During Italy’s ‘red decade’, i.e. roughly the years 1968 to 1978, Ernesto Balducci embraced Marxism as a sociological tool towards an understanding of society. As was usually the case with Left Catholics, it was the prophetic and utopian dimension of Marxism which had most attracted Balducci to Karl Marx’s thought, though up to the late 1960s this dimension of Balducci’s spiritual quest had been on a backburner. In the wake of the student uprisings of 1968, followed by the worker-dominated Hot Autumn of 1969, class analysis rapidly became a stock-in-trade of Balducci’s ideological arsenal. And along with this adoption of Marx’s epistemology came the open recognition and embrace of the working class as vehicle for liberation.[1] ‘One characteristic of workers is that, when they talk of justice and injustice and social equality, the worker does not express himself in difficult concepts but reflects everyday life and sees clearly what is at fault, who are the exploiters and who are the exploited.’[2]

Ernesto Balducci now embarked on a marriage of Marx and Christ without parallel in the contemporary Italian context. Up to now, Balducci wrote in his 1971 manifesto, La Chiesa come eucaristia, the perfect Christian was always seen to be a contemplative, passive Christian. ‘At the apex stood the ideal of the saving of the soul, which, to achieve, one needed to live ascetically. Against this type of religion, Marxist criticism had an easy go for more than one century’, with Marxism providing much-needed hope for liberation in the real world. Today, Balducci affirmed, we are witnessing the dawn of a new age.

‘The heritage of the past was that, in fact, frequently the men of faith [i.e. Christians] had no hope, and the men of hope [Marxists] were without faith.’[3] Now, perhaps, these two enemy brothers might successfully merge their efforts. In his 1975 programmatic article, ‘Le speranze vissute all’interno della storia’, Balducci had already sounded a more cautionary note, warning against secularization as a possible consequence should this meeting of erstwhile hostile traditions not occur. But, here too, Balducci fully supported the creative admixture of Marxist and Christian energies. For Balducci, ‘taking up the cause of the working class [la scelta di classe] is the way in which I can translate my desire for a society conforming to human values. This is the way to express one’s love for all of humanity.’ The opposition to class rule under capitalism does not have to take the route of the physical elimination of one’s opponents, ‘but the elimination of those structures which create the conditions for human beings to become an adversary of humanity and humankind. And, therefore, class struggle is the historically necessary way to establish universal love.’[4]

From the late 1960s to the late 1970s, Ernesto Balducci was firmly convinced of the concrete possibility of human emancipation.[5] This view was closely related to a process which Balducci at one point described in the following manner: ‘Are we indeed faced with, as Rahner writes, an anthropological turn? The characteristics of this turn lie in the fact that humanity takes back into its own hands the destiny of the world’,[6] an expression which has a more than circumstantial affinity to certain Marxist tenets. Another central platform point of the Marxist philosophy of history, the postulated forward march of humanity from necessity to freedom, is of course closely related to the classic Marxist view of man making himself—or humanity making itself, in the language of today. Balducci likewise incorporated this prophetic insight into his theology. ‘The Kingdom of God exists to the extent that one moves from a condition of inferiority towards liberty.’ And Balducci affirmed that ‘human history is a constant movement, never fully accomplished, from a regime of necessity to a regime of freedom. That is what the Kingdom of God is all about.’[7] In a further passage of one of his sermons transcribed and published in La politica della fede, Balducci dots all the remaining i’s: ‘In the past we measured the progress of Christianity by the quantity of devotional acts and by the degree of docility in accepting orders. Today we must move forward to a Christian world in which our maturation is measured by the capacity for autonomy. Not just any sort of autonomy. An autonomy which is, to the contrary, defined by its sense of responsibility. But nonetheless autonomy. Wherever there exists inertia and passivity, we are witnessing the opposite of the Kingdom of God.’[8]

Even in his openly Marxist phase, Balducci, it should be stressed, never conflated faith and human liberation in simplistic fashion. Balducci firmly held on to his conviction that Christian faith alone provides the key and the deeper meaning to the ultimate destiny of humanity. Yet, from the late 1960s onwards, the root cause of ‘the contemporary degenerative phenomena’ was no longer identified with ‘ecclesiastical institutions, immobile and reactionary as they may be’, but with the continued survival of class society.[9] The earlier ecclesiocentrism of Balducci’s activism and teachings had become a thing of the past, though not yet entirely abandoned. Faced with the growing realization that the church would probably never change at the apex of the hierarchy, sometime in the second half of the 1960s Balducci began to seek ecclesial salvation in the revalorization of the church at the local, grassroots level.[10]

Given the extraordinarily precocious and vibrant emergence of a rapidly growing number of base communities in Italy, about which more in Chapter 3, it is thus wholly unsurprising that Balducci sought salvation in grassroots experiments of ecclesial action. Still, though very close to the colourful movement of base communities, Balducci never wholly identified with their various causes, similar to the way in which Balducci fundamentally supported all sorts of ‘dissident’ currents within the Catholic church without abandoning his critical distance to their various concretizations. A case in point is Balducci’s bold and public defence of the most famous conflict pitting base communities against the Catholic church, the case of the Florence base community in the Isolotto neighbourhood (again, see Chapter 3 for further details), at the same time as this experience reinforced Balducci’s reluctance wholeheartedly to cast his lot with radical grassroots Catholic dissent.[11] Taking a critical view of protest cultures in general, Balducci confided to his diary in January 1970:

The role models age rapidly. Two years ago, Marcuse was a luminary. Who still mentions him today? [... ] Today’s atmosphere is characterized by an acceleration of perceptions and appropriations. Each encounter is consummated instantly, and one moves on to the next. It is not necessarily the case that the values they encounter are outdated. Perhaps they are barely worked through, so that— especially amongst the young—the processes of intellectual growth take on the overtones of something unripe and hurried.160

From the late 1970s onwards, the fertile mind of Ernesto Balducci executed a further—and his final—intellectual turn. He began to formulate critiques of Marxism which roughly paralleled his earlier friendly critiques of Vatican II. Perhaps under the influence of several crucial defeats of Italian social movements in general and the Italian working class in particular, after 1976 Balducci increasingly took a critical distance from Marxism which, just like Gaudium et Spes, he now regarded as representing an overly simplistic embrace of modernity.161 His belief in the possibility of human emancipation gave way to a growing pessimism and catastrophism over the future of this world.162 Similar to other creative thinkers of his generation and intellectual calibre—Rudolf Bahro or Andre Gorz come to mind—Ernesto Balducci, after years of serious attention to the Marxist world view, now devoted his attention to the ecological and planetary dimensions of the socio-political questions of his day. His 1990 L’uomoplanetario can thus be seen as his ultimate legacy,163 yet this final evolution reaches far beyond the chronological purview of this monograph.

  • [1] The crucial bibliographic reference for Balducci’s Marxist turn is now Mary Malucchi’scentral second chapter of her Ernesto Balducci, pp. 61-84.
  • [2] Balducci, Fede e scelta politica, p. 54.
  • [3] Ernesto Balducci, La Chiesa come eucaristia (Brescia: Queriniana, 1971), citations onpp. 121 and 122.
  • [4] Ernesto Balducci, ‘Le speranze vissute all’interno della storia’, in Ernesto Balducci andRoger Garaudy, Cristianesimo come liberazione (Rome: Coines, 1975), p. 41.
  • [5] Note the clear statement to this effect by one of the closest co-workers and co-thinkers ofBalducci for several crucial decades, Luciano Martini, ‘La cultura di Ernesto Balducci’, inBocchini Camaiani (ed.), Ernesto Balducci, p. 119.
  • [6] Balducci, Chiesa come eucaristia, p. 121.
  • [7] Ernesto Balducci, La politica della fede. Dall’ideologia cattolica alla teologia della rivolu-zione (Rimini: Guaraldi, 1976), p. 64.
  • [8] Balducci, La politica della fede, p. 65.
  • [9] Note here the stimulating passage in Malucchi, Ernesto Balducci, pp. 83-4, citation onp. 84.
  • [10] On this development note, amongst others, Martini, ‘La cultura’, pp. 115-16. Menozzi,‘Chiesa e societa’, pp. 71-2, dates this switch to sometime in the late 1960s and early 1970s. MariaPaiano, ‘Cultura cattolica e chiesa italiana dal secondo dopoguerra al post-concilio’, a stimulatingintroductory text to Ernesto Balducci’s Diari, on pp. 117-18 dates this turn to the years 1966and 1967.
  • [11] Note, in this context, the astute assessment of Balducci’s somewhat guarded relationshipwith Catholic grassroots radicalism, including the classic case of the Isolotto, in Turbanti,‘La lettura’, p. 270. Likewise, Paiano, ‘Cultura cattolica’, pp. 121-4, highlights the identical
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