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"History in a very different light:" The Tailor of Ulm reviewed

Leo Goretti 1 December 2011

In the week of Lucio Magri's tragic passing, The Tailor of Ulm: Communism in the Twentieth Century is reviewed in the British press. Magri's book is "one of the most significant and important books I've read on the history of communism during the 20th century," writes John Green in the Morning Star. In Green's words,

Magri's assessments and ideas are not only fascinating for those who are themselves Marxists or communists but would be invaluable to anyone seeking a deeper understanding of our recent history and for ways of overcoming the present global and systemic crisis. Even though the author develops his perspectives from his experience within the Italian communist party (PCI), they have much wider implications and significance.

The Tailor of Ulm sheds light on the centrality of the figure of Gramsci in the history of Italian Communism, a thinker who "can still offer a vital source of creative Marxist praxis—the realisation of theory in practice," Green notes.

The reviewer also stresses how Magri rejects a stereotypical reading of Communism as a form of totalitarianism. Instead, The Tailor of Ulm points to the failures of social democracy at the time of World War I as the main reason for the rise of Communist parties all over the world.

But, Green notes, Magri's book is not just a reflection about what twentieth-century Communism was; it is also a call to arms for today's Left to fight against "a narrow and unaccountable ruling elite", in order to save humanity from barbarism. In Green's opinion,

History is seen in a very different light after reading Magri's learned and insightful discourse.

The Tailor of Ulm is also reviewed by Mark Bergfeld in the Socialist Review. Bergfeld underlines how the book follows the trajectory of the PCI in the second half of the twentieth century —"a story of confrontation and compromise." Magri was drawn to the PCI by the role that the latter had played in the Antifascist Resistance during World War II; as the war was over, however, "the PCI was committed to the Italian state and was not only hailed as a model for communists but also for left social democrats," Bergfeld notes. This tension between giving support to workers' struggles and integration into the Italian institutions was the hallmark of the entire post-war history of the PCI, Bergfeld argues. In his view,

The history of Italian Communism is Magri's story, but is an experience which many communists share. His balance sheet in which compromise with the system far outweighs confrontation might prove that we did not learn to fly first time round, but it does not prove that we never will.

Lucio Magri is also remembered in the London Review of Books blog, referring to articles by Perry Anderson and Eric Hobsbawm. In 2009, Anderson wrote that the manifesto group (of which Magri was one of the leading figures) "produced by far the most coherent and incisive strategic analysis of the problems facing the left, and Italy as a whole." In 2010, in a review of the Italian edition of The Tailor of Ulm, Hobsbawm defined Magri's book "an extremely shrewd and despondent book."

John Green's review appeared in the Morning Star print edition dated 30 November 2011.

Visit the Socialist Review to read Mark Bergfeld's review in full.

Visit the London Review of Books blog to read the post on Lucio Magri.


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