The Tailor of Ulm: A History of Communism

A fascinating analysis and account of the decline and fall of Western communism by a participant observer.
Twenty years have passed since the Italian Communists’ last Congress in 1991, in which the death of their party was decreed. It was a deliberate death, accelerated by the desire for a “new beginning.” That new beginning never came, and the world lost an invaluable, complex political, organizational and theoretical heritage.

In this detailed and probing work, Lucio Magri, one of the towering intellectual figures of the Italian Left, assesses the causes for the demise of what was once one of the most powerful and vibrant communist parties of the West. The PCI marked almost a century of Italian history, from its founding in 1921 to the partisan resistance, the turning point of Salerno in 1944 to the de-Stalinization of 1956, the long ’68 to the “historic compromise,” and to the opportunity—missed forever—of democratic transformation.

With rigor and passion, The Tailor of Ulm merges an original and enlightening interpretation of Italian communism with the experience of a militant “heretic” into a riveting read—capable of broadening our insights into contemporary Italy, and the twentieth-century communist experience.


  • “How should the Left think about the Communist experience today? A founding theorist of Il manifesto reflects on the need for critical examination of the past-and the lessons to be drawn for the future from the Italian Communist Party's trajectory.”
  • “The decline and fall [of Italian Communism] is the subject of Magri's extremely shrewd and despondent book ... the final cry of someone whose life belongs to a world that has gone for ever.”
  • “This beautifully written and meticulously researched volume should be of interest to scholars of communism, the European Left, Italy, and the Cold War. Recommended.”


  • New Left Review - new issue out now

    The May/June issue of New Left Review is out now, featuring the following essays:

    Susan Watkins: Another Turn of the Screw?

    Beneath the rolling surface of the Euro-crisis, a further chapter of the EU integration project is underway. Susan Watkins on the institutional machinery Berlin is imposing across the Union, and the political stakes – and hypocrisies – laid bare by the struggle.

    Michel Aglietta: The European Vortex

    Global economic turmoil has exposed the structural flaws in the single currency. Amid deepening divergences between industrial north and debt-laden south, Michel Aglietta assesses the Eurozone’s chances of recovery, and the impact of its continued travails on the world economy.
    Michel Aglietta is author of A Theory of Capitalist Regulation: The US Experience.

    Perry Anderson Ronald Fraser

    Tribute to the author of Blood of Spain, locating the impulse behind his oeuvre in a commitment to explore lived experience. Reconstructions of work, war, politics and subjectivity, from Napoleonic era to post-Fordist present.
    Amongst others, Perry Anderson is the author of The New Old World and Spectrum.

    Ronald Fraser: Politics as Daily Life

    How are collective mobilizations refracted through the prism of personal experience – and in what conditions can individual histories be constituted as history? Ronald Fraser reflects on memory, method and militancy.
    Ronald Fraser is author of In Hiding, In Search of a Past  and Napoleon's Cursed War: Popular Resistance in the Spanish Peninsular War, 1808-1814.

    Alèssi Dell’Umbria: The Sinking of Marseille

    The recent fate of France’s second city – post-war decline followed by modish resurgence – seen in the longe durée by its radical historian. A social and political archaeology  of Marseille, amid the steady dismantling of its urban worlds.

    Roberto Schwarz: Political Iridescence

    Brazil’s foremost literary critic engages with the autobiography of Caetano Veloso, its best-known musician. The dense wave of relations between 60s counter-culture and left movements, and its rending by years of dictatorship and capitalist triumph.
    Roberto Schwarz is the author of forthcoming Verso book, Two Girls

    The issue also features the following book reviews:

    Fredric Jameson on Francis Spufford, Red Plenty. A documentary-cum-fable reconstructs the lost future of the Khrushchev era.
    Visit NLR to read the review.
    Amongst others, Fredric Jameson is the author of Representing Capital: A Reading of Volume One.

    Tom Hazeldine on D. R. Thorpe, Supermac. Lengthy apologia for Harold Macmillan from a serial Tory biographer.
    Visit NLR to read the review.

    Gregory Elliot on Lucio Magri, The Tailor of Ulm. The trajectory of Italian communism, analysed by an unillusioned participant-observer.
    Visit NLR to read the review.

    Paul Buhle on Frank Bardacke, Trampling Out the Vintage. Chronicle of the United Farm Workers and their mercurial leader, Cesar Chavez.
    Visit NLR to read the review.
    Paul Buhle is author of It Started in Wisconsin: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Labor Protest.

    Visit the New Left Review to access the new issue or subscribe.

  • The Tailor of Ulm: An “insider’s history” of Italian Communism

    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.

  • Another Road For Europe: a draft appeal from the Florence Forum

    Activists, authors, trade-unionists and students from across Europe have launched a call for a reconfiguration of European social policy in order to reclaim the true democratic meaning of the European project:

    Now, in the midst of the crisis of finance, markets and bureaucracies, we  must commence to practice an egalitarian, peaceful, green and democratic Europe. We must reclaim the dignity of Europeans and our fellow world citizens.

    Continue Reading