Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

CATHOLICS AND THE ITALIAN REVOLUTIONARY LEFT OF THE 1960s

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

CATHOLICS AND THE ITALIAN REVOLUTIONARY LEFT OF THE 1960s

Article excerpt

Radical left-wing Catholics played an important role in Italy's extraparliamentary revolutionary movement of the 1960s, which took as its starting point the need to fill the void created by the growing moderation of the official Communist party. For guidance in opposing the American-dominated capitalist status quo in Italy, Catholics looked to activist intellectuals, such as the priests Lorenzo Milani at home and Camilo Torres abroad. The vital Catholic component in Lotta Continua, the foremost extraparliamentary left group of the period, illustrates the practical consequences, at their most extreme, of the Catholic-Marxist dialogue in Italy.

The Catholic political tradition in Italy consists of every ideology that the modern world either has produced or allowed to remain in existence. Catholic liberals, conservatives, fascists, and communists have been present at the country's historic turning points in the twentieth century. The protean character of the Catholic political tradition as a general phenomenon arises from the absence of a clear and definite injunction about politics in the New Testament. As voters and activists, Catholics can and do end up at all points on the political compass.

The case of each national Catholic tradition, however, has its own particularities. In Italy, the role of the Vatican as a direct institutional protagonist confers upon Catholic politics there a unique intensity, for and against the Church.Throughout the modern era, the institutional church repeatedly expressed itself with antisocialist and anticommunist vehemence in papal encyclicals and other pronouncements, as in a famous 1949 decree: "... the faithful who profess the doctrine of materialist and anti-Christian communism, above all if they defend and proselytize for it, ipso facto will be treated as apostates to the Catholic faith, in the excommunication procedure especially reserved to the Holy see."1 Nevertheless, the Italian church's national religious history is rich in examples of controversy over the true political meaning of Christianity.2

During the tumultuous 1960s, the historic pattern of Catholic political eclecticism continued unabated in Italy. By and large, people still tended to see the institutional Church as an antimodern force.3 Conservative and reactionary elements certainly existed in the Church, but Catholic individuals and groups also were to be found on the left. Franco Rodano and other Catholic intellectuals who had joined the Communist party (PCI) in the aftermath of World War II went on arguing for a conciliation of Marxism's socioeconomic truths and the Church's spiritual truths.4

To the left of the official Communist party a broad arc of prorevolutionary groups, including some of a Catholic provenance, emerged during the 1960s. Known collectively as the extraparliamentary left, these groups responded with varying degrees of antagonism to the Communist party's growing moderation after Nikita Khrushchev's revelations in 1956 about Stalin as the worst state terrorist of all time.5 The Hungarian uprising and its bloody suppression by the Soviet Union later that year propelled the party further along a path away from its revolutionary origins. Proponents of the extraparliamentary left disdainfully thought of PCI leader Palmiro Togliatti as little more than a time-serving reformist. Raniero Panzieri, a Jewish socialist and the extraparliamentary left's most influential intellectual in the early 1960s, called for more, not less, revolutionary Leninism as the proper response to the news about Stalin and the other recent developments behind the Iron Curtain.6 Panzieri edited the Quaderni rossi, the pioneering extraparliamentary-left journal. Giving voice to amorphous groupings of students, workers, professionals, and dropouts, he inspired the generation of 1968. The movement spread throughout Italian society in the schools, the factories, and city neighborhoods. It contained diverse groups and personalities, but they all believed in the necessity of a revolution against capitalism. …

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