Confronting America: The Cold War between the United States and the Communists in France and Italy

By Alessandro Brogi | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

At the onset of the Cold War, Palmiro Togliatti and George F. Kennan shared a particular vision of America. The leader of the fastest growing Communist Party in the West and the architect of America’s containment strategy against Soviet Communism, from their opposite points of view, nurtured a similar pessimism about the U.S. role as leader of the Western world.1 Togliatti’s indictment of the United States was occasioned in May 1947 by former Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles’s press statements that the Partito Comunista Italiano (PCI) was an insurrectionary party funded by the Soviet Union. These declarations coincided with the political crisis that a few days later led Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi—allegedly under pressure from Washington—to expel the PCI from the government’s national coalition, which had been in place since the last year of the war.

The general secretary’s response to Sumner Welles was an emblematic editorial in the 20 May issue of the party’s daily L’Unità, titled “Ma come sono cretini!” (“What Idiots They Are!”). It was a clever retelling of the old dichotomy between mature, wise, committed, refined Europe and young, crass, hedonistic, naive America—dangerously naive at that, for its stupidity was now matched by its power and arrogance. Only in America, Togliatti wrote, “could a party buy prestige and influence with money”; and, no doubt, Washington treated Italy like “a territory inhabited by competing tribes, instead of parties that naturally emerged from its national traditions.” This should not have surprised any European, since at heart, the Americans were still “slaveholders,” who now wished to buy entire nations the same way. They also did so, Togliatti judged, because “they [were] not intelligent” and “lacked historical experience and mental finesse.” Americans were like “the majority of their films, with all their luxury, their technology, the legs and all the rest of those beautiful actresses”; after watching them for a while, one was “overwhelmed with irritation and boredom, realizing that it [was] only a dehumanized exhibition, a mechanical repetition of gestures and situations deprived of the spontaneous vibrating of souls and things.”2

Previous foreign rulers had dominated the country, and at times had even influenced its national identity, but not its very soul and intellectual resourcefulness. Italy, the Communists averred, was now engaged in a double resistance: to defend the country’s national sovereignty and national intelligence against, in Togliatti’s words, the “massive wave of plain idiocy” of the Yankee invader.

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