- Italian Women and International Cold War Politics, 1944–1968 by Wendy Pojmann
Wendy Pojmann presents her latest book as a case study of how the history of Italian women from 1944 to 1968 reflects the country’s ideological and political divisions during the cold war. She focuses on the activities of two national women’s organizations, the procommunist Unione Donne Italiane (UDI) and the pro-Catholic Centro Italiano Femminile (CIF). Both organizations had strong connections to the two major political parties of the era, the Partito Comunista Italiano (PCI) and the Democrazia Cristiana (DC). The research strategy of the book makes eminent sense. The UDI and the CIF spoke for millions of Italian women whose important role in the cold war has received little attention from scholars.
Pojmann’s analysis proceeds along mutually intersecting national and international lines. The Italian context of her story offers few surprises. For most of the period that concerns her, the UDI followed the lead of the pro-Soviet PCI, while, with equal predictability, the CIF adhered to the pro-American DC. From its Catholic perspective, the CIF criticized American consumer society and culture, but politically it had no practical alternative to the NATO alliance. The UDI, on the other hand, appears to have viewed Stalin as the way, the truth, and the life until the dictator’s egregious record could no longer be ignored even by the communists themselves. Pojmann describes the UDI as the more progressive of the two national groups, but the Stalinist People’s Democracies of Eastern Europe to which Italian communists reverently looked for inspiration and guidance were forwardlooking mainly in the dystopian way imagined by George Orwell in 1984.
Only during the 1960s did the UDI and CIF develop independent ideas about gender that began to transcend cold-war ideologies. The UDI then gradually abandoned Marxist-Leninism in favor of a campaign specifically to promote the emancipation of women. For what ends and in the name of which values were they to be emancipated? In answering this question, Pojmann attaches high historical importance to the dialogue and eventual clash between the UDI and the Soviet-inspired Women’s International Democratic Federation. The UDI would follow its own path toward a feminist program de-emphasizing capitalism and replacing it with male tyranny as the true source of women’s oppression. Her book closes just at the point where this decisive ideological shift in the UDI takes place. A sequel taking the story up to the present would be most welcome. [End Page 168]
The Catholic women of the CIF had a much more organically coherent fate. They, too, had developed an interlocutory relationship with a like-minded international organization, the World Movement of Mothers, without, however, experiencing anything like the ideological conflicts between the UDI and the Women’s International Democratic Federation. Catholic women’s groups everywhere at this time continued to focus on family, not on liberation. They recognized the need for change, particularly regarding work for women outside the home, but the intrinsic worth of the family never came into question, as it did with the UDI. Moreover, the defining papal encyclicals of the period from Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI stemmed directly from the Catholic social justice tradition of Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum and Pope Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno. The CIF stayed true to a Catholic tradition of social criticism anchored in its concerns about the collective as a whole, not only about women.
The irony of Pojmann’s book lies in its revelation, in opposition to her stated position, that the CIF ultimately deserves to be seen as a more progressive women’s organization than the UDI, if by progressivism we mean to signify the values of broad social responsibility against the rampant individualism of free market economics. By the late 1960s, the UDI, stripped of its socialist character, aspired first and foremost in a structurally toothless liberal agenda to make a place for liberated women in the...