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Peter Hadden

Italy – for a workers’ government

(July 1979)

From Militant Irish Monthly, July–August 1979.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

The hopes of the Italian ruling class the recent General Election might ease their problems have proven in vain. The vista of continued political instability and more class upheaval remains the true face of Italian society. As if to pronounce judgement on the prospect for any new government, 13 million workers waited only two weeks after the poll before taking part in strike action over lack of progress in discussions on three year contracts for large sections of Italian industry.

The election saw a sharp decline in support for the Communist Party (PCI). Over all, it lost one million votes. Support for the Socialist Party remained static. Yet no-one can conclude from this that a shift to the right in Italian politics has begun. In fact, the support for the right wing Christian Democrats also fell.

Italian society is rigidly polarised along class lines. For more than a decade the major classes have been locked in combat, with one huge movement of the working c1ass succeeding another. Reflecting this permanent instability is the fact that the next government will be the 42nd since the fall of Mussolini.

Despite improvement in the lira (the unit of currency), and in the balance of trade, the economy is precariously perched on the verge of crisis. These cosmetic benefits are more than offset by the problems at the heart of the economy – a slowdown of investment, a declining rate of profit, inflation at 14% and 7% unemployment. 75% of Italian energy requirements are met by imported oil.

Such problems forced the previous Christian Democratic Government of Andreotti to introduce severe austerity measures to cutback the living standards of Italian workers. In turn these measures, and the already desperate conditions of the working masses, provoked outright opposition and were the underlying reason for the fall of the Government.

Why then, did the parties of the left not make sweeping gains. The answer lies in the mealy mouthed policies put forward by the leaders of these parties. For some time, the Communist Party have argued for an “historic compromise” – in other words, participation by themselves in government with the major parties of Capital, such as the Christian Democrats.

As though it was possible to achieve a compromise between the forces and systems of capitalism and socialism! As though a truce can be declared in the class struggle simply through the workers’ leaders blowing a whistle and stepping into the camp of the enemy. This “Italian Road to Socialism” would prove no different than the bitter experience of Irish Labour during their “historic compromise” with Fine Gael.


The real effect of this policy was that since 1976 the PCI has acted as a prop to the Andreotti government, by abstaining in crucial votes to allow the government to survive. The policy, of the Socialist Party is fundamentally not so different. Despite an experience of almost eleven fruitless years in coalition, its leaders have again been lured by the thought of office. During the election campaign, Socialist Party leader, Bettino Craxi, declared that his party would enter a “centre-left” coalition with the Christian Democrats.

This type of policy has disillusioned many supporters, particularly of the PCI. The sweeping gains made by the Communists in 1976 were reversed, especially among young people. In the election to the Chamber of Deputies PCI losses were almost twice as great in percentage terms as in the elections to the Senate. The crucial difference between the two is the fact that for the Senate the voting age is 25 and not 18 as for the Chamber.

The greatest disillusionment with the “historic compromise” has been among the youth. Yet the Italian youth are champing at the bit to fight to change a society. For capitalism a very dangerous figure of 70% of the unemployed are young people.

Previously, the bosses have spurned the idea of the CP’s participation in Government. In the future, as an alternative to weak Governments of capital, and in order to head off the movement to the left, this notion is likely to find favour. If the PCI is lured into a coalition the “Historic Compromise” will be seen for what it really is – an historic betrayal.

Power of workers

Already the policy has provoked discontent among the members and supporters of the communists. In both the major parties, there are growing signs of growing controversy.

Actual participation in any capitalist Government will provoke discontent and bitter opposition within the PCI ranks. Under these conditions, the ideas of Marxism can flourish in Italy. In the past many left wingers have deserted the PCI in the direction of some of the innumerable ultra left groupings which have managed to breed in Italian conditions. The real struggle to win the working class to socialist ideas will be achieved, not in this way, but by fighting within the main workers organisations.

Many, many times during the last ten years the Italian working class could have taken power. Because of the immense strength of this class there will be many similar possibilities in the future. What has been missing is the leadership. Without the support of the Communists and to a lesser degree the socialists, Italian capitalism could hardly survive a day. Were these Parties to be won to clear socialist policies, rejecting coalition with capitalism, and posing the alternative of a workers’ Government and a socialist programme, the days of capitalism in Italy would be numbered.

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