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

By Alessandro Brogi | Go to book overview

1
THE COMMUNISTS AND NATIONAL REBIRTH
IN FRANCE AND ITALY, 1944–1946

America’s confrontation with Western European Communism was as meaningful as its clash with Soviet Communism. Although the postwar growth of the French and Italian Communist Parties highlighted economic distress and quickly induced American policy makers to seek economic solutions, the leftist appeal was broader than simply economics, though this was not always immediately apparent to outsiders. In the first postwar years French and Italian needs for reconstruction entailed a redefinition of national politics and identities. The postwar experience for the two profoundly traumatized nations came to be formulated in terms of national rebirth and renewal, offering, as might be expected, a chance for radical solutions. Communist anti-Americanism and American anti-Communism remained carefully restrained and relatively muted while the two parties remained included in government coalitions, and until the wartime Grand Alliance irretrievably broke down in the spring and summer of 1947. But the very legitimacy acquired by the communist forces in France and Italy in 1944–46, especially when further justified by a public desire for radical renewal, was in most respects more threatening to the emerging Western cohesion than their strong opposition in the first decade of the Cold War.


The Two Parties’ Strengths, Differences, and Contradictions

During the last years of World War II, the strength of the French and Italian Communist Parties grew not only from economic distress, but also from their capacity to reconcile passionate patriotism with proletarian internationalism. It was buttressed by organizational power and ability to seize key economic and political institutions, as well as by intellectual magnetism. The two parties’ leaders understood that cultural transformation was as critical as political change. All these sinews of communist influence—nationalist, organizational, cultural—became the essential components of a powerful resistance to American hegemony.

At the time of the Liberation, the Grand Alliance yielded immediate results for the French and Italian Communist Parties. In both cases, the Soviet Union gained political influence over the two countries: in March 1944 it was the first of the great powers to recognize Italy’s provisional government

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