What a mistake
that Front was


According to the Chairman of the Italian neo-Communist Party who was on the other side of the barricade at the time of those elections, one of the reasons for his group's defeat was the notion proper of the People's Front. And he reveals that the plan to divide the world into two blocs was not originally Moscow's




Armando Cossutta electioneering in 1948

     The year 1948 was charged with events with several relevant consequences for the political affairs throughout an entire period of our history. The international developments are common knowledge which, in truth, were spawned the year before, in 1947, the hinge or, rather, the year of the breach with the previous phase characterized by the agreement of the major anti-Fascist powers in the war against Hitler and Mussolini. This agreement, already precarious during much of the World War itself and especially after the death of Roosevelt who had been able and acutely long-sighted at Yalta - and before and after Yalta - at mending the rift between Churchill and Stalin, was definitively broken by the British leader's Fulton speech. That was when, using an effective, albeit very painful metaphor, he spoke of an "iron curtain" which from that moment had fallen over Europe, from Stettino to Trieste.
     And yet, the leading lights of the Italian left do not believe (or do not want to give in to) that separation. This, in any event, is true of the Italian Communist Party. For in 1947 immediately after De Gasperi's visit to Washington, Communists and Socialists were cast out of the government of which they had been a part since 1944 (though not continuously in the Socialists' case). But there was no reaction to this routing which could even be described as brutal, without any real motive.
     I was young at the time, the 20-year-old Communist Party secretary of Sesto San Giovanni (we had 18,000 paid-up members and a landslide election victory); I was able to hear the opinions on those events at first hand: there was no ... I won't say a strike ... demonstration either large or small against that routing that was to generate total discrimination against Communism for a long time to come. Why? How come there was no serious opposition mounted even though the left wing had a strong and incisive capacity for action in the political, cultural and working life of the country?
     I have asked myself these questions over and over again. I feel like saying that it was because Togliatti didn't want it. Of course not, because his intention was to prevent a risky split with the Christian Democrats at the culmination of the joint work of the Constituent Assembly scheduled to issue the historical text of the Constitution on January 1, 1948. The very text was to be signed by three men who were themselves the expression of the democratic agreement uniting the principal components of the ideals and politics of an entire epoch: the liberal De Nicola, the Catholic De Gasperi, the Communist Terracini. But perhaps another reason why he hadn't wanted a demonstration was because he believed that the division would have come to rights again and that, in the short term, the three "parties of the masses" (as the Christian Democrats, the Communists and the Socialists were then called) would have come together again to govern. And maybe, on the world scale, this was also the opinion of Stalin for he was proving reluctant to accept the new situation as definitive in the belief that a resumption of collaboration engaging the winners of the War was still possible. But, instead, the new war set in, the so-called Cold War. It was a grave error, in my view, born of an underestimation, just as it was a mistake - referring to Italy again - to have underestimated the incisiveness of the schism in the Socialists' own ranks. This had been forged by Saragat to create a social democratic group in net opposition to the Communists.
     We arrived at the April 18, 1948 general election unprepared on the left wing for the confrontation ahead, convinced of a victory that was not on the cards of reality. Even the creation of the People's Front had been a mistake because it made it difficult for the Socialists to undertake any distinct action of their own (though still keeping the link with us, not moving into the opposition). Yet, there would have been need (of such distinct action) to counter the split in their own ranks caused by Saragat and to pursue the votes of some Catholic elements who had been blinded by the anti-Communist drive but not totally disposed to adhering to an anti-workers' policy.
     The election campaign was, in effect, a masterpiece of anti-Communist propaganda: I remember the Christian Democrats' posters, terrifyingly illustrative of an eventual Communist victory (Communists would not only lead to dictatorship by suppressing democratic liberty but they would also take people's homes away from them, their cows and their land and they would have ordered collective ownership even of women). On the other hand, these posters were persuasive in depicting the beds of roses in the event of a Christian Democrat win. I remember, too, the massive intervention on the part of the Church, of every parish and every convent and monastery nationwide, and of the supreme ecclesiastical authorities who even went so far as to proclaim, in one voice with Pope Pius XII, excommunication for Communists and friends of Communists. I kept one manifesto that literally says this: "EXCOMMUNICATION FOR COMMUNISTS. 1. It is prohibited to join Communist Parties or to support them. 2. It is prohibited to publish, disseminate or read books, periodicals, newspapers or pamphlets which sustain Communist doctrine and procedure, or to contribute written matter to them. 3. All faithful who consciously and freely carry out any of the above acts are prohibited from partaking of the Sacraments. 4. Faithful who profess the materialist and anti-Christian Communist doctrine and, first among them, who defend it and propagandize it, will be excommunicated as apostates".
     Then there was journalist Giovanni Guareschi's famous and sadly most effective slogan bandied obsessively the length and breadth of Italy: "God can see you in the privacy of the polling booth, Stalin can't". Less visible but no less authoritative and strongly influential was the foreign intervention: I recall America's promises of economic and food aid and, at the same time, their heavily threatening behavior with their warships scurrying across our territorial waters. This foreign intervention was unacceptable - it was at that time that, not a Communist but a liberal of old, Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, shouted out his fiery invective at the government in the Chamber of the Lower House, accusing it of "lusting to be servile".
     Developments on the international scene were exploited to accentuate the need for this foreign presence in the face of an alleged invasion by the Soviet Union, which had already occupied central European countries, provoked a crisis in Czechoslovakia overturning the democratic government there and formed the Cominform. But now, we can happily say that the threat of any Soviet intervention in Italy was always totally unfounded. The USSR neither wanted nor would have been able to intervene in our country, just as in Greece, despite the uprising and subsequent civil war led by the Communist Marcos, it did not intervene because Greece was an Anglo-American protectorate. Italy was under the protection of the world's only atomic power at the time - the United States. Another sign that the Soviet Union had no designs of intervention for Italy was a famous meeting in Moscow between Pietro Secchia, then Italian Communist Party Deputy Secretary, and Stalin himself who received Secchia in the company of Molotov and Beria. Secchia relates that, when he asked about the possibility of Soviet intervention or aid should Italy reach a pre-revolutionary stage, Stalin replied by moving his index finger back and forth three times, and saying three decisive "Niets". I also personally heard one Christian Democrat, the Rt. Hon. Taviani, tell the Senate (though many years later!) that it had been a mistake to concentrate all of Italy's defences in the North East in view of the threat of a Soviet invasion, threat that was unsubstantiated and even non-existent. Taviani at the time was speaking in his capacity as Minister of Defence.
     There was great fear in very many sectors of an eventual victory by the People's Front, that is, by the Social-Communists (the single term used at the time for Socialists and Communists). But there were also masses of ordinary people who were strong in their great hope of just such a victory. And there was tremendous disappointment after the April 18 defeat. The consequence was lacerating, much-felt frustration and an equally strong desire for vindication. This goes some way to explain the impetuous uprising that was to take place a few months later, on July 14, sparked by the assassination attempt on the life of Palmiro Togliatti: it was a movement of vast proportions, a strike that paralyzed the countries and that filled the towns and cities with marches and imposing demonstrations. I remember how the legendary Milanese Communist leader, Giuseppe Alberganti, summarily described the significance of the two dates. He was speaking to a great crowd of workers gathered in Cathedral Square and he said: "We stood up to be counted on April 18 and on July 14 we have weighed in". A few years later, at the June 7 1953 elections, the left wing beat Christian Democracy over a fraud law and Alcide De Gasperi was forced to resign.