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Irving Howe

World Politics

Important Election Series
Taking Place in Europe

(3 June 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 22, 3 June 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A series of extremely important electoral contests has recently taken place or soon will take place in several European countries. These elections will help to determine exactly what the political climate of the continent is, the knowledge of which is indispensable for any serious attempt to develop a socialist polity.


Right Wing Parties Win in Holland

The general election in Holland which took place two weeks ago continues the trend of those recent elections in Europe which have been relatively free. As in Austria, Hungary and parts of Germany, the conservative parties scored decisive victories while the Social-Democrats more or less held their own. The Stalinists, on whose vote most attention was focused, received what was for them a large vote in Holland, but not a vote large enough to suggest that there has been as decisive a shift to their banner as certain commentators have suggested.

Specifically, the Catholic Party in Holland, a conservative but not a fascist party, received 1,466,510 votes and 32 seats in the States General (Parliament); the Social-Democratic Labor Party received 1,347,664 votes with 29 seats; the four Protestant parties, 1,121,153 votes with 23 seats; the Liberals, a bourgeois party, 305,935 votes and six seats; and the Stalinists, 500,000 votes and ten seats. The Stalinist vote, ten per cent of the total, was large when one considers that their movement has never before amounted to much in Holland; and their 30 per cent of the total vote in Amsterdam and 18 per cent in Rotterdam indicate that they succeeded in getting some support from the working-class sections of the population.

Nonetheless, the basic swing was somewhat to the right of center. The Social-Democratic Premier, Willem Schermerhorn, has resigned as a result of the plurality of the Catholics, but it is believed that either he will be recalled to office or that a coalition with the Catholics will be formed. The Social-Democratic Party of Holland is even more right-wing than its sister parties in Europe; it played an ugly and shameful role in the suppression of the Indonesian revolution and has absorbed in recent months several small outright capitalist parties which give it an even more conservative coloration.


Italian Elections, Plebiscite on Monarchy

During the first week in June, Italy will hold general elections and a plebiscite on whether to continue the monarchy or to establish a republic. The monarchists, in a frantic attempt to gain some support, had the senile King, Victor Emmanuel, abdicate and replaced him with his not much brighter son, Humbert. Indications are that the monarchy will be decisively rejected; even the Catholic party, the Christian Democrats, at their recent congress voted against the monarchy by a two-to-one margin.

In the recent municipal elections, the Christian Democrats were by far the strongest party: out of 5,000 local municipalities, they gained a majority in nearly 2,000. The Socialists and Communists together gained majorities in 2,000 municipalities, the Socialists capturing control of the local government of Milan, the most important industrial city in Italy. The extreme monarchist groups and the neo-fascist “Uomo Qualunque” did very poorly, gaining control in only 200 towns, none of them large or important

Whatever the result of the coming Italian election, it seems likely that the present uneasy three-sided balance between the Christian Democrats, the Socialists and the Stalinists will be continued.

While the presence of British troops in Italy gives the Christian Democrats basic support, and insures at least the temporary continuation of the Italian capitalist class, that country remains wracked in a terrible social crisis which no electoral result or parliamentary maneuver can solve. Starvation, disorganization of production, tremendous black markets -- these remain the problems of Italy, problems basically insoluble within the framework of the capitalist economy which all of the dominant political parties of that country desire to maintain.


France Faces a Crucial Election

But the most important election in Europe will take place in France on June 2. The entire working class of Europe will look to France to see which way the political wind is blowing. Five major parties are in the field: the Catholic MRP, the Socialists, the Stalinists, the bourgeois democratic Radical Socialist Party (they whose name describes the exact opposite of what they are!), and a new reactionary coalition called the Republican Party of Liberty. Relations between the Socialists and Stalinists have become progressively worse and a bitter polemic is brewing between them. The recent referendum, in which the proposed constitution providing for a unicameral legislature supported by the “left” parties was defeated, indicates that France, too, may see a slight swing to the right. But France is today the most important stronghold of European Stalinism and there seems little doubt that it will continue to hold the support of large sections of the industrial workers.

A greatly encouraging feature of the French elections is the fact that the PCI (Parti Communiste Internationaliste), the French Trotskyist group, has entered the elections with candidates in several districts. The difficult electoral laws require a party to put up the large sum of nearly 1,000,000 francs in order to run candidates. This our French comrades succeeded in doing by dint of great sacrifice. In the elections last fall, the French Trotskyists polled about 11,000 votes in the two districts where they ran candidates. A large vote for their candidates in the coming election would be the most encouraging sign that could come from Europe that the revolutionary movement is making headway.

The results of the elections, held thus far in Europe and the anticipated results in those yet to come give general support to the position put forward by the Workers Party with regard to the present political situation in Europe: the masses of the continent, staggering under the weight of continuous starvation, suffering still from the effects of years of fascist domination and disoriented about the future by the reformists and Social-Democrats, are in a period of skeptical testing of programs and comparing of parties. They continue, on the whole, to give electoral support to the traditional parties of the left, but this support often stems more from desperation and lack of alternatives than from a thorough enthusiasm for these parties.

The masses of Europe are concerned with immediate problems: bread first and foremost; democratic reforms, for they have learned from the experiences of fascism that the struggle for economic gains requires a simultaneous acquisition and defense of democratic rights; and the struggle for national liberation, which in many European countries means the ousting of the military occupation of Stalinist Russia and the Anglo-American bloc. The revolutionary parties of Europe, still small and isolated as they are, can make contact with and convince the masses of their competence and seriousness only by conducting the most thorough struggle along these lines – a struggle which, in the present potentially explosive situation, can lead to posing the ultimate solution to Europe’s problems: socialist power.

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