Posted by: gurglin | June 8, 2008

Averting Democracy in Italy

by Noam Chomsky

taken from “Understanding Power” (2003), chapter 5, p. 160-163


MAN: Noam, since you mentioned the U.S. Opposing popular democracy and supporting fascist-type structures in Spain and Haiti — I just want to point out that that also happened in Italy, France, Greece, and other allied Western countries after World War II. I mean, there’s a big history of the U.S. undermining democracy and supporting fascist elements in the past half century or so, even in the rich European societies.


That’s right — in fact, that was the first major post-war operation by the United States: to destroy the anti-fascist resistance all over the world and restore more or less fascist structures to power, and also many Fascist collaborators. That happened everywhere, actually: from European countries like Italy and France and Greece, to places like Korea and Thailand. It’s the first chapter of post-war history, really — how we broke up the Italian fact, when unions, and the French unions, and the Japanese unions, and avoided the very real threat of popular democracy that had arisen around the world by the end of World War. 65


The first big American intervention was in Italy in 1948, and the point was to disrupt the Italian election — and it was a huge operation. See, U.S. planners were afraid there was going to be a democratic election in Italy which would result in a victory for the Italian anti-fascist movement. That prospect had to be avoided for the same reason it always has to be avoided: powerful interests in the United States do not want people with the wrong sort of priorities in charge of any government. And in the case of Italy, there was a major effort to prevent the popular-democratic forces that had comprised the anti-fascist resistance from winning the election after the war.66


In fact, U.S. opposition to Italian democracy reached the point of almost sponsoring a military coup around the late 1960s, just to keep the Communists (meaning the working-class parties) out of the government. 67 And it’s probable that when the rest of the internal U.S. records are declassified, we’ll find that Italy was actually the major target of C.I.A. operations in the world for years after that — that seems to be the case up until around 1975, when the declassified record sort of rune dry. 68


It was the same story in France—and the same throughout Europe. In fact, if you look back, the main reason for the partition of Germany into Eastern and Western countries — which was Western-initiated, remember — was put rather nicely by George Kennan [of the U.S. State Department], who was one of the main architects of the post-war world. Back in 1946, he said: we have to “wall off” Western Germany (nice phrase) from the Eastern Zone, because of the danger that a German Communist movement might develop — which would just be too powerful; Germany’s an important, powerful country, you know, and since the world was kind of social-democratic at that time, a unified socialist movement in a place like Germany or Japan would have been totally intolerable. So therefore we had to wall off Western Germany from the Eastern Zone in order to prevent that possibility from taking place. 69

In Italy, it was an especially serious problem — because the anti-fascist resistance there was huge, and it was extremely popular and prestigious. See, France has a much better propaganda system than Italy, so we know a lot more about the French resistance than the Italian resistance. But the fact of the matter is the Italian resistance was way more significant than the French resistance – I mean, the people who were involved in the French resistance were very courageous and honorable, but it was a very small sector of the society: France as a whole was mostly collaborationist during the Nazi occupation.70 But Italy was quite different: the Italian resistance was so significant that it basically liberated Northern Italy, and it was holding down maybe six or seven German divisions, and the Italian working-class part of it was very organized, and had widespread support in the population. In fact, when the American and British armies made it up to Northern Italy, they had to throw out a government that had already been established by the Italian resistance in the region, and they had to dismantle various steps towards workers’ control over industry that were being set up. And what they did was to restore the old industrial owners, on the grounds that removal of these Fascist collaborators had been “arbitrary dismissal” of legitimate owners — that’s the term that was used.71 And then we also undermined the democratic processes, because it was obvious that the resistance and not the discredited conservative order was going to win the upcoming elections. So there was a threat of real democracy breaking out in Italy —what’s technically referred to by the U.S. government as “Communism”— and as usual, that had to be stopped.


Well, as you say; the same thing also happened elsewhere at the time — and in other countries it was much more violent, actually. So to destroy the anti-Nazi resistance in Greece and restore the Nazi collaborators to power there, it took a war in which maybe 160,000 people were killed and 800,000 became refugees — the country still hasn’t recovered from it. 72 In Korea, it meant killing 100,000 people in the late 1940s, before what we call the “Korean War” even started.73 But in Italy it was enough just to carry out subversion — and the United States took that very seriously. So we funded ultra-right Masonic Lodges and terrorist paramilitary groups in Italy, the Fascist police and strikebreakers were brought back, we withheld food, we made sure their economy couldn’t function.74 In fact, the first National Security Council Memorandum, N.S.C. 1, is about Italy and the Italian elections. And what it says is that if the Communists come to power in the election through legitimate democratic means, the United States must declare a national emergency: the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean should be put on alert, the United States should start subversive activities in Italy to overthrow the Italian government, and we should begin contingency planning for direct military intervention— that’s if the resistance wins a legitimate democratic election. 75


And this was not taken as a joke, not at all — in fact, there were people at the top levels of the U.S. government who took even more extreme positions than that. For instance, George Kennan again, who’s considered a great humanist, thought that we ought to invade Italy even before the election and not allow anything like that to happen in the first place — but he was kind of held down by other people who said, look, we can probably buy off the election by the threat of starvation and extensive terrorism and subversion, which in the end turned out to be correct. 76


And these sorts of policies were still being followed by the United States right into the 1970s, when the declassified records dry up. The end of the documentation that we have at this point is around 1975 — that’s when the House Pike Committee Report released a lot of information about U.S. subversive activities — and who knows whether it went on after that. 77 Most of the literature about this is in Italian, but there’s some in English — for example, Ed Herman and Frank Brodhead have a good book on the so-called “plot to kill the Pope” disinformation story, which includes an interesting discussion of some of the more recent material on Italy — and there are others. 78 And as I say, the same sorts of policies also were carried out in France, Germany, Japan, and so on.


Actually, the U.S. also reconstructed the Mafia as part of this whole effort to split the European labor movement after the war. I mean, the Mafia had mostly been wiped out by the Fascists — Fascists tend to run a pretty tight ship, they don’t like competition. So Hitler and Mussolini had essentially wiped out the Mafia, and as the American liberating armies moved into Sicily and then through Southern Italy and into France, they reconstituted it as a tool to break strikes. See, the U.S. needed goons to break strikers’ knees on the waterfront and that kind of thing, and where are you going to find guys like that? Well, the answer was, in the Mafia. So in France, the C.I.A. —working together with the leadership of the American labor movement, incidentally —resurrected the Corsican Mafia. And the Mafia don’t just do it for fun, you know — I mean, maybe they also enjoy it, but they want a payoff. And as kind of a quid pro quo for smashing up the French labor movement, they were allowed to reconstitute the heroin trade, which had been reduced to virtually zero under the Fascists — that’s the origin of the famous “French Connection,” the main source of the post-war heroin racket. 79


And there were also covert activities in this period involving the Vatican, the U.S. State Department, and British and American intelligence to save and employ many of the worst Nazi war criminals, and use them in exactly the same sorts of operations the Nazis used them for, against the popular resistance forces in the West and then in Eastern Europe. For example, the guy who invented the gas chambers, Walter Rauff, was secreted off to work on counterinsurgency in Chile. The head of Nazi intelligence on the Eastern Front, Reinhard Gehlen, joined American intelligence doing the same kind of work for us in Eastern Europe. The “Butcher of Lyon”, Klaus Barbie, worked for the Americans spying on the French until finally they had to move him out through the Vatican-run “ratline” to Latin America, where then he finished out bis career. 80 That was another part of the whole postwar effort of the United States to destroy the prospects for independent democracy — and certainly it’s something which took place.


Notes at:



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