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PCI in the 1948 Election

The PCI was strongly influenced by the Soviet Union until after the war when a gradual weaning from Soviet influence occurred. Among Italians, the very polarized climate of the late 1940s led Communists and Christian Democrats to accuse one another of being "totalitarian" and emphasize their own repugnance at the discredited Italian regime. PCI head Palmiro Togliatti stressed the continuities in membership and spirit (religious and otherwise) between fascism and the DC. For the PCI, which needed to highlight the contribution of Resistance partisans to the war at a time of American-backed political crackdowns against the Italian left, this involved the repression of information about excessive partisan violence and the diffusion of a view of the fascist period that minimized popular support for Mussolini's regime.

The breakdown of Soviet-American relations in the spring of 1947, as in the case of France, split the Italian moderate and leftist coalition asunder. In May, 1947, two months after the announcement of the Truman Doctrine, de Gasperi, after much reshuffling, organized a cabinet in which for the first time there were no Socialists or Communists. The two latter parties thereupon greatly intensified their attacks on the capitalist dominated government, which moved further toward the right and toward a United States oriented foreign policy. The Communists and the left-wing Socialists were particularly outraged by the government's softness toward the former Fascists.

The spectacle of former Fascist bigwigs and war profiteers living in unmolested wealth alongside the dire poverty of the mass of the Italian people, considerable numbers of whom had participated in the fight against Fascist tyranny in the latter stages of the war, angered liberal and leftist opinion both inside and outside Italy and contributed to a spirit of violence among Italian leftist groups.

In late November 1947 the US Ambassador Dunn in Rome received a document, which was evaluated as "authoritative," relating to a recent special Cominform conference in Poland. The document indicated that: (a) the Soviet Politburo was directing a coordinated all out Communist campaign to take over the French and Italian Governments by violence rather than constitutional methods; (b) although the initial emphasis was apparently on the use of general strikes timed to block the operation of the European recovery program, the Communists would not be restricted to this method; (c) the campaign was personally directed from Moscow by Zhdanov, secretary general of the Soviet Communist Party, through his "personal representative," Foreign Minister Ana Pauker of Rumania; (d) Mrs. Pauker is a member of a new special committee in Belgrade composed of representatives of the Soviet, Yugoslav; French, and Italian Communist Parties which operated independently of the Cominform and was to regulate and synchronize Communist action in France and Italy; and (e) the committee had been assured unlimited means apparently including financing, food, and military stores in order to carry out its campaign effectively.

CIA suggested, preliminary to the receipt of the reported document, that the document was: (a) an Italian Government plant for the purpose of expediting interim aid by impressing on the US Congress the urgent need for countermeasures against Soviet'plans; (b) a Cominform device to stimulate activity on the part of the Italian and French Communists and did not reflect any real intention to take the course indicated; or (c) an authentic and accurate indication of Soviet plans, which have as their maximum objective Communist seizure of the French and Italian Governments and as their minimum objective the creation of such economic and political chaos in France and Italy as will preclude the successful implementation of the European recovery program.

CIA did not believe that the French or Italian Communists were capable of seizing control of their respective Governments without material outside support. The supplying of such support, however, would involve the risk, of a major conflict for which the USSR was unprepared.

By the end of 1947 CIA expected the Italian Communists to instigate in the near future a new wave of strikes throughout the country. These strikes ostensibly would be aimed to win benefits for the workers similar to those recently granted in Rome and Sicily. If the De Gasperi Government demonstrated weakness in dealing with widespread disorders, CIA belived the Kremlin might direct insurrectionary action before the national elections in March or April 1948.

The potentialities for effective Communist employment of force to further Soviet objectives in Italy remained undiminished, despite De Gasperi's recent success in putting down the general strike in Rome. Communist capabilities for overt armed action were particularly strong in North Italy, where the Party had a large membership, controlled many city councils and labor organizations, and commanded a partisan following estimated at 50,000 well armed and 50,000 partially armed fighters. The Communists apparently also possessed adequate truck transportation in that region. Against this force, the Italian Army and security troops can place only limited strength, inadequate in arms and equipment. Rightist semi-military forces were believed to number only 20,000 at the most, and these were very poorly equipped for combat. Such Rightist forces would be more likely to impede rather than to increase the effectiveness of the Government troops.

If the Italian Communists, with assistance from the Communists of France and/or of Yugoslavia, should seize control of North Italy (as was within their capabilities), CIA believed the De Gasperi Government would probably require outside aid to regain possession of the area. However, two factors apparently militated against an imminent Communist coup: (1) the Communists had not yet succeeded in creating a truly "revolutionary situation"; and (2) they did not appear to have given up hope of winning the next elections. Neither the decision nor the order for insurrectionary action, however, was likely to originate in Italy itself. Such authority obviously rested in the Kremlin which will presumably direct such action as it considers necessary to defeat the European recovery program.

CIA noted that, in its efforts to sabotage the European recovery program, which was the USSR's immediate and primary target, the Kremlin might be willing even to risk the sacrifice of the French and Italian Communist Parties. If these Parties were defeated and driven underground, the USSR will have lost no more than it would lose by the success of the European recovery program. CIA believed that the unexpectedly rapid progress of the Marshall program had upset the timetable of the Kremlin and forced this desperate action as the last available countermeasure.

The first parliamentary elections under the new republican constitution which were scheduled to be held in April, 1948, were viewed by the capitalistic world with apprehension. The Italian Communists were led by the able, Moscow-trained Togliatti. The Communist coup in Czechoslovakia had taken place in February 1948.

The United States poured in vast sums under the Marshall Plan to the support of de Gasperi's Christian Democrats, who were moving further to the right, and threatened to cut off further economic aid to Italy in case of a leftist victory. On the eve of the elections, the United States, Great Britain, and France, in an obvious move to strengthen the Italian rightists, proposed that Trieste, a bone of contention between Italy and Yugoslavia and internationalized under the Italian treaty, be returned to Italy. On the other hand, the anticipated direct Soviet interference and leftist violence failed to materialize.

The rightist groups won a sweeping victory in the elections with de Gasperi's Christian Democrats alone gaining more than half the seats in the dominant lower chamber. Thus, by the summer of 1948 Italy appeared to be safely in the American camp in the Soviet / American cold war and under the control of an American-supported rightist government. Overpopulation, unemployment, mass poverty, and widespread disillusionment, however, continued to work in favor of the leftists.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:04:07 ZULU