THREAT TO CHRISTIAN DEMOCRACY
Failure to break Communist hold on the masses is creating crisis
From a Special Correspondent THE continued hold of Communism upon large masses of the Italian people despite all the efforts of Catholics and anti-Communists generally to break it is rapidly creating a crisis within Christian democracy itself'.
It is reflected in the growing tendency for members of the Italian Christian Democratic Party to go over either to the party's Right or Left wings, so tending towards a weakening of the centre which alone in the past has made possible the survival of such a loosely knit body.
It largely explains, too, the events which led up to the recently announced resignation of Dr. Mario Rossi, national president of the Catholic Action Youth Movement— a development which is having a profoundly disturbing effect upon the minds of many Catholic workers in Italy today.
Reds' big poll
The hard facts are these :
In 194/1 a Communist victory was narrowly averted by the Christian Democratic Party aided at the spiritual level by Catholic Action and at the political level by the Civic Committees which were founded hi' Prof. Gedda, Catholic Action's president, for the specific purpose of combatting the Communists in their own sphere of activity.
But the number of votes which were cast for the Communists and their sympathisers was alarmingly large. ft was clear that the Cornmunist Party was strong enough to use a major crisis of democracy in order to seize power.
Now, six years later, Italian Communism is apparently just as strong as ever. All the work and all the cash expended by the Christian Democrat politicians, Catholic Action and the Civic Committees have failed to do more than hold it.
The threat. as one election after another has shown, remains as big as ever.
That is a moral victory for the Communists. As such it is having a disturbingly demoralising effect upon Christian anti-Communists who are trying to make democracy work in a country which has only just emerged from a generation of dictatorship.
That demoralisation reveals itself increasingly in a tendency towards fragmentation and for the organisations concerned to harden off into opposing camps of Left and Right.
There are those who believe that tougher methods of fighting Communism are required. They are visibly moving to the Right at this moment and are looking for alliances with the Neo-Fascists and the more immediately dangerous monarchists.
Among these are prominent members of the Christian Democratic Party and, it is said, Prof. Gedda and his personal supporters within Catholic Action.
And there are the others who believe that in the long run the only way to meet the Communist's challenge is to steal their thunder; to adopt much of their social programme, recognising it to he desirable, and to build up a Christian Left which offers the electorate an alternative to Communism and the masses a vehicle through which to express their protest at continuing social injustices.
These are currently moving over to the Left and seeking alliances with the Socialists, the followers of the fellow-traveller Nenni and even, in some cases, with the Communists themselves.
There are thus dangers to democracy on both sides—for in each case the driving force within the alliance would clearly come from the totalitarian elements within it.
The net result so far within the Christian Democratic Party is the weakening of that centre which is so essential to it if it is to continue to attract under the one umbrella Catholic workers from the slums and big Catholic industrialists and land owners who have nothing in common with them except their Catholicism, A similar process is at work within Catholic Action itself. Precisely because Prof. Gedda is by instinct the man of the Right be saw the Communist danger in time and formed his Civic Committees to meet it.
But for the same reason he was among the first, under the relentless pressure of the hard fact of continued Communist strength, to begin
to look away from the Centre and towards the men who talk most of an authoritarian answer.
And he has done so all the more naturally because, pious and sincere man though he is, there is a strong authoritarian streak in his own makeup. It reveals itself in the way in which he runs Catholic Action: it is reflected in the fact that Dr. Rossi is not the first of his chiefs by any means who has found it difficult to work with him.
No one supposes that Prof. Gedda is consciously politically ambitious. But he is the sort of Christian politician who in certain circumstances could think of himself as being the man chosen by God and history to assert authority over a nation faced with disaster. And there might be others who would see him in the same way.
For that reason he is often mentioned as a future Salazar of Italy. That might or might not be a good thing for Italy. But it would be the end of Italian Christian democracy.
Dr. Rossi was moving to the Left whilst Prof, Gedda moved to the Right. A clash was certain.
Gedda, and the Osservatore Romano. said that Rossi was guilty of "doctrinal deviations." But long before there was any question of this the political differences between the two heads made a crisis inevitable.
The "deviations" came when Dr. Rossi, at the time of his resignation— which had been "requested"—sent out 1.000 express letters to the leaders of Catholic Action, to his supporters. to Catholic Action clergy and to the Bishops.
Among other things he wrote: "Be faithful to your Bishops, but be also watchful of those sins committed against justice and truth."
That "but" was open to various interpretations, but the worst was read into it by Prof. Gedda. the Osservatore and, of course, those who disagreed with his political orientation.
It should be made clear, however, that Dr. Rossi is not one of the extreme Left group. He may be described as "Left Centre." It should also be recognised that both leaders have acted in good faith, both are respected Catholics whose integrity has never been in doubt.
But they reflect in their actions the crisis forced upon Italian Christian democracy by Communism, a crisis which is now being deepened by the difference between them.