1 OCTOBER 1948, Page 6



SINCE the general strike which followed the attempt on Signor Togliatti in mid-July, a deceptive calm seems to have settled on the Italian scene. Political activity receded, as usual, into the background during the summer pause, or took the more light- hearted form of immense rallies, such as those organised in the main towns to boost the Communist paper Unita, which partook of the nature of a bean-feast with processions and fireworks, tem- pered only by the inevitable speech from Secchia, Longo, or some other aspirant deputising for the convalescent Signor Togliatti. A visitor coming from a less buoyant climate could not fail to be impressed by the general atmosphere of resilience and vitality, as also by the evidence of progress in material reconstruction. For example, on whole stretches of railway-line which last year were still littered with wreckage and debris, neat new stations have now been built ; and, since the opening of the big new bridge over the Po near Piacenza, the journey from Milan to Rome now takes under seven hours.

The rumblings of political criticism are still there, however, ready to swell into a roar when the autumn comes, bringing with it the regional elections and the renewed discussion of economic problems. The Communists may have tacitly agreed on a summer holiday, but that does not mean that with the July demonstrations their bolt was shot. The Nenni Socialists have terminated the close political alliance with them which was formed for purposes of the election under the title of the Fronte Democratico Popolare. This move has failed completely in its original purpose of promoting Socialist unity, for since the hapless Genoa congress at the end of June unity between the Left-wing and Centre Socialists, let alone re- unification with the dissident Saragat party, seems further off than ever. From the Communist point of view, however, the result may be to strengthen the party. Communist leaders, no longer under the necessity of diluting their pronouncements in deference to Socialist susceptibilities, can point to the bankruptcy of Italian Socialism and represent themselves as the one hope of the workers. The definitive split of the C.G.I.L. (Trade Union Confederation), from which the Catholic elements broke away in July to form a separate trade union, makes this form of appeal all the more cogent ; and though Signor Di Vittorio, the Communist head of the C.G.I.L., has stated that the trade unions will not fight the Govern- ment by a series of chain strikes, this vague promise still leaves the way open to a variety of forms of sabotage directed against the Government's economic plans.

Signor De Gasperi's Government—his sixth since he first took office as Prime Minister in December, 1945—was returned to power with an overwhelming majority last April, but that very majority carried with it the seeds of future complications. Whatever the reasons which then swayed the electorate—the Western Powers' proposals for Trieste, the need for Marshall Aid, the recent example of Czecho- slovakia's fate, or, most potent of all, the simple fear of seeing the country " go Communist "—thoughtful opinion both at home and abroad fully realised that a Christian Democrat victory in such cir-

cumstances, won with the assistance of many normally apathetic elements in the electorate and with the more than doubtful asset of a good deal of Right-wing support, would require very careful handling. True, the Cabinet includes two Republican members (one is Count Sforza, the Foreign Minister) and three Right-wing (P.S.L.I.) Socialists, Signor Saragat and two others occupying important economic posts ; and it was hoped that these Ministers, especially the P.S.L.I. economists, would do much to leaven the otherwise predominantly Christian Democrat and Right-wing character of the Government. How far they can make their influence felt remains to be seen.

Hitherto Signor Saragat has been hampered by the need to con- solidate his party, and also by criticisms from various Socialist elements as to the wisdom of his party remaining within the Govern- ment, withdrawal from which has been put forward as a pre- requisite for any possible Socialist reunification. As to Signor De Gasperi, his wisdom, political ability and patent sincerity are admitted by even many of his opponents ; but opinion is consider- ably more divided about some of his entourage. It is thought by some, for example, that the schools policy of Professor Gonella, the Minister of Education, has added fuel to the already growing anti- clerical trend of criticism directed against the Government.

It is in the economic sphere that the Government will have to meet the strongest criticism from the Left this autumn. Early in July, before the summer recess, the Minister of Labour, Signor Fanfani, put forward a plan for economic reconstruction which aimed at tackling simultaneously the problems of unemployment and of housing shortage. Broadly speaking, the plan proposes the building, within seven years, of 3oo,00o workers' dwellings ; to this end obligatory vocational training and labour service is to be insti- tuted, and the scheme is to be financed with the aid of contributions from both employers and employed. Unfortunately, the proposed method of financing was complicated, and at first sight extremely unpalatable, including, as it did when originally propounded, an assault on one of the workers' most cherished privileges, the annual bonus of a month's wages. The result was that the plan was violently attacked from many quarters on this score rather than on its actual merits. It has already been somewhat modified, and is among the first subjects down for discussion in Parliament.

Another much-discussed cause of economic discontent is the alleged rise In prices. In vain the statisticians point out that the increase in wholesale and retail food prices, noted since the begin- ning of August, can be regarded as seasonal ; that prices in fact fell steadily between September, 1947, and February, 1948, after which they remained fairly stationary till early August ; and that the increase is in fact slowing down already. Nevertheless, in trains, in buses, in shops, everywhere, sooner or later conversation will come round to these rising prices, of the truth of which people are convinced by their own pockets—and from that it is only a step to blaming the Government. And up to a point they are right, as they see things. For in balancing the ordinary family budget it has hitherto been possible to offset the fluctuating but always high expenditure on food by the cost of the fixed items (rent, gas, elec- tricity and public services), which till recently has been very low (indeed amazingly so by British standards). Now, however, rents are to be increased by 3o per cent., electricity also by 3o per cent., and the cost of other public services, hitherto running at a deficit, is also to be stepped up. Another economic problem facing the Government is the need to increase exports, which will involve the immensely unpopular measure of dismissing supernumerary workers, if costs are to be reduced.

In the political sphere the regional elections, which take place this month, are not arousing much interest at present, but will un- doubtedly be made an occasion for whipping up public opinion. The still unsolved problems of Trieste and of the colonies, though beyond the competence of any Italian Government, can also afford useful weapons for political propaganda. If a reasonable solution for these questions could be found without further delay it would greatly aid Signor De Gasperi's Government in its difficult task of maintaining Italy on the road towards political and economic recovery.