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His gravest sin: leaving this way—Luciana Castellina on Lucio Magri

Leo Goretti 1 December 2011

By Luciana Castellina

It is not easy for me to write about the death of Lucio Magri: we were not just fellow travellers in our political journeys for more than half a century, but we were also partners (although a very long time ago). And yet I write, as the comrades of il manifesto have asked, because Lucio was out of politics for so many years, and many people contacted me to know what he was doing, where he was.

In an age when politics is all about image, he had been out of the scene. He had already renounced re-election in Parliament in 1994, he no longer wrote in newspapers and only occasionally agreed to take part in public events. The youngest—those who were born when the PCI was about to be disbanded and the PDUP no longer existed—might never have heard of him, if not from their parents.

Thus, I have something to tell, especially for those who did not have a chance to meet him, or who met him in the wrong way. He was not apathetic, Lucio, even now, not at all. First, I must mention the years when the second series of La rivista del manifesto was published—a journal with contributions by both comrades who had been in the first manifesto group, and some others who had decided to stay in the PCI, including Ingrao and Tortorella. It went on for five years, between 1999 and 2003, and then, for several reasons, it was closed. A real pity, and I urge you to re-read it, there are plenty of very interesting writings, by Lucio and other comrades. Until some time ago it was possible to read it in the website of il manifesto, I think it is still there.

From then on, Lucio worked on a book that was published two years ago, and now is in paperback; it has already been translated to English (by Verso) published in Spain and Argentina, and is currently being translated in Brazil. A substantial work, not an autobiography, but a documented piece of research on Italian Communism, considered in the international context, a thoughtful reflection, perhaps the only one that has been written, about the largest Communist party in the West, on the reasons for its success and its final demise. There is also space—and this ability to question his own doings was one of Lucio's virtues—for a critique of some oversimplification of our manifesto group, even though the book does not focus on our experience. The book is titled The Tailor of Ulm, after a parable by Bertold Brecht. In the parable, a tailor asserts that humanity will be able to fly, whereas a prince-bishop does not believe it. In the end, fed up with the stubbornness of the tailor, the prince-bishop tells him: "then try: go up to the bell tower and throw yourself down." The tailor throws himself and crashes. But who was right? Because it is true that, at his time, the tailor did not succeed, but later humanity has learned to fly. The parable is valid for Communism: for now, it has failed, but tomorrow maybe it will succeed.

Lucio's book is not pessimistic nor defeatist. Instead, there is the stubborn belief that even though a profound renewal of the PCI was certainly needed, there were good reasons to keep the party alive. The document in the appendix that Lucio had written in 1988 as the platform for the XVIII party congress, still appears relevant, in strategic terms.

In fact, Lucio was extremely good at foreseeing future developments: with Famiano Crucianelli and Aldo Grazia, in recent times, he started collecting writings and documents of our history, from the years before 1968, the era of the so-called corrente ingraiana, and from later years, from il manifesto and the PDUP, many of which were drafted by Lucio himself. These articles are of great interest because many of the themes that today we consider "new" had actually already been discussed: environmental issues, the crisis of democracy, the decline of the US as a superpower and its consequences. The "new contradictions of our age" are not just named (as is usually done) but analysed, and become the starting point for a new strategy. I think that we must collect these writings and circulate them, perhaps also as a way to remember Lucio now that he is no longer with us, and given that he said that he did not want a funeral.

Travelling across Italy, I meet many, really many, comrades who tell me that the political era through which we went together was crucial for their political education. The history of the PDUP, which was born from the merger between what was called "Movimento Organizzato del Manifesto" and the ex-PSIUP group led by Vittorio Foa, should also, I think, be re-read and discussed.

We always thought of this party as a temporary thing, for we wanted to reunite the ranks of Italian communism and not establish a small party—a difficult decision that many groups of the New Left did not understand, and actually made fun of. In 1984 we started the debate about whether to re-join the PCI or not: it was the time of Craxi and anti-Communism spread anew; being divided did not make sense, and also because there had been what had been called "the second svolta di Salerno", when Berlinguer put an end to his policy of national unity, denounced the corruption of politics and broke the last ties with the USSR. Without notice, Berlinguer came to listen to Lucio's report at our 1984 Congress, and then asked us re-join the PCI, since the differences between us had been overcome. Maybe he sensed that the PCI needed the fresh energy of our cadres, in order to forestall its normalizing drift. But, a few months later, Berlinguer died and we found ourselves in a very different PCI, which was even worse compared with the one from which we had been expelled. And thus Lucio spearheaded dissent—from a perspective that was not conservative, but innovative—when the party was disbanded. The report that he delivered at Arco—where the last assembly of the group that opposed the disbandment of the PCI in the run up to the XXI Congress of the PCI was held—is a clear and modern platform for the Left. This, also, should be re-read.

Getting along with Lucio was not easy. His best friend, Michelangelo Notarianni, used to say that Lucio had outstanding virtues, but he lacked smoothness. It was absolutely true: despite his intellectual generosity—a wealth of anonymous texts were written by him, but he did not care at all about taking merit for them, he just wanted them circulated as widely as possible—Lucio came across as impolite and arrogant. He was always ready to admit his own mistakes, but he had no patience with those of others, because he was extremely (and irritatingly) principled.

But his gravest sin was leaving this way. He thought that he could not contribute in any ways to the rebirth of the Left, of which he said "it will happen, but it will take decades and anyway I will not be able to play any role in it." Having looked after Mara, the partner with whom he lived for 25 years and whom he loved so much, in her awful agony for three years, day after day, he fell into depression and was eventually torn apart. Lucio did not have any more reasons to stay with us, and we, his friends and comrades, did not succeed in giving him enough of them.

Luciana Castellina's article appears in il manifesto print edition dated 30 November 2011 (in Italian).

(translated to English by Leo Goretti)

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