Antonio Gramsci 1924

The Vatican

First published: on 12/03/1924 in French in La Correspondance Internationale under Gramsci’s pseudonym ‘G. Masci’. It was subsequently reprinted in Italian in Sul Fascismo, ed. Riuniti, 1978, Rome, pp220-224.

Translation: The original Italian version of ‘The Vatican’ seems to have been mislaid. So this text has been translated from the original Italian into French, then back into Italian and now into English.

The Vatican is, without doubt, the largest and most powerful private organisation that has ever existed. In certain aspects it has the character of a state, and is recognised as such by a number of governments. Although the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy has considerably diminished the Vatican’s influence, it still remains one of the most efficient political forces in modern history.

The organisational base of the Vatican is in Italy. It is here that the headquarters of the various catholic organisations reside. Their complex networks embrace a large part of the globe. The ecclesiastical apparatus of the Vatican consists of around 200,000 people. That is an imposing figure – particularly when one considers that they include many thousands of cultured and intelligent individuals who possess consummate ability in the art of intrigue.

Many of these men embody the most ancient (and tested) traditions concerning the control of the masses – and, in consequence, constitute the largest reactionary force in Italy. It is all the more formidable precisely because of its insidious and elusive nature.

Before attempting its coup d'Útat, fascism had to reach an understanding with this powerful institution. They say that the Vatican, although very interested in the ascension of fascism to power, demanded a very high price for its support.

It is rumoured that the rescue of the Bank of Rome, where all ecclesiastical funds were deposited, cost the Italian taxpayers more than a billion lire.

People often speak of the Vatican and its influence without understanding in any detail its structure and the real strengths of the organisation. It is worth while taking a proper look.

The Vatican is an international enemy of the revolutionary proletariat. It is clear that the Italian working class must resolve the problem of the papacy in large part with its own hands. But it is equally clear that this goal cannot be achieved unless the international proletariat also rises to the occasion.

The ecclesiastical organisation of the Vatican reflects its international character. The Vatican constitutes the base of the papacy’s power both in Italy and around the world. In Italy one finds two principle catholic organisations:

1) The mass organisation, the most religious of all, officially based on the ecclesiastical hierarchy: the Popular Union of Italian Catholics (or, as the papers currently call it, Catholic Action).

2) A political party – the Popular Party of Italy, which recently almost entered into open conflict with Catholic Action. The Popular Party is increasingly becoming the organisation of the low clergy and the poor peasants. Meanwhile Catholic Action finds itself in the hands of the aristocracy, the big landowners and the higher ranks of the clergy – reactionaries and fascist sympathisers.

The pope is the supreme head of both the ecclesiastic apparatus and of Catholic Action. The latter organisation disregards national congresses and any other form of democratic organisation. It also ignores (at least officially) tendencies, fractions and currents of different ideas. It is constructed on a hierarchical basis, from top to bottom.

In contrast the Popular Party is officially independent of the ecclesiastical authorities. It welcomes non-Catholics to its ranks (although it does feature the defence of religion in its program, among other things). It is subject to all the vicissitudes which a mass party is liable to experience. It has already suffered more than one split and is no stranger to the fierce factional struggles which reflect the class conflicts among Italy’s rural masses.

The current pope, Pius XI[1], the 260th successor of Saint Peter, was previously cardinal of Milan. From a political point of view, he belongs to that species of Italian reactionaries known as ‘moderate Lombards’ – a group composed of aristocrats, big landowners and powerful industrialists who are further to the right than the Corriere della Sera.

When Pius XI was still known simply as Felice Ratti, cardinal of Milan, he showed his sympathy for fascism and for Mussolini on several occasions. The ‘moderates’ of Milan spoke to Ratti once he had been elected pope, in order to secure his support for fascism at the moment of the coup d'Útat.

Inside the Vatican, the pope is assisted by the College of Cardinals, composed of 60 cardinals who are nominated by the pope himself. They in turn will choose the new pope whenever the throne of St Peter becomes vacant. Of these 60 cardinals, at least 30 are always chosen by the Italian clergy in order to ensure the election of a pope with Italian nationality. The next largest group are the Spanish with six cardinals, then the French with five, etc.

The international administration of the church is entrusted to a college of patriarchs and archbishops. They are entrusted with various officially recognised national rites.

The pontiff’s court resembles the governing organisation of a large state. Around 200 ecclesiastical functionaries preside over diverse departments and sections, or participate in various commissions etc.

The most important of these sections, without doubt, is the secretariat of the state, which directs the political affairs and the diplomacy of the Vatican. At its head sits cardinal Pietro Gasparri who has already carried out the functions of secretary of state alongside the two previous popes. The Popular Party was set up under Gasparri’s protection. He is a powerful and very gifted man. It is also said he has a democratic spirit. He has been the target of furious attacks by the fascist newspapers, which have demanded his discharge.

The representatives of 26 foreign states are present at the Vatican – which in turn has its own people posted in 37 countries. In Italy, above all in Rome, one finds the headquarters of 215 religious orders, (89 male and 126 female). A large part of these have existed for at least 1,000 years, and in some cases even 1,500. They have convents, monasteries and congregations in every nation.

The Benedictines, for example, who specialise in education, claim that their order (as of 1920) had 7,100 monks scattered across 160 monasteries and 11,800 nuns. Their male order is directed by a primate and counts the following dignitaries among its number: one cardinal, six archbishops, nine bishops and 121 priors. The Benedictines manage 800 churches and 170 schools. And they are just one of 215 catholic orders!

Meanwhile, the Santa SocietÓ di Ges¨ (Jesuits) officially numbers 17,540 members, of which 8,586 are priests, 4,957 are students and 3,997 are lay brothers. The Jesuits are very powerful in Italy. Thanks to their intrigues they sometimes even succeed in making their influence felt among the ranks of the workers’ parties.

During the war they tried, via Francesco Ciccotti – at that time a correspondent of Avanti! in Rome (and today a supporter of Nitti) – to obtain a promise from Serrati[2] that the campaign against their order (who were charged with running all the private schools in Turin) would cease.

The Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith[3] is based in Rome. With its missionaries it seeks to spread Catholicism around the world. This body has at its service 16,000 male missionaries, 30,000 female missionaries, 6,000 indigenous priests and 29,000 catechists – and this is just in the non-Christian countries! In addition, it administrates 30,000 churches, 147 seminaries with 6,000 students, 24,000 schools, 409 hospitals, 1,183 medical dispensaries, 1,263 orphanages and 63 printing works.

The large worldwide institution known as the Apostleship of Prayer is a creation of the Jesuits. It embraces 26 million adherents divided into communities of 15 people. Each of these is headed by a male and female ‘fervent’. They distribute a periodical that is published in 51 different editions and in 39 languages, including six Indian dialects, one Madagascan, etc. It has one and a half million subscribers and a total print run of ten million.

The Apostleship of Prayer is undoubtedly one of the best religious propaganda organisations. It would be interesting to study its methods. With very simple means it manages to exercise an enormous influence on large masses of the rural population, arousing a religious fanaticism and promoting the policies best suited to the interests of the church.

One of its publications – certainly the most widely distributed – cost two soldos[4] a year before the war. It was an illustrated leaflet which was both religious and political in character.

For example, in 1912 I remember reading the following passage: “We urge all our readers to pray for the sugar manufacturers who are currently under treacherous attack by the so-called anti-protectionists – that is to say freemasons and unbelievers.”

It was the period in which the democratic party was conducting a lively campaign against customs barriers, thus clashing with the interests of the sugar industry. At the time the proselytisers for free exchange were frequently attacked by the peasants, who had been inspired by the Jesuits of the Apostleship of Prayer.


1. Pius XI reigned as pope from 1922-1939. He was also the first sovereign of Vatican City from its creation as an independent state in 1929.

2. Serrati was a leader of the Italian Socialist Party. He also edited Avanti!

3. This organisation was renamed ‘The Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples’ in 1982.

4. A soldo was a silver coin first issued in the twelfth century. After Napoleonic reforms, one soldo was equivalent to five cents, or one twentieth of a lira. At the time Gramsci was writing, soldos were no longer in circulation, but the term was still used to refer to a five cent coin.