September 23, 2015

1955. Ambassador Clare Boothe Luce on Italy

Italy's Political Woes
Bill Downs (right) meets with Italian Prime Minister Mario Scelba in 1955
TO: Ed Murrow, John Day, Jim Burke

FROM: Bill Downs, Rome

March 1, 1955

I just had a long talk with Ambassador Luce over the general situation in Italy. Speaking off the record (although I didn't see why), she seemed fairly optimistic and said that, since the passage of the Western European Union program by the Bundestag, there should be little trouble getting the program ratified by the Roman Senate. There are signs that the Togliatti boys will make some noise before the present debate is concluded, but she believes this will be for the benefit of Moscow and to get the party on the record in the public mind here. Mrs. Luce does not believe Togliatti will go all out on an issue which he knows in advance he has little chance of winning.

Italian political leaders in Premier Scelba's coalition government are back playing with their knives again. The right wing Liberal leaders deliberately brought up the agricultural law issue just the day Scelba and Martino returned from the London and Paris trips. The gambit apparently was to embarrass the Premier and grab the headlines from him. Foreign Minister Martino, who is a Liberal Party member, finally brought the dissidents into line but gained only a three month respite, when the issue will come up again. The Liberals, who include many wealthy landowners, want to modify the present law which prevents them from being able to discharge sharecroppers or tenant farmers and change the regulations to get people off their property after a set notice time. As you can see, it is a perfect issue for Communist propaganda.

Scelba and Martino will arrive in America about the 23rd of March. The exact itinerary is still being made up, but present plans call for a visit to Ottawa, then Washington, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Scelba will return to Rome ahead of Martino, who is likely to extend his tour to San Francisco returning east via Texas. They want to go to Washington with ratification of WEU behind them, and the agenda of the formal talks with Eisenhower and Dulles will include the usual mutual defense and economic problems, with emphasis on increased trade and immigration. Incidentally, Mrs. Luce is leaving for the US on about March 18 ahead of the Scelba party. She's going to get an honorary degree from Georgetown University. I also am pressing for the exact dates on the Scelba-Martino itinerary with a view to getting Martino on some of our shows. Martino speaks fairly good English.

Mrs. Luce does not expect much that will cheer the West to come out of the Sicilian elections which will probably be held in June. The Communists and extreme left are expected to make further gains. The moderate and right wing political situation is complicated by splits in all parties, a proposed majority election law to replace P.R. which is being fought by the minor parties, a controversial issue over oil exploration and exploitation, and the usual personality battles for power. In other words, the Left is expected to make gains.

The Ambassadress continues to insist, however, that generally the Communists are losing some of their punch. She admits that she had little proof of this except scattered factory elections where the Red CGIL unions have lost votes. She admits that it may be all a farce to get US military contracts, "or it may be done with mirrors" but, she continued, "if I'm being fooled over this, I must say it's the way I want to be fooled." The biggest problem, she says, is to find a way to get the government off dead center. But even under the present "immobilissimo" government, things generally get slightly better from day to day. This progress by osmosis has already precipitated a split in the Communist leadership, and she says that if this somnambulant state of affairs can be continued, the West will stand to win in the long run.

The crisis period in Italian politics will come after the presidential election this summer. Depending on who gets the job—in the running are Martino, ex-Premier Pella, and possibly even Demochristian Party Secretary Fanfani—will depend on the men who will try to upset the Scelba government. Some gossip has it that Fanfani has been sitting back developing his own organization and will emerge with the power to give the country strong leadership of a New Deal kind. Another candidate being mentioned is Finance Minister Vanoni, the creator of the Vanoni Plan to give Italy full employment in the next ten years. Just about any man who emerges with personality enough to capture the imagination of the people can do the job. But not to be forgotten is Scelba himself, who seems to creep up on power or inherits it by default.

La Luce says that elections any time within the next two years would force a real polarization of the vote with both the right and the left gaining at the expense of the center. The Demochristians have no agreed program to present to the electorate and have little in the way of a positive record to point to as their past accomplishments.

In other words, politically things are normal here and we may have a government crisis in the summer, if not before.


Bill Downs