Login *:
Password *:


9-08-2015, 22:09


Nazi Germany’s principal ally during the Second World War was Benito Mussolini’s fascist Italy. There had been much destruction, particularly of housing, as the Allied armies pushed up the Italian peninsula after their landings in the south, but the country’s industrial north-east region, where the Germans surrendered without severe fighting taking place, would allow Italian industry to recover quickly. Agriculture too could be brought back to normal within one or, at most, two seasons. The immediate dislocation caused by the war was, nevertheless, enormous. Even though most Italian cities, unlike Germany’s, had not been turned into rubble heaps, the standard of living of most Italians had dropped to subsistence level and below. Communications and infrastructure had to be rebuilt. Relief from abroad was essential if the poorest Italian families were not to starve, and it came principally from the US. In 1945 Italy was producing less than half of what had been its gross national product in 1938, yet three years after the end of the war the Italian economy had already caught up with pre-war levels. In many respects the Italians were in a more fortunate position than the Germans at the end of the war. Italy was not divided; it was occupied and in reality under the control of the Western Allies alone. The Allied perception of Italians, reinforced by the way the war came to an end in Italy, was far more favourable than their perception of the Germans. At about the same time in the autumn of 1944 as the Morgenthau Plan of pastoralisation and minimal living standards was being regarded as appropriate treatment for the Germans, Britain and the US promised to help Italy recover from the wounds of war. Why the great difference? Mussolini had presided over a vicious puppet regime in northern Italy while the Allies in 1944 were slowly battling up the Italian peninsula. But the fighting had not been left to the Allies alone. A powerful anti-fascist partisan movement had attacked and harried the German troops and the Italian fascist militia. In this way the Italians had actively assisted in the liberation of their country. The Germans had fought for Hitler’s Germany to the end. The Allies had looked upon the fascists with contempt rather than hatred during the war. The Italian fascists, moreover, had not committed atrocities on the terrible scale of the Germans. Although Mussolini’s regime was increasingly ready to accept German dictation, the Italian army high command during the Second World War had not become as depraved as much of the Wehrmacht leadership did; Italian generals had even shown resistance to criminal orders. The Italian people had tired of the war and genuinely welcomed the British and American troops as liberators. The cause of Italy was also assisted by the presence in the US of a large Italian-American community whose members had not lost their love for their homeland: Roosevelt wanted to secure their support in the presidential election of 1944. Most importantly, the Italians themselves had overthrown Mussolini when the Fascist Grand Council and the king had dismissed him. The Allies were prepared to deal with his successor, Marshal Pietro Badoglio, even though he was the brutal conqueror of Abyssinia; what mattered most to them was that he was prepared to take Italy out of the war. The Italians were thus allowed by the Western Allies to change sides and become ‘co-belligerents’ – not exactly allies, but not enemies either. Italy had achieved something remarkable. Without a revolution the old fascist establishment and the monarchy had transformed their fascist rule to one acceptable to the Allies. To all intents and purposes they had escaped the consequences of the Allied demand for ‘unconditional surrender’. As far as Italy was concerned, the needs of war overrode other considerations in Allied counsels. For Churchill and the British, Badoglio and the monarchy represented the best bulwark against communism. The southern half of Italy had always been predominantly conservative and royalist. With the Allied armies in the south and the Germans in the north, Italy was, in 1944, more physically split than ever. In central and northern Italy a coalition of anti-fascist parties was formed in September 1944 embracing all anti-fascists from the Liberals to Catholic Christian Democrats and from the socialists to the communists. Calling themselves the Committee of National Liberation, they demanded war against the German occupiers. By contrast, the king and his government, who had earned the contempt of many Italians by fleeing south to safety behind the Allied lines, seemed paralysed and hesitant. The Committee of National Liberation filled the vacuum and acted decisively, despite the German occupation of central and northern Italy. For this reason it became the effective political authority in Italy in 1945. With 250,000 armed partisans, a fierce war was fought in the north against the well-armed German divisions. The partisans suffered heavy casualties in 1944 and 1945 but succeeded in liberating Milan and Italy’s other northern cities even before Allied troops advancing from the south could reach them. Mussolini’s puppet regime in the north collapsed and he tried to flee. He was captured by partisans and executed together with his mistress. Their bodies were then exposed to the savagery of public vengeance. The newsreels that showed these horrible scenes, though they shocked many in the West, provided a glimpse of the passions the war had aroused. Why then did the communists not seek to exploit their organisational strength among the partisans of the centre and north and their military success in sweeping through the Po Valley during the spring of 1945, ‘the wind from the north’, to try to hold on to effective power? Palmiro Togliatti, the communist leader, a cool and calculating politician, had left Moscow and reached southern Italy a year earlier, in March 1944. He had immediately declared that the communists would collaborate with the royal government and anti-fascist parties and he did not waver from this course. It is probable that the strategy had been coordinated in Moscow. The similarity with the attitude of the French communists is striking. Stalin was anxious to maintain Allied unity until the war was won, and indeed after; he had pressed for spheres of influence in the Europe overrun by the Allied armies and he now tried to demonstrate to the Western Allies that the communists in the sphere he accepted as Western would not be allowed to cause any trouble. Realism, so Stalin believed, dictated that the Western Allies, whose armies would conquer the whole of Italy, would also decide future politics in Italy. The Soviet recognition of Badoglio’s royal government in the south in March 1944 sent this signal clearly. Stalin, of course, was also anxious, as an obvious quid pro quo, to have the Western Allies accept Soviet dominance in Eastern and central Europe. Moscow, therefore, urged the communist parties of the West to follow popular-front tactics, to bide their time and to gain strength by working constitutionally within the system. Togliatti too was committed to a policy of caution. An insurrection now would only have been crushed by the Allies; the path of legality, on the other hand, guaranteed the survival of the Communist Party, particularly when it was com- bined with the call that all Italians should unite to defeat fascism and the Germans. Togliatti’s aims were long-term, to rally the Italian masses to an Italian Marxist line after the war, to establish what he enigmatically called ‘progressive democracy’. The inevitable drawback of his policies was that by supporting the royal government he also strengthened the anti-communist forces which, as it turned out, have dominated Italian politics ever since 1945. The party in greatest difficulty after the war was the ‘other party’ of the left, the socialists. Should it be ready now to unite the left, to gain a majority in the country and to collaborate with the communists? It was led by Pietro Nenni, a warm and popular ‘man of the people’ who believed that it was the disunity of the working class that had allowed Mussolini and the fascists to gain and retain power. Hence his decision after 1945 to urge close collaboration with the Communist Party. This policy eventually split the party in 1947, a majority following Nenni; a minority under Giuseppe Saragat distrusted Moscow and the communists, left the party on this issue and formed their own party, the Social Democrats. The Christian Democrats were to play the decisive role in post-war Italian politics. The principal aim of the party was to re-establish the constitutional parliamentary state of the pre-fascist era. Fervour for reform varied among party members, those on the left being the keenest. But the Christian Democrats enjoyed one large electoral advantage: the full backing of the Vatican. The leader of the party, who dominated Italian politics in the immediate post-war years was Alcide De Gasperi, a practising Catholic. Although not solely a Catholic party, the Christian Democrats depended on the support of the Church for their electoral success. Yet De Gasperi was no mere captive of the Church. Despite Vatican disapproval he was ready to work with the communists in the National Liberation Council during the war and he encouraged communist participation in the post-war coalition governments until 1947. It served the interests of the governments he led after December 1945 not to drive the communists immediately into opposition. In post-war Italy the Church resumed its enormous influence over the lives of believers, the Vatican and priests backing from their pulpits the Christian Democrats against the godless communists. The Christian Democrats succeeded in attracting by far the largest support of any one party. However, the alliance of Togliatti’s communists and of Nenni’s Socialist Party, both strongly based in industrial northern and in central Italy, obtained as much support as the Christian Democrats but, with the Allies occupying Italy until the peace treaty was signed in 1947, they had to content themselves with the position of coalition partners in governments led by the Christian Democrat De Gasperi. The communists and their socialist allies were in any case anxious to prove their good behaviour as a nonrevolutionary political grouping. Dominating the reborn trade unions, the communists urged restraint on the workers in the north, and at the end of the war ensured that the partisans gave up their arms, so ending any possibility of revolution. Were these tactics a betrayal of the working class and the revolution, as extreme-left theoreticians later claimed? Revolution in the circumstances prevailing in Italy was unlikely to have succeeded. Stalin would have given no support. The overwhelming strength of the Anglo-American armies, the fact that the partisans were not all communists and their need for Allied supplies against the Germans made the notion of a seizure of power in 1944 and 1945 quite unrealistic. Despite the support the Church gave to the monarchy Italy became a republic in 1946, in response to a national referendum. The majority for the republic had been slender, reflecting the small preponderance of the left. A constituent assembly was elected at the same time, with three parties gaining most of the votes: the Christian Democrats secured 35 per cent, the socialists nearly 21 per cent and the communists just under 19 per cent. The revived extreme right, quasifascists, managed to obtain 5.3 per cent. On crucial issues, communists and socialists behaved moderately, so that a constitution setting up a parliamentary form of government was agreed on in 1947. It left many issues ambiguous and would allow the shift to the right to continue. All three government parties collaborated on the urgent task of post-war reconstruction; unemployment, rampant inflation and shortages of food created enormous difficulties for the government and people of Italy. Flour was brought in by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), largely financed by the US. American emergency loans further emphasised Italy’s dependence on the US. Reconstruction, it was held, must precede socialisation. The fascist economic controls over industry were dismantled and private enterprise was favoured over state-run industry by the orthodox economists who dominated the treasury. They had little faith in Keynesian interference in the economy, after years of a corporate fascist state. The trade unions won some relief for the workers against rising prices, but distress remained widespread, even though production picked up and the yield of the 1946 harvest was better than that of 1945. As elsewhere in Western Europe, the hard winter of 1946–7 caused a grave crisis in Italy. The first two years after the war were a period of great hardship for the Italian people, with 1 million unemployed in industry alone. It was followed by an extraordinary upswing of production, which cannot simply be attributed to Marshall Aid. It was dubbed an economic miracle, but its foundations had been laid in the hard years after the war. Confidence in the currency was restored. The danger of a communist political and economic takeover receded. De Gasperi underlined the waning need for communist and socialist support when he excluded those parties from his new government in the spring of 1947. With their departure the last vestiges of the wartime Committee of National Liberation vanished. The politics of war, of possible revolutionary change, were over and Italy was returning to a kind of normality. Thus in little more than two years a certain political stability had been attained, and vital issues such as the future control of industry, the monarch and the role of the Catholic Church had all been defined. No former enemy was quite so rapidly forgiven nor so speedily embraced as a new ally as was Italy. In February 1947, unlike Germany, Italy secured a peace treaty. The loss of its colonies appeared a heavy blow at the time, but later it was to spare Italy the trauma of decolonisation suffered by the victors. The Western Allies demanded no reparations, and those paid to the injured victims in the Balkans and the USSR were kept to a modest level, funded by grants and loans supplied by the US. Yet the Italians did not escape entirely unscathed. Besides losing their colonial territories, Italy also had to give up Albania and its wartime Balkan gains. The most bitterly disputed territory was the province of Venezia Giulia, until 1918 part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, its port of Trieste populated predominantly by Italians. Italy had had little to show for its heavy losses in the First World War, and its 1918 gains had enormous emotional significance. But the Yugoslavs, who had suffered so much from German and Italian occupation, were in 1954 granted most of the territory by the wartime Allies, the Italians regaining control only of the city of Trieste itself, which was made a free territory. Of great economic, as well as national and emotional, importance was another former Habsburg territory, the South Tyrol, its predominantly German-speaking population antagonised by Italian rule. The Italians had gained this territory with the blood of more than 1 million war dead in the Great War. They would not now lightly give up the Brenner Pass frontier or the hydroelectric power they had developed in this region. The Allies in 1946 rejected Austrian claims, not to mention the wishes of the majority of the population. The Italians were far from satisfied with the peace terms. They claimed that, having changed sides in 1943, they should have been better treated. The Russians consented to the peace treaty, which might appear surprising in the Cold War climate of 1947. But the treaty also marked the logical outcome of the Yalta Agreements. The occupying powers’ decisions were not to be challenged in the spheres of influence recognised by the Soviets. In return for agreeing to the Italian terms, the satellite regimes in Soviet-controlled Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary received recognition and peace treaties at the same time, as also did Finland. Their gains and territorial adjustments as allies of Germany were reversed, but the Soviet Union retained Bessarabia (Moldavia) and northern Bukovina, which they had first occupied in 1940. Finland had to confirm the cession of territory made to the USSR in 1940, and the Soviet Union in addition secured a fifty-year lease of the Porkkala naval base. Unlike the Balkan states, Finland never became a satellite and was allowed complete independence while following a policy friendly to the USSR. Relations proved so satisfactory that the Soviets returned the naval base in 1955. From the start Italy was not treated as Germany was. Even under American occupation from 1945 to 1947, the military supervisory government dropped the word ‘Control’ from its title of Allied Commission. Fascism was suppressed, but political life never came to a standstill. After the peace treaty, Italy participated on the same terms as France and Britain in the Marshall Plan (though receiving much less) and could take its place in the United Nations. Italy had been treated generously, and harboured no grudges against the nations that had defeated it. Italians escaped too the heavy burden of guilt that would continue to haunt the German people for more than a generation.