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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.

Reviews

  • “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.”

Blog

  • Luciana Castellina: Pietro’s Story

    Luciana Castellina reflects on the 100th birthday of Pietro Ingrao, a long-standing figure of the Italian communist movement, whom the title of 'veteran', with its associations to enduring activity and commitment is certainly appropriate. 

    I still have clear memories of the first time I celebrated Pietro Ingrao’s birthday: it was in 1965, half a century ago, on his fiftieth (which seemed ancient to me, at the time). Not long out of the PCI’s boisterous Youth Federation, Sandro Curzi and I gave Ingrao his first pair of loafers, with a note asking him to be a bit less prudent: ‘walk with the times, walk along with us’.

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  • Lucio Magri: Grappling With Democracy

    In il manifestoLuciana Castellina spoke on the publication of a collection of Lucio Magri’s parliamentary interventions. Magri as a thinker was, as Perry Anderson observed, 'incapable of a theoretical reflection that was not rooted in the real actions, or inactions, of the exploited and oppressed'. His involvement in Italian party politics therefore raises questions of the relationship between popular politics and the radical left.

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  • 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.