TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

The United States in the Postwar Italian Communist Press

Each Tuesday in the TELOSscope blog, we reach back into the archives and highlight an article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, Etel Sverdlov looks at Elena Aga Rossi and Giovanni Orsina’s article “The United States According to the Italian Communist Press (1945–1953),” from Telos 127 (Spring 2004).

I wonder at times whether the Internet provides people around the world with greater access to the “truth.” Possibly as a result of the widespread availability of almost any information, propaganda today must become more subtle and broad generalizations, or even bold lies, more covert. Such distortions—some deliberate, some unintentional—once permeated Italian communist publications. In their article “The United States According to the Italian Communist Press (1945–1953),” Elena Aga Rossi and Giovanni Orsina trace the rhetoric with which the Italian communists attacked the United States. What stands out most within their analysis is the striking similarity between the charges that the communists and capitalists hurled at each other.

After World War II, America began to feel the full brunt of communist disparagement. The anti-fascism that had previously made allies of the United States and the Soviet Union could no longer curb the growing and decidedly anti-American view of the Italian communist press. As Rossi and Orsina explain:

The communists’ keyword for condemning relations between the U.S. and Italy or, more generally, American foreign policy, was “cosmopolitanism.” It was the evil twin of communist internationalism. Cosmopolitan was any kind of supranational organization not rooted in a sincere popular desire to collaborate peacefully, but seeking to satisfy the sinister needs of monopoly capitalism.

Whereas the Soviet Union, the papers claimed, sought to assist countries and foster self-determination, the United States wished only to expand its markets at the expense of other nations. Such a reliance on business interests even distorted the internal American political system. The democracy in the United States was a facade, where money affected policy more than votes did. Although the capitalist nation seemed an imperialist empire, the core, said the journals, was rotting. They explained with pity how “after the war more than two million Americans were unemployed, real wages were dramatically decreasing, and, surprisingly, that 73.4% of American families did not have a minimum living standard.”

In the interest of proving the superiority of communism, the journals resorted to a decidedly skewed foreign policy analysis and took to lionizing the actions of the Soviet Union. An article composed in 1947 worked to prove that Americans, desperate for further wealth, no longer adhered to Christian, and specifically Catholic, principles. Conversely, the Soviet Union, following the true, biblical “values of fraternity and solidarity,” represented a just and Christian nation. In fact, such rhetoric escalated to the point where America, in the view of the communist press, could be nothing but a fascist country, and “all of the United States’ international policy was interpreted as a continuation of Hitler’s strategy.” Thus the Soviet Union, communists around the world, and the communists of Italy had a common duty: they needed to uplift people around the globe and to fight the sinister forces of the United States.

The Soviet Union, at the time that these laudatory articles appeared, suffered under Stalinist repression. Millions of its citizens were killed or sent to hard-labor camps in the bitter cold. At the time that Russia, according to these journals, displayed true Christian principles, the population of that country starved because of government policy. While the presses condemned the fascism of American politics, the Soviet Union enforced the rule of an authoritarian state through secret police and extensive military build-up. Given this historical reality, one cannot dismiss these communist writings as simply incorrect opinions. They disseminated outright falsehoods and, in doing so, shaped the minds of their readers with inaccuracies. Indeed, one has to wonder how much the uniform opinion of the presses affected their readers. Had such propaganda been published today, would access to the Internet have quickly disproved it? Would the availability online of every possible viewpoint mediate the impact of these articles?

Personally I don’t believe it would have. As much as the Internet may on occasion be an instrument of enlightenment, the web itself promotes radical viewpoints and provides people with a bubble of like-minded souls. The communist lies that faced layers of editorial revision between 1947 and 1953 in the Italian presses could now appear online within minutes, lacking any outside supervision. Propaganda remains propaganda: whether you wish to prove your point on paper or on the screen, your skill in composition, not your medium of distribution, ultimately convinces the readers.

Read the full version of Elena Aga Rossi and Giovanni Orsina’s “The United States According to the Italian Communist Press (1945–1953),” at the TELOS Online website. If you are affiliated with an institution that is an online subscriber to Telos, you have free access to our complete online archive. If not, you can purchase 24-hour access to this and other Telos articles at the low rate of $5/article.

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