Lucio Magri's The Tailor of Ulm: Communism in the Twentieth Century is "a perfectly sound account" of the history of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), writes Donald Sassoon for the Observer. The book tells how the PCI evolved from "a small, ineffectual, persecuted sect" under Fascism to an organization with more than two million members after World War 2. In the post-war years, Italian Communists "thrived as a responsible opposition under the democratic constitution they had helped to shape." The city councils that were under Communist control "gave Italians a feel for what Swedish social democracy might look like." The trajectory of the Party came abruptly to an end after 1989. In the last two decades, Italian post-Communists have changed the name of their political organizations several times, "as if to bury neurotically all traces of the past," Sassoon points out.
In Sassoon's view, The Tailor of Ulm can be described an "insider's history" of the PCI. Magri was one of the foremost "critical voices" in the party until 1969, when he was expelled with the fellow members of the Manifesto group. Nonetheless, the Manifesto people "never became one of the groupuscules that infested the far left," and eventually rejoined the Party in the 1980s. Despite the misunderstandings between Magri and the orthodox Communist leadership, The Tailor of Ulm is not "a rancorous memoir", but instead "an honest effort to be judicious and balanced," Sassoon notes. Magri's narration at times sounds quite "intimate"
One can feel the pain of a life spent fighting for a better Italy ending up facing such a ridiculous opponent as Silvio Berlusconi, brought down not by the masses but by the markets.
Visit the Observer to read Donald Sassoon's review in full.