19 APRIL 1963, Page 5

Election in Umbria



N Sunday, April 28, thirty-two million Italians—or as many of them as feel it worth their while—will go to the polls in the fourth general election since the war. Apathy, a deep-rooted scepticism about the effectiveness of the democratic system and a certain con- fusion about the issues involved are likely to result in a high proportion of abstentions or of schede blanche, blank votes, although for the politically-minded the way the votes are distributed this time will have subtler implica- tions than at any time since the great Christian Democrat victory of 1948.

In 1948, and at each subsequent election, the Christian Democrats presented themselves to the electorate as the 'dyke,' the 'bulwark' against the Communist peril. This year their position is more equivocal, and the difference is reflected in the contrast between their electoral slogans in 1958 and 1963. 'Progress without risks' has given Place to 'Forward with the Christian Democrats,' and the new (and uninspiring) slogan masks the fact, awkward as well as creditable, that since the beginning of 1962 the Christian Democrats, With a good deal of internal uneasiness and dis- sension, have abandoned their safe and tradi- tional middle-of-the-road policy for an experi- ment, an avventura, on which the electorate now has the opportunity of passing judgment. That experiment is the 'opening to the left,' by which the dominant faction of the Christian Democrat Party tried to strike a bargain just over a year ago with the Socialists, with the twin objectives of weaning the Socialists away from their long-standing alliance with the Com- munists and of furnishing the Christian Demo- crat Party with a new image, progressive and dynamic, with the emphasis less on the Christian side than on the Democratic side of its charac- ter. The experiment was a courageous one, and if successful it could enable Italy to break the rigid framework of class warfare within which her political machinery as well as her social or- ganisation is at present restricted and confined; but where electoral problems are concerned, these is no doubt that the experiment, whose l nits se far have been inconclusive, has puzzled an which is in general unsophisticated and aho. accustomed to being presented with a clear uncomplicated by the chiaroscuro of int Ice Here manoeuvres. Genes in Umbria, whose voting record estab- n it as part of the 'red belt' running across eentraj Italy, an agricultural region which has felt keenly the effects of the rural depression without sharing appreciably in the benefits of the industrialisation which has enriched and transformed much of the north of Italy, these facts are especially apparent. Supporters of the right, who include the nostalgici (neo-Fascists) and the Liberals, see in the 'opening to the left' a dereliction of duty by the Christian Demo- crats, a dangerous concession to the Marxist enemy—and supporters of the left, who out- number them, have not noticed any change. To them, peasants and the workers in the few in- dustries which Umbria possesses, the Christian Democrats are still the party del preti e del sig- nori, of the priests and landowners. If you are impertinent enough to ask them who, then, they will vote for, you will get no frank answer, for if they told you the truth, that they will vote Communist, they would be afraid that their em- ployers would hear of it and that they would lose their jobs or be thrown off the land.

Such fears may no longer be justified, but the point is that they endure, as part of a social pattern in which 'we' do the work while 'they' push us around and take the profits; and while this remains true, the Christian Democrats can- not hope to make much impression on the positions of the left. At the 1958 election, Umbria as a whole gave more than 300,000 votes to the Communists and Socialists, against 200,000 to the Christian Democrats, and in the few areas where there has been any substantial amount of industrialisation—for instance, around Terni, with its steel and hydro-electric plants— the Communists by themselves had a majority over the Christian Democrats. If this picture changes at all, it is likely to do so only in the sense that the Christian Democrats will lose votes, either to the parties of the right (reflecting the anxiety of the bourgeois voter about the outcome of the `opening to the left') or to those of the left (reflecting the solidarity of the working-class voters who see their own best hopes in the traditional partnership be- tween Communists and Socialists, and doubt very much whether the Christian Democrat leopard can change its spots).

Yet this is Umbria, gentle, magical, mystical Umbria, the setting of the sweet Franciscan legend, whose medieval hill-towns still pose so amiably for the tourist against a luminous back- ground of soft valleys and olive-covered slopes. What has Communism to offer to those blessed with such an inheritance, and how is it that Marx can challenge St. Francis on his home ground?

The answer reveals a fact that is familiar to every Umbrian, and to all the inhabitants of central Italy between Bologna and Rome, but which as yet finds little acceptance among the sociologists and the bureaucrats; the fact that there are not two Italics, the rich, progressive North and the decadent, impoverished South, but three--and the third falls neatly and in- fallibly between the Northern and Southern stools. The North, concentrated about the Milan-Turin-Genoa complex, practically mono- polises Italy's industrial development, which continues to expand faster than that of any other European country. The South benefits by a variety of government-sponsored projects to increase output and raise the standard of living. Only the Centre feels itself neglected, without the resources of the one or the charity handed out to the other; and yet Umbria's per capita in- come of 180,000 lire (just over £100) per annum is among the lowest in all Italy.

In these circumstances, with the peasants moving into the towns because they can no longer expect a decent living from the land, and the townsfolk moving to the north or emigrating altogether to find work which will pay them enough to meet the steadily rising cost of living, it is not realistic to base an election campaign on the pros and cons of Polaris missiles or. of British membership of the Common Market; nor will it help much to talk about nationalisa- tion of industries, or regional autonomy, or reform of the bureaucracy—and least of all about Italy's 'economic miracle.' The miracle has passed Umbria by, and in any case the Urn- brians, who once took them for granted, are not looking for miracles now. What they are looking for is reform of a medieval system of land tenure, adequate roads and schools, some sign to the farmers of Italy that they are not altogether forgotten in the drive for economic expansion, and . . . a government which will represent `us' too, and not only 'them.'