Ercole Chiri

(Pavia 1890-1980)

Catholic cooperation leader, he was among the supporters, with don Luigi Sturzo, of whom he was a collaborator, of the Popular Party in 1919. In 1919 he contributed to the foundation of the Italian Cooperative Confederation of which he was the Secretary General. In the intervention of the first national congress of Christian cooperation (2-3 aprile 1921) Chiri draws the dividing line between three types of cooperation:

Between the program of the liberal school that, even if it was able to give an increase to the wealth, it sacrificed the holiest and most delicate religious, moral and domestic relationships for it, since the worker appears more often as a material tool of it than as a man endowed with soul, thoughts, affections and duties; he has offended the laws of fair distribution by favouring by virtue of uncontrolled competition between weak and strong the centralisation of prosperity and activity in the hands of the strongest, creating the social order called capitalistic economy, with its ultrapower dominance of capital, the enslavement of the worker, the moral degradation of populations, with its production crisis, its strikes, popular convulsions, and socialist school, whether it be professorship or state socialism or street socialism, so nothing is the individual and everything is the community assumed to the concept of a vital organism subject to continuous, substantial and necessary transformations where the existence of the individuals is absorbed, confused and overwhelmed so that the the State becomes the power that confiscates, regulates, directs by coercive means, everybody’s industriousness in fulfilling a social order established a priori in politicians’ mind, our Chirstian school is set, an harmonious system of essential institutions of society, grounded in nature, perfectioned in Christianity, consecrated in history, as in the guidelines of the Great Encyclical and in the studies of Whom was among the highest supporters of this concept in Italy and in the scientific and practical implementation fields, our great teacher to whom in particular we wanted to dedicate this national assembly, Giuseppe Toniolo.

While according to the liberal mentality, cooperation is part of all the corrective actions of the unjust distribution of wealth which has been establishing itself in today’s society, while according to the socialist mentality it is just a tool of transition from the capitalistic economy to the collective one that was dreamt by them, for us cooperation is a form of autonomous activity and capable of undefined development because, bringing capital closer to work, it solves class conflicts and it emancipates working classes from any suffocating domination. So while today the two factors of production, work and talent, are sacrificed for a capital, in our opinion the capital will be placed at the service of intelligence and work tomorrow, in this way it may rightly make its rational and human aspect prevail

In an interview released by the start of the first congress of Confederation that took place in 1921, Chiri explains the dual target of cooperation: ”The aims consist primarily in removing any intermediary from the economic cycle to the advantage of consumers and producers who benefit from it in the reduction of prices and costs, and, secondly, they correspond with the tendency to transform the current social order on a better basis”. He abandoned politics with fascism and took sides against the fascist Union of Cooperation (at the time Catholic cooperatives at that time were strongly opposed by the regime).

He was actively involved in the Resistance as a member of the military Council of the National Liberation Committee representing the Christian Democrats. At the end of WWII he contributed to the reconstruction of the Italian Cooperatives Confederation, of which he was president,

In a of the interview that you can read complete on the website, Chiri describes the mission of the cooperative head office of Christian inspiration:
The activity carried out by the Italian Cooperative Confederation was definitely useful, we can in fact affirm that it was even providential toward our movement. Up until a year and a half ago, the Christian social cooperation was deliberately ignored by the State for the lack of only one center that would stand for it whereas the socialist cooperation had its main expression in the National League, it succeeded not only to be recognised but also to penetrate in the most important state forums and particularly in the National Credit Institute for Cooperation taking advantage of the its capitals in order to be able to expand better and stabilising as a powerful vehicle of socialist spirit among the masses. The battle engaged by the Italian Cooperative Confederation to break this monopoly of socialist cooperativism, although it required energies and sacrifices, wasn’t however in vain”.

Further readings:

• Pietro Cafaro, Chiri Ercole, in F. Traniello - G. Campanini (a cura di), Dizionario storico del movimento cattolico in Italia, 1860-1980, Marietti, Casale Monferrato, 1981

• Luigi Trezzi, Chiri Ercole, in L. Trezzi - M. Gallo (a cura di) Protagonisti e figure della cooperazione cattolica (1893 - 1963), ECRA, Roma, 1986.