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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

  • "Nothing is inevitable": An interview with Rossana Rossanda of Il Manifesto

    Rossana Rossanda, communist, feminist and editor of Il Manifesto until 2012, gives an interview on the history of the circle of the publication in the second of the two-part series of interviews by George Souvlis. Rossanda reflects on the historical trajectory of the PCI in Italy, the relevance of Gramsci’s theoretical scrutiny of the worker’s movement post WW1, and the events which led to the split of Il Manifesto’s main circle. This interview was originally published in LeftEast.

    First of all, let me apologize for my delay in answering, due to my health state and to a number of difficulties related to Italian politics. Your questions would require me to answer with full essays to each of them. In the course of recent years, I have tried to answer such questions in my books and articles. There is a methodological issue we should agree upon to reach an understanding; otherwise many of my answers would seem to not address in depth the questions you are posing. The core matter for me is Marx’s thought, which was only partly incorporated by European communist parties, including the PCI. I will now send you my latest reflections, which are about to be published, in order to continue our dialogue.

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  • Franco Fortini: Letter to a Communist

    Franco Fortini (1917-1994) was one of the most fascinating intellectuals associated with Italian Marxist in the twentieth century. One of the country's most famous poets and essayists, his work remains sadly neglected outside of Italy. A lifelong Socialist Party militant, Fortini remained a staunch anti-Stalinist and lead to his position as one of the foremost anti-systemic thinkers in Italy, alongside Raniero Panzieri and Mario Tronti. His work always resisted the path of bourgeois progressivism, in favour of what Alberto Toscano terms a "a communism without guarantees", and "a politics of unevenness, of a difference, an otherness, an antagonism that couldn’t be happily resolved" unlike the stale dogmas of both Stalinism and Liberalism.



    This essay, translated from the first collection of Fortini's essays published in Italian (
    Dieci inverni. Contributo ad un discorso socialista, Feltrinelli, 1957), was originally published in English in the E.P. Thompson edited journal The New Reasoner in 1957. The essay, which includes the original editorial statement from the New Reasoner, analyses the rift in Italian Marxism between the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and the Socialist Party (PSI) and the hard fought struggle within each party against the Stalinist orthodoxy and for a new unity within the Italian left.

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  • Enzo Traverso: The Memory of the Twentieth Century Left

    In this essay originally delivered as a lecture at the Nicos Poulantzas insitute in Athens on the eve of Syriza's historic victory in the Greek general elections, Enzo Traverso, author of the recently published Fire and Blood: The European Civil War 1914-1945 and one of Europe's premier historians of the twentieth century, reflects on the legacy of the historic left. In it, Traverso reflects on the legacy of the twentieth century and it's "memorial landscape". 



    There is something paradoxical in delivering a lecture on left memory, in Athens, in this particular moment. But I am very happy for this paradox, or this dialectical contrast. We are on the edge of a possible victory of Syriza at the next elections, an event that would represent a historical turn in this country and also, because of its inevitable consequences, in Europe. This could start a process of rebuilding the European left and open new perspectives for the future of the continent. After decades of defeats and regressions, a left alternative to neoliberalism and the domination of financial capitalism finally becomes visible, and this change is beginning here, in Greece (at the margins of Europe, if we think in geopolitical terms; at its heart, if we think in terms of civilization).    

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