La Lotta Continua
Late yesterday morning, a very nice boy rang the bell at the apartment on via Fucini. He was going door-to-door selling communist newspapers.
No matter how much you might like it to, this is not the sort of thing that happens in the U.S.
Not even in San Francisco.
He wanted me to take out a subscription (no, grazie) or make a donation (no, mi dispiace) or at least buy the latest issue (e perché no?) I gave him a one-Euro coin, and he gave me a copy of the November 2005 Lotta Comunista.
As we were concluding our transaction, he asked me if I were English.
“American,” I said.
“Ah,” he said, starting to flip through Lotta Comunista, “there’s an article about America in this latest issue.”
“I’d be amazed if there weren’t an article about America in a communist newspaper,” I said.
“But we’re not like most of the left in Italy,” he assured me. (The Lotta Comunistas are Leninists.) “There’s a lot of anti-Americanism on the left here, but we’re very international. We’re all about coalitions, and we work with Communists in America, too.”
No doubt registering my slightly raised eyebrow, he laughed and added, “I mean, it’s not likely that you’d find Communists in America, but the left anyway, let’s say that.”
Yeah, let’s say that.
A few days earlier, an Italian friend had asked me whether I thought Hilary Clinton would be the “left” candidate in the U.S. presidential elections in 2006, and how could you not wince a little? Not because the idea of President Clinton II is so preposterous (frightening, perhaps, but not preposterous), but because the idea of Hilary as a lefty is funny–tragically, wickedly, painfully funny. “But what about that plan she had for universal health care,” the friend says.
“Went down in flames,” I said. “We got ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ instead.”
“The health system is one of the only things that the Italian government does that really works,” the friend went on.
Well, it works to a point–but even that point is well advanced of anything we’ve been able to dream of in the U.S. since the 1930s.
“I know, I know,” I said. “When Clinton was running in 1992, that was the last time I remember feeling even remotely optimistic politically.” And that was–what?–thirteen years ago?
The November 2005 Lotta Comunista, as it turns out, does have an interesting, informative, and relatively undogmatic article about the growth of cable-TV conglomerates in the U.S., and specifically about Viacom. Did you know, for example, that Sumner Redstone, owner of Viacom (which, in turn, owns MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Studios, and CBS) is one of the 400 richest men in America? Or that he owes his fortune, in large part, to his father’s acquisition, in the 1950s, of a chain of 12 drive-ins?
(As a footnote, drive-ins have never existed in Italy and are all-but-unknown to anyone who doesn’t follow American culture; indeed, Lotta Comunista describes them as “a typically American kind of movie theater, consisting of a huge parking lot where you could watch films from inside your car.” In Italy, instead, once upon a time in small towns, they projected films against a blank wall in the piazza, and people brought chairs from home to sit on.)
(As yet another footnote, there’s a certain irony in noting that the FCC forced CBS to sell Viacom in 1973 as a result of a federal anti-trust suit, but that, in 2000, Viacom reacquired its former owner. Which suggests something about the way the Reagan-Bush federal courts have come to look with a kind and paternal eye upon the concept of monopolies, particularly where broadcasting and publishing are concerned.)
Or did you know that Redstone is credited (though perhaps this is debatable), as the inventor of the multiplex–or, as they call the one 100 m. from my house, the MultiSala.
But to get back to Lotta Comunista:
The means of production are both social and universal because they are the consequence of developments wrought in science and technology across the course of human history; the ownership of the means of production, on the other hand, is private because it is in the hands of single corporations or individual countries….
The nature of broadcasting is, by definition, twofold: It is both a method for promoting a particular ideology and a means of realizing a profit. The combination of these two elements varies across time and from country to country…. [But] if the dominant ideas are those of the dominant class, then the content of the messages transmitted by the mass media will necessarily have their origins in the ideas of the dominant class, and will represent all the contradictions inherent within those ideas.
When I was still in the planning stages for this trip, another Italian friend advised me that I was going to meet a lot of people on the extreme left and the extreme right here, in this “ultra-cattolico e destrorso” country. “With the first group,” he warned, more-or-less kidding, “only tell them that you’re gay. With the second group, only tell them that you’re American. That way, everybody will love you.”
Lotta Comunista is sponsoring a conference later in December on the theme “Una Scienza che Diventa Lotta.” I have absolutely no idea what that means, but I’m tempted to go just to see if maybe they’ll love all of me.