Antonio Gramsci, the destruction of Catholic identity, and you.

At the Catholic Thing there is a must read article by George Marlin about the uber-anti-Catholic and founder of Italian Communism, the brilliant but twisted Antonio Gramsci.

Understanding Gramsci and the Italian version of Communism is verrrrrry important for faithful Catholics today.

Here is a taste:


Gramsci (1891-1937) was born in Sardinia, studied philosophy at the University of Turin, became a member of Italy’s Socialist Party and editor of L’Ordine Nuovo (The New Order). Shortly after founding the Italian Communist Party (1921), Gramsci, fearing imprisonment by fascist leader Benito Mussolini, fled to the Soviet Union.

In Moscow, Gramsci shocked his hosts by daring to dismiss Marxist nostrums on dialectical materialism, economic determinism, and the violent overthrow of capitalist systems by the proletariat. Instead, he argued that Marx’s “Worker’s Paradise” could not be realized as long as Christian culture had a hold on the masses. For Gramsci, the number one enemy was the Roman Catholic Church, not capitalism.

Realizing Stalin was not happy with his unorthodox views, Gramsci returned to Italy and in 1924 became leader of the communist delegation in Parliament. In 1926, Mussolini ordered his arrest and a mock trial sentenced him to a twenty-year prison term. Gramsci spent the remaining nine years of his life in his cell writing critiques of Marxism-Leninism and drafting plans communists could follow to conquer the West.

Unlike some anti-Catholics today, however, Gramsci was well versed in Thomistic philosophy. He warned Marxists that Christian workers were not defined by capitalist oppressors but by their faith-based culture. Hence, he believed, Marxists who violently seize power, eliminate private property, and govern by terror will ultimately fail.

In the post-World War II period, the Polish people were to confirm Gramsci’s contention. Communist tyranny only intensified their devotion to Christ and his Church. And it was the Church led by a Polish pope that brought down that totalitarian government.

Gramsci advised Marxists to achieve power by democratic means and then to use it to destroy Christian hegemony. “Gramsci’s principle,” French journalist Jean-François Revel pointed out, “was that [Marxists] must begin by influencing the culture, winning the intellectuals, the teachers, implanting itself in the press, the media, the publishing houses.” Somewhat surprisingly, Gramsci pointed to the Jesuits’ response to the Reformation as a model: Marxists had to create a cultura capillare (“capillary culture”) that would infuse itself into every nook and cranny of the body politic.

Radical leftists in the United States, Europe, and Latin America have adopted Gramsci’s methods and have made a point of infiltrating churches, universities, and media outlets. Ecumenical movements and peace and justice commissions have grown and have marginalized basic Catholic doctrine. University curricula teach that all cultures must be equally respected – even the ones that directly contradict Christian values. In the name of human rights, secular humanist organizations have promoted policies that have eliminated Judeo-Christian moral restraints.

Liberation theology based on Marxist doctrines and cloaked in Christian vocabulary became a force in many third-world nations.  Though it retreated somewhat after the fall of the Soviet Union, it remains the basic social template among radicals. Malachi Martin observed that “Liberation theology was a perfectly faithful exercise of Gramsci’s principles. . . . It stripped . . . any attachment to Christian transcendence.  It locked both the individual and his culture in the close embrace of a goal that was totally immanent: the class struggle for socio-political liberation.”

Today, Catholics are witnessing the effects of Gramsci’s “anything goes” strategy. In Europe, Catholic Churches are empty on Sundays.  Fewer than 10 percent of baptized Catholics attend Mass. In 2009, 37.4 percent of all European children were born out of wedlock – up from 17.4 percent in 1990. The number of births is significantly below the replacement rate. In fifty years the majority of the populations in the heart of old Catholic Europe – Italy, France, and Spain – may well be Muslim. Crime is also rampant. Between 2002 and 2008, violent crime rose in France by 15 percent, in Italy by 38 percent.

Pope Benedict XVI has wisely warned that the replacement of the West’s Christian roots with moral relativism has ushered in a “confused ideology of liberty [that] leads to a dogmatism that is proving ever more hostile to real liberty.” Because Gramsci’s heirs have “developed a culture that in a manner hitherto unknown to mankind excludes God from public awareness,” the Holy Father fears that the West may be entering a new Dark Age in which man exists solely for the benefit of a divinized state and will be stripped of his God-given human dignity.

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  1. M. K. says:

    I agree that we need to understand Gramsci in order to effectively combat secularization. The one detail I have to quibble with is Marlin’s repetition of the “Muslim majority” thesis. I have seen data (somewhere in the European media – at the moment, I can’t recall where) suggesting that the birth rate among Muslims in Europe is dropping after the first generation; though Muslim immigrants may have a lot more children than most nominally Christian Europeans, Muslims born in Europe seem to be having fewer children (and, in a larger way, are being affected by the secularizing trends that have battered the Church – that’s to say that many European Muslims are as secular as most European Christians). Again, I agree that secularization is a big problem – I just think that Marlin may be wrong about some of the details.

  2. pm125 says:

    Pope Benedict is truly a God send to remember with prayer.
    Political Correctness in dialog and the confused, baffled faithful remind me of the fearsome face of Mr. Krushchev on TV saying “We will bury you.”

  3. Charles E Flynn says:

    Prison Notebooks (vol. 1, 2,3) [Paperback], by Anontio Gramsci.

    Two points of interest:

    The expression “the most emancipatory thinking of our time” from the review by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.

    The description of the translator:

    Joseph A. Buttigieg is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of English and a fellow of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of A Portrait of the Artist in Different Perspective and has edited or coedited a number of volumes, including The Legacy of Antonio Gramsci, Criticism Without Boundaries, Gramsci and Education, and European Christian Democracy.

    A Khrushchev update:

    Sergei Khrushchev, son of Nikita Khrushchev, is a Senior Fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, and lectures at the Naval War College (the one in Newport, Rhode Island).

  4. KevinSymonds says:

    No offense, Father Z., but the remark about infiltration is really old…like 104 years old. [I didn’t write it.]

    Pius X warned us about it in Pascendi Dominici Gregis. The only difference is the particulars that have developed in 104 years.


  5. buffaloknit says:

    Thank you for bringing this must-read essay to our attention! When I had more time to spend reading paloeconservative thinkers, Gramsci and his thought was a frequent theme-this was before 9/11, too. Someone-Joe Sobran, Pat Buchanan, or perhaps the (anti-Catholic) Sam Francis frequently discussed him and his work-especially with respect to euphemism and how one discusses social expectations. I have not thought about Gramsci for at least 10 years.

    I even own an easy-to read copy of the ‘Prison Notebooks’ with commentary. It’s about time to read it! Fr. Z, here is an idea for a future blog post: outline Marxist/radical/leftist/etc books/thinkers that we, as thoughtful Catholics involved in a culture war, should read or encourage the youngins’ to become more familiar with! Thank you!

  6. benedetta says:

    Looks like this post touched a nerve Fr. Z. The commenter above wants those whom he refers to as ‘youngins’ to ‘read Marxist/radical/leftist/etc books/thinkers’…Maybe you should give him what he wants? His blog says he is from Wabash/New York…You’ve sure got an interesting readership! :)

  7. buffaloknit says:

    Hello, Benedetta!
    I am not a weirdo! I am serious! I think younger, thoughtful Catholics should have a carefully informed understanding of how Marxism/radical/leftist/etc individuals and ideas work, so that they can identify it when they see it, so to speak-which is easier said than done! As Chesterton says, sometimes things can become too big to be seen, and in this case (the case of ‘anything goes’ ideology), it is critically important for parents (among others!) to give the youngin’s (namely, future generations!) the tools they need to identify those components of our culture which are the (not always obvious!) fruits of Gramscian thought!

    I think I may compose my own blogpost about this!

    I especially appreciated Fr. Z’s discussion of some other book-which I had never heard of- and would like to read-namely ‘Rules for Radicals,’ in the post titled ‘QUAERITUR: Why don’t liberals just leave the Church?’

    ALSO re: my location: ‘on the banks of the Wabash, far away,’ is the first line of the state song of the Hoosier state. So, when I close my eyes in NYC, I am back home again…

  8. UncleBlobb says:

    @”KevinSymonds”: The fact that the warning is 104 old, makes it no less relevant or urgent, and perhaps partly explains why the damage is so awful and widespread.

  9. BaedaBenedictus says:

    Father, it’s so funny that you mention this, because just today I was reading (on my iPhone) Pope Leo XIII’s masterful encyclical on socialism Quod Apostolici Muneris (1878). So much of it could have been written today, 133 years later!

  10. Lumen Christi says:

    While I was reading about Gramsci my mind went to John XXIII’s Mater et Magistra. Is am I wrong for that?

  11. Supertradmum says:

    Joseph A. Buttigieg has been at Notre Dame since I was there and in fact was head of the graduate dept. of English for a while. He is a Marxist and an atheist, unless he has converted since the 1980s… He told me to my face that “one cannot be a scholar and a Catholic in the twentieth (then) century.” Of course, I contradicted this silly fact, but he believed it, obviously showing a blind spot in his own intellect. The fact that Notre Dame has encouraged his studies is amazing. This idea of the Marxist infiltration into the Church is not a new idea and has been written about by other authors as early as the 1950s. For some time, scholars in this area were wary of “conspiracy theory politics” and avoided this topic. However, recently, the conspiracy of the infiltration of the Church has surfaced as a reality. One only needs to look at the history of theology departments in Europe and in the United States to follow the soft underside of Communism in such places as Notre Dame, Georgetown, and especially the Jesuit Universities, still teaching Liberation Theology. One overlooks the seminaries, some in Mexico, for example, which still teach Liberation Theology, as I have learned from seminarians who have left such places and come to the States for training, sadly clinging to the ideals of Liberation Theology and Marxism. That the Church in Latin America is still very influenced by LT and Marxism is a serious point rarely discussed. I, personally, am not for the importation of seminarians or priests from some areas of Mexico and other Latin American countries because of the great influence of Marxism.

    Of course, this all fits in with the current American hegemony of the Alinsky group of politicians, in Washington and Chicago, who overlap in post-modernist philosophy, with Gramsci. We have in the United States a very odd coupling of American Catholic elites, who are Marxist, and Alinsky Neo-Progressives, Post-Moderns, such as Potus and Rahm Emanuel. Those who cannot see the connections aren’t looking. “An organizer working in and for an open society is in an ideological dilemma to begin with, he does not have a fixed truth — truth to him is relative and changing; everything to him is relative and changing…. To the extent that he is free from the shackles of dogma, he can respond to the realities of the widely different situations….” Alinsky. Gramsci describes how to break down the culture and Alinsky states how to use the breakdown for political power. “The first step in community organization is community disorganization. The disruption of the present organization is the first step toward community organization. Present arrangements must be disorganized if they are to be displace by new patterns…. All change means disorganization of the old and organization of the new.” Alinsky again. We are in the throes of the success of these ideologies, which are, blatantly, satanic. In my former teaching days, I tried to point out some of these connections. I suggest praying to Blessed John Paul II, who understood all of this clearly and was heavily criticized by Catholics, especially in America, for his warnings and good sense about Communism. Some Catholics continually think that communism and socialism can exist side by side with Catholicism, despite the encyclicals of several Popes, and the long view of historical facts.

  12. Brooklyn says:

    Just a couple of days ago I was listening to a Malachi Martin interview in which he said there are only pockets of true Catholics left, that most of the institutional Catholic church is no longer Catholic in the true sense of the word. The low percentage in weekly church attendance, the lack of obedience to the Magesterium (e.g. the use of artificial contraception), lack of reverence for and even belief in the Real Presence, the low rate of Catholics frequenting Confession, are just a few examples which support Fr. Martin’s statement, which was made back in the 90s but continues to be true today, and I think it’s safe to say that the infiltration of atheistic Communism into the Church is a main culprit. Our Lady of Fatima warned that unless Russia was consecrated to her Immaculate Heart, Russia will spread her errors throughout the world.  Our Lady also promised that Russia will ultimately be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart, but how many millions of souls will be lost before that happens. To say we live in perilous times is more than an understatement. 

  13. benedetta says:

    Many of the voices urging total celebration and conformity with the secular culture, more and more, are in fact elites trained for several years at seminary or academics with tenure at university. Whereas the interest in faith is a grassroots phenomenon, sometimes occurring despite the active push to tell people what to believe and how to express one’s faith.

    When an elite writes about, for instance, the latest pop star’s recording and gushes over it (but neglects to mention her attacks on Catholics) then we are condescended to (once again) and made to feel (lace curtain again) that if we do not concur and invite the pop star into our life and celebrate her with our children (sometimes first, second grade little girls) then we ourselves are the bad VI stereotype.

    Interestingly the elites have a tremendous amount of training and formation that the average Catholic hasn’t the benefit of and knows quite well how to exercise discernment in their own lives in order to affirm that which they are invested. Whereas average Catholics have few resources to bear in terms of authentic discernment, and when their children have moved on from that culturally celebrated icon to addiction to various other things, or choose something that doesn’t just involve not attending Mass but a wholesale rejection of faith, choosing instead to invest more authentically in politics as belief system (cutting out the middle man?) then these parents just wind up discouraged, perplexed, and blame, themselves, though they followed what the leaders in the faith told them.

    But the only people who wind up openly cheering that state of affairs are the ones who choose not the faith for themselves or their children to begin with, who openly despise and criticise the Church, who wanted only the Church’s destruction, to begin with, who say that the Church should be more like, them.

    When we attempt to discern all this on the scene and at work, who shall we listen to, the voices from outside of the Church, whose assumptions are that the Church must be destroyed, first and foremost, and for sad reasons their battle cry has been adopted by those in whom the Church has invested great training and support, or, the young parent who genuinely wants the hope and joy of communion in the Catholic Church for themselves and their family?

    Perhaps the let’s get secular movement had its day a time ago, although even in that time I can’t really recognize the ideals, for the Church. The civil rights movement was faith-based, not secular. The Ayers movement was anarchist. So many scholars in the Church who write and publish and have tenure obviously know this, if we know it, for them it is that much more clear.

    But now that so many have abandoned the faith altogether (and sometimes I blame, less the liturgy and less the identity and more the general humiliation and bullying that people are having to endure for saying they practice their faith — let’s face it, some are tenacious and for whatever reasons in upbringing care not about other people’s weird opinions of them — and some just cave and can’t handle it) the same old hype is being lectured, rewarmed over and served up again and again but now it is being served to a group that has persisted in the faith, even having been explicitly discouraged and told to go away many times over yet by the grace of God still wander and seek and struggle, and the more this is asserted that the cultural by products and the secular world is all great, the more absurd the picture starts to get, because secularism and relativism, materialism, these are merciless masters. The Catholic leader who tries to stay attuned always to it first and foremost will soon be finding themselves having to defend things like, youth rioting, a wall of humiliating mobbers screaming invective at Franciscan nuns, polygamy, pedophilia as minor-attracted persons with rights to that, anarchy, pop culture in substitute for classic literature, art, and music, supposed liberal community organizers at work in their congregations who use illegal and criminal methods to harass people who aren’t in lockstep with the organizers’ elite views, infanticide in Philadelphia while the government on multiple occasions looked the other way….oh wait, that’s all happened already…

  14. Tom Ryan says:

    For Those of you who don’t know, George ran against Giulianni on the Conservative and Pro-Life ticket back in 1993 and is one of the editors of The Collected Works of GK Chesterton

  15. benedetta says:

    Many times in my life I have spoken out and worked to further the rights of those who are oppressed, marginalized, without power, vulnerable.

    And many times I have spoken out and even given organized, material support to those whose views I may not necessarily, then or now, agree with, or with whom I identify, or thought correct. I did so because I believe that tolerance demands it, that a pluralistic, civil society demands it, that truth will prevail no matter what the powers, that my faith in God who created us all demands that I respect others as I would wish to be treated such that even if I do not agree with another’s various choices, voter registration, viewpoints, my responsibility as a Christian, and as an American is still to support human beings in their freedom to make their own choices.

    Now I think this is becoming all the more important and urgent, and that children are taught the distinction between what civil society requires in order for people to live together as opposed to what is currently being served up, now dressed in liberal-identifying politics.

    Now of course most self respecting liberals would never in a million years support the way the ideals I enumerated have been hijacked such that liberalism as presented to young people means, eliminate whoever doesn’t agree with you by various tactics, including intimidation and illegal threats when you can get away with it.

    I have to say, it is becoming rarer and rarer that I observe someone who currently identifies as liberal who will stand up for another’s right to, well, just exist, let alone, to speak, to be acknowledged in dialogue or discussion, to pray and worship according to one’s freely chosen and deepest beliefs, to raise one’s children according to one’s own values, or to choose a political value that could seem unpopular.

    And many of us who have worked with the poorest among us have been convinced of the ideas of liberation theology and the way the moral reasoning sorts out is that people living in abject poverty are justified in organizing to overcome what has befallen them through no fault of their own and possibly through the sin of others. For me, violence was never something I found acceptable in that but something such as literacy and education, regardless of the political form things take once that is accomplished, was a value. Now I am not so sure that to trade one oppressor for another under the guise of education was a brilliant idea.

    Be that as it may here is the situation we now find ourselves in. Under the guise of liberalism, and unfortunately through a hijack of the once great and principled Democratic party, innumerable young people, many of whom are successful, wealthy, care not for their neighbor, care not for the poor, at all, see in the tactics, organizing and other methodologies an excellent way for them to bully whom they hate, out of existence, and, reap for themselves numerous desired things they crave and need to satisfy insatiably. These are not people who would join or really support Jesuit Volunteer Corps. These are not people who work at their neighborhood soup kitchen or any other endeavor or work of mercy that people of all faiths and some of no faith do along with many other things because of their values. So while it is one thing to educate wealthy Americans in organizing tactics for utilization with groups who perhaps arguably need or could benefit socially and politically from organizing, it is quite another for educated wealthy Americans to employ these tactics as well as the desires of anarchy, criminality, and hatred in order to get what they want which is to silence others and eliminate them entirely.

    It seems the hand wringers were right. Though our hand wringers and various demonized can’t really do anything about it, having seen the writing on the wall long ago and attended after those whom they are responsible for, seeing that others wouldn’t comprehend, support their choices or right to exist, that still they could do certain joyful, hopeful things right where they were nonetheless which politically and in terms of power amount to, little to nothing at all.

    So it will fall upon our beloved dissenters, our beloved liberals, our friends who are Democrats to say, now, that discernment is important, that values exist and are important, and that anarchy and bullying of wealthy entitled neighbor against one another was not really what was in mind, this is the community that can make a difference here and stem the tide of totalitarianism dressed up as liberalism in disguise that ultimately does not mean well for, just isolated hand wringers and Latin Mass enthusiasts (real or perceived) but, for anyone, whatever one’s beliefs, identity, choices, and for those of us whose beliefs, identity, choices are in flux, a work in progress until death…

  16. KevinSymonds says:

    My apologies Fr. Z., I didn’t mean to imply that ‘you’ said it. I can see where my remark could be interpreteted that way.

    @UncleBlobb: I agree with you. I was responding to the thrust of the article that made it sound like this was new and revolutionary thought when, in fact, it wasn’t.


  17. KAS says:

    When my husband was growing up in Colorado, every priest he ever knew about was a Marxist or even an outright communist, Liberation theology was what he heard taught from the pulpit and in social conversations. It is an annoying thing being that a diligent reading of Catholic social teaching shows that the Church does not approve of socialism or communism due to its inherent denial of human dignity.

    But it makes for head-aches for me trying to be an apologist for Catholicism as reasonable when he has more than 60 years of experience of bad priests behind his attitude.

    I pray that God make ALL Bishops and Priests orthodox.

  18. I certainly see the connection, but speaking of it as a “conspiracy” is, at the very least, going to look weird to a lot of people — and I don’t think it’s wholly accurate, as “conspiracy” tends to imply conscious cooperation and even actual coordination.

    What’s going on and has been going on for most of the 20th century is more like trends of thought influencing one another – there are connections, but it’s not all One Thing.

    And in fact, I think the similarities between what was going on in the early 20th century — the stuff the Popes of that era warned about and G. K. Chesterton wrote so much denouncing — and the stuff in the modern era are often exaggerated; there’s a real continuity, yes, but there’s also been a change in the main thrust of secular, intellectual opposition to the Church from “modernist” — based on (their interpretation of!) Reason and Enlightenment values — to “post-modernist” — based on diversity/plurality and different perspectives, skepticism of truth as such, etc. It’s not a total change, of course, but the tenor is distinctly different.

    And I don’t think that capital-C Communists as such are a major factor these days. Capital-C Communists, the last real wave of “modernism”, are largely a spent force; even China is “capitalizing” heavily ( it remains totalitarian, of course, but that’s not the same thing). Modern secular liberals have retained some ideas inherited from Communism, certainly, but they use them in the context of a very different “system”.

    In fact, post-modernist types are probably harder to profitably argue with than the old rationalist modernist types. A rationalist materialist at least has definite axioms that can be argued about logically (and is likely to be aware of what those axioms are); a post-modernist is far more likely to question the usefulness of the process of logical reasoning itself, and to lack awareness of his own axioms.

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