Showing posts with label Christian Democracy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christian Democracy. Show all posts

Sunday, July 7, 2013

On French Travaillisme

One of the recurring themes of this blog has been my attempt to illuminate the history of particular expressions of left-wing Christian politics. My focus has largely been on the post-war Continental European Catholic Left, particularly left-wing Christian Democracy in Italy and Germany. Interestingly, the Italians and Germans were both heavily influenced by the British Labour Party of Clement Attlee. Left-wing Christians in Italy and West Germany tried mightily to create native Italian and West German Labour Parties at both the national and regional levels.
Just to give one example of how influential British Labourism was, starting in the autumn of 1947 the Italian economist Federico Caffè reported directly from Great Britain on the economic policies of the Labour Party government in the Cronache Sociali, the official periodical of Giuseppe Dossetti and his group of left-wing Christian Democrats. Caffè's reports would have a major impact on the left-wing of Italian Christian Democracy, influencing figures such as Amintore Fanfani, Giorgio La Pira, Giuseppe Lazzati, and Aldo Moro, as well as Dossetti himself.
France also had its own movement inspired by Old Labour. Called "French travaillisme" it was a political movement among French Christian Democrats during the years of the Occupation. The movement began with the Rue de Lille Group, a resistance organization comprised of French Catholics and socialists. Between 1943 and 1944, the Rue de Lille Group published the Cahiers du travaillisme français, a publication calling for an alliance between Catholics and socialists. The British Labour Party was the primary inspiration of the Rue de Lille Group because it was seen as an example of a left-wing party that was committed to reform while not having the baggage of anti-clericalism associated with the Marxist parties of the Left. Travaillisme was a program that both socialists and Catholics could support. Support for the travailliste concept also came from the Confédération Française des Travailleurs Chrétiens (CFTC).
Unfortunately, the travailliste movement collapsed when attempts to forge an alliance between the Section Française de l'Internationale Ouvrière (SFIO), the Mouvement Républicain Populaire (MRP), and the Union démocratique et socialiste de la Résistance (UDSR) failed to produce a French version of the British Labour Party. While French travaillisme as an organized movement did not survive long after the end of World War II, as a victim of the difficult institutional landscape of post-war French politics, it is not the case that the movement died from intellectual bankruptcy. The end of the Cold War and the current crisis of neoliberal capitalism will hopefully revive the old travailliste dream.


Delbreil, Jean-Claude. "The French Catholic Left and the Political Parties," in Left Catholicism, 1943-1955, ed. Emmanuel Gerard and Gerd-Rainer Horn (Leuven: Leuven Univeristy Press, 2001), 45-63.

Vinen, Richard. Bourgeois Politics in France, 1945-1951. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Holy Mayor

I wish I had found this earlier, but Vittorio Citterich has written an excellent article (please scroll down after clicking on the link, the article starts a little further down on the page) on the career of Giorgio La Pira, the former Mayor of Florence, Italy, and one of the leading lights of the left-wing of Italian Christian Democracy in the post-war era. Mr. Citterich's article is definitely a must read.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Men Overboard

David Ruccio has posted a very interesting piece referring to the findings of Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney with regard to working-age American men. The results are catastrophically bad. According to Greenstone and Looney:
"When we consider all working-age men, including those who are not working, the real earnings of the median male have actually declined by 19 percent since 1970. This means that the median man in 2010 earned as much as the median man did in 1964 — nearly a half century ago. Men with less education face an even bleaker picture; earnings for the median man with a high school diploma and no further schooling fell by 41 percent from 1970 to 2010.  

Women have fared much better over these 40 years, but they started from a lower level, and the same problems faced by their male counterparts are beginning to have an effect. Since 1970, the earnings of the median female worker have increased by 71 percent, and the share of women 25 to 64 who are employed has risen to 71 percent, from 54 percent. But after making significant wage gains over several decades, that progress has slowed and even reversed recently. Since 2000, the earnings of the median woman have fallen by 6 percent." [Emphasis added].
When people like William Bennett complain about men being in trouble and the lack of proper fathers in today's society, it is important to remember that it is precisely those neoliberal economic policies favored by "conservatives" such as Bennett that have destroyed the material basis for strong families headed by male breadwinners. To make things clearer, I give you an excellent quote by David Lindsay which can be applied to the United States, United Kingdom, and elsewhere:
"Far from our having grown richer since 1979, we have in fact grown vastly poorer: only a generation ago, a single manual wage provided the wage-earner, his wife and their several children with a quality of life unimaginable even on two professional salaries today.

This impoverishment has been so rapid and so extreme that most people, including almost all politicians and commentators, simply refuse to acknowledge that it has happened. But it has indeed happened.

And it is still going on."
There is an urgent need to return to a political order that places strong families at the center of economic policy. Only a system of full employment at family wages can achieve this goal. Giorgio La Pira, the former mayor of Florence, Italy, once said that:
"If I am a man of the State, my rejection of unemployment and of neediness must imply   this: my economic policies must strive towards blue-collar employment and the eradication of poverty: this is clear! No specious objection emerging from any so-called 'laws of economics' can detract me from striving towards this objective."
La Pira was a consistent fighter for both social justice and family values. La Pira campaigned for the inclusion of a line in the Italian Constitution of 1947 making fathers "first among equals" in relation to the upbringing of children and opposing the introduction of divorce into Italian law. La Pira's position was a consistent one that took into account the material, legal, and spiritual aspects of family life. This is the approach needed today, not the half-hearted and incomplete proposals of the Republicans and Democrats and similar neoliberal parties across the globe.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Whose Left? Whose Right?

E.J. Dionne, Jr. has an interesting piece over at Commonweal regarding how the American Left and American Right tend to be selective in their nostalgic longing for the lost world of the 1950s. My only quibble with Mr. Dionne would be that he does not mention how the "Right" and "Left" in the U.S. are really defined by elites, not by the population as a whole. As Michael Lind notes:
"From 1932 to 1968, New Deal/vital center liberals like FDR, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and Humphrey spoke for the national liberal constituency in American politics. Since the downfall of the New Dealers, however, there has been no elite group that identifies with the millions of wage-earning Americans whose views clearly make them national liberals. The reason is that American politics is increasingly becoming a monopoly of a social elite―the American overclass. Left-liberalism, neoliberalism, and conservatism are all compatible, in one way or another, with either the social views or the economic interests of the overclass. But national liberalism, with its mixture of social conservatism and economic liberalism, represents a direct threat to overclass social views (which tend to be liberal) and overclass economic interests (which are promoted by neoliberal and conservative policies). Indeed, the one thing that left-liberals, neoliberals, and conservatives all fear more than each other is the reemergence of national liberalism as a political force, as in the era of FDR, Truman, and Johnson." (Lind 1996: 33).
Of course, I should point out that when Lind uses the term "liberal," as in "economic liberalism," he is not referring to classical liberalism, or libertarianism, but to the American version of social democracy, which, unfortunately, has usually paled in comparison to Western European social democracy and Christian democracy. However, Lind is correct to point out that huge numbers of Americans are indeed supporters of a mixture of social conservatism and economic populism and that it is largely the money-power of the American overclass that keeps genuine populists out of major office.


Lind, Michael. Up from Conservatism: Why the Right is Wrong for America (New York, N.Y.:  Free Press Paperbacks, 1996).

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Aldo Moro's Concept Of Progress

March 16, 2012 marked thirty-four years since the kidnapping of Aldo Moro by the Marxist-Leninist Red Brigades. Moro would eventually die at the hands of his captors. I have been thinking quite a bit about Moro's legacy as a Christian Democratic politician, and it is very interesting to note just how progressive Moro was. Of course, by "progressive" I do not mean center-left in the American sense of the word, but instead I am referring to the kind of Social Christian politics popular in many countries at the end of the Second World War, usually comprising a mixture of cultural conservatism and economic social democracy.

Moro's Social Christian beliefs are apparent in a speech given at the Supercinema of Rome on March 24, 1963. Moro powerfully described the progressive nature of political Christianity, saying:
"Bound as we are to traditions, for what they have that [is] essential and (...) human, we do not want to be men of the past, but of the future. Tomorrow does not belong to conservatives or to tyrants; it belongs to attentive and serious innovators, without rhetoric. And that tomorrow in civil society belongs, also for this, largely to the revolutionary and redeeming force of Christianity. Let us therefore leave the dead to bury the dead. We are different, we want to be different from the tired supporters of a world that is passing."
Moro's "world that is passing" was the world of Liberal Italy, the world that failed to stand up to Fascism, the world that sacrificed many thousands of young men in pointless wars of aggression, and the world that failed to bring social justice to workers and peasants. Moro's conservatives were mostly the failed politicians of that same Liberal Italy along with their ideological and political allies. Moro's words should not be construed to support a total abandonment of traditionalism, but simply the recognition that some traditions are essential to human life, while other aspects of the past may be shed if they do not comport with Christian values.

In the economic realm, Aldo Moro's conception of progress included a major role for the State in controlling the economy for the benefit of human beings first and foremost. As Carlo Masala writes:
"Under Moro, who was secretary-general of the DC from March 1959 to January 1964 and minister president of three governments between 1963 and 1968, yet another sphere [of the economy] was brought under the direct control of the state with the nationalization of the energy sector. Moro's leitmotif was that 'the market must be directed by political decisions.'" (Masala 2004: 94).
The nationalization of key industries and the regulation of the market were deemed by Moro and other left-wing Christian Democrats to be important steps in evening out the inequalities produced by capitalism and furthering the process of integrating the working-class into a Christian society, thus striking a major blow against atheistic Marxism. Stressing the importance of human needs over the dictates of the market, Moro and his allies adopted the motto of "first the person, and then the market." Let us pray that today's politicians come around to adopting a similar philosophy.


Carlo Masala. "Born for Government: the Democrazia Cristiana in Italy," vol 2. of Christian Democracy in Europe Since 1945, edited by Michael Gehler and Wolfram Kaiser. (London: Routledge, 2004).

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Remembering Giorgio La Pira

On this, the 34th anniversary of the passing of Giorgio La Pira, please visit David Lindsay's blog, where he kindly reprinted my summary of La Pira's life. Also, please visit the website of the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, where Father Francis Belanger, O.P. has written a great little piece on La Pira.

Ora pro nobis

Friday, August 5, 2011

More Than A Martyr

It has been a while since I have written a substantive post. However, I have been doing some research of sorts and have stumbled upon a veritable treasure trove in the form of a website devoted to the study of the life and thought of the late Aldo Moro, the former Prime Minister of Italy. Tragically, Moro is mostly known for being the victim of a brutal assassination by the Red Brigades, a Marxist-Leninist terrorist organization. Moro was murdered by left-wing extremists because of his work to save Italian democracy by integrating the whole nation into a revitalized democratic system. Moro’s Historic Compromise with the Italian Communist Party angered Washington and Moscow, as well as the intransigent sections of the Italian Right and the Left.

As I see it, Moro’s death was a severe blow to Italy. A tremendous mediator within his own faction-ridden Christian Democratic Party, Moro may have been the only Italian politician with the ability to hold together a country that, in many respects, was only superficially united. Additionally, far from simply being a milquetoast master of compromise, Moro was also a progressive in the best sense of the word. Like other left-leaning Christian Democrats, Moro looked to the British Labour Party, and especially the government of Clement Attlee, as a source of inspiration. Moro’s vision of democracy was social democracy, not the pale imitation of democracy that has developed under plutocratic neoliberalism. 

Because of the dramatic and controversial circumstances of Moro’s murder (including a wide array of conspiracy theories that rival those surrounding the John F. Kennedy assassination), I gather that most people are more familiar with his death than with his life. This is an unsurprising yet unfortunate state of affairs, as Moro was an important thinker in addition to being a politician. I hope to be able to present my own thematic posts focusing on interpretations of different aspects of Moro’s thought and its significance for our own time.

In the meantime, I highly recommend the website of the Academy of Historical Studies – Aldo Moro, along with its blog, as a resource for those interested in Aldo Moro and his life and work.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Life and Thought of Giuseppe Lazzati

It has been a while since I have written a new post on the Italian Social Catholics, but I have found an excellent article on the life and work of Giuseppe Lazzati by Piotr Kulczycki that is better than anything I could ever write. Please give Kulczycki's article a read and please forgive me for my laziness.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Giorgio La Pira: The Five Principles of Social Morality

First published in 1939 in L'Osservatore Romano, this excerpt is from an article by Giorgio La Pira on Christian social thought. Please visit the website of the Fondazione La Pira to see the original source, and do look around the site, there is a lot of great stuff there, much of it available in English.

Now, to La Pira:

First principle: all men are brothers because they are all created by the one God and all redeemed by the one Saviour. (...) If a doctrine undermines the basis of the gospel it is anti-Christian. It must be rejected as anti-human. It is bad. It comes from Cain. In no way does it conform to the divine goodness of Christ. (...)

Second principle: these brothers are not "isolated": the love that unites them in God and each other is whole: in other words, it makes them members of one organism, like the parts of one body: the mystical body of Christ. (...) Here is the divine view of life. It embraces heaven and earth, past and present, present and future, and makes the earthly city move towards the heavenly city.

Third principle: every human creature, as, indeed any other creature, has a task to carry out in life. Each human creature is a worker, and God himself assigns the work to be done. (...) I do not work to kill or to overwhelm my brother. I work for him when I work to build my real house. When I work illuminated by the light of reason and, even more, by the light of faith, I plough the furrow in my land, but the seed I sow will provide grain for many, will provide grain for everyone! Free labour, labour of love (...)

Fourth principle: the order of the Mystical Body, the City of God, has gradations (...) my family is sacred. God wishes it. My city is sacred. My country is sacred. My lineage is sacred, and, conversely, the family is sacred, the city, the country and the lineage of my brothers.

Fifth principle: the four principles above are true in the supernatural order and are equally true in the natural order. Because grace heals and elevates nature. It works as nature works: in the same direction, according to the same laws and the same true and good inclinations. The Gospel is also the revelation of the natural order!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

From Il Santo to Bunga-Bunga: Italy’s Road to Political Perdition

The Savoyard writer Joseph de Maistre once wrote that “Every country has the government it deserves.” It is fitting that Joseph de Maistre was a subject of the King of Piedmont-Sardinia, the country that would one day form the nucleus of a unified Kingdom of Italy.

Italians are currently celebrating 150 years of national unity while Italy's government is mired in the so-called “Rubygate” scandal centered around Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s alleged sexual activities with a then-underage Moroccan nightclub dancer, as well as other allegations that the Prime Minister was hosting erotic “bunga-bunga” parties with other women in an underground salon at his Villa San Martino estate. At this point, it may behoove Italians to remember the words of Joseph de Maistre as they ponder the post-Berlusconi future of their country.

While it would be wrong to blame an entire country for the failures of its leader, Italians were comfortable with Berlusconi for much too long. As Hans-Jürgen Schlamp writes in Der Spiegel:

The recipe [for Berlusconi’s political success] was simple: A bit of polemic against the ‘communists’ and the judiciary; a dash of invective against gays, Gypsies and Muslims; a couple of cheap promises, such as imposing caps on taxes and creating jobs. He then spices up the mixture with a few off-color macho witticisms -- and voilà.”

Many Italians were easily seduced by the character of Berlusconi as much of the nation embraced the trash television morality he represented on his networks and in his personal life. As Italians now prepare for the future, they would do well to look back to figures like Giorgio La Pira and others who represented a Christian conception of Italy that was devoted to traditional morality, social justice, and peace. By embracing the trashy values of modern consumerism, Italy lost its nobler traditions that often pierced through the dark layers of the country, whether it was Fascism or the reality of political corruption and organized crime. Italians must choose between the tradition of Il Santo or that of Silvio “bunga-bunga” Berlusconi. They cannot coexist.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Jakob Kaiser: The Forgotten Christian Democrat

In the wake of the current global economic recession, observers have written many articles praising the durability of the German social market economy. While the Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism is increasingly dominated by asset bubbles and the speculation-prone finance, insurance, and real estate industries, Germany continues to be a major exporter of manufactured goods, having maintained its industrial base and highly-skilled workforce. Of course, the German economy is not perfect. It is arguable that Germany’s neo-mercantilist economy has benefited from the profligacy of the debtor nations that are usually compared unfavorably to the frugal Germans and that an extreme emphasis on exports requires this unhealthy and imbalanced system to continue. 

However, from an American perspective, the German model does have many attractive features. Germany does not suffer from the enormous bubbles that have plagued the American economy and German citizens have done a better job avoiding the pitfalls of personal debt. Of course, unlike the United States, where labor unions have been decimated by deliberate government policies favoring outsourcing, lax immigration control, and now, naked attempts to strip public sector workers of collective bargaining rights in states like Wisconsin and Ohio, Germany has made unions and works councils an important part of a collaborative system between workers, employers, and the State.

Also, unlike in the United States, where vocational training has been languishing as a result of the extreme emphasis placed on higher education, Germany has retained a strong system of vocational education that benefits those who choose not to go to university. While Germany is certainly not a worker’s paradise, German workers are clearly more powerful than their overworked, stressed out, debt-burdened counterparts in America and elsewhere, and they owe much of their power to a man who embodied pro-labor Christian Democracy, the forgotten Christian Democrat, Jakob Kaiser.

Jakob Kaiser was born on February 08, 1888 in the Lower Franconian town of Hammelburg, one of ten children in his large Roman Catholic family. The son of a bookbinder, young Jakob also pursued a career in bookbinding following his early schooling. Kaiser’s work as a journeyman bookbinder eventually brought him into the world of labor activism, starting with the Catholic journeyman’s movement founded by Blessed Adolph Kolping. After serving in the Imperial military during World War I, Kaiser rejoined the Christian labor movement and spent much of the interwar period calling for cooperation between Catholics and Protestants through the transformation of the Catholic Centre Party into a general, non-denominational Christian party. Kaiser was elected to the Reichstag as a member of the Centre Party in 1933. 

Kaiser’s career in politics and labor union activism would be changed forever with the rise of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party to power in 1933. The Nazi government abolished all independent labor unions other than the Nazi German Labor Front. This caused Kaiser and many other union leaders to join the anti-Nazi resistance. In 1938, Kaiser was jailed for treason for several months and on his release he joined the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, making contacts with such figures as the famous Claus von Stauffenberg. When the 1944 plot to kill Hitler and overthrow the Nazi regime failed, Kaiser was forced to go into hiding.

Following the end of the Second World War, Kaiser rejoined the labor movement and became one of the founders of the Berlin branch of the Christlich-Demokratische Union (Christian Democratic Union or CDU). Kaiser served as head of the CDU in Berlin and the entire Soviet occupation zone from 1945 to 1947. Kaiser’s vision for the CDU was inspired by the contemporary British Labour Party, which served as a model of non-Marxist socialism. Indeed, Kaiser forthrightly called his program “Christian Socialism“ and included measures for public ownership of key industries, extensive social insurance, and a greater role for labor in the form of works councils and cooperatives. Kaiser’s program for a more wholesale reorganization of a united Germany governed by Christian social principles met with opposition from the more liberal Konrad Adenauer, who supported a more capitalist, market-oriented economy. 

Eventually, Kaiser’s strong criticism of repressive Soviet policies in the Soviet occupation zone would result in his ouster as leader of the East German CDU by the Soviets, forcing Kaiser to head West. While West German politics was now increasingly dominated by Adenauer, Kaiser continued to have a great deal of influence in left-wing and trade union circles. At the 1947 Ahlen conference, Kaiser was even able to get his plan to nationalize key industries and other left-wing economic ideas put into the official West CDU programme, although not all of Kaiser’s reforms were actually adopted. 

While Kaiser continued to butt heads with Adenauer over economics, it was the issue of German reunification and Cold War foreign policy where the two would perhaps have their greatest differences. While Adenauer was committed to the Atlantic Alliance and a much closer relationship with the United States, even at the cost of a divided Germany, the more nationalistic Kaiser continued to champion the cause of a unified Germany independent of the two superpowers and acting as a peaceful  “bridge“ between East and West. Kaiser’s dedication to the cause of German unification would eventually see his elevation to the office of Minster of All-German Affairs, which he held from 1949 to 1957 when ill-health forced his resignation. Jakob Kaiser passed away on May 07, 1961, having become a symbol of German unity and Christian social justice.

While Konrad Adenauer is perhaps justly considered the father of modern Germany and its astonishingly successful economic revival in the post-war era, Jakob Kaiser is often dismissed as a dreamer or forgotten altogether. However, Kaiser’s influence was crucial in securing many of the more populist aspects of the German social market economy, including extensive rights and powers for labor unions in economic coordination and decision making and a robust social insurance system. Furthermore, Kaiser’s vision of a unified Germany and principled opposition to Soviet oppression in the East made him a great German patriot. Perhaps most importantly, Kaiser’s championing of a Christian socialism based not upon Marxism but upon the Gospel of Christ can certainly provide inspiration to future generations of Christians who see in materialism and the economic degradation of humanity a critical threat to the sacredness of the human person.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Example of Giorgio La Pira

Pope Benedict XVI, in a recent meeting with the National Association of Italian Local Authorities, mentioned Giorgio La Pira as a positive model for mayors. Similarly, his predecessor, the great Pope John Paul II also held up the former Mayor of Florence as an exemplary Christian and public leader. On this, the 150th anniversary of Italy's unification, we can only hope that the country that gave birth to La Pira will find inspiration for the future in his life and works. Today's ruling in the European Court of Human Rights allowing Italian public schools to continue to display the crucifix is a great sign. However, more work must be done to strengthen Christianity in Italy and in the West in general.

To be sure, while Giorgio La Pira represented a political tradition that was strongly Christian in its economic and social/cultural values, La Pira was always respectful of other cultures and peoples. La Pira was famous for his activities promoting peace in the Middle East and Vietnam and between cultures generally. After La Pira's death, Italian, Israeli, and Palestinian children placed a lamp upon his tomb bearing the words "Peace, Shalom, Salaam," a clear indication of La Pira's lifelong campaign to promote peace between peoples. The fact that the last two popes have held up such a man as a model for public figures everywhere should give pause for thought to the Dawkinsites and others who constantly attack the Holy See for its supposed bigotry and intolerance.

Indeed, the political thought of La Pira is exactly the opposite of the caricature of political Catholicism as a hopelessly reactionary and benighted tradition. For example, La Pira embraced Keynesian economics and the necessity of full employment in order to preserve the dignity of the worker. As La Pira himself once remarked:

"If I am a man of the State, my rejection of unemployment and of neediness must imply this: my economic policies must strive towards blue-collar employment and the eradication of poverty: this is clear! No specious objection emerging from any so-called "laws of economics" can detract me from striving towards this objective."

What a stark contrast to today's politicians who simply ignore the unemployed, forgetting how many lives will be ruined by the recession and the cowardly refusal to intervene on behalf of the victims of private avarice. While La Pira was extremely humble in life, often giving his clothes away to the homeless and sleeping in an unheated monastery cell, his spirit towers like a colossus on the horizon, putting to shame the small men of the neoliberal order and presenting the bright example of a viable Christian alternative to today's selfish and uncaring socioeconomic system.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Giovanni Gronchi and Catholic Laborism

Part Three in a series of pieces on the Italian Social Catholics.

Following the end of World War II, the left-wing of Italian Christian Democracy was intellectually dominated by the former anti-fascist partisan Giuseppe Dossetti and his circle, including Giorgio La Pira, Amintore Fanfani, and Giuseppe Lazzati.  Known collectively as the dossettiani and sometimes as the “Little Professors” because of their relative youth and academic backgrounds, the Dossetti circle is the best known of the left-wing factions of Democrazia Cristiana (DC). However, there was also a vibrant Catholic labor movement in Italy, often called the “white” labor movement to distinguish it from the “red” labor movements associated with socialism or communism. Perhaps the most prominent Italian Catholic laborite of the post-war era was Giovanni Gronchi, whose own ideas about Catholic social action are an important chapter in the history of Italy’s Social Catholic tradition. 

Giovanni Gronchi was born on September 10, 1887 in the town of Pontedera in the Tuscany region of Italy. He received an education in literature and philosophy and spent the years from 1911 to 1915 teaching Classics at secondary schools in various Italian towns. Gronchi’s earliest political experience came with the Christian political movement of the Catholic priest Don Romolo Murri, a man who pioneered Catholic political action at a time when many Catholics were opposed to any kind of cooperation with the government of the Kingdom of Italy, the same government that had deprived the Pope of the Papal States. After serving in the Italian military during World War I, Gronchi helped to found the Partito Popolare Italiano (PPI) or the Italian Popular Party, along with Don Luigi Sturzo and Alcide De Gasperi, in 1919. While Gronchi had a successful political career (he was elected to parliament in 1919 and 1921), it was Gronchi’s work with Catholic labor unions that would define his career. 

Gronchi was made director of the Confederation of Christian Workers in 1920 and his success in the labor movement eventually earned Gronchi the attention of the new Fascist government of Italy. In 1922, Gronchi was appointed Undersecretary of Industry and Commerce under the new regime of Benito Mussolini. However, Gronchi would only stay in this position for a year, eventually resigning in 1923. Gronchi resumed his work with the Catholic labor movement, a dangerous position as the Fascist regime violently suppressed the independent labor unions.

During the period of Fascist oppression, Gronchi argued strongly against Catholic cooperation with Mussolini’s regime. Gronchi made his argument from the point of view of the poorer members of society. Gronchi maintained that if Catholicism became identified with Fascism, it would lose the support of the peasants and workers who were suffering under Fascist oppression. However, unlike the Catholic liberals, Gronchi also noted that many peasants and workers in Italy had already become alienated from the Church because of the perception that it was a vehicle for reactionary politics. Gronchi maintained that Catholic politicians must oppose both hopeless reaction and violent revolution. 

Under pressure from the Fascist government, Gronchi eventually had to end his formal political career and even his career as a schoolteacher (Gronchi refused to join the National Fascist Party or to swear the oath to defend Fascism, as was required of all teachers in Mussolini’s Italy). Instead, Gronchi made his living as a businessman until 1943, when the Fascist regime collapsed and Gronchi returned to active politics. 

Gronchi quickly resumed his position as a left-wing Christian politician and labor union leader. He made alliances with Giuseppe Dossetti’s left-wing faction of the newly-formed Christian Democratic Party. While an ally of the dossettiani, Gronchi’s major power base was the Catholic labor movement, resulting in the Gronchi faction having a less academic and more purely laborite view of politics. Gronchi’s Catholic laborite faction had its own journal Politica Sociale, which ran alongside the Cronache Sociali of the dossettiani. Gronchi’s faction tended to be less aggressive than Dossetti’s, but the two shared many similarities. Gronchi, for example, supported an “opening to the Left” and opposed the ejection of the Socialists and Communists from the national government in 1947. Gronchi also favored Italian autonomy in foreign policy and opposed a tight alliance with the United States, as did Dossetti. 

Much of the rest of Gronchi’s political career was spent trying to end the paralyzing polarization of Italian political life.  Having spent most of his political career working in the labor movement, Gronchi understood the attraction many workers felt toward socialism and communism. Gronchi believed that Italians could avoid both neo-fascist reaction and left-wing revolutionary violence only by building a functioning Italian democracy, and this would require bringing the Socialists and Communists into the government, “taming” them, making them less revolutionary and more reformist. An opening to the Left would also hopefully detach the Italian Left from the Soviet Union and help make Italian autonomy in foreign policy more feasible by breaking out of the dualism of the Cold War. 

In 1955, Gronchi was elected President of Italy with the support of left-wing Christian Democrats and the Socialists and Communists. Gronchi would continue to serve as President of Italy until 1962, and during that time he would continue to work to heal the divisions caused by the Cold War, including taking a trip to the Soviet Union in February of 1960. Gronchi’s early attempt at an “opening to the Left” and the development of a democratic Italy autonomous in foreign affairs was a precursor to Aldo Moro’s later attempts toward largely the same goals during the 1970s. Giovanni Gronchi passed away in Rome on October 17, 1978.

Giovanni Gronchi’s experience among the workers and peasants who made up Italy’s labor movement provided him with important insights into how the Church was perceived by the mass of ordinary laypeople. Gronchi understood that for the Church to maintain its reputation as the defender of the poor, it had to take actions to avoid being branded as reactionary by left-wing opponents. This meant taking seriously the plight of the poor and workers and fighting on their behalf against injustice. Gronchi’s thought went hand in hand with his work with the Catholic labor unions. Catholic social thought and action were united in the person of Giovanni Gronchi and in the labor movement he pioneered. In today’s world of anti-worker austerity, we would do well to look to Gronchi and the spirit of Catholic laborism.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Giuseppe Dossetti: Partisan, Politician, Priest

Part One in a series of pieces I am attempting to develop on the Italian Social Catholics.

While there were several important figures associated with the left-wing of Italian Christian Democracy, few were as influential on the ideological front as Giuseppe Dossetti. Dossetti was born on February 13, 1913, in the city of Genoa, Italy. Dossetti received a law degree from the Catholic University of Milan and was a member of the lay Catholic organization Azione Cattolica (“Catholic Action”). During World War II, Dossetti joined the anti-fascist Italian resistance, eventually holding a leadership position in the Cavriago, Emilia-Romagna branch of the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale (“National Liberation Committee” an entity comprised of various factions of the Italian underground). It was Dossetti’s role in the Italian resistance movement that allowed him to rise to prominence within the Democrazia Cristiana (“Christian Democracy” or “DC” for short), the major Catholic political party, following the end of the war.

Dossetti soon made a name for himself as the leader of the reformist “Left” faction of the DC, along with Amintore Fanfani, Giorgio La Pira, and Giuseppe Lazzati. Together, the four men were called “The Little Professors,” because of their backgrounds in academia (Dossetti had taught law at the University of Modena). Although Dossetti was the youngest of the Little Professors, he was considered the leader of the Left faction within the DC, leading many to dub the faction" the dossettiani." The dossettiani were heavily influenced by the thought of French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain, whose concept of “Integral Humanism” greatly influenced Dossetti. Furthermore, as a member of the Italian resistance, Dossetti had worked side by side with communists, and although he rejected the materialism of Marxism, he saw a kernel of truth in Marxism’s critique of capitalism and was impressed by the zeal of the communist members of the resistance.

In 1945, Dossetti became vice-secretary of the DC. With the help of his colleagues, Dossetti began a crusade to turn the DC into a full-blown Christian reformist party. Through their association Civitas Humana and their journal Cronache Sociali, the dossettiani advocated various left-wing economic reforms, including land reform, worker cooperatives, public ownership, and Keynesian macroeconomic policy, all within a Christian intellectual framework. Dossetti’s appeal as a champion of the poor and working-class, as well as his credentials as a member of the Italian resistance, helped to secure a DC electoral victory in 1948.

However, tensions between Dossetti and the more moderate party leader Alcide De Gasperi would eventually lead to Dossetti’s exit from public life. By far the largest bone of contention between Dossetti and De Gasperi was the entry of Italy into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Dossetti opposed the NATO treaty, arguing that it was unnecessary as Italy had no external enemies at the time and it would ruin any chance of Italy becoming a Christian light in the world, mediating between East and West. By siding with the United States, Italy would essentially lose its freedom to be an impartial evangelizer on the world stage. Unfortunately for Dossetti, the dire economic situation in post-war Italy and the promise of Marshall Plan aid convinced most Christian Democrats that the pragmatic De Gasperi was right in his support for NATO and a closer relationship with the United States. Italy joined NATO in 1949.

Following the defeat over NATO accession, Dossetti became less and less happy with the situation within the DC. De Gasperi’s pragmatism had curbed Dossetti’s attempt to turn the DC into a force for recreating Italian society along explicitly Christian lines. Additionally, several of Dossetti’s associates, including Amintore Fanfani and Aldo Moro, also decided that a more moderate stance was necessary in order to continue to influence the DC. The uncompromising Dossetti was increasingly losing allies and by 1952, Dossetti resigned from Parliament and active political life, choosing to become a Catholic priest instead.

After 1952, Dossetti rarely engaged in party politics. He founded a monastic community and worked for peace in the Middle East. After 1952, he only ventured into Italian politics twice, first, in 1956 when the DC placed Dossetti on the ballot in a failed attempt to defeat the Communist mayor of Bologna, Giuseppe Dozza, and again in 1994 when Dossetti publicly argued against plans to scrap Italy’s parliamentary system in favor of a presidential one and encouraged Romano Prodi to campaign against Silvio Berlusconi.  Overall, however, Dossetti was no longer enthusiastic about party politics, and most of his post-political career was spent in religious work. Giuseppe Dossetti died on December 15, 1996.

While it may be tempting to dismiss Dossetti’s political career as a fleeting, quixotic attempt to create a Christian utopia in Italy, it is difficult to ignore how prescient Dossetti was when it came to certain facets of the post-war world. For example, while Dossetti was perhaps rightly criticized for describing the Soviet Union as a more “vital” society than the United States, Dossetti’s critique of American-style consumerism has turned out to be prophetic. Many of the anti-Christian values that social conservatives rail against today can be linked to the consumerist, individualist culture that has developed in the West over the last several decades. Indeed, Dossetti is interesting precisely because he was so out of step with the modern world. While he was a strong advocate of the poor and social justice, Dossetti also campaigned in favor of the indissolubility of marriage, religious education and priestly celibacy. And although Dossetti had flirted with Marxism he notably opposed most proponents of Liberation Theology.

For contemporary Christians, Dossetti is an example of a man who, while idealistic, was also keenly aware of many trends in society that more practical politicians were unable or unwilling to see.  His legacy only becomes more powerful as the reality of neoliberalism becomes clearer. All the promises about returning to traditional values, so often repeated by the champions of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, have simply failed to materialize in a world dominated by consumer values and market logic. Dossetti was able to comprehend that simply making Italians prosperous was not enough to preserve the Christian soul of a nation. Ultimately, the political and economic world would have to serve a Higher Calling.  

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Italian Social Catholics

Italian politics is in the news again, this time over the Italian parliament’s confidence vote in favor of the embattled Silvio Berlusconi and the accompanying protests. Italian politics is often the subject of ridicule by Italians themselves and by people outside the country. From lecherous and greedy politicians to shadowy connections with the criminal world, Italy is often portrayed as a nation with one foot in modernity and the other in a culture that is still beset by old woes. However, there was a time when Italy produced an energetic and important strain of Catholic social thought, combining the traditional religiosity of the country with a concern for the problems posed by modernity. Not satisfied with the idea that Christianity could just lock itself away from the problems of the modern world, the Italian Social Catholics were instrumental in developing ideas that helped to influence the post-war settlement in Italy through their involvement with the powerful Christian Democratic Party.

Arguably the most famous Social Catholics of the post-war period where the “Little Professors,” centered on Giuseppe Dossetti and including Amintore Fanfani, Giorgio La Pira, and Giuseppe Lazzati. Other politicians, such as Aldo Moro, could also be included within the Christian Democratic “Left.” While there were important differences between these men, in general they shared a commitment to Christian thought as a potent antidote to atheist Marxism as well as to the injustices of capitalism that often led people to embrace anti-Christian ideologies.

While they arguably failed to achieve the just Christian society they sought to create, the Italian Social Catholics are important because they understood that if religion was simply reduced to a personal eccentricity as opposed to an active force in the world there would be little hope of it succeeding in a modern world increasingly dominated by materialist ideologies. With the end of the Cold War and the ascendancy of neoliberalism, the message of the Italian Social Catholics is as important as ever. Over time, I will try my best to write about the various Italian Social Catholics, their strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, and what they can teach us today.