Democrats at a Price
L. S. B. SHAPIRO
Maclean’s European Correspondent
Europe’s Fascists, Reds and "me-firsters" now sing loudly of democracy. It’s the thing to do while Uncle Sam pays the piper
ROME—Early in the war, according to an amusing legend, a Portuguese merchant arrived in Budapest. One evening at dinner he enquired of a Hungarian friend: “Has Hungary got a navy?”
“No,” replied the Hungarian.
“Then why is the Regent, Admiral Horthy, an admiral?”
“Nobody knows. He has always been an admiral.”
The Portuguese paused for a moment, puzzled. Then he said, “I see you have just declared war on the United States. The Americans are your enemies now.”
“On the contrary,” the Hungarian retorted indignantly, “they are our friends. We love the Americans.”
“Then who are your enemies?”
“The Romanians are our enemies,” the Hungarian confided. “We hate the Romanians. We always have.”
“Then why didn’t you declare war on the Romanians instead?”
“How could we?” screamed the Hungarian. “They are our allies!”
The story illustrates, more or less, the state of mind of a Canadian travelling through Europe in this enlightened postwar period. All the brave dreams which were conjured as our troops fought to liberate Europe seem to be now what they were then—merely dreams. With the exception of Germany, which is still prostrate and has only puppet opinions to offer (depending on who is the zonal boss), Europe is slipping back into its pre-war struggle between the far Left and the far Right, between the Communists and the various offshoots of Fascism.
The Graves Are New—Nothing Else
7"HAT confuses the observer is that everybody is paying lip service to democracy. The Communists and the Fascists, the aristocrats, the anti-Semites, the tycoons—everybody speaks in the most elaborately breathless terms of democracy. It is the fashion now, as faddish and inconstant as the length of a Paris skirt from one season to the next. It is the thing to admire America. America is the greatest, the richest power on earth, the temporary boss. Bravo America ! Bravo democracy ! And having said this the Europeans go back to their old ways, as though nothing had happened in the last eight years except that the poor are hungrier and the rich a little more uneasy.
There is this to be said for the Communists: although they pay only lip service to the institution of democracy, at least they call themselves Communists. They identify themselves. One knows what they are and where they are seeking to go. The Fascists carry their counterfeit to the point of calling themselves practicing democrats. It is not fashionable—indeed it is highly unprofitable—to call oneself a Fascist today, and it will continue to be so as long as British and American troops occupy a substantial part of Europe and American dollars control the economic well-being of practically the whole world.
If this sounds like an outburst of personal bitterness the plea is guilty. It is an outburst of personal bitterness. After having spent some months in America, I have come back to see what kind of life is sprouting between the military cemeteries that stretch from Agira, Sicily, to Nijmegen in Holland. And what I have seen in the two months I have been here is neither pleasant to the eye nor consolation to the memory of my friends who died in these countries.
Take, for instance, the editor of a large Italian daily newspaper which is a great clarion of democracy. (All Italian dailies are great clarions of democracy, from the Communist /’ Unita to the right-wing Buonsenso.) I met the editor at a diplomatic function and with hardly any preliminaries at all he grew confidential.
“Pay no attention to these Fascist groups who scratch Evviva Mussolini on the walls at night,” he remarked. “They are youths, political children. If they had any sense they would know that you cannot build a movement on the memory of Mussolini. The man is even deader politically than he is bodily.”
The editor fingered his Martini thoughtfully. At length he looked up, sad-eyed. “It is a pity,” he mused. “He was a fool. And yet he had certain fine qualities. If he had gone in with the Allies, instead of with Germany, he would have been the greatest man in Europe today. There will never be another one like him.
“Mind you, I never approved of Fascism as such, but one must admit Mussolini had an immense magnetism for the public and a wonderful personal charm. He did fine things for Italy until he made his cardinal errors. If it had not been for these errors he would be alive today. And if he were alive today he could rally the Italian people in 24 hours. We would have none of this foolishness of governments falling every fortnight. We would have a working democracy. Mussolini would have adapted himself to the new world movement which is, of course, democracy. He could blend himself with the future—that was his great quality—”
Then, as though he had stepped on my toe, he added quickly, “Of course, I was never a Fascist. But I had a grudging respect for the man. One must give the devil his due. No? He was an outstanding personality.”
This is no isolated case. It is characteristic of what I have heard Continued on page 42
Continued from page 23
in “the best circles,” the gathering places of the rich and the influential, as well as among the Communists.
Take Palmiro Togliatti, the political genius who heads the Italian Communist party. After 18 years of refuge in Moscow he has returned to Italy with the reputation of being Stalin’s most brilliant and most trusted disciple. In Rome’s Constituent Assembly and in his newspaper, V Unila, he speaks bravely and eloquently of democracy. Thus far he has conducted himself so shrewdly that the Communist party polled 2,200,000 votes in the 1946 elections (becoming the second most powerful party in Italy), and it is still growing. Togliatti behaves and speaks publicly as an impeccable democrat. He sometimes contravenes certain basic Marxist tenets (such as his approval of the Lateran Pact) in order to gain respectability for his party. In this way he believes he can ultimately gain control of the Italian Government— legally, by sheer weight of votes.
But when one goes to the inside of Togliatti’s party one finds something suspiciously akin to Fascism. The military discipline of the party members is frightening. The personal
worship of Togliatti is reminiscent of another Italian era. The way the
Communist members in the Assembly vote at the crook of Togliatti’s finger, like automatons, with never a dissenting voice, never a questioning voice, is a far cry from democracy.
The People Are Sheep
I attended one of the Communist meetings in Rome. The members
marched in without uniforms but like trained legions; without arms but with placards reading “Death to the murdering landlords” and “To the gallows with the bourgeois journalists.” This is Togliatti’s democracy, a forewarning of what will happen if his shrewd political manoeuvres succeed
in winning over a majority of the Italian people.
In the last two months Italian Communism has been under severe attack from the United States. Independent Italian newspapers have reprinted these attacks by American spokesmen and writers, purporting to show that Togliatti plans a dictatorship of the left when, and if, he gains power. Togliatti has reacted vigorously and furiously. As one centre politician in Rome told me: “Togliatti is like a
would-be bigamist who is walking toward the marriage altar with a beautiful heiress on his arm only to see his bedraggled wife suddenly storm through the church doors.”
And what of the great masses of the people? Can they shake off these threats from the right and the left? I doubt it.
A month ago I sat in a first-class compartment on the night train from Brussels to Paris. The train left the Gare du Midi in Brussels at 10 p.m. In my compartment were a Belgian businessman and his wife and a one-legged Belgian war veteran. Toward midnight we lowered the lights ánd dozed off. At one o’clock in the morning the train reached the Franco-Belgian frontier town of Seignies, and a Belgian customs officer came through the cars shouting, “The customs examination for exit from Belgium will be made in the station. All passengers will descend with their baggage and proceed to the station.”
Without a word of protest sleepyeyed people streamed off the train, trekked a hundred yards down the platform in a cold night wind, and began to line up dutifully at the entrance to the customs shack. Women were dragging children and heavy baggage. Even the one-legged veteran in my compartment heaved himself off the train and dragged along on his crutches pulling a huge suitcase as best he could.
As the Belgian businessman was taking down his baggage from the rack, I asked, “Does this always happen? Does one always have to get off
the train for customs examination?” He replied, “Most of the time. It depends on the customs officer who happens to be on duty. Most of them like to have the passengers go through the customs office.”
“This is a barbaric regulation,” I bellowed. “You’re a Belgian citizen. Why don’t you protest? Why do you accept this sort of outrage?”
He shrugged his shoulders and continued to busy himself with his luggage.
“One does as one is told to do.”
I declined to submit. In the first place I had too much baggage to carry without the aid of porters, and in the second place I saw no reason why the customs officers should not properly come through the train. I remained on the train in furious isolation.
Finally a customs guard came into my compartment. “And you?” he barked. “Why don’t you get off?” “This is a ridiculous imposition,” I said. “Why don’t you examine baggage on the train?”
He blinked his eyes, scratched his head and said, “You must get off—and take your baggage. It is the regulation.”
“I cannot carry my baggage,” I replied. “Will you be good enough to send a porter?”
“There are no porters.”
“In that case I refuse to get off. You may do what you like about it.”
The guard renewed his head scratching. finally disappeared. He returned after a few minutes trundling a hand truck. He took down my baggage and rolled it along to the customs shed. After a superficial examination he rolled my baggage back to my compartment .
When the businessman had heaved his suitcase back on the rack he sank into his chair, mopped his brow, and said, “How did you manage it?”
“By refusing to be a sheep,” I replied.
It seems to me this picayune incident has a certain importance in any survey of Europe’s political atmosphere. “One does as one is told to do” Ls not the sort Continued on page 45
Continued from page 42 of philosophy on which a healthy democracy can be built. It is the stuff on which dictatorship feeds.
What the Elite Think
A few nights later I was a dinner guest in the home of a prominent French industrialist. Among the guests were a North African manufacturer, his wife who was Greek, a widowed German woman who has been living in France for 20 years and an affluent landowner from the Pas de Calais area.
Here are some snatches of the conver«ation during and after dinner:
The French industrialist: “De Gaulle is our only hope. We need a strong man in France, and he is the only man available, though I would prefer someone even stronger. France is a wonderful country. It can become once again the biggest power on the Continent—if the people will practice discipline. Democracy is a wonderful thing. 1 am all for it. But confidentially—” he winked his eye impLshly—“what we need is a little rough stuff. Sneak up on a few of the troublemakers at night and give them a damn good hiding. Then we will have discipline, and after discipline—voila!—we can develop a strong democracy.”
The North African: “Frankly, I
think it is a crime what is happening to the German people. They were the most efficient people in Europe. It was a pleasure to do business with them. They were honest in their dealings and they gave you full value according to the contract. We must be sensible about this thing. The war is over. Alors. Let the occupation end. We need a prosperous Germany. Besides, let us face it. They have learned their lesson. They will nbt make war again —not in our lifetime.”
The German widow: “I cannot tell
you how I have suffered. I was in Italy at the time of the surrender and the British put me in an internment camp for six months. It was terrible, putting the ladies in the same camp with the little street girls. And why? Because I was German.
“We never harmeçl anyone—neither me nor my brother who is now in Hamburg completely destitute. When I visited him in 1938—he was then in the Foreign Office in Berlin—he would tell me, ‘This man Hitler is really dreadful, but I cannot do anything about it. In a police state we are all helpless.’ He simply was forced to become a member of the Nazi party. And for this he cannot get a job now. He is actually dying of destitution in Hamburg. Why does a great democ-
racy like Britain do this cruel thing to him?”
The Pas de Calais landowner: “I
must agree with my friend from North Africa. The Germans were certainly an efficient people. 1 know quite well because 1 was representing the Croix Rouge in my town and we used to get funds from Geneva to buy coffee and petit pains to feed the deportees on their way to Germany. Three times a week the train would stop in our town at five o’clock in the morning and we would hand up coffee and petit pains to these unfortunate people. This was in 1942 and 1943, of course.”
The man exhaled his cigar smoke and looked into it with a faraway amusement in his eyes. “It was terrible to see these poor people—Jews and others —travelling in cattle cars. But I must say the Germans were efficient about it. The train always arrived in our town at five o’clock on the dot. But on the dot! It was very remarkable. On the dot! In wartime! And now the trains arrive whenever they damn well please.”
“We Need Your Help”
The Simplon-Orient Express, crack train from Paris to Rome, leaves the Gare de Lyon at eight o’clock nightly. It is an all-sleeper train which carries only the elite of Europe, mostly because the sleeper accommodation mysteriously falls into the hands of black marketeers and one has to pay twice the face value of the ticket in order to reserve a berth.
The train reaches Lausanne by seven o’clock the next morning, and a Swiss restaurant car is attached for the journey through the passes to the Italian frontier. This is the high spot of the trip. The Swiss restaurant car serves the best butter, eggs and cheese in all of Europe.
At breakfast in the Swiss car 1 found myself sitting opposite a most impeccably dressed Italian of middle age. He was eating with fabulous ardor. By the time he had finished his meal our conversation had completed the usual preliminaries about who one is and what one does. The Italian was a Florentine wine merchant who had been (he claimed) a section leader of the anti-Fascist and anti-N^zi underground in northern Italy. He showed me documents to prove it, as though I were an enquiring secret service agent.
“You, young man,” he said expansively, “represent a fine democracy. I have met many of your Canadians in the war. And you, I might say, are the most important man I have met in the last year—certainly in the last year. I
am not trying to flatter you. But I know the importance of the press. I know the importance of spreading the spirit and the information of democracy. The salvation of Europe depends on men like yourself. You represent public opinion. You can bring democracy to Europe. We need your help.”
I accepted his brave words with a modesty which rarely becomes me, and 1 returned to my compartment to linger on the wondrous views from the train window. This, after a time, becomes an exercise in trying to fathom how the Swiss ever managed to push a railway through the tortuous mountains of their country.
That afternoon we rolled into Milan. There was a layover of several hours and a complete rearrangement of the train. Some of the sleeping cars bound for Venice, Trieste and Belgrade were detached and coupled to other trains. OurFlorence-and Rome-bound sleeping cars were shunted to the tail end of a local Italian train.
That evening on my way to the restaurant car (now Italian) for dinner, I found that 1 had to pass through several third-class coaches crammed with Italian travellers. Not only were the compartments filled, but the corridor was also plugged tight with humanity and baggage. Some passengers were clinging to the guardrail on the steps of the cars, a few hanging so far out that they had to heave inward whenever the train approached a narrow tunnel.
'File restaurant steward, who had come to the sleeping cars to summon us for dinner, tried to run interference for us through this seething and unhappy mass of humanity. After a sweaty half hour of pushing and scrambling we managed to reach the restaurant car.
Here 1 found my Italian friend, the underground fighter, his summer suit somewhat ruffled and his well-oiled hair stringing over his ears.
“So you got through, too,” he panted. “What an experience! I am going to complain to the railway. If these cattle insist on travelling why don’t they put them on separate trains? It’s an imposition on decent people to be forced to plow through these cows in order to have dinner. Look at my suit. I paid 60,000 lire at Caraceni for it. It was almost torn off my back by these peasants. Why don’t the idiots stay in their little towns? Pfui! The cows!. . .”
The train raced through the night. And while my Italian friend, the antiFascist patriot, wolfed down his dinner, I spent most of the time wondering on the future of democracy in Europe— and losing my appetite in the process, ir