Obama and the New American Myth of an anti-American Generation

The more positive attitude that the Italian Left is recently showing towards the United States’ politics is an interesting change, especially after its inflamed criticism of the American system during the Bush administration. Just while the new-born Democratic Party is staging the tedious show of political alliances, young (and not so) left wing supporters, confused and disappointed by the inadequacy of their leaders, are addressing their hopes towards the man who is giving back to politics its deepest sense: the faith in possibility. Yes we can.

So, what about the anti-Americanism which has historically characterized the Italian Left? Has it disappeared all of a sudden? In fact, the relationship between the Italian Left and the United States has always been, despite the common belief, far more complicated.

For long alternating periods, American culture, history, politics and literature has in a multifaceted and ambiguous manner fascinated socialist-communist Italian intellectuals, and during the fascist era they even created a sort of ‘myth of America’. America was to them a young and open country which had produced the U.S. Constitution, fought the Independence war and created the Human Rights Declaration, in contrast to the tired, narrow, repressive Fascist Italian regime. Within this historical context , the ‘American myth’ became a form of political and cultural rebellion against fascism.

The love-affair was temporary suspended during the war itself, and by the time the war was over the ‘American myth’ had already turned into veiled anti-Americanism. In the early 50s, when first grim warnings of the Cold War were already on the horizon, the same country that until shortly before had been the model of ideal democracy, now was the ground of appalling capitalism and therefore a despicable enemy to fight against. From this moment on a widespread anti-American resentment became a symbol of left culture, and the myth of the United States was replaced by the one of the Soviet Union.

Yet, the relationship between the Italian Marxist culture and America has even then maintained very ambiguous nuances. The PCI (Italian Communist Party) and its most obsequious followers firmly rejected the US system as capitalist, and whoever had different opinions in regards to this risked being expelled from the Party (writer and journalist Elio Vittorini, for instance, eventually left the PCI following a harsh polemic with Palmiro Togliatti, who didn’t agree with Vittorini’s views about the progressive value of  American literature). However, the image of the New Continent as a libertarian country, as guardian of democratic ideals didn’t disappear at all, it rather remained in the background, hidden and dormant.

In the imagination of the Italian left, the United States sill represented a kind of laboratory experiment of finding new ways of existence, new artistic possibilities, in other words the social and political battleground of modernity. It is no coincidence that at the dawn of 1968, a new and more open generation – who looked with suspicion either at US capitalism and imperialism, and at Zhdanov and Togliatti’s strict communist doctrine – turned its eyes towards the United States again. The America that they ‘discover’ now is the country of counterculture and artistic rebellion: it’s the America of the Beat Generation. Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and others American writers tell this new generation of young Italian ‘communists’ about freedom, battles for social justice and human rights and rejection of social conformity.

What is happening in the United States in the last few months seems to have sparked a new interest and a similar enthusiasm for the egalitarian and multi-colour ‘American dream’. It is too early to say with certainty though whether Barack Obama’s possible election will revive or not the image of America as land of democracy and freedom in the Left’s minds. It won’t be an easy task for sure, especially after the show of strength that the US government has displayed in the past years with the Bush administration and his foreign policy of unilateralism.

However, a new wind seems to be blowing in America and Obama’s candidacy is raising an incredible excitement all over the world, primarily because of its symbolic meaning: it would be the first time in the history of the United States of an Afro-American at the White House. The contagious enthusiasm has arrived in Italy too and it seems to have touched the hearts of left-wing voters as well. Whether Obama’s election would be only a symbolic triumph or not, only time will tell. What is sure is that, for weeks now, left-wing population is turning its eyes towards the United States, with the hope that a breath of the American wind will reach the Italian peninsula and blow away the vortex of resignation and self-destructivity the Italian Left has long since sunk into.

This entry was published on February 15, 2008 at 9:51 pm. It’s filed under English, Loose thoughts, Politics, Society and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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