2.08 Internationalism: Italy

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2.08 Italy. Italy has a population of 58 million, of which 90% are Catholics. The Democratic Party of the Left (DPL) and the Communist Refoundation Party of Italy (Refondazione comunista, CRP) are the descendants of the Italian Communist Party (Partito Comunista Italiano, PCI). The PCI was created in 1921 when left-wing socialists broke away from the Italian Socialist Party (Partito Socialista Italiano, PSI). The PSI had been established in 1892. The PCI from the start was strong in the industrialized north-central states of Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany and Umbria, which are called the red belt. By the 1970s the party had 1.7 million members organized in 2000 units at work places and schools. The party newspaper, L'Unita, published at Rome and Milan, had a circulation of 600,000.

In the mid-1920s the party was outlawed by the Fascist regime. Some of its leaders such as Palmiro Togliatti (1893-1964) were jailed in 1925. Others went into exile. In 1934 the PCI and PSI formed the Unity of Action Pact, which was an agreement to cooperate in fighting fascism. The pact continued until 1957. During World War II the PCI was a member of the antifascist Committee of National Liberation (CNL). Many of the 100,000 resistance fighters and of the 35,000 who died were PCI members. The CNL governed Italy between 1943 and 1946. In April 1945 it defeated the Germans in Genoa, Turin and Milan, despite the wishes of the U.S. and Britain, which wanted Germany to surrender to themselves, rather than to the more working-class CNL. [Paul Ginsburg, A History of Contemporary Italian Society and Politics, 1943-1988 (London: Penguin Books, 1990), p. 66].

In 1946 and 1947 the PCI and the Christian Democratic Party (Partito Democrazia Cristiana, DC) formed Italy's ruling coalition. The DC had been formed by the capitalists in 1943 after the fall of the Fascist government on Sept. 8, 1943. The DC from its foundation never had local organizations. It used the clergy to get out the vote. Over the years 60% of its voters have been women--mainly housewives. In contrast the PCI voters are largely industrial workers. Between 1953 and 1976 the PCI's share of the vote in national elections rose from 23% to 34%. This made the PCI Italy's second largest party after the DC, which averaged 39% of the vote. Starting in the 1970s a number of ministry posts in the national government, including the president of the 630-member chambers of deputies and the chairs of seven parliamentary committees were held by PCI members. At the local level the PCI governed 6 of Italy's 20 states, 40 of its 94 provinces and all its major northern cities, including Rome, Milan, Turin, Florence, Venice and Naples. [Eugene Keefe, Area Handbook for Italy (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1977), p. 223].

There have always been several different tendencies or factions within the party. For example, in the 1970s Pietro Ingrao and Tulio Veccheitti opposed Enrico Berlinguer's collaboration with the PSI and similar anti-Soviet/anti-worker policies, such as membership in NATO and the European Economic Community (EEC). (Keefe, Area Handbook, p. 226).

Catholics have been part of the PCI and of its successors. During World War II the positive work of the communist-led resistance movement brought a group of young Catholic anti-fascist activists into the party. The Catholics initially had organized themselves in 1941 as the independent Sinarchic Cooperative Party (Partito Cooperativista Sinarchico, PCS). They worked along side the PCI. The PCS changed its name to the Communist Christian Party in 1942, then to the Communist Catholic Movement after the fall of the Fascist government in September 1943 and then to the Christian Left Party (Partito della Sinistra Cristiana, PSC). In December 1945 the PSC dissolved itself and its members entered the PCI. [Leonard Swidler & Edward Grace, eds., Catholic-Communist Collaboration in Italy (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1988), p. 10].

Among the PSC members who joined the PCI in 1945 were Franco Rodano (1920-1983), Antonio Tato and Giglia Tedesco. Rodano was critical of those Catholics in the DC who expressed a concern for the "poor" without looking at the class system which causes poverty. He had little regard for Gramsci and talk of hegemony. What attracted Rodano to the party was Lenin, Stalin and class struggle. [Augusto Del Noce, Il Cattolico Comunista (Milano: Rusconi, 1981); Rosanna M. Giammanco, The Catholic-Communist Dialogue in Italy: 1944 to the Present (New York: Praeger, 1989); David Kertzer, Comrades and Christians: Religion and Political Struggle in Communist Italy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980)].

Antonio Tato and Giglia Tedesco were also attracted to the party during the World War II period. During the war, Tedesco was the military commander of the CNL resistance at Ponte Marmaro near Rome. She was involved in armed struggle. (Swidler & Grace, eds., Catholic-Communist Collaboration, p. 87). In 1961 Tedesco and Tato, who were married to each other, became members of the PCI's central committee. Beginning in 1962 Tedesco served as a communist senator in the 315-member senate and later was the senate vice-president. (Swidler & Grace, eds., Catholic-Communist Collaboration, pp. 10-11).

Tedesco viewed her party membership as a way to give expression to the Catholic morality in which she was raised. For example, many Catholics and communists believed abortion was wrong. Tedesco, as a leader in the Italian senate, helped enact legislation for single women who headed families that gave them free day care, health care and housing along with full employment and wages equal to men. (Swidler & Grace, eds., Catholic-Communist Collaboration, pp. 163-165). This took away the cause of abortion, the economic motive. The pope and his capitalist masters in the DC verbalized anti-abortion language because it cost them no money to do so; they opposed the communist program that made abortion economically unnecessary because that did cost them money.

Another area in which the PCI gave expression to the Catholic morality in which Tedesco was raised was the rejection of consumerism and narrow individualism of capitalism. She commented that this was in her mind in the years prior to her joining the party:

The main thrust of our efforts was to overcome exaggerated individualism and likewise the closed personalistic understanding of Christianity. We did so because we were then, and we still are, convinced that at the base of the capitalistic ideology and the reality of capitalism lies the most unrestrained, frentic form of individualism and the most irrational rejection of any form of limitations so as to be able to realize one's own personal-ego for one's own self. At the basis of capitalist ideology lies the exasperated search and the infuriating desire of success, of immediate happiness, of wealth and of money.
It is sufficient but to look around us. I am convinced that it is this unmolded and unbounded individualism which is the real cancer that is corrupting the fibers of our society. It is precisely this uncontrollable and intemperate individualism which is the cause of the moral deprivation, the cultural pollution and the decay of ideals in our families, in our society, and in our common living together, and in the whole of our very Western civilization.
I ask myself, and I ask you, whether it isn't the unleashing of this irrational, intemperate individualism which leads to other irrational and intemperate corporate-sector interests which are closed in upon themselves. The same is true of neighborhoods, zones and areas which look exclusively to their own interests. They look completely in upon only themselves. This frantic tendency toward sector or corporate interests as opposed to global interests increases the areas or zones of social exclusion. Is it not this thinking about only one's self, looking in upon one's own navel, which has brought about the protest of the third and fourth worlds, of the socially excluded, of those on the margin of society and of those who have been forced into poverty? Is this not due to the loss of every form of human solidarity and the disinterest for the common well being? (Swidler & Grace, eds., Catholic-Communist Collaboration, pp. 83-84).

In addition to the party's top leadership, 200,000 of the party's rank-and-file are Catholics. (Swidler & Grace, eds., Catholic-Communist Collaboration, p. 10). Half of the active parish members in working-class dioceses such as Florence are party members. (Swidler & Grace, eds., Catholic-Communist Collaboration, p. 59). Catholic working people have been attracted to the party because its program serves their interests. The PCI has led in creating and defending the national health service, the pension system and the national housing program. In the trade union movement the PCI has dominated the Italian General Confederation of Labor (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, CGIL). A political scientist remarked about the widespread support which the PCI has among Catholics:

Many good Catholics--those who attend church and support religious activities--have voted for, campaigned for, and even run on the communist ticket. Their support of communism stems from the economic promises made by the party. . . A 1963 opinion poll asked: "Is it possible to be a good communist and at the same time a good Catholic?" Only 20% thought the two mutually exclusive, about 71% believed that Catholicism and the Italian brand of communism were compatible. (Keefe, Area Handbook, p. 76).

Giglia Tedesco was not unusual in thinking that communism was and is the only rational, life-affirming party for working-class Catholics. Just as one would go to a doctor to heal a sick person, one should go to communism to heal a sick society. Tedesco remarked:

How was it possible that Catholics, in clear conscience, could reach the point of freely opting for Communist political policies and of doing so to such an extent as to call themselves "Communist Catholics?"
I will try to explain how we did so by using an example. Imagine finding yourself faced with having to heal a sick or injured person. Medicine and techniques exist which are aimed at healing the person in question. Globally this is called medical science. In order to save or heal the injured or sick person, it is necessary to apply this science. On the other hand, there is a human moral decision that must be made simultaneously. Is the sick person to be saved or healed, or not? Christianity and Catholic faith give an immediate human and moral response to this question: it is a positive answer. An injured person must always be healed and life must always be saved. And this moral answer is a spring that drives or pushes the human person toward concrete action to save the individual. But when it comes to the action itself--the concrete carrying out of the task, the healing of the sick or dying person--it is necessary to apply the specific knowledge of medical science. It cannot be deduced nor found in the moral will to carry out that positive decision of Christianity with respect to life. The knowledge specific to resolving the problem must be found in a science, and that science should be a serious, developed science which is up to date and at the highest level which the scientific achievement of that moment has reached.
When the sick person is a human being, it is a question of medical science. But when the sick person is a society, to which techniques, to which complex of knowledge and to which science must one have recourse? And how does one acquire sufficiency of specific knowledge with respect to healing society? The necessary and specific knowledge to heal society can and must be found within political science, in political theory and political practice. Both as persons and as Christians we must look to this science for that specific knowledge necessary to heal a sick society. This is the reason why we chose to be Communist Catholics.
It was obvious to those of us of that group of Communist Catholics to which I belonged that society needed healing and that it was sick. We maintained that by our choice we had taken up the most modern, up-to-date, adequate, revolutionary theory possible at that moment. I can say that we chose from what the cultural, political spheres of that time offered. And we chose that which was less inefficient and which had made fewer errors with respect to the past. (Swidler & Grace, eds., Catholic-Communist Collaboration, pp. 85-86).

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