Election


From The New International, Vol. XIV No. 5, July 1948, pp. 131–133.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


In retrospect, the Italian elections mark a turning point in the “cold war” between American and Russian imperialism for the mastery of Western Europe.

The Stalinist conquest of Czechoslovakia had heightened tension to the degree where both powers were obliged to pour their propaganda forces and strength into the Italian election with the sure knowledge that victory for one side or the other would be decisive in determining the character and tempo of the next phases of the planetary struggle. For America the future of the Marshall Plan was at stake; for Russia, the future of the “Molotov Plan” for Europe’s subjugation.

American imperialism won this round, achieving its sharpest and clearest victory in the post-war political period. The comparatively unchallenged and easy march of the Stalinist totalitarian machine westward, basing itself on various combinations of direct Russian pressure and popular support among the anti-capitalist masses, came to a halt for the time being.

Stalinism began a strategic; retreat, combined with the intensification of its consolidation process (completion of nationalization, for example, in Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia) in the occupied lands. Thus we find today that it is American imperialism which holds the offensive in Europe and, with its now-operating Marshall Plan, pushes hard against the Stalinist sector of the continent. This outcome was inevitable since Stalinism was unable to attempt the seizure of power in Italy by the launching of open civil war, in view of the serious steps toward resistance taken by the United States. From a world view, this is the turning-point significance of the election.

Stalinism, although suffering a severe moral and political defeat, did not do as badly as its eager opponents wishfully announced. Again illustrating a fundamental point in our analysis of Stalinism – namely, that it bases itself upon the popular masses by a demagogic perversion and twisting of the socialist program which, in the absence of a genuine revolutionary party, appears to be socialism – the Italian Stalinists got over 30 per cent of the popular vote, or almost nine million votes, from among the workers and poor peasantry, the most oppressed and exploited sections of the nation. Keen to pick up the needs and simple slogans of the masses, Stalinism exploited the well-known evils of Italian society (mass poverty, land hunger) to the hilt with its socially demagogic but dynamic program.

It is idle to deny that Stalinism still exists as a great mass movement among the people. Though temporarily set back, it is far from defeated. To expect the Christian Democracy to defeat Stalinism in any definitive way is to expect the impossible.

Significance of the Saragat Vote

Between these two great reactionary camps of Stalinism and clericalism, there emerged – unexpectedly strong at the end of ihe campaign – the reformist social-democratic party of Saragat, polling close to two million votes. The significance of this vote lies not in the program of the Saragat party, which stands at the extreme bourgeois-coalitionist wing of social-democracy, but in the fact that millions of Italians seized upon this party banner as an opportunity to cast their vote against Stalinism and simultaneously for what they conceive to be democratic socialism, rather than for the reactionaiy, clericalist and papist program of the Christian Democrats. What makes the Saragat vote all the more significant is the fact that it was overwhelmingly the vote of industrial workers. The Saragat votes came almost entirely from the Northern industrial cities. Milan, often called the Detroit of Italy and an old revolutionary stronghold, gave a quarter million votes to the Saragat ticket, only slightly less than the Stalinist slate received in that city.

While it is true that there is at present no way of determining exactly the real political complexion of the Saragat voters – a vast unorganized mass that is several hundred times as large as the party’s membership – it is extremely unlikely that this huge number of anti-Stalinist workers voted for Saragat’s party as an endorsement of its class-collaborationist and coalitionist politics. It must be remembered that the Saragat party originated as a peculiar alliance of anti-Stalinists of the right and anti-Stalinists of the left.

The former opposed the pro-Stalinist policies of the Nenni leadership of the Italian Socialist Party from the traditional viewpoint of reformist social-democracy, identifying the “Communism” of Stalin with the Communism of Lenin. The anti-Stalinists of the left, however, identified themselves in a general sense with the traditions of the Russian Revolution and attacked the Italian CP for its subservience to Russia’s national interests. While the reformist wing has composed the leadership of the Saragat party, such of its left-wing leaders as Angelica Balabanoff and young Matteotti attract support to the party from the mass of workers who identify them with the best class-struggle traditions of Italian socialism.

. The large vote which the industrial workers gave the Saragat party was primarily a vote against the domination of the Italian labor movement by the Stalinists, increasingly identified as puppets of the Kremlin, and for a free labor movement. We do not say thai it was a vote for a revolutionary labor movement, in the Marxist sense. We ardently hope that events will clarify the need of such a movement to the Italian workers. What we mean by a free labor movement is what that term has traditionally meant in European labor histoiy: a designation for those labor organisations whose prime function was to defend the interests of the workers and which were, to greater or lesser extent, democratically controlled by the rank and file.

The opposite of free labor organizations were those controlled by the employers (company unions), by the Catholic church (Christian unions), by the government (labor fronts) or by bourgeois politicians (adjuncts of liberal parties like the Schulze-Delitzsch unions in Germany before 1914). A Stalinist-controlled labor movement is the latest and worst variant of a fettered labor movement. It is doubly fettered – first, by an unscrupulous party bureaucracy which is beyond the control of the rank and file; and secondly, by a state bureaucracy located thousands of miles away in Moscow.

The three and a half years that have passed since Italy’s liberation have brought home to hundreds of thousands of workers the full meaning of a Stalinist-controlled labor movement. They have rightly concluded that, as an alternative to Stalinism, the most reformist of genuine working-class parties and trade unions are to be preferred. In the absence of a revolutionary socialist party in Italy – and there is, unfortunately, not even a semblance of such today – the anti-Stalinist workers acted wisely in casting their votes for Saragat’s socialist party.

Italian Workers and the Marshall Plan

However, it is not enough merely to vote for this party. Mere votes for its candidates will do nothing to change it into the kind of class-struggle party sought for, we are sure, by the bulk of the anti-Stalinist workers in Italy. It is necessary that such workers pour into the Saragat party and transform it from the vehicle of Saragat, Lombardo and the other careerist politicians into a mass party of free labor in Italy. Such a party would provide the best prospects for the re-establishment of a mass Marxist party able to oppose capitalism with a socialist program and able to drive Stalinism out of the labor movement.

Those liberal commentators in this country who interpret the large vote for the Saragat party as a vote for the Marshall Plan reveal an inability to view the Italian scene except through their own political spectacles. The campaign against the Marshall Plan waged by the Stalinists was not only deceitful and hypocritical but was so patently absurd that all but the most faithful party-liners must have had more than one doubt about it. For those workers who were already fed up with Stalinist domination of the labor movement, the Stalinist campaign against the Marshall Plan served to open their eyes completely. They had to listen to Stalinist orators who, after praising the job “Comrade Gottwald” had done in Czechoslovakia, went on to warn Italian workers that the acceptance of Marshall Plan aid would “enslave Italy.” This could only suggest to many Italian workers that there are two types of “slavery” threatening Italy, and many decided that in this case they preferred the American brand.

What does “slavery” to the United States mean to the Italian worker? To him it may connote mainly bread, shoes, revived industry and greater employment, without any curtailment of his liberties, including the freedom of the labor movement, in the foreseeable future. A socialist worker, even an anti-Stalinist one, will grant that the Marshall Plan also means a bigger military institution for Italy, an American-puppet role for Italy in foreign affairs, and the danger of being used as a pawn by the United States in the event of war. But these evils may appear long-term and somewhat abstract to the workers’ thinking. What is more, they may reason, a Socialist Italy can always cancel them out.

In what sense, therefore, did the worker who voted for Saragat thereby endorse the Marshall Plan? In his mind he was voting for American aid to provide more grain, more shoes and more jobs. Since he had no better choice he was willing to tolerate the evil political implications of the Marshall Plan until he had his stomach full of food, his strength restored, his labor unions freed of Stalinists and rebuilt, the strategic position of his class improved against both Togliatti and De Gasperi, and till he was generally in a position to strike out on his own.

It is because the Italian workers’ approval of the Marshall Plan took the above form that millions of workers voted for Saragat and against the dishonest and absurd position of the Stalinists. For an anti-Stalinist worker a vote for the CP ticket was a vote to convert Italy into another Poland or Yugoslavia, i.e., to make it another Russian province. For the same worker a vote for the Saragat socialist party, despite its fervent endorsement of the Marshall Plan, was a vote for a free labor movement, for the acceptance of American economic aid, and for a “breathing space” in which to rebuild a socialist movement that would be able to deal with both Russian and American imperialism.

Support for the Saragal party in this sense is no violation whatsoever of the main strategic slogan of international socialists in this period – “Neither Washington nor Moscow.”

The future of post-election Italy is neither clear nor very hopeful. Of stability and orderly reconstruction there can be only as much as American economic aid makes possible; and the current post-election calm will not endure. The Christian Democracy, in full political control, will resist pressures for important social reforms such as a partial distribution of the land.

The election of the bourgeois economist Einaudi as president of the new republic signifies how strictly the most conservative elements control this party. Einaudi does not even wear that vague title of “anti-fascist” that, for example, his principal rival for the post, Count Sforza. does. Only two years ago he voted for retention of the monarchy!

In these circumstances, despite a slight improvement in the economic situation, the Stalinists will retain their hold over the majority of the Northern proletariat and over the poor peasantry of the South unless the independent socialist party moves leftward and breaks its suicidal coalition with the Christian Democrats. The fact that the short-lived revolt of a group of leaders of the pro-Stalinist Nenni “socialist” party collapsed is a bad sign.

The key to lifting the Italian class struggle out of the hands of the Stalinists lies, actually, within the Saragat movement – that is, it must be made an attractive force to the terribly exploited workers and the downtrodden peasants of Italy. If it is such today in part, it is so more by accident and default than by design. It is up to the left wing within this party to draw up and present the design of revolutionary socialism, distinct from the pseudo-socialism of the Stalinists and from the equally pseudo-socialist reformism of the SP leaders. All is far from lost in Italy, yet all remains still to be done.

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