Does the Centre-Left government represent a fundamental turningpoint in Italian political life, or is it only a passing tactical phase? And if it is a permanent reorientation, is it a shift to the left by the Christian Democrats (DC), or on the contrary a shift to the right by the Socialists (PSI)? I will try to reply as accurately as possible to these questions for English readers.

In the first place, the fundamental impulse behind the Centre-Left experiment is the need to modernize Italian capitalism. Italy has been and remains the most backward of the advanced capitalist countries; in addition to this, for almost a century after unification (1861), its economic development was dualistic, aggravating the contrast between a developing capitalist economy in the North and a retarded agrarian economy, still mainly pre-capitalist in character, in the Centre and South. The formation of parliamentary majorities dominated by representatives of the great interests of the North has always required an alliance with social groups and political organizations from these backward areas. But in recent years this situation has become progressively less satisfactory. Big industry, sheltered in its infancy by tariffs, subsidies and favoured treatment from the State, amounting at times to a régime of outright autarchy, has since the last war finally succeeded in reaching Western European levels. The Italian “economic miracle”, accelerated by an abundance of labour and the immense potentialities of a still undeveloped internal market, has allowed Italian industry to face the test of EEC under competitive conditions. In its turn, the Common Market has encouraged certain definite trends in the Italian economy: a highly concentrated industry and a modernized technical base; greater flow of capital in and out of the country; entry by foreign firms into the Italian market and participation by the major Italian companies in international combines and cartels; increasing integration of Italy into the world market, and a growing commercial dependence on the Common Market countries.

This process has inevitably affected the whole socio-economic structure of the country. Technological progress is only possible if a high level of production can be maintained, and this cannot be ensured by fluctuating export markets. A larger internal market, and hence a higher standard of living for working people in both South and North, have become an objective necessity for such dominant concerns as Fiat and ENI (the State petrol and gas monopoly). These empires are perhaps the two most powerful economic forces in Italy, and each of them is proprietor of a daily newspaper which has campaigned for the Centre-Left government: the Fiat paper La Stampa of Turin, and Il Giorno of Milan, owned by ENI. Similarly, the transformation of the old pre-capitalist order on the land, and the accompanying technical progress in agriculture, could not fail to interest Fiat with its tractors, and the great chemicals monopoly Montecatini, with its fertilizers; the latter, too, has given its full support to the present reorientation of Italian capitalism. The need for a better-qualified work-force, and hence a reform of the educational system (one of the most backward sectors of Italian society), is equally comprehensible. Without these Italy will continue to produce large numbers of unemployed manual workers while still suffering from a shortage of skilled workers and technicians.

Now a policy in favour, even for capitalist reasons, of an improvement in the general standard of living, in cultural levels, in techniques on the land and so on, conflicts with the traditional interests of the pre-capitalist and reactionary groups which have always provided the parliamentary reserve forces of any conservative majority. These forces are represented in considerable strength within the Christian Democrat party, just as they keep alive the small right-wing parties outside it. A policy of modernization therefore required left support to guarantee the stability of a new majority. It should also be added that in the present phase big capital, which must invest enormous sums in new enterprises which will become productive only after a number of years, cannot dispense with certain forms of economic prediction and coordination by the state: that is, capitalist planning as it has been practised for many years in France and is now being introduced in England. Wage-levels are of the greatest importance for this kind of planning. Hence the government and the ruling class must try to associate the trade-unions with the machinery of the plan, so that they may become jointly responsible for the measures taken by it, including the various forms of wage “pause” or industrial “truce”. The Centre-Left is thus not only a useful, indeed a necessary parliamentary manoeuvre for ensuring a stable majority to the present government, and more importantly, to the government that will emerge after the 1963 elections. It is also an attempt to use the PSI as an agent of State planning within the unions, above all in the strongest union, the CGIL, in which socialists and communists coexist and collaborate. Discreet pressure from the American administration, as well as the fascination of the “New Frontier” for some young intellectuals, also had some influence on this choice of political tactic.

But a Catholic party would probably have put up stronger resistance to collaboration with the PSI, useful as this is to it in many respects, if John XXIII had not succeeded Pius XII, who had for so long bombarded not only communist but even socialists with his excommunications. As his inaugural speech to the second Vatican Council has resoundingly confirmed, John XXIII has adopted a position clearly critical of the dogmatism of his predecessor. Most of the reforms now being debated at the Council can be seen as responses to widespread demands for decentralization, for greater lay influence in the Church, for less rigid barriers between the sacred and the profane, and so on. But there is in John XXIII’s policy a deeper purpose: the re-establishment of the Catholic Church in that position of organic hegemony which it occupied in mediaeval society, and even to some extent until the Enlightenment and the liberal and capitalist revolutions. Since the Enlightenment, the Church has always considered contemporary civilization as hostile, and believed that the golden age of its history has passed away. Its ideal was an absurd return to the past, or at any rate its partial revival within present-day society. Meanwhile, supported by the dominant classes, it maintained its hold on the ignorant and poverty-stricken masses. Now, however, in a society which is profoundly changed, the Church has realized that if it remains a conservative ally of the ruling classes, it runs the danger of an irreparable loss of contact with the new social forces in the advanced countries and the ex-colonial peoples of the emergent countries. Hence it now seems about to pursue a different tactic: it will try to assume the ideological guidance of the social and cultural development of these forces, substituting for the socialist idea of struggle a concept of social harmony which allows the perpetuation of capitalist structures while giving ample room, via the machinery of universal suffrage and democratic institutions, for popular participation in secondary forms of power. Thus John XXIII has reversed the positions of his predecessor, with the aim of promoting the independent role of the Catholic parties and the Church itself in the modern world. To those who remain nostaligically attached to the Catholic past, he opposes the vision of a Church destined to celebrate her greatest triumphs in the future, in a future of social reform and democratic progress, infused with the teachings of his encyclical “Mater et Magistra”, a Catholic social doctrine at last expressive of the modern world. Of course, all this remains within the limits of capitalism, but it is a capitalism inspired with “social” spirit, responsive to demands from below, willing to allow popular participation in political power provided that the essential harmony of the social order remains guaranteed by Catholic doctrine.

The significance of the present pontificate, so far as Italy is concerned, has been a double one. In a first phase the Vatican confined itself to abandoning the practice of massive and unconcealed interventions in Italian political life, which the hierarchy had continually made in the past. In the second phase, it went out of its way to encourage the DC in the Centre-Left experiment. The leaders of the party would never have dared to risk the experiment without this authoritative endorsement. The majority of the party was in fact opposed to the Centre-Left, which was openly supported by the representatives of only two of the social categories which make up the motley army of the catholic party: trade-unionists who represent working-class interests, and the spokesman for the technical and administrative personnel employed by the State. In Italy State enterprise was, of course, already well developed under fascism: initially, it was a way of rescuing many large private concerns from bankruptcy during the crisis of the thirties. Later, however, it can be said that fascism came to recognize the importance of State enterprise as a means for strengthening the position of the party, which was conceived as an autonomous force exercising power on equal terms with big business. It would be hazardous to say that fascism made a success of this manoeuvre. But there is no doubt that this conception of State enterprise and its leading personnel, as a force capable of commanding an independent position within the mixed economy, has been taken over by the DC and is typical of the present Prime Minister, Fanfani. Furthermore it is no accident that it was Mattei, the president of ENI, tragically killed a few days ago, who was the main financial supporter of all shades of the Christian Democrat left. On the other hand, those who represented traditional social forces in the DC (peasants, small businessmen, anachronistic industrialists, retrograde petit-bourgeois, old-fashioned clerical workers, etc.) made up a considerable force of opposition to the Centre-Left experiment. However, they were induced to accept it, partly because they had lost the support of the Vatican, partly too because they had no other political solution to offer.

In purely arithmetical terms, there do in fact exist other possible majorities in the present Parliament, but these are now no longer politically viable. One possibility would be the traditional “centrist” majority, with the Christian Democrats supported on the left by Saragat’s Social Democrats and by the small Republican party, and on the right by the Liberal party; the other would be a right-wing majority, with the DC supported by the Liberals, the Monarchists and the Neo-Fascists. The first combination had, however, become impossible, because first the Republicans and then the Social Democrats announced that they would no longer collaborate with the Liberals, and were prepared to join only a Centre-Left government. The second formula became impossible after July, 1960, when the open revolt of the masses, particularly of the youth (including young catholics), first at Genoa and then in many other towns, swept away the Tambroni government, which was composed of Christian Democrats but was supported by the Neo-fascists. After this it became clear that if the DC refused the “opening to the left” and adopted procrastinating tactics, although they might still be able to find alternative majorities in Parliament, they would risk public repudiation—if not in the streets again, certainly in the ballot-boxes at the next election. It was thus an objective necessity that obliged the Christian Democrats to accept the Centre-Left solution, in spite of the reservations and indeed the outright opposition of large sections and perhaps even the majority of the party.