Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Italian Left -- Perry Anderson's assessment


The above is an essay by Perry Anderson. Despite the location of the publication, Perry Anderson teaches at UCLA in Southern California. In the subtitle of the essay, “Italy’s Squandered Heritage,” Anderson mourns the PCI’s (Italian Communist Party’s) missed chances. In the main title “An Invertebrate Left,” he shows critical disdain. Both elements are present in the essay; which is excellent. Anderson has a superb grasp of Italy’s post-war politics (as we can see from his other writings) and though his sympathy is with the PCI, and his criticism of them is for not standing up to the former fascists – and of watering down Gramsci’s ideas. Though fond of the enlightenment and Croce, he still believed in militant in opposition to Capitalism. Since Italy became an ally of the allies before the end of the war, no outside pressure was placed upon them to deal with its Fascists, and apparently it never did.

So what we have in post war and post-Soviet-Union Italy is a Nationalism that is softer than Fascism but harder than Liberal Democracy. I thought of the ideas of Micahel Kuznetsov as I read this. He has told us that he is no Communist, but his nationalism seems harder than Liberal Democracy; so I wonder what he thinks of the Italian nationalism that grew seamlessly out of Italian Fascism.

What follows are a some passages from Anderson’s essay that I found especially interesting:

“It [the PCI] also had a richer intellectual heritage, in Gramsci’s newly published Prison Notebooks, whose significance was immediately recognised well beyond the party. At its height, the PCI could draw on an extraordinary range of social and moral energies, combining both deeper popular roots and broader intellectual influence than any other force in the country.”

“After 1948, the spoils of the Liberation were divided. Power fell to the DC; culture to the PCI. Christian Democracy controlled the levers of the state, Communism attracted the talents of civil society. The PCI’s ability to polarise Italian intellectual life around itself, not only in a broad arc of scholars, writers, thinkers and artists but a general climate of progressive opinion, was without parallel elsewhere in Europe.”

“This was not what Gramsci had believed. A revolutionary of the Third International, he had never thought capital could be broken without force of arms, however important the need to win the widest popular consent for the overthrow of the ruling order.”

“The inrush of a completely secular, fully Americanised mass culture was another matter. Caught unprepared, the party’s apparatus and the intelligentsia that had formed around it were knocked sideways. Although critical engagement with pulp was not lacking in Italy – Umberto Eco was a pioneer – the PCI failed to connect.”

“Once the Allied troops were gone [after WWII], a coalition government, comprising the left-liberal Partito d’Azione, Socialists, Communists and Christian Democrats was faced with the legacy of Fascism, and the monarchy that had collaborated with it. The Christian Democrats, aware that their potential voters remained loyal to the monarchy, and recognising that their natural supports in the state apparatus had been the routine instruments of Fascism, were resolved to prevent anything comparable to German de-Nazification. But they were in a minority in the cabinet, where the secular left held more posts.

“At this juncture the PCI, instead of putting the DC on the defensive by pressing for an uncompromising purge of the state – cleaning out all senior collaborationist officials in the bureaucracy, judiciary, army and police – invited it to head the government, and lifted scarcely a finger to dismantle the traditional apparatus of Mussolini’s rule.”

“The excommunication came over the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, which the Manifesto condemned without reservation. Here, alongside the native idealism of its formation, lay the second reason for the continuing strategic paralysis of Italian Communism. However flexible in other respects, the PCI remained Stalinist in both its internal structures and its external ties to the Soviet state. Despairing of one-party rule by a torpid Christian Democracy, liberal well-wishers of the party – of which there were to be many over the years – would time and again express admiration for the PCI’s sensible domestic moderation, yet exasperation that it should compromise this otherwise excellent record by its links to the USSR and the organisational norms that followed from it.”

“Powerful historical forces – the end of the Soviet experience; the contraction, or disintegration, of the traditional working class; the weakening of the welfare state; the expansion of the videosphere; the decline of parties – have borne hard on the left everywhere in Europe, leaving none in particularly good shape. The fall of Italian Communism is in that sense part of a wider story, which lies beyond censure.”

“In total, De Felice devoted 6500 pages to the life of Mussolini, more than three times the length of Ian Kershaw’s biography of Hitler, and proportionately longer even than Martin Gilbert’s authorised life of Churchill: the largest single monument to any leader of the 20th century.”

“In Europe – this is not true, at least in the same way, of America – the world of the media as a rule reflects more than it creates the condition of a culture, whose quality ultimately depends much more on the state of its universities.

In Italy, notoriously, these have remained archaic and underfunded, many departments sumps of bureaucratic intrigue and baronial patronage. The result has been a steady loss of the country’s best minds to positions abroad. Virtually every discipline has been affected, as the roster of leading scholars either based or working for long stretches in the United States shows: Luca Cavalli-Sforza in genetics, Giovanni Sartori in political science, Franco Modigliani in economics, Carlo Ginzburg in history, Giovanni Arrighi in sociology, Franco Moretti in literature, to whom younger names might be added.”

“Spain remains by comparison a provincial culture, with a much thinner and more derivative intellectual life, whose relative backwardness is underlined by the modernities surrounding it. For all the disrepair of the country, the Italian contribution to contemporary letters is of a different order. No country in Europe, indeed, has recently produced a monument of global scholarship to equal the five volumes on the international history and morphology of the novel edited by Moretti, and published by Einaudi – an enterprise of peculiarly Italian magnificence . . . Nor is it difficult to find examples of a continuing Italian capacity to shake received paradigms abroad. Ginzburg’s ‘Clues’, not to speak of his essay reconstructing Dum├ęzil, attempted by no French historian, would be one case; the distinguished classicist Luciano Canfora’s recent book on democracy, censored by its outraged publisher in Germany, would be another; the political scientist Danilo Zolo’s demolition of ‘international justice’ a third. Such traditions do not die easily.”

“. . . But a pattern of tactical retreats by Berlusconi and temporary surges of popular anger against him is not new. How this might alter as economic conditions worsen remains to be seen. Putting behind it the dangerous tools of the carpenter and the farmer, the Italian left has adopted one symbol after another from the vegetable kingdom, or thin air – the rose, the oak, the olive, the daisy, the rainbow. Without some glint of metallurgy, it seems unlikely to make much headway.”


Excellent essay! Perry Anderson has a new book coming out in May, The Old New Order which sounds very interesting: The “Production Description” reads, “This book offers a magisterial analysis of Europe's development since the end of the Cold War. A major work of modern history and political analysis, "The New-Old World" punctures both domestic and American myths about continental Europe. Surveying the post-Cold War trajectory of European power and the halting progress towards social and economic integration, Perry Anderson draws out the connections between the EU's eastward expansion, a foreign policy largely subservient to America's, and the popular rejection of the European Constitution. As a neoliberal economic project, pushed forward by a succession of centrist governments, the European Union cannot afford to allow its peoples a free choice that might dash elite schemes of a post-national democracy. Anderson explores Hayek's suggestion that protecting a market economy might require exactly this kind of inter-state structure, out of reach of popular opposition. With landmark chapters on France, Germany, Italy and Turkey, and a wide-ranging survey of current theories of the Union, "The New-Old World" offers an iconoclastic portrait of a continent that is now being increasingly hailed as a moral and political exemplar for the world at large.”

Michael Kuznetsov might want to contrast the point of view in the immediately preceding paragraph with what I wrote recently about the EU. Anderson is much to the Left of me and uses different language. I wouldn’t call what the EU is doing “eastward expansion,” but technically he is accurate. Still, it implies something very like Imperialism which is not what the EU has in mind, at least I don’t think it does. But then, who precisely is the EU? I do agree that there are some “elites” driving it; so perhaps they have some “Imperialistic-lite” ideas in mind. If so, the European rejection of the constitution won’t keep their plans on a fast-track. It might be that Micahel would enjoy Anderson's book more than I would.

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