Letter from Italy
The political situation and economic conditions in Italy were not entirely new to me when I arrived in 1963. My first move was to contact the local branches of the various parties in Trieste. I had “unofficial” discussions with the Communist Party of Italy and the Italian Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity (more of these later), and can say right that they are Socialist in name only.
My contact with workers here is limited, political meetings are of the mass type and individual argument is difficult. The only activity of value was among my fellow students in the University and I was fortunate in meeting one young fellow who became particularly interested in the Socialist case. We used to discuss heatedly in between lectures and in our free time, and he certainly kept me busy answering his objections one after the other. After a winter of argument, he was becoming very sympathetic, but my hopes of his help in forming a Socialist group in Trieste were not fulfilled, as I left there that summer and he was due to graduate anyway,
Travelling about Italy for a while gave me a good chance to get to know something of the Italian working class and its political movements, but before going further, it would be best to name the main parties: so here they are.
Christian Democratic Party: The party in power at the time of writing. Conservative, hand in glove with the Church. Gets about 32 percent of the votes.
Communist Party of Italy: The major opposition party. About one third of supporters are religious (this was admitted to me by the Trieste Secretary). After the war joined by many ex-Fascists, some of whom have become M.P.’s. Despite its professed hatred of Fascism, the party has much in common with Fascist ideas and methods, e.g. violence and dictatorship. Most of its supporters know little or nothing about Communism, or Socialism, and many of them vote C.P. more as a protest against present government policies than for any positive reason. Gets about 24 per cent of the votes.
Italian Socialist Democratic Party: A reformist party. Exalts the Scandinavian brand of “Socialism.” Recently joined the Christian Democrats in a coalition, fearing a Communist majority. Gets about eight per cent of the votes.
Italian Socialist Party: Breakaway from the Communist Party in the fifties. Policy is like the weather—very changeable, sometimes supporting the communists and sometimes the Christian Democrats. Gets about six per cent of the votes.
Italian Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity: Breakaway from the Socialist Democratic Party when the latter joined the government. Gets about 1.5 per cent of the votes.
Italian Liberal Party: Has similar policies to the Liberals in Britain, but also spends much of its time attacking the Communist Party and castigating the government for not dealing more severely with them. Gets about 10 per cent of the votes.
Italian Republican Party: Minor organisation, advocating a republic. Favours economic development, high protective tariffs, extensions of state power etc. Gets about 1.5 per cent of the votes.
Italian Social Movement: Composed of riff-raff and remnants of the old Fascist Party. Puts forward the sort of policy you hear from the Fascists in Britain and gets an alarmingly high proportion of the votes cast —about twelve per cent.
Italyis a political chaos. I am aware of about fifteen political parties, eight of which are represented in Parliament, and no less than seven claim to be Socialist. One of these, the Socialist Democratic Party (not to be confused with No. 3 above) is a splinter from the Italian Communist party and operates in the Trieste area, supporting the actions of the Yugoslav government. Needless to say, Socialism is the last thing any of them could be accused of supporting. They are a bunch of power-thirsty careerists, struggling to get control of Montecitorio (equivalent of Westminster) to run Italian capitalism.
Like its counterparts elsewhere, Italian capitalism has been going through an economic crisis in the past year or so. The government has been forced to nationalise the privately owned section of the electricity supply and this has been followed by an increase in the price of electricity. But this has not been the only price rise. The cost of living increases substantially each year and strikes for higher wages are very frequent At the time of writing, it is somewhat quieter but at one stage there were three or four strikes a day. And strikes in Italy are no genteel affairs.
The Italian working class are forced to struggle, but there is no evidence of any growth of socialist ideas amongst them. Anyway, more or less militancy is not a measure of Socialist knowledge and while wishing workers all power to their elbow in these fights, we should not let ourselves be dazzled by it, as Trotskyists and other political idiots are. We should not forget that even the most daring strikes are only really a struggle against the downward pressures exerted by capitalism. I was forcefully reminded of this point when reading Carlo Sforza in his L’Italia dal 1914-1944. He says that there were 1881 strikes registered in 1920 and 1045 in 1921. So after more than forty years it is the same old story; the struggle goes on. If nothing else, this is a telling point in favour of Socialism.