Flags of different colors, but nevertheless with the same ideal

A study compares the left-wing movements in Brazil and Italy during the post-war period

Marx arrived in Brazil by crossing the seas, but the founders of socialism, around here, came by ship. The Italian immigrants were those responsible for the attempts to “give a conscience to the proletariat” and for the first strikes. This close relationship between Italian-Brazilian militants in São Paulo at the beginning of the century, finished up being frozen in time. Around 1930, when the phase of mass immigration by foreigners was terminated, in spite of the massive presence of Italians here, there was no attempt whatsoever to form left-wing parties with collaboration between the leaders of the two countries.

It is this historical peculiarity which Alexandre Hecker presents in his study The Force of the Model: A Comparative History of Socialism in Brazil and Italy. In the project, which has the support of FAPESP, he analyses the history of the left wings in Brazil and Italy during the period contained between post World War II and the 60’s. This is an account of “the politician” and not of “political policies”.

“The intention was not to produce a history of the institutions, only of the political parties and the workers’ unions. We are speaking of an incursion into the history of ‘the politician’ because it is a more ample definition, it embraces the history of the militant as a person, his daily routine, his afflictions, his relationships with others, the political culture, in short.” explained professor Hecker, professor of Contemporary History at the Paulista State University (Unesp), of Assis.

Professor Hecker had already investigated in the thesis for his doctorate – which transformed itself into the book Sociable Socialism: History of the Democratic Left in São Paulo (1945-1965) (Ed. Unesp) – the history of the left wing in São Paulo, but felt the necessity of filling in an omission in the Brazilian bibliography and to advance in the comparison of the party and ideological regimes. “It reaches the point of being impressive, but no work of comparative history with similar characteristics has been realized without shortcomings on the Brazilian left wing.” emphasized the researcher.

To compose the work, as well as the experience and the dialogue of the Brazilian militants, and of the intellectuals of São Paulo, such as Antonio Candido, Jacob Gorender, among others, professor Hecker spent six months in Italy. His stay at the University of Milan between 1997 and 1998, made possible his contact with specialists in the history of the Italian post war left such as Alceo Riosa and Aldo Agosti.

Professor Hecker also participated in debates and researches in different centers of study such as the Giacomo Brodolini Foundation, the official organ of the Italian Government for the encouragement of studies and the divulging of themes relative to the history of the Italian workers movement, national and international, as well as the workers culture; Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, a private foundation, but of public interest, which consists of one of the most relevant research centers of study and orientation relative to the history of socialism and of the Italian workers movement, national and international, among other document centers.

The result was the reunion of a considerable archive (close to 200 titles), between books, newspapers, magazines, document films and Xeroxed copies. “It is material without equal in public institutions or private collections in Brazil.” affirmed professor Hecker. Among the curiosities are unpublished texts and manifests of the epoch, iconography, charges and all the symbolic references of the years of militancy of the left. He hopes very soon to have finished the cataloging and to make the work available to the Center of Documents and Memory (Cedem) of the faculty of Sciences and Letters of Unesp.

Professor Hecker also finished two books. One of them, which deals with the theorizing about Comparative History, will have translations of unpublished texts in Portuguese, such as those of Marc Bloch. This compiling will be done in partnership with the professor of the History of America of USP, professor Maria Ligia Coelho Prado. The other work will be the result of comparative research between the left wing parties of Brazil and Italy.

Comparing histories
The principal difficulty of the work, according to professor Hecker, was to find a methodology of support. “There is no work in Brazil which deals with the question of the method of comparative history.” he observed. Comparison is a common procedure which was always part of historical research – whether it be to make a profile of the political leaders of different epochs and places, or to date documents and to give them authenticity. Nevertheless, the theorization as to the scientific method used is relatively recent. It was only possible during this century due to the French movements, above all, by way of the writings of the historian Marc Bloch.

“I opted for that which professor Bloch calls synchronic comparisons, or that is, to research societies, or historical situations, submitted to the same factors or derivatives of a common origin and to point out in them the similarities and differences.” he explained. The result, different from working with societies very distinct in time and space – for example, the method made use of by anthropology to approximate primitive societies to the actual -, and which a temporal affinity makes it easier to acknowledge that never seen. It is the singular and the purpose, by definition, of history.

To study the formation of the political left wing parties in Brazil and in Italy in the period after World War II appears to be an objective of studyhighly incited. “We are speaking about similar institutions in content and in political party disposition, but which did not have any contact in the slightest between them. The interest was to recognize models of constructed questions by the societies to explain the same crises through which they lived.”

Left, turn
The starting point of the work was 1945, the date of the creation of the Brazilian Socialist Party in São Paulo, and of the Italian Socialist Party, recreated in Rome, shortly after the war ended. “They are parties which were born from the same Marxist platform, with the same political proposals, of the eagerness to represent the proletariat, but they didn’t have direct contact points. The socialists here didn’t mix with the socialists there and vice versa. There was no exchange of literature, probably because in Brazil more importance had always been given to the literary works linked to France and the United States.”

Italy arrived at the end of the Second Word War without national unity and under the shadow of fascism. The atmosphere was one of the most favorable for the left. “The military fronts and the internal authority of the Italian regime appeared to be worn out permitting, as well, a large demonstration of discontent by the workers who, in the larger cities of the north, caused outbreaks of strikes which hadn’t been seen for more than 20 years.” observed professor Hecker. The phases of the order of the left, such as “Land for all”, delighted the rural masses.

In this atmosphere, all the antifascists (communists, socialists, Christian democrats and liberals) began the “resistance fight”. In 1946, the fight for national unity revolved around the three parties of the masses which had been recently created: the Christian Democrats, the Italian Socialist Party of Proletariat Unity and the Italian Communist Party. The parties won extreme force in the process of the consolidation of democracy, so much so that until today Italy is considered to be a “party-cracy”. “The country was the party which demanded an identification primarily catholic, communist or socialist and only afterwards Italian.” said professor Hecker.

In spite of the absence of direct contacts between the political institutions of the two countries, they formed similar socialist cultures, submitted to the same demands of the crisis of the period. “For example, the Brazilian Socialist Party during decades looked for solutions for the bipolar situation of the Cold War, and received at its headquarters in São Paulo, militants from the Argentine, Spain, France and England, but never from Italy.” remembered professor Hecker.

There was no exchange of leaders, never mind of specific theories. The Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci was only translated in Brazil during the 60’s and became well known among the intellectuals in the decade of the 70’s. “His works were held back for a long time. Even in Italy, he was placed in a provincial context during the 50’s. His texts remained hidden within the Italian Communist Party because they were critical of the Soviet Union’s regime and this was not of interest to the militants.”

From the sickle to the hammer
From early times, the PCI defended with intensity the position that the international communist movement had to be multicentered, with each party following its pathway and adopting a certain independence in relation to Moscow. The research of professor Hecker contests this praxis. “This multicentered vision of Italian communism only happens during the 70’s. Before that, much to the contrary, the great leader Palmiro Togliatti, and all the Italian communist structure, is extremely confluent to Moscow, it didn’t take a step without following in the footsteps of the USSR.”

In Brazil, the slogan of the hammer and the sickle was not followed to the letter. ‘The socialism of São Paulo after 1945 is, different from communism, a movement against the USSR. However, in Italy, until the final breakdown, if one picked up any Italian socialist newspapers, there was only the hammer and the sickle. This is very curious. The work was very helpful in understanding how, from common communist basis, the Brazilian socialists diametrically diverged.” said professor Hecker, highlighting one of the novelties of the work.

“In Italy, some Marxist demonstrations were almost like those of a layman religion; in Brazil, there didn’t exist these more primitive roots of religious dogmatism, at least among the non-communist socialists.” cautioned professor Hecker. There, these manifestations had their martyrs, and the idea that an intellectual who was born bourgeois, on adopting the cause of the working class, should convert himself, to the point of believing that one of the first socialists in the world was Christ. On the other hand, the formation of the socialist in São Paulo is linked to the democratic pluralism of the intellectuals which formed it and to the idea of a popular democracy.

An economic miracle
The economy, in tatters in the 50’s, passed through an uncommon acceleration which provoked alterations not only at the levels of urbanization, consumption and in health, but in significant areas of cultural activities, such as television and the cinema. Both in Brazil and in Italy, they passed through an “economic miracle”. “The effervescence of the consumption in Italy was demonstrated by the Lambreta scooter. All of Italy hoped to reach the point of having a small Lambreta and to go on pick-nicks. The Italian cinema also blossomed during this epoch.” remembered the researcher. On the other hand, it is said that no other country in the world grew more than Brazil during the 50’s. At the time of JK, the country grew at the breath taking rate of between 7% and 8% of its GNP.

This capitalist “boom” was responsible for the left wings of Italy and Brazil searching for distinct pathways. “In Italy, there was an alliance of socialists with more conservative groups such as the Christian Democrats, which led to a softening of the revolutionary effort and to becoming a candidate for power which finished up occurring in 1963. In Brazil, the communists and the socialists came close to power, during that same epoch, through Jango (President João Goulart), but the outcome was totally different. Whilst in Italy they approached a democracy each time more disseminated, in Brazil they plunged into a dictatorship with the left wing persecuted and exterminated. This parallelism can help us understand our specifications.” alerted professor Hecker.

A defeated ideology?
After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism, many insisted in looking at history along one pathway and with only one hand. Contradictorily to the witnesses of the death of socialism, the parties of the opposition have maintained their vigor in Italy, and, more recently, are emerging in Brazil. In various Brazilian State capitals, the movement of the left has come out fortified from the municipal elections which took place this year and the parties are already preparing for an eventual arrival at power.

For professor Hecker, there is a trail to the left possible for the future, but, if it has references to the past, it should return to its new pathway. “The PT has something of the old socialist party whose slogan was: ‘Socialism and liberty.’ In an era when there was no liberty the left wing always tended to give value to the triad of the French revolution, equality, while the liberals emphasized liberty.” he analyzed “Even then, their viability passes through the search for a new path.”

In Italy, the arrival of the socialist leaders had contradictory results such as that of Bettino Craxi. “He took control of the State and transformed it into one of the most corrupt of the planet at that time. We remember the ‘socialist’ era. It was a traumatic process for Italy, but left wing socialism survived. Today there is D’Alema, who is no longer a communist, because we must really place all of these conceptual words under the light of criticism.” he advised.

Even today, Italian politics depends on the parties, which have formed a true mosaic with more than 30 party symbols. A system closer to the bipartisan American system does not necessarily signify efficiency. “We Brazilians live grumbling that our political parties don’t have an organized structure or government proposals, as they always remain dependent on individuals; the PFL depends on ACM (the Biano senator António Carlos Magalhães), the PMDB on its chiefs and so forth. Italy, though its playing in a party cracy system, continues being a valid reference.”

If the diagnosis is that the parties, government and ideologists, need to be reinvented, will there still be space for utopia? “We should look for points of approximation between individualism and society, since there is enough space for both. Globalization brings injuries, but also brings benefits.” said professor Hecker. He observed that today, for example, it is much more difficult to be a dictator because the processes are much more visible (look at the cases of General Pinochet and President Fujimori). There is a democratization via communications such as the Internet, through the dissemination of TV and through cable TV.

In Eastern Europe it was the television which organized the people to bring down the governments which called themselves communists. All of this can permit a certain universal citizenship, according to the researcher. “Perhaps one might be able to substitute the old patriotism related to the nation for a patriotism linked and belonging to democracy.” In today’s times, he said, it is not a chimera to conjecture about the possibility of the formation of a universal tribunal of human rights.

“Who knows if in the future it will not be necessary to say, “I’m Brazilian” but I’m from “a large worldwide Non Governmental Organization which is fighting in defense of democracy”. Instead of pertaining to a country, we shall pertain to a State of International Rights with a membership card and all that goes with it.” For all that, socialism is not a doctrine in extinction. “Until one encounters another vocabulary, socialism will continue to signify the search for a more just society and its possible discovery.”

The project
The Force of the Model: A Comparative History of Socialism in Brazil and Italy (nº 97/03825-6); Modality Post doctorate scholarship; Coordinator
Dr. Alexandre Hecker – Department of History of the faculty of Sciences and Letters of Unesp – Assis; Investment R$ 15,000.00