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Livio Maitan

The Rise of Neo-Fascism in Italy

(June 1952)

From Fourth International, Vol.13 No.4, July-August 1952, pp.103-108.
Transcribed &marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Our two-monthly publication schedule is responsible for a certain delay in the appearance of this study by Livio Maitan, foremost Italian Trotskyist. However, the reader will quickly see that the analysis of last May’s municipal elections is only the springboard for a searching examination of parties, class forces and particularly of the resurgence of neo-fascism in Italy. – Ed.

The following facts emerged from a scrutiny of the municipal electoral returns in Italy one year ago: (a) The Christian Democratic Party, which is headed by Alcide de Gasperi, prime minister since 1945, recorded serious losses; (b) the workers’ parties (Communist Party and Pietro Nenni’s Socialist Party, PSI) maintained, and in some cases strengthened their positions; the right wing parties (the National Monarchist Party, PNM, and especially the fascists of the Italian Social Movement, MSI) rolled up considerable gains.

The Extreme Right Gains

This year’s electoral round reaffirmed the same phenomena in an even more pronounced way. To a large degree the Catholic party (used interchangeably with Christian Democrats) continues to lose ground; the workers’ parties strengthened their positions still further; the right (coalition of monarchists and neo-fascists) won a striking victory both in the realm of votes (e.g. in Naples the monarchist vote rose from 77,000 in 1948 to 147,000 in 1952. In Rome the fascist vote rose from 49,000 in 1948 to 142,000 in 1952) and in the realm of control of city governments (Naples, Bari and all the cities in Campania province are now controlled by the right parties).

Even a casual analysis of the election results leads to the following conclusions:

  1. The gains of the workers’ parties were made partly at the expense of the PSDI (right wing Social Democratic Party of Italy headed by Saragat and Romita) and of the PRI (Republican Party of Italy headed by Minister of Defense Pacciardi) who were allied to the Catholic party and to the liberals, and in part at the expense of the government party.
  2. The votes lost by the Catholics, some two-thirds of them went to the right, namely in certain cases to the liberals but especially to the monarchists and the neo-fascists who, in some cities, also gained at the expense of the liberals.

However a correct evaluation of the election should take into account the fact that the elections occurred in the central and southern part of the peninsula which have their own particular social and political formation. In the South – especially in certain areas – the right has always held very strong positions while the Catholic party was far from enjoying the political monopoly for its class as was the case in the North. It should also not be forgotten that the present wave of neo-fascism was preceded five or six years ago by what was called the Common Man movement which, while not being fascist, nevertheless attracted those who had good reason to yearn for Mussolini’s dictatorship. On the other hand, an advance of the workers’ parties was possible, even in considerable proportions, because they had not attained in the past nor even today their maximum electoral possibilities.

It is not our intention to deny the significance of the recent electoral campaign as a sharpening and polarization of class forces. But it would be erroneous to consider that the relationship of forces existing in the Center and the South are duplicated in the industrial areas of the North. As was demonstrated there in the 1951 elections, the right has not yet attained as high levels in the North as in the Center or the South.



Let us now review the contending forces and their policy in the electoral campaign.

The Neo-Fascist Party

The extreme aggressiveness of the right constitutes the new factor in these elections. The MSI champions as openly as is possible – without running afoul the law against justifying fascism – the fascism of 1922-1943 as well as the puppet regime of the so-called Italian Social Republic proclaimed in the North during the Nazi occupation. Despite its purely verbal declarations of loyalty to democratic principles, it is unquestionable that under the MSI banner are gathered those who long for the two Mussolini decades; those who see in the rebirth of fascism the only hope for a revival of the so-called “national and traditional forces”; the youth who do not know fascism from their own experience and who have fallen into the trap of those who exalt Mussolini’s Italy as the Italy of “grandeur,” “heroism” and of “the Roman virtues.” Consequently, the social composition of the MSI and its electoral following could only be clearly, preponderantly petty bourgeois.

And the reason for its success is lodged in the discontent of broad petty bourgeois groupings with the government which is joined to the irrational anti-communist hatred which is proper to the petty bourgeoisie under certain conditions and leads to the formation of pro-fascist currents. Up to now, with few exceptions, it can be said that the MSI has no roots among the proletariat (its trade union influence remains insignificant). But one has only to attend a neo-fascist meeting to understand that they already have a base (at least in certain cities) in lumpen-proletarian circles.

Through a vigorous electoral campaign, sparked by ample material resources, whose aim was much more that of political agitation and propaganda than competition for votes for control of city halls, the neo-fascists succeeded in organizing well-attended meetings in the big cities. Participating in these meetings were people in a fighting mood, a not negligible part of whom were ready to engage in physical combat with the police or members of the workers’ parties.

The orators held forth on the glory of the fatherland, or the merciless struggle against the communists as traitors to the country, to religion, civilization, etc. They bitterly denounced the Catholic government accusing it of having been and of remaining in fact the ally of communism and of Stalin against “the national forces.” Attaining the most uncanny likeness to the empty and blustering Mussolini-style rhetoric, and sometimes going so far as open threats not only against the workers’ parties but also against the bourgeois parties and politicians, these speeches created waves of enthusiasm in the crowds particularly when the demagogues reiterated certain arguments or metaphors.

The Monarchist Riffraff

Its ally although in some places it was spawned in the same strata. As against the plebian character of the MSI, the PNM is aristocratic and conservative in character. It is true that in certain cities (notably, Naples) the PNM is followed by ordinary people who certainly do not stem from the reactionary aristocracy. We are speaking here of the “popolini,” namely the non-proletarian groupings among the people who live by their wits, from parasitic occupations, charity and rackets, as for example, the “bassi” of Naples where the vigorous breath of industrial civilization has not yet penetrated.

The lumpens of the MSI have been won over by plebian demagogy, by rhetoric about the fatherland, honor and the glorious past of the Eternal City. The “popolini” who follow the monarchists and who are stirred at the memory of the king’s little children or the misfortunes of the queen who is described as nearly blind, respond to paternalistic appeals in which, since the time of the Lazzaroni, they have placed their only hope of securing the means of livelihood.

The MSI masses are impelled by myths; the monarchist masses are tied to the fortunes of the royalty through the intermediary of the wealthy (such as the shipowner Lauro of Naples) who buy votes and applause and who distribute one shoe before the election and the other after it, on condition of victory.

The PNM campaign places this party to the right of the government which is reproached for passivity toward the communists and its so-called repressive attitude to the “national forces” of the MSI. It goes without saying that the idea that was kept before the masses in these meetings was that of a possible return of the monarch from his Portuguese exile on the heels of a resounding victory either now or after the next general elections.

The most innocuous campaign was that carried on by the minor parties of the democratic center. That applies especially to the republicans and the social democrats who revived their ruminations on the polarization of forces, on the dangers of a civil war which only a victory of people – like themselves – who are both progressive and faithful to liberty and to the defense of the country, could avert. However two considerations concerning these two parties should not be lost sight of.

First, the alliance with the Catholic party even on the scale of municipal elections was not achieved without difficulties: the protests of the Roman Republican Federation have their counterpart in the presentation of independent (but unsuccessful) social democratic candidates in certain localities. Secondly, especially in the second half of the electoral campaign, the attitude of petty-bourgeois circles influenced by these parties was characterized by a vigorous reaction, to the boldness of the fascists – a symptom which should not be underestimated as limited to the following of the republicans and the social democrats.

De Gasperi and the Catholics

The campaign of the government party presented – and for good cause – the most complex and contradictory aspects. At the outset, the almost exclusive preoccupation of the Catholics was to prevent a success of the workers’ parties: notably they wanted “to spare at any price the City of the Holy Father the shame of a Bolshevik mayor.” Toward this end, the right wing Catholic circles especially, controlled by Catholic Action in which Luigi Gedda plays the principal role, began a pathetic campaign. Gedda proposed for this purpose the unification of all non-communist forces and threatened to ban members of Catholic Action from appearing as candidates of the Christian Democrats if they did not conclude an alliance or a fusion with the monarchist and neo-fascist right.

The resistance of the de Gasperi wing of the Christian Democratic party created serious difficulties until the emergence almost at the last moment of Don Sturzo’s proposal. Don Sturzo, an old priest, founder of the Peoples’ Party (Catholic) after the first world war, exiled by fascism, very influential even today in the Christian Democratic Party, proposed the formation of a single list composed of representative personalities of the different political tendencies but more by virtue of their competence and their qualities than in their capacity as representatives of the parties. Officially adopted by the Catholic leadership, the proposal remained inoperative due to the opposition of the social democrats and the republicans, to the pretensions of the right, and due to the continued resistance of sectors of the Christian Democrats.

The development of the electoral campaign effected changes in the propaganda line of the Catholic party. From exclusive anti-communism, they gradually shifted to a sharpening of propaganda against the right. (This does not apply to the propaganda of what was called “the Civic Committees,” an electoral organization managed by Gedda). This is to be explained either as a reaction to the demagogic attacks from the right – especially the neo-fascists – or as a victory of the “centrist” wing of the Christian Democrats or as the consequence of the following consideration: as the votes of the left were largely crystallized, it was necessary to hammer at the right in order to avoid a larger defection in that direction.

The speech with which de Gasperi concluded his campaign at Rome provided striking evidence of what the anti-fascist motives of Christian Democrat electoral propaganda were at the close of the campaign. Said de Gasperi: “These people (the neo-fascists) will not come to power; we will not consent to it.”

The Stalinist-Made “People’s Bloc”

The battle of the workers’ parties (PCI and Nenni’s SP) was organized in varied forms but on the basis of a single general policy. This policy can be summarized in a few words as follows: the need to wrest influence over petty bourgeois strata and even over broad strata of the bourgeoisie itself away from the governmental party and into the fold of the opposition. That is what they call the policy of alliances, which, according to the Stalinists of the peninsula, is the touchstone of the political clairvoyance of Togliatti and his colleagues (and they add, somewhat discretely, of his superiority over their counterparts in France).

In the electoral field, this policy is conveyed, as we have said, in varied forms. In certain localities – notably in small cities and villages – there was a “people’s bloc,” or a unified socialist-communist list with some places left open for independent candidates (these blocs, were often grotesquely camouflaged under the most extravagant denominations – even under the name of the Holy Father!).

Secondly, there were independent socialist and communist lists or the unified list of the people’s bloc allied to lists composed of so-called independent democratic personalities. These for the most part consisted of political relics who were washed up with their own class and were taking their last political fling as Stalinist fellow travellers. The head of the list at Naples was Arturo Labriola, one-time revolutionary syndicalist, later an odious renegade from the workers’ movement. The Number One man in Palermo was an old reprobate, compromised with fascism, who, after having unsuccessfully offered his collaboration to the liberals and the neo-fascists, joined the Stalinists and presented a parallel list under the label of “Frederick II of Swabia”! (In general, these lists made a mediocre showing although the Stalinists often called upon their following to cast their votes for them.)

The third form of struggle adopted by the socialist-Stalinists, to the supreme delight of the bureaucrats, was concretized in Rome where the old reactionary, Francisco Nitti, and others of his stripe (liberals, monarchists, former deputies of Common Man) presented a list entitled “Capitol” in which 40 independents were interspersed with 20 Nennists and 20 Stalinists. Although the real relationship of forces obviously favored the Stalinists, they had to agree to serious restrictions on their propaganda.

The second phase of Catholic propaganda directed against the neo-fascists found, its counterpart in Nenni’s campaign. Although veiled, it consisted of real offers of the SP leader to de Gasperi in about the following language: “You will not be able to continue to govern all alone. If you want to avoid capitulation to the right, collaborate with us. The SP in particular can constitute a democratic rampart against the onslaught of fascism.” We will return to this question later.

The gains made by the workers’ parties does not justify the conclusion that their policy was, on the whole, correct. It must not be forgotten that the overwhelming majority of left votes are proletarians who vote for their parties at the present juncture regardless of their policy. But so far as the petty bourgeois masses are concerned, it cannot be said that the workers’ parties profited greatly from the Catholic crisis. It is true some 20,000-30,000 former Christian Democratic electors voted for the Nitti list, but on the other side some 150,000 went to the right.

The specific orientation of the petty bourgeoisie is extremely important in determining a policy toward them. It was evident, especially in Rome, that there was a petty bourgeois shift away from the Catholic party but it was a shift especially to the MSI. These are people who are against the government and have vague feelings of hostility to the regime. If they follow the MSI, that means that they are no longer moved by Christian-liberal aims. It is therefore futile to hope to win them by presenting the workers’ parties as radical-democratic parties who propose to make Rome “a democratic and modern city.” On the contrary, the petty bourgeois layers, turning away from the Catholics, can only be attracted on the basis of class agitation and principled revolutionary propaganda and can thus keep them from taking the road to pro-fascism.


The results of the elections at the end of May emphasize and accentuate the crisis of bourgeois leadership in Italy. The disintegration of the government party and of its allies in “the democratic center” is becoming more manifest and more decisive: all the more since the specific weight of Catholic or liberal votes is not comparable to that of the communists or neo-fascists which are qualitatively superior as militant votes.

Italian Capitalism’s Dilemma

Two fundamental problems are now posed to the Italian bourgeoisie:

  1. To discover a political formula, which assures a greater political stability to the regime by rallying dynamic forces around it;
  2. On the electoral plane, with the 1953 general elections in view, to set up an effective electoral front which can win a sufficiently large majority.

Up to now, the responsible bourgeois groupings have not decided the question and in actuality remain in an impasse. In effect, if the Christian Democratic disintegration is undeniable and if it is doubtful that the center can assure a new victory in 1953 by keeping the same platform as in 1948, a serious alternative leadership has not yet stepped to the front. For the moment, the MSI and the PNM do not provide sufficient guarantees, and the most representative organs of the industrialists have not withheld their attacks against them, especially the neo-fascists.

This attitude results from several factors. Above all, so far as the monarchists are concerned, they have not the slightest base in the North and there is no possibility that they can gain one in the near future. Besides, the monarchists, by posing the question of the return of the king, may very well create a constitutional complication which the responsible bourgeois correctly deems to be untimely.

Neo-Fascists Still Unacceptable

So far as the MSI is concerned – and this is really the heart of the problem – a first difficulty consists in its too openly fascist character which justifies the fear that an MSI push may call up a violent reaction from the proletarian masses and even an unfavorable response from certain petty bourgeois layers. (This fear is legitimate. There are people in Rome who voted for the left candidates in reaction to the clamorous demonstrations of the MSI).

Another factor, which in the last analysis threatens to become decisive, is the attitude of the American rulers. Up to now the State Department has remained hostile to the MSI for about the same reason it has been hostile to the de Gaullist RPF in France and for other reasons which can be easily understood. As long as this attitude remains, the chances of the MSI becoming the new leadership of the Italian bourgeoisie will be greatly handicapped.

If to all this is added the fact that in the present situation of world capitalism, which survives thanks to the support and under the control of Yankee imperialism, a nationalist ideology such as is propagated by the MSI does not correspond with the reality. Its difficulties in making headway among the broadest layers, who were its natural milieu in the past, is also increased. This consequently serves to explain the hesitation of the Italian bourgeoisie, which has not yet decided to turn its back on de Gasperi, and for a second time confide its fate to the plebeian reactionaries of fascism.


That Italy is moving toward a sharpening of social and political conflicts and toward a polarization of the contending forces could have been deduced from an analysis of the situation in the country considered within the larger framework of the world situation. This has now been confirmed beyond the shadow of a doubt by the results of the recent elections. There is no need to elaborate the question.

What, however, is of greater interest to us, is the specific forms this process may take and how the bourgeoisie will eventually resolve its crisis of political leadership in more than a passing manner.

The Catholic party confronts contradictory needs. Concerning its more general action – i.e., an action which seeks to create a new situation and new relationship of forces – it has not much latitude before the 1953 elections. In this sphere, the cards are dealt: and the government cannot reasonably hope to achieve what it has failed to achieve in the last four years. But if real possibilities did exist, the Christian Democrats would have to become involved in a contradictory situation. On the one hand they would have to take “left” measures or pseudo-measures (agrarian reform, social policy, etc.) in order to limit the influence of the workers’ parties. On the other hand. they would have to sharpen the anti-communist repression so as to satisfy one of the most vociferous demands of the right (which they are going to do in any case).

The Catholic party has to assure itself of allies in the electoral field who can broaden the base of a future government. To continue the policy of the “democratic center” – opposed both to the workers’ parties and to the neo-fascists – the Christian Democrats have the possibility of broadening the front by the addition of monarchists or Nennists. But the inclusion of the monarchists (which would automatically exclude the PSI) would create serious difficulties. The monarchists would put a high price on their participation, and an agreement with them would compromise the alliance with the social democrats and the republicans. These leaderships could only accept a union with the monarchists at the cost of a loss of influence in radical petty bourgeois circles.

The possibility of a de Gasperi-Nenni alliance is, in our opinion, improbable. In effect, the response of the Catholics to Nenni was formulated in the terms of an ultimatum, demanding precisely what Nenni cannot concede to openly, at least at the outset. The opinions expressed at the last central committee meeting of the PSI reflect a certain stiffening of the Nennists, and Nenni himself has retreated to a certain degree.

An Alliance with the Right

Outside of a continuation of centrist policy, the Catholics have the alternative of an alliance with the right. This eventuality cannot be completely excluded for tomorrow or the day after and certainly, for very good reason, not for the more distant future. But for the moment, this eventuality does not appear very probable. An alliance with the fascists would inevitably entail the rupture of the alliance with the social democrats and the republicans. And there are even sectors of the Christian Democratic Party (which do not fall within the strict scope of Catholic electors) which would not go along in such a policy.

An alliance with the MSI would prove very costly to the Christian Democrats: It would entail the sacrifice of de Gasperi and his colleagues and would cause a deep-going split in the party. That is why we do not believe we are on the eve of such an operation which could only be carried through after the next general election and in the event of a Catholic defeat and a decisive advance for the MSI.

We do not deem probable in the immediate period that the bourgeoisie will opt for an early fascist solution. Naturally the lessons of the past should not be forgotten nor the neo-fascist danger underestimated. In this connection, we will not share responsibility with the Stalinists who minimize the success of the MSI, or even worse, sometimes try to present it in a favorable light as an element of disintegration in the Catholic majority. On the contrary, we believe that anti-MSI agitation is incumbent on the workers’ parties and the trade unions.

How Dangerous Is Fascism?

But it is also wrong to believe in the possibility of a mechanical repetition of events. In the last analysis, the experience of thirty years ago will not be without its effects on the attitude of the masses and of the workers’ movement in decisive turning points. It should be added that the MSI – which is the only consistent fascist organization – is not without its weaknesses. Its cadres are poor in type and up to now it does not have a leader of the scope of a Mussolini or a Hitler – and everyone knows the essential role which the anointed leader plays in movements of this kind in releasing the enthusiasm of fanatics.

The MSI still lacks a clear perspective and a precisely drawn policy. That also flows from the fact of its division into ferociously antagonistic tendencies which constitutes another factor of weakness. By and large, these consist of the traditional tendencies, conservative and plebian. Up to now, the problems dividing the party have been the questions of the alliance with the monarchists and the support of the Atlantic Pact, which is fought by the left wing in Il Meridiano.

However, if the industrialists are not at present impelling the MSI toward power, they are nevertheless in one form or another giving it assistance and assigning to it an important function: the organization of anti-working class shock troops which have already been set into motion by the MSI in certain instances. (During the electoral campaign there were violent clashes in Trieste provoked by the neo-fascist “squadracci” creating a disturbance in a working class neighborhood.)

Finally, it should be understood that the process of a move in the direction of fascism on the part of the Italian bourgeoisie could unfold more rapidly if in the months to come there were to be a mass shift of the petty bourgeoisie in the direction of neo-fascism. In face of such an eventuality, and if in addition the MSI emphasized its support of the Atlantic Pact, the responsible bourgeoisie could change their tactic and abandon “democratic reformism.” (During the course of the election campaign, the official speakers of the MSI declared themselves for the Atlantic Pact while attacking de Gasperi and the Americans. Their attitude was confirmed on the occasion of Ridgway’s visit.)

Obviously the attitude of the worker’s parties will play an essential role. A policy based on the unity of the proletarian front, on counteracting the influence of the neo-fascists among the petty bourgeois masses, of vigorously answering the attacks of anti-working class shock troops, of clearly demonstrating to the bourgeoisie that a pro-fascist policy on their part would produce a very vehement reaction from the proletariat – all that would hinder or at least considerably slow down the course toward the fascist state and could even lead to a complete disorientation of the strategy of the ruling class.

If the bourgeoisie is now still hesitating in choosing its road, that is undoubtedly because it is keeping such a possibility in mind.

Rome, June 23, 1952

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