By DOUGLAS HYDE
NEWSPAPER headlines last week hailed the result of the Italian elections as being something of a victory for the Christian Democrats who, we were told, had "held their own". At the risk of being called a Jeremiah I would like to suggest that there is no cause for complacency whatsoever on the part of Italy's Christian Democrats, nor of Catholics anywhere.
The pro-Marxist vote increased by 1,300,000. In recent years the Communists and the Nenni Socialists have gone to the country together. This time they fought separately. In the elections for the Lower House they received 6.700.812 votes and 4,198,522 votes respectively.
This gives the combined Marxist parties a total of eleven million votes. In the previous General Election, in 1953, they totalled just over nine and a half million. The proportion of votes cast for the Marxists was this time 36.9 per cent. Last time it was 35.4 per cent.
The percentage of votes that went to the Communist Party itself remained almost exactly as before-22.7 this time, 22.6 in 1953.
The Nenni Socialists went up from 12.8 to 14.2. Since their extra votes clearly did not come from the Communists, it is safe to assume that they took them from either the moderate Saragat Socialists or from the Left-wing of the Christian Democrats. From my knowledge of the Left Christian Democrats I would say that it was from them that the Nenni Socialists got their increase.
It is true that the number of Communist deputies elected to the Lower House fell from 143 to 140, but this was due to Italy's complicated electoral system, not to a falling away of support on the part of the electorate. And the Nenni Socialists, who are the Communists' ideological allies and fellow travellers, now have 84 deputies instead of 75.
The Christian Democrats' percentage increase was just a fraction higher than that of the Marxists. They obtained 42.2 per cent as against 40.1 per cent in 1953. They lost votes to the Left and picked up rather more from the parties that stand further to the Right, the Neo-Fascists and Monarchists.
This follows exactly the pattern, in every detail. which I forecast in THE CATHOLIC HERALD of April 25. But I draw no satisfaction from this confirmation that, after 13 years of hard work, the Christian party has failed, to all intents and purposes, to reduce the support which the two pro-Communist Marxist parties are able to muster in this traditionally Catholic country.
This situation is all the more disturbing when one recalls the divisions which occurred among the Communist leaders following upon the launching of Khruschev's "deStalinisation" policy and, more particularly, the shock caused by Russia's behaviour in Hungary.
The election results prove that, despite all this, the Communist challenge to Italian democracy stubbornly remains unaffected by all that Catholic Action, the Christian Democrats and others have done to try to defeat it.
That, it seems to me, is a very odd sort of "victory" for Christian democracy.