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World Politics

Stalinism and the Vatican

(14 April 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 15, 14 April 1947, pp. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

At a recent session of the Italian Constituent Assembly, a clause was accepted for the proposed new constitution which would incorporate into it the infamous Lateran Treaty of 1929 with the Vatican. This treaty, it will be remembered, formalized the alliance between Mussolini’s dictatorship and the Vatican hierarchy by providing that government taxes would be used to pay clerical salaries and that compulsory Catholic indoctrination would be maintained in the public schools. In return Mussolini received the support of the Vatican.

Now that Mussolini has been overthrown and replaced by a parliamentary republic, a clause is adopted by the Constituent Assembly which perpetuates the arrangement by which millions of Italian workers involuntarily give financial aid to the Vatican. That the present premier, De Gasperi, should press for this arrangement is not unexpected. He is the leader of the Vatican’s political party, the Christian Democrats, and a faithful servant of the hierarchy; he was at one time chief librarian in the Vatican.

But what is remarkable is the news that the Italian Stalinists, led by Togliatti, voted for the incorporation of the Lateran Treaty info the new constitution, the first clause of which is, ironically, to read “Italy is a democratic republic founded on labor.” Their vote in fact was decisive. The Christian Democrats favored the incorporation of the Lateran Treaty and the Socialists opposed it. The Stalinists swung the balance in favor of the Vatican.

How remarkable a fact this is can best be understood when one recalls the history of this Lateran Treaty. From 1870 to Mussolini’s advent there had been a breach between the Vatican and the various parliamentary regimes of that period. The Church was among the first to rally to Mussolini’s support. When, on February 11, 1929, the Lateran Treaty was signed, Mussolini gained the united and universal support of the Church while the latter’s financial problems were solved and its traditional status as ruler of Italian education restored.

The Church’s Service to Mussolini

How helpful this treaty was to Mussolini is vividly described by one of Mussolini’s most fawning biographers, Anton Zischka, who wrote, “from that day on the Duce could count on the support, direct or indirect, of 336,000,000 Catholics throughout the world. By this move ... the clever Mussolini immensely strengthened his position both inside and outside Italy. Henceforth his policy would be defended by 320,000 priests, 265,000 monks, 400,000 nuns, and 35,000 missionaries scattered from Greenland to the Malagas, from Japan to North Africa; by 1,578 bishops, 245 archbishops, and 55 cardinals; by the papal nuncios in the various capitals who ... are agents of inestimable importance.”

And it is this treaty which the Italian Stalinists have, by their decisive vote, allowed to become part of the new constitution. They have thereby helped the Vatican to regain whatever ground it lost during the period after Mussolini’s overthrow.

The opposition to Church domination of the state and of public education is not a uniquely Socialist position; it predates the Socialist movement. A demand traditionally associated with the bourgeois, or capitalist, revolution, it received its classical, expression in the Great French Revolution of 1779. This position does not destroy the Church, it merely tries to limit it to religious matters and to throw off its age-old stranglehold on the political regimes of those countries with a predominant or large Catholic population. As such it has of course been supported by the Socialist movement since its inception, since socialists are the most rigorous and consistent defenders of democratic rights.

The vote of the Italian Stalinists is not merely, therefore, a betrayal of the entire working class tradition on this matter; it even runs counter to the tradition of bourgeois-democratic revolution.

Reasons for the Stalinist Position

Why, then, did the Stalinists vote in support of the Vatican? One reason offered is in terms of internal Italian politics. In a dispatch to the Nation (April 5, 1947) Alvarez Del Vayo, the Winchell of socialist journalism, reports from Milan that the Stalinists are trying to garner support for the coming national elections next October. They have voted for the Lateran Treaty, he says, because they “have won a large following in rural districts and are anxious to avoid alienating the Catholic farmers.”

But though there may be something to this, it is certainly not the main reason for the Stalinist position. Their attitudes on such major questions are always determined by the position of Stalinist Russia in the international arena. At the present time Russia is hard pressed by a new diplomatic and economic offensive launched by the Anglo-American bloc. The Italian Stalinist vote can therefore be understood as part of a general Stalinist strategy to persuade the Vatican to adopt a less hostile attitude toward it. It is part of the same policy which has led the Polish Stalinist regime, desperately seeking a modicum of popular support, to initiate negotiations with the Vatican for closer relations.

Stalin of course does not expect a long-range accord with the Vatican. But if he could gain just a brief respite, even a measure of decreased hostility by the Vatican to his moves in eastern Europe, it would help his position considerably. That in doing so the Italian Stalinists betray the simplest, most elementary concepts of socialism and even of simple liberal democracy does not bother him in the slightest.

For this is the one crucial point about the Stalinist parties that must be reiterated constantly until it sinks into the consciousness of workers everywhere. The Stalinist parties are simple puppets of the Russian dictatorship; what they do, what, political positions they take depend exclusively on the interests of that Russian dictatorship, and on nothing else.


P.S. – After writing the above column, I came across an article in the Daily Worker of April 5 by Joseph Starobin which tries to justify the position of the Italian Stalinists. It is really a masterpiece of squirming; it’s a pity there isn’t the space to reprint it here in full.

The basic tack of Starobin’s piece is to use the vote of the Italian Stalinists as proof that the Stalinist parties act independently, that “they guide themselves by the specific conditions facing them ...” To believe this claim one must believe the patent absurdity that on as burning a political issue as the relationship of Stalinist Russia to the Vatican today, the Italian Stalinists acted without consulting their Kremlin masters!

Starobin attempts to utilize the action of the Italian Stalinists to offer an olive branch on a small scale – just as his Italian partners are doing on a large scale – to American Catholics. See, he says, how we Stalinists protect the “rights” of the Catholic Church.

He merely neglects to mention that the struggle for separation of church and state has been a basic plank in the program of every liberal, republican – let alone socialist – group in such countries as France and Italy for decades; he merely neglects to mention that the Italian Stalinists in voting for the Lateran Treaty lined up with the reactionary Christian Democrat Party of de Gasperi, the political arm of Vatican reaction; he merely neglects to mention that the Italian Stalinists voted that those millions of Italians who have broken with the church or never accepted it should be forced to pay taxes to maintain it. That is Stalinism in [action ?].

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