Memorandum by the Acting Director of the Office of European Affairs ( Reber ) to the Acting Secretary of State
Subject: Present Italian Situation; Implementation of NSC 1/1 “The Position of the United States with Respect to Italy.”1
- Preparation of the National Security Council’s report on Italy (NSC 1/1) was undertaken at the initiative of the State Department because of a possibility that the Communists might attempt to seize power in that country by extra-legal means in advance of the March elections. During preparation of the report the Italian Communist Party was defeated in its move to overthrow the present Italian Government by parliamentary means. Subsequently, they have turned to more direct measures and are now engaged in an attempt to undermine the Government by agitation, strikes and violence.
- During the past three weeks the Communists have instigated intermittent work stoppages and disorders throughout all of Italy. Communist-led strikers have raided and wrecked rightist party headquarters and newspaper plants. In a number of instances they have laid siege to prefectures and police stations and have attacked prisons, seeking to release comrades arrested during the disorders. In other incidents political opponents of the Communists have been beaten or assassinated. Altogether some 21 persons have been killed in the past three weeks, with several hundred wounded. After several days of relative quiet, renewed incidents were reported this week, culminating in Communist-Socialist seizure of the Milan prefecture during a general strike in that city on November 28.
- The present/Communist move may be designed primarily to “soften up” the situation in preparation for a real test at a later date, immediately prior to or during the electoral period in March. In fact, if the Communists could obtain participation in the government at this time, there seems no doubt that they would be content for the moment. It appears most unlikely that they can achieve this participation, however, and there are some indications that the present move is in fact the first, or preparatory, stage of an all-out effort to seize power by any possible means. Embassy Paris reports in its 4951 of November 182 a very reliable informant as saying it has now been decided in Moscow that the main efforts of the Cominform will be directed against Italy. The present situation is characterized as the “pre-revolutionary [Page 728] stage”, and the Communists are said to believe that with a mixture of legal and illegal action they can come into power within the next two or three months. Frankfort’s 448, November 19,3 gives details of an alleged Communist plan for the seizure of Northern Italy, the general scneme of which has been reported from other sources, according to which Communist military action is to be undertaken the latter part of November. Rome’s 3723, November 18,3 regarding the work of the Four Power Naval Commission, reflects the care which the Soviet representative seems to be taking to prevent unfavorable publicity in Italy for the Soviet Union at this time as well as a seemingly high degree of confidence on his part in eventual Communist control of Italy. A CIA interview on November 17 with the Chief of the Italian Public Security Police shows that the Italian Government itself anticipates serious developments in the near future. The Chief of Police is said to be confident that the internal security situation can be controlled if no direct aid is forthcoming from the Yugoslavs; it is his opinion, however, that the Communists will attempt to seize and cut off North Italy to prevent the Government sending reinforcements until such time as direct aid has been received from Yugoslavia.
- The De Gasperi Government has shown both patience and firmness in handling the recent series of disorders, and has obviously increased its support both in the Constituent Assembly and among the Italian people. In apparent acknowledgment of this development, the Communists have been attempting through intimidation to reach an understanding with the rightist parties in order to isolate De Gasperi and bring about the formation of a weaker government headed by an “independent” (Rome’s 3738, November 203). The alternative, the Communists have said, is continued disturbances “with no assurance as to ultimate eventualities”.
- In addition to the proposals for action by the US in the event of a Communist seizure of power in Italy, recommendations in NSC 1/1 include measures designed to support the present Italian Government during the critical period of the next few months. If the present Communist move is intended merely to “soften up” the situation, it is believed that these measures, together with the interim aid now before Congress, will give the necessary support to the Italian Government provided they are promptly and effectively implemented.
If, on the other hand, the present move is an all-out effort to over [Page 729] throw the Italian Government, it seems doubtful that these or any other measures which the US could or would take are of sufficient scope or could be put into effect in sufficient time to improve the situation. The contemplated assistance would not, however, be lost in that event as it would be essential for the continued survival of the Italian Government. It must be concluded, therefore, that we should use all available means to support the present Italian Government and at the same time be prepared to move at once should the Communist bid for power succeed in spite of our efforts.
Since NSC 1/1 has now been approved by the President, it is recommended that the measures set forth therein be immediately communicated to all interested departments and agencies of this Government with the request that every effort be made to implement them without delay.
It is further recommended that the Departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force be advised that in our opinion developments in the Italian situation may shortly require implementation of the measures envisaged in paragraph 12 of NSC 1/1, and that it would therefore be prudent to plan accordingly. (Draft letter to the Secretary of National Defense, attached for signature.4)