during the course of my short stay in Italy, I had the opportunity of a number of conversations with leading Italian socialists. I talked with Carlo Meara in Milan, and Giolitti in Rome. Both of them were impressed with New Left Review, and showed a great interest in the development of the New Left Clubs.
Some of my most fruitful discussion centred on the question of Unilateralism, NATO, Soviet policy and Active Neutrality. I talked particularly to members of the PSI (the Nenni Socialists) on Nenni’s apparent retreat on the question of NATO. DeMartina, who is Assistant General Secretary of the PSI, said that he felt that the policy of the British Left on the question of NATO was the correct one. Others, including the wife of Gateano Arfi, Editor of Mondo Operio, said that Nenni was silent on the question of NATO largely for tactical reasons. Others said that the question of NATO was not so important for Italy as it was for Britain, and that the main
A point of great importance, however, was that our stand on Unilateralism is often misunderstood by Italian socialists—and perhaps by the majority of socialists in other European parties as well. This misunderstanding highlights the failure of CND to establish detailed links in Europe with those groups which are the natural allies of the anti-nuclear movement. The weakness of these links is reflected in turn in the fuzzyness with which most people in CND approach the political questions of what kind of foreign policy would replace the existing policy based on nuclear weapons and alliances. I felt that Ignazio Silone put his finger on the trouble when he said that, to many European socialists, Unilateralism appeared as another form of traditional British insularity, an abandonment of European socialism to its fate. That is because we have not made it clear enough that we see British unilateral withdrawal from a nuclear policy (a step which Italy could not take because she is not a nuclear power) as the first step in the building up of an international policy based upon Active Neutrality.
Everyone was keen to know what the outcome of the forthcoming Labour Party Conference would be. I was made deeply conscious of the fact that genuine socialists throughout the world are still looking to the Labour Party with hope. This was my experience last year, too, when I talked with many American socialists. The conviction exists in Italy that if the “mixed economy” group carries the day in the Labour Party, then European socialism, as a force, will be buried for a long time to come.
Indeed, there is a powerful feeling that the key to the revival of democratic socialism in Europe lies in the break-through of the Labour Party from its current position of desperate isolation. In their opinion, the British Party was the only non-CP socialist Party, with a mass base—in spite of Gaitskellism. Consequently, what the British Party does could have immense consequences for European socialism.
Finally, we discussed the Italian political situation. The political scene has been considerably stabilised since the fall of the Tambroni Government. Tambroni’s support for those groups responsible for the deaths, in Sicily and elsewhere, during the recent riots, have led to a sharp reaction on the part of most of the anti-fascist Parties. Particularly during the massive demonstrations in July, the Parties which conducted an active struggle against Mussolini joined together to demonstrate their opposition to resurgent fascism. Few people in Britain seemed to be aware of the degree to which the Tambroni Government maintained what power it had as a result of the tacit support of the Fascist groups in Parliament. When the Fascists attempted to hold their Congress in Genoa, Signor Tambroni and his Prefect of the city, confirmed that they would ensure order, so that the Congress might be held. On that occasion, the successful opposition to the Congress was supported, not only by workers and socialists, but also by left Christian Democrats.
This highlights the contradictory elements in the Italian situation. The opposition to a “turn to the left” comes both from the Fascists and their supporters in the Christian Democrat Party, and the traditional non-Fascist Christian Democrats. At the same time, the socialist opposition is extraordinarily dis-united. The CP still has mass working class support, but it has never, officially, been able to distinguish itself from the dictates of Soviet foreign policy. Both the Nenni Party and the Social Democrats have working class support. They cooperate in resisting the growth of Italian Fascism: but they do not seem able to work together for anything more positive. The Trade Unions are divided on both political and religious lines. The working class opposition, therefore, has negative power: it can veto a pro-Fascist Christian Democratic government like that of Signor Tambroni, and support by “abstention” a non-Fascist left-of-centre Government like that of Signor Fanfani. But it cannot present itself as a positive political alternative.