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Norah Carlin

Swing to the Left shakes
Italian reformists

(August 1968)

From Socialist Worker, No. 86, August 1968, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

EVENTS IN ITALY emphasise the bankruptcy of moderate Labour Party type politics and place both the Socialist and Communist Parties in an interesting position.

After the general election in May, Nenni’s Socialist Party (reunited only 18 months ago with Saragat’s Social Democrats) withdrew from the centre-left government to “reconsider” its position. The apparent stability of Italian parliamentary politics since 1962, based on a coalition of Christian Democrats, Socialists, Social Democrats (who were a separate party until late 1966) and the small Republican Party, suddenly seemed to evaporate, and after weeks of negotiation a makeshift government of Christian Democrats, “for the bathing season “ has been established.

The decision to leave the coalition by the Socialist Party executive (opposed by the right-wing minority) was prompted by the election results. United Socialist losses amounted to about 25 per cent of the former Socialist-Social Democratic vote in 1963, and there was a substantial “swing to the left,” particularly among the younger voters.

The Socialist Party for Proletarian Unity, which split from the Socialist Party in 1964, took a third of the SP’s votes with it, and the Communist Party received over 30 per cent of the total votes, an impressive score on the home ground of the Roman Catholic Church.

With less electoral support, it is not surprising that the Socialist Party leaders found their position in the coalition impossible. The main role of the coalition, originally presented as the great agency for reform in Italian society, had been to carry through the wage-curbing measures necessary to Italian capitalism following the collapse of the economic “miracle” in 1963–4.


The restructuring of Italian society meant in fact the introduction of economic planning in the interests of big business and not, as promised, in the interests of the underdeveloped areas and backward sectors. There was massive state participation in capitalist enterprises managed according to “strictly economic criteria,” and proposals for an incomes policy in order to achieve economic recovery at the expense of the working class.

But the working class refuses to be fooled and continues to fight. The Italian strike rate is still the highest in the world, surpassing even the United States’ level.

The promised reforms of the administration, social security and education, remain unfulfilled- The centre-left government’s history was noted more for scandals and sensational revelations of corruption and inefficiency in the public service than for its remedies.

The crisis in higher education is acute. Student riots and clashes with the police of the type which sparked off the recent French upheavals have been frequent-events in Italy over the last two years, while the promised university reforms stayed bogged down in parliamentary procedure.

The “protest vote” at the failures of the centre-left shows the electoral appeal of a mass Communist Party such as Italy’s, although its active memberships and industrial effectiveness are in decline. The Party’s election tactics were mainly to appear as broad-minded and respectable as possible – some of their leaflets even bore the portrait of the late Pope John.

Whether the Communist Party could or would provide anything different from the centre-left coalition is another matter. Opinion in the Party is divided. The right wing seem to believe that Communist entry into a coalition government could achieve the reforms promised by the Socialists.


The prospect of a coalition in which both Communists and Christian Democrats might play a part went to the head of one party leader, Amendola, in last month’s governmental crisis. His claim of “friendly contacts” between the leaderships of the two parties, and speculation on a possible coalition was heavily snubbed by the Christian Democratic press, and cannot have pleased Catholic workers who chose to vote Communist.

The Left wing of the Communist Party prefers the idea of a united opposition of the left with an alternative programme of structural reforms. This view, though more radical than the manoeuvring of Amendola and his sort, shows commitment to parliamentary politics and conviction that Italy’s problems can be solved within the context of Italian and European capitalism.

It also plays upon the concept of perpetual strength in opposition, a position which insulates the Party from actually having to carry out its “alternative” in the forseeable future. But the illusion seems likely to be continued – the breakaway PSIUP and the left wing of the Socialist Party are attracted to the idea.

Since the elections, the Communist Party has condemned student “extremists” and their ideas of confrontation with the capitalist system, advising [a line of text missing].

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