By Douglas Hyde
ITALY'S Christian Democrats will have to face a direct challenge as a result of the decisions taken by the Thirty-third National Congress of the Socialist Party which met, under the leadership of Signor Nenni, in Naples last weekend.
Those who had hoped that Signor Ncrini and his followers would make a clean break with the Communists were disappointed. They will continue some form of united action with them in local government and in the trade U nions.
Those who had predicted that they would move over to some form of collaboration with the Christian Democrats were likewise disappointed. Signor Nenni obtained approval for a midway course. His party will fight the next Parliamentary elections free of any alliance with the Communists, and clear also of any commitment to associate with the present Christian Democrat Government under Signor Fanfanni's leadership or any other which may emerge from the next election.
This is probably better for all concerned. The Communists can no longer use him as a stalking horse but must stand or fall on the electors' reactions to their own policies. Those who vote Socialist will have to do so in support of Signor Nenni's polities, not in the expectation that the Socialist Party may become part of some wider alliance, embracing the Lcft Christian Democrats.
It is a healthier situation for the Christian Democrats too. For some years now their wellorganised left wing has believed that it might be possible to do a deal with the Nenni Socialists on the basis of a common platform for a Welfare State on the British model.
There was always a good deal of wishful thinking in this. The outcome of any such alliance. would. much more probably, have been the absorption of many ol the rank and file of the left Christian Democrats into the Socialist Party and the indirect linking of them all, via the Socialist Party, with the Communists. In the long run it might well have been the Communists who would have gained by means of defections from among the militant Catholic workers.
This danger was foreseen two or three years ago in a statement by the present Pope, who was then the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice, where the left Christian Democrats were particularly strong and wellorganised. Indeed. the main drive for an alliance with the Ncnni Socialists was coming from Venice at that time.
The Christian Democrat Party, which includes Catholics of all classes and of opinions which range from far to the right to far to the left, needs its left wing in order to maintain its representative character and to prevent it from being no more than the spokesman of the big Catholic landowners and industrialists
Signor Nenni's decision to pursue a policy of isolation reduces the possibility of the Left Christian Democrats breaking away from the parent party in order to form some new Left-Centre alliance with the Socialist Party.
It would seem that Signor Nenni hopes to be able to pick up new adherents from both left and right. To the left there are the people who, in fairly considerable numbers, are disillusioned with the Communist Party or become disgusted by some of its policies. To the right there are the unorganised Catholic working class voters who tend to grow uneasy at the lack of "militancy" on the part of the Christian Democrat leaders.
If he is correct his vote will go up and his party's membership will grow. But in order to be able to maintain an identity separate from that of the Communists he will have to stop playing with any thing that smells of Communist totalitarianism and model his ideology on something approaching that of the British Labour Party.
There is of course an alternative possibility. It is that because he blows neither hot nor cold, some of his support will go to the Cornmunists and some to the Left Christian Democrats. As things stand at the moment his party continues to be the third strongest in Italy with the Christian Democrats leading and the Communists coming second.