Of Wars Hunts & Elections

It was Bismarck who said: “Never are so many lies told as during wars, after the hunt and before elections”. The greatest electoral liar in Italian history, Giovanni Giolitti, the Prime Minister (1900-14) who gave his name to a whole era of political crookery, would have been in his element in this year’s Italian election campaign. The methods of persuasion he used to acquire votes were, it is true, somewhat more forceful, infinitely less subtle than those used by contemporary politicians and political parties. Now the crude threats of violence and electors supervised as they voted have been replaced by electoral dinners for a thousand, professionally designed propaganda posters and politically inclined actors, pop singers and sports personalities [1]. But, if you are a politician, your end remains the same: to win a share in the administration of the capitalist system. And no matter how much wool you have to pull over your electorate’s eyes in the process.

Let’s pull the wool aside for a moment and look at the way the sheep, the Italian working class, have obediently followed behind their leaders’ perennial promises of reform, employment, prosperity and a full and happy life.

In a rundown of Italian parliamentary politics since the war, no fewer than nine parties emerge as serious contenders for a share in government. Percentage votes gained in General Elections are as follows:


1948 1953 1958 1963 1968 1972
DC (Christian Democrats) 48.4 40.1 42.3 38.2 39.1 38.8
PCI (Communists) 22.6 22.7 25.3 26.9 27.2
PSI (‘Left’ Social Democrats) 31.0 12.7 14.2 13.8 9.6
PSDI (Social Democrats) 7.1 4.5 4.5 6.0 5.1
PLI (Liberals) 3.8 3.0 3.5 7.0 5.8 3.9
PRI (Republicans) 2.5 1.7 1.4 1.4 2.0 2.9
PDIUM (Monarchists) 2.8 6.9 4.8 1.6 1.3
MSI (Neo-Fascists) 2.0 5.8 4.8 5.1 4.5 8.7
PSIUP (‘Left’ breakaway from PSI) 4.5 1.9

Held in the shadow of the Cold War and the Soviet-inspired coup in Czechoslovakia, the elections of 1948 easily lent themselves to billing as a straight fight between Christ and anti-Christ, Western freedom and Eastern tyranny. The Christian Democrats found it useful to issue propaganda posters showing a voter filling in his ballot paper with the caption ‘God sees you, Stalin does not’, while Pope Pius XII’s appeal to the faithful to vote for those candidates “who guarantee the right of God and the soul” fell on anything but stony ground. For their part the left-wing front of PCI and PSI could only mutter feebly about the DC wanting to restore the hardships of Fascism.

Yet in spite of all this no party managed (or has managed since) to muster enough votes to run the show itself. What has resulted therefore is a series of coalition governments with Christian Democrat majorities propped up either by ‘centre’ parties (Republicans, Liberals, PSDI) or by the right wing (Monarchists and Neo-Fascists) or, more recently, by the left (PSI). The monotony with which these coalitions rise and fall is matched only by the recurrent lameness of the excuses proffered for their failure by the politicians involved.

The first government set up after 1948 constituted an intransigent “anti-Red” front, utterly hostile to all contact with the PCI and its allies. But times changed. The storm clouds of the Cold War began to pass, the era of Common Market capitalism dawned, the Italian economy strained at the leash to expand into its new European markets. So after a series of disastrous ‘centre’ and ‘centre-right’ governments, several years of negotiation saw the inauguration in 1962 of the ‘opening to the left’, a new line-up of centre and left-wing parties (DC, PRI, and PSI) considered more capable of meeting the new requirements of Italian capitalism. As many governments before it, it declared its first priorities to be economic growth and social reform.

In the event the economy expanded rapidly, but despite its excuses and protestations to the contrary the new governing clique proved no more capable than any other of delivering its promised paradise of reforms in housing, education, health, transport, employment and Southern development. The reason for this, according to the present leader of the PSI, Francesco De Martino, is that “a real Socialist economy has never been tried”. There can be no quarrel with this statement, except that De Martino’s ‘‘socialist economy” turns out to be not a moneyless system of production for use in which reforms, the palliatives and crack-paperings of capitalism, are rendered unnecessary, but some bizarre, dreamlike contortion of capitalism in which ‘‘the importance of the consumer must be recognised while at the same time preventing the speculations of the capitalists”. (Interview in Corriere della Sera, 3 May 1972).

The ‘opening to the left’ cast a ray of sunshine across the largest Communist party in Western Europe, out in the icy political cold for so long. Since the entry into government of the PSI, a ‘friendly’ party, and the subsequent establishment of contact with the disaffected left of the DC, the PCI has pulled out all the stops to destroy its image as a bolshevik, totalitarian party and to meet the left of the ruling coalition half way. It gained local control of certain areas in the 1970 regional elections and since then, sniffing the sweet smell of power, has popularly screamed for law and order just as loudly as the next party and quite openly stated its readiness to enter a government coalition with the PSI and willing elements of the Christian Democracy, a party officially described in the 1968 election campaign as an ‘‘objective class enemy, an instrument of bourgeois repression”. Like Communist parties everywhere it would dearly love its record to vanish from the face of the earth. How can it convince people that from being a puppet of Stalin’s foreign policy, it has turned into a respectable, non-violent, reforming capitalist party no longer tied to the apron strings of the CPSU? This year’s election campaign consisted largely of desperate protestations to the effect that Russian-style, one-party state capitalism is not its aim. [2]

It had a certain measure of success too, in as much as the PCI, as in all General Elections since the war, registered overall gains. But give or take a few votes the balance of political power among the parties remains very much the same. A number of general conclusions can be drawn from the results (see chart above).

Although as yet undecided amid the wheeling and dealing now taking place, a centre-left coalition seems about to be re-formed. Since during the election campaign, however, the PSI had committed itself to a “more advanced balance of forces” (a euphemism for a left-wing coalition to include the communists) it will very likely continue to provide a bridge between Communists and sympathetic Christian Democrats. Perhaps, given the internal disarray of the DC [3], a half-way meeting along it will not be too long delayed.

In the bleak economic situation (last year investments slumped by 10.3 per cent, industrial production by 2.7 per cent, and unemployment soared to over 1 million) and the climate of uncertainty and apprehension created by the terrorist activities of various right and left-wing extra-parliamentary groups, the new union of right-wing forces (the National Right-Wing Front) made the gains everyone expected. But the 56 seats it now holds can hardly be said to constitute the same danger to the parliamentary system as Mussolini’s Fascist Party did in 1921. The effect of the socialisation of industry policies advocated by the MSI, unsurprisingly reminiscent of the programme of the ill-fated Republic of Salo, would be to put a brake on capitalist development. Hence any attempt to bring the Neo-Fascists into the government would meet with the strongest opposition from Italy’s capitalist class. Besides, the largest party representing the interests of this class has declared against any form of union with the right.

A right-wing coup of the type mooted for so long by sensation-hungry journalists seems equally out of the question. Any political regime in charge of an advanced economy needs the active cooperation of its workers, the geese that lay the productive golden eggs. It seems improbable, therefore, that a working class which, despite an atmosphere of social and economic chaos, has just declared itself only 8 per cent in favour of Fascist-style totalitarianism will be panicked overnight into supporting the interests of a tiny minority.

Over 90 per cent of the Italian working class — and make no mistake about this — is just as thoroughly committed to capitalism as ever it was.[4] It has shown this by a massive vote of confidence in the various parties lined up along the capitalist political spectrum. Now for its trouble, until the time comes for it to be hoodwinked again, it will suffer another term of broken promises, insecurity, bad housing, unemployment, struggle to maintain living standards, and all the other features of misery associated with capitalism.

In the political struggle which has just taken place, the word which tripped most freely and most frequently from the lips of demagogues, right, left and centre, was democracy. The election results themselves were variously described as “a triumph for democracy”, ‘‘the maturity of Italian democracy”, “the democratic process vindicated”, etc. And, with a few reservations, these elections were indeed democratic. What is pseudo-democracy, however, is the use the results will be put to by the parties who touted for votes and power. They will need of course to be more watchful than governments in the one-party state capitalist countries like Russia, Cuba and China which have not yet reached the stage of free elections, but this will not remove the ruthless cynicism and total disregard for human, social priorities with which the administrators of capitalism operate. Not that they can do otherwise. They are merely obeying the laws of a system of production for profit which cannot, by its very nature, be run in the interests of the working majority.

None of this is to deny the value of the ballot-box. The right to vote, on the contrary, constitutes a potentially revolutionary instrument which the majority of workers, once they understand where their true interests lie, can use to take over the state, preparatory to the changeover from Capitalism to Socialism. In Italy, without a parliamentary party putting the case for Socialism, the only true democratic way for a worker to use his vote, is to write “Socialism” across his ballot paper. For only with the end of the wages and money system will it be possible to extend true democracy to all departments of life.

H. K. M.

[1] Concetto Lo Bello, a famous football referee and successful DC candidate in Sicily, came out with a novel solution to social problems: “A youth raised in the traditions of sport will never be a hooligan, a drug addict or at a loss for something to do. What we need are sports fields, gymnasiums and physical training instructors”. (Election speech reported in Corriere della Sera 4 April, 1972).
[2] To emphasise their ‘Europeanism’, the PCI sent their present leader, Enrico Berlinguer, over to London last year to plead with Harold Wilson not to oppose Britain’s entry into the Common Market. In 1958 the Italian Communist Party had declared its implacable hostility to the Treaty of Rome.
[3] At least eight ‘currents’ can be traced in the DC. The recent passing of Italy’s divorce law aggravated the situation, for although the party’s official attitude reflected the fierce opposition of the Vatican, it by no means received carte blanche for this from all its deputies.
[4] Voting figures are high in Italy — 92.8% in 1968, 93.0% in 1972.

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