The Acting Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Italy ( Kirk )

No. 342

The Acting Secretary of State refers to his instruction No. 129 of January 20, 1945, and subsequent correspondence regarding methods of resolving the institutional question in Italy.

The document CAC33a–15 dated November 27, 1944,34 and entitled “Italy: Future Government: Methods of Securing a Free Expression of the Wishes of the Italian People Regarding their Form of Government” which was transmitted to the Embassy in instruction No. 129 represents the views of the Inter-Divisional Committee on Italy. That committee discussed a variety of plans for the decision of the Italian people regarding their form of government, quite without reference to the party discussions and governmental pronouncements in Italy. In no way was the committee’s preference for a simultaneous plebiscite and election of a constituent assembly influenced either by the Italian law No. 151 of June 25, 1944, or by the personal views of the Lieutenant General as expressed to Herbert Matthews, New York Times correspondent, on October 31. Document CAC-315 represents the result of considerable study and discussion at the inter-divisional level, but it was not brought before the policy-deciding officers of the Department for consideration.

There now appear to be certain serious difficulties in the way of implementing such a plan, arising from its incompatibility with certain aspects of the policy which we have pursued toward the Italian Government and the parties represented in it. After the signing of the surrender instrument35 the efforts of the Government of the United States were directed toward broadening the basis of the Italian Government and securing for it the support of the whole Italian population including the anti-Fascist parties. In the period from November 1943 until April 1944 a great number of pronouncements on the institutional question were issued by the various parties and [Page 968] committees of national liberation in Italy. None of these mentioned the possibility of a plebiscite. Most of them specified a constituent assembly as the necessary organ for deciding on the form of the State at the end of the war. The Bari Congress36 of the six anti-Fascist parties demanded a constituent assembly.

After King Victor Emmanuel’s public statement of April 12, 1944, regarding the eventual appointment of the Lieutenant General, leaders of the Communist party took certain steps indicating a willingness to take office under Marshal Badoglio.37 That party issued a declaration on April 15 demanding as a condition of accepting office an explicit assurance “of the people’s right to decide on the form of the State, after the war, by sovereign means through a Constituent Assembly.” On the same date the Permanent Executive Giunta of the anti-Fascist parties declared publicly that, by the issuance of a declaration on the part of the new government that the future form of the State would be decided by a constituent assembly, the obstacles which had hitherto prevented their service in the Government would be removed. (Report of Sir Noel Charles,38 Minutes of the tenth meeting of the Advisory Council for Italy, Naples, April 21, 1944, Despatch No. 490, Algiers, April 29, 1944) .39 In short, the record is clear that the anti-Fascist parties insisted on a specific pledge that the institutional question would be resolved by means of a constituent assembly as a condition of their taking office under Marshal Badoglio.

Such an assurance was given by the Italian Government. Immediately after the formation of the enlarged Badoglio Government a declaration was issued April 27):

“Many proposals which are well known and of the utmost importance must be put aside now because they are not timely. First among these is the institutional form of the State, which cannot be decided until the country is fully liberated and the war ended. Then the Italian people shall be called together in free public meetings and, acting under universal suffrage, shall elect a constituent and legislative assembly.

“The Government will in due course present an electoral law inspired by these concepts.”

(Despatch No. 497, May 3, 1944,39 from United States Political Adviser, Allied Force Headquarters.)

With the liberation of Rome King Victor Emmanuel formally turned over his royal powers to Prince Humbert as Lieutenant General, [Page 969] and the Bonomi Government issued the Decreto Luogotenenziale No. 151 of June 25, 1944. This decree is equivalent to law, and, in the opinion of the Legal Subcommission of the Allied Commission, its meaning is clear and unequivocal (Despatch No. 621, Rome, December 7, 1944.)39a

At no time has the Government of the United States or any of the Governments associated with it in the occupation of Italy issued any pronouncement on the method to be employed for determining the permanent form of the Italian Government. On the other hand we have accepted the Lieutenant General as head of the State and encouraged leaders of the Committee of National Liberation and of the anti-Fascist parties to serve in the Government. These anti-Fascist leaders accepted office on the specific pledge that the institutional question would be resolved at the end of the war by means of a constituent assembly.

If the Government of the United States or the British Government were now or later to announce that the proper method for resolving the institutional question is a plebiscite or referendum rather than a constituent assembly, certain of the anti-Fascist leaders might raise the charge of inconsistency, in that they had been induced to enter the Government, breaking the constitutional impasse and bringing to the Government a considerable measure of popular support, but on the specific condition that, after serving under the Lieutenant General and thus permitting legal continuance of the monarchy for the duration of the war, the decision regarding the ultimate form of the State would be made by means of a constituent assembly. If the Allied Governments acting through the Allied Commission were to urge a modification of the Law of June 25, 1944, to make provision for decision of the institutional question by means of a referendum such action might precipitate a serious Government crisis.

Moreover, if the Government of the United States were to insist that the method for resolving the institutional question be a referendum, such action would involve a certain inconsistency with our general policy, for we have publicly proclaimed a policy of entrusting to the Italian Government itself the chief responsibility and control over its own domestic affairs in so far as they do not involve the Allied prosecution of the war and the armistice terms.

For these reasons the Department has not taken any steps to implement the plan formulated by the Inter-Divisional Committee and has recently looked with more favor on the Inter-Divisional Committee’s second preference solution, namely, the plan for a Constituent [Page 970] Assembly. What is of chief importance is to maintain in some form the general pledge of President Roosevelt and to avoid any widespread violence or civil war in Italy after the liberation of the North. These general aims might be achieved by recognizing the validity of Decree No. 151, of June 25, 1944, and thereby recognizing the obligations which the Italian Government itself has undertaken toward the various parties and committees of National Liberation. In this case the efforts of the United States Government, in cooperation with the powers associated with us in the occupation of Italy, would be confined to providing that the elections were free and fair and without violence. Properly supervised and arranged, a single national election of a constituent assembly may be expected to achieve approximately as free and fair a decision on the institutional question as a referendum or plebiscite.

Recognition of the validity of the law which provides for a constituent assembly at the end of the war would have the following advantages. It would be wholly consistent with our policy of entrusting the Italian Government with an increasing control over its own domestic affairs. In as much as the authority of the Council of Ministers to issue decrees having the force of law is based on article four of that law, we would continue to recognize the legality of the decrees issued by the ministry subsequent to that act. There would not arise the difficult legal problem which would ensue if we recognized article four of the law but not article one. It would avoid the risk of a crisis which might develop within the Italian Government itself or between the Italian Government and certain of the anti-Fascist parties if we were to insist on a referendum as the means of resolving the institutional question.

Finally, recognition of the validity of the whole of the law No. 151 of June 25, 1944, would simplify our own course and make the handling of some immediate problems easier than they would be if we contemplate insisting on a referendum. The proposal of Minister Togliatti for a three man regency and other similar proposals which may be brought forth later can easily be refused by action of the Italian Government itself on the basis of article three of that law. The law is a decreto-legge luogotenenziale, issued in the name of Umberto di Savoia, Luogotenente Generate, and consequent to his assumption of the royal powers on the basis of King Victor Emmanuel Ill’s royal decree No. 140 of June 5, 1944. The ministers are consequently bound by article three of the law of June 25 not to commit acts which might prejudice the institutional question (as stabilized in the institution of the Lieutenant-Generalship) prior to the actual convocation of the constituent assembly.

[Page 971]

For the reasons given above the Department is inclined to favor the policy of accepting the program for a constituent assembly. Before reaching a definite decision it would appreciate the Embassy’s views on the question.

  1. Civil Affairs Committee.
  2. No copy found in Department files.
  3. Instrument of Surrender of Italy, signed September 29, 1943; for text, see Department of State, Treaties and Other International Acts Series No. 1604, or 61 Stat. (pt. 3) 2742.
  4. Congress held at Bari, Italy, on January 28, 1944; for a summary of a report on the Congress, see telegram 322, January 30, 1944, 5 p.m., from Algiers, Foreign Relations, 1944, vol. iii, p. 1012.
  5. Pietro Badoglio, Head of the Italian Government and Prime Minister.
  6. British High Commissioner in Italy with the rank of Ambassador.
  7. Not printed.
  8. Not printed.
  9. Not printed.