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.”


  • Pietro Ingrao: a life of struggle (March 30, 1915 – September 27, 2015)

    Pietro Ingrao, a hugely influential figure in Italian Communism, died yesterday, Sunday, 27th of September 2015, aged 100. A look back at his life reveals many of the debates in the post-war European left, as well as Ingrao's own commitment to a Marxism that was both uncompromising and dynamic.

    Joining the Italian Communist Party (CPI) during the Second World War, Ingrao took up arms as an anti-fascist "Partisan". In the following decades, he represented the Marxist left of the PCI, clashing several times with the Party leadership as the latter adopted increasingly reformist positions. 

    On Ingrao's hundredth birthday, long-time collaborator and ally Rossana Rossandra reflected on his life and contributions to the PCI. Read her full speech here.

    Another "Ingraian", Luciana Castellina, expands on the internal battles within the PCI, and Ingrao's attempts not only to "democratise the Party", but to develop its theoretical positions in light of developments within contemporary capitalism.

    Lucio Magri's The Tailor of Ulm assesses the rise and fall of the PCI and Ingrao's role in the tensions within the party. 

    Rossana Rossandra's The Comrade from Milan reflects on a life of radical activism - one that she often shared with Ingrao. 

    Antonio Negri'Books for Burning provides further context of the class struggles in post-war Italy that he, Ingrao and others participated in.

    The New Old World by Perry Anderson analyses another major development in this period - namely, the foundation and evolution of the European Union. 

    Finally, Luciana Castellina's Discovery of the World gives an intimate, personal account of political awakening in fascist Italy. 

    For more on Italian Communism, explore the #ItalianCommunism archive on the Verso blog.
  • LUCIO MAGRI: 1932–2011 by Perry Anderson

    Perry Anderson's obituary of Lucio Magri was originally published in New Left Review 72, November-December 2011.

    Continue Reading

  • The Italian Disaster: Tariq Ali and Alberto Toscano in conversation

    The vicissitudes of Italian history is full of lessons for the contemporary left. From the early days of Italian Communism under Gramsci and Bordiga, through the Communist-lead resistance to Italian Fascism, the emergence of Operaismo, the pathbreaking work of Italian feminists and the building of the largest Communist party in Europe in the post-war years, the country was once an inspiration for the radical left throughout Europe. Yet, in recent years many have struggled to understand what is happening politically in Italy with “berlusconismo” and the rise of Renzi and the Five Stars Movement

    To discuss the past and present of the Italian left, Tariq Ali interviews Alberto Toscano, author of Fanaticism and reader in critical theory at Goldsmiths University in London.