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The Comrade Goes to Church

The Comrade Goes to Church

Stanton H. Burnett (October 10, 2007)

(This article first appeared in US Italia weekly on April 30, 2006)
If the results of this month’s election indicate any shift away from the politics of personality back to an interest in party programs—the coalition publishing an indigestible 200 pages worth of, supposedly, a coherent...


... platform (my colleagues on Page One can actually read it if they wish) having won the election—then it’s important to trace the flow of ideas from that pivotal moment in the 1970s to today’s politics, where they are altered and freshly painted, but recognizable.

The images betokening Italian politics of the 1970s were the photos of the wife of Communist Party Secretary Enrico Berlinguer attending mass, which she reportedly did regularly. Unremarkable in itself, this fact symbolized a rapprochement that seemed to be the future of the country. Having explored the political trends and maneuvers that made the Historic Compromise (the idea that the Communists and Christian Democrats should share and cooperate in the governing of Italy), we turned to the ways the two parties found to bridge the philosophic gap….and discovered that, in some key areas, the gap narrowed or disappeared, as we saw in their attitudes toward N.A.T.O.
Another arena of international politics had an unexpected and fundamental relationship to the more-central issue of economic and social policy: the way the two parties thought about the U.S. In the post-war years, it was difficult for most Americans, including most official Americans, to avoid putting Italy into the normal mold of European politics, with a loyally-Western conservative party (the Christian Democrats) as the chief barrier against the menace of a Moscow-driven Communist Party. Yet the 1970s was a time when many Italian Communists were developing quite sophisticated views of the U.S. (L’Unitá’s Alberto Jacoviello was one of the more interesting U.S.-based Italian journalists and was a part of the comrades’ education). By contrast, and more significantly, several of the profusion of “currents” [factions] in the Christian Democratic Party were notably anti-American. They had solid philosophical ground: a papal bull at the end of the 19th century had even given the name of “Americanism” to that combination of menaces which included progressivism, social liberalism and materialism. One found more anti-American venom in the words of many of these “leftish” Christian Democrats than in the Communist rhetoric that became increasingly cautious as the odor of power grew stronger.
But this was a mere sideshow to the looming philosophic factor that made the Compromesso possible.
Again, the normal understanding is that Marxism’s European opponents are the “liberals,” in the European, not the American sense: those who wanted minimal government interference in citizens’ lives, especially in their economic lives. If not enamored of a brutal (to many Italians) American free-range capitalism, they were still devoted to free markets and limited government.
But that does not characterize, at all, those currents of Christian Democracy which were dragging the party toward the Historic Compromise. The crucial idea here is the concept of the flock. The politicos of this persuasion believed they had a Christian responsibility to be shepherds of their flock, and if this meant a deep involvement in the flock’s economic and social lives, that just came as a part of political responsibility. Their ideas about their role, although stemming from different roots, had much in common with those of Italian Communists.
For both, American-style capitalism, even the milder versions espoused by Italy’s Liberal Party, was alien and dangerous.
The nut left to crack was that of relations with Moscow and this provided the high drama that eventually took the Historic Compromise off the table and out of the headlines. We will see next week that the real gravediggers of the Compromesso were not the brutal assassins of Aldo Moro, but a young Milan Socialist named Craxi.

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