Communist Power in Europe, 1944-1949

By Martin McCauley | Go to book overview

10 Italy

P. A. ALLUM AND DONALD SASSOON

The American Fifth and the British Eighth Armies landed in Sicily in July 1943 and began the long and bitter campaign for the liberation of Italy which was to last almost to the end of the war in Europe in summer 1945. Naples was liberated in October 1943, Rome in June 1944, Florence in August, while the general rising of the Italian partisans that drove the Germans out of the cities of the Po valley, was brought to a victorious conclusion on 25 April 1945. Mussolini was ousted by a palace coup on 25 July 1943 and replaced by Marshal Badgoglio. The new government dissolved the Fascist Party and made contact with the British and Americans to negotiate a secret Armistice. The Armistice, which imposed unconditional surrender on Italy, was announced on 8 September 1943. The Soviet Union, which was a party to the terms, did not take part in the negotiations. Moreover, the night before the Armistice was announced the King and the government fled from Rome to seek Allied protection and were settled in Bari. The Germans reacted to the Armistice by occupying the non-liberated part of the country, and, having rescued Mussolini, they set him up in a puppet regime: the Republic of Salò.

All the Italian political parties, except the Fascist Party had been banned in 1926. The Italian Communist Party ( P.C.I.), which was a small 'cadre' party that had been founded from a minority split in the Socialist Party at the Leghorn Congress in January 1921, went underground.1 It was the only Italian party which managed to maintain a clandestine organised presence in the country throughout the Fascist period. It also had an external centre in exile, as did the Socialist Party ( P.S.I.U.P.) and the Giustizia e Libertà (later to become the Action Party ( P.d'A.) ); this was first in Paris but moved to Moscow in the 1930s. The other anti-Fascist Parties (Christian Democrat (D.C.) and Liberal ( P.L.I.)) were constituted in clandestinity in winter 1942-3. During the 45 days between the fall of Mussolini and the Armistice, the parties operated in a sort of semilegality, setting up local Comitati di Liberazione Nazionale ( C.L.N.), which only became legal in the liberated regions.

The P.C.I. strategy in the post-war period was a 'constitutional' one: the conquest of power by legal means within the framework of the democratic constitution they had helped to set up. Togliatti, the Party's former Comintern leader, in his first major speech on his return from exile in the Soviet Union announced in clear and unequivocal terms:2

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