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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

  • Subversive Pasolini: La Ricotta and The Gospel According to Matthew — a conversation between Nina Power and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith

    This dialogue between Nina Power and film historian Geoffrey Nowell-Smith took place in 2012-13. It was due to be published by a film magazine, but fell through for reasons beyond the control of the authors. It first appeared online at Ninapower.net.


    La ricotta (1963).

    Geoffrey Nowell-Smith
    : Pasolini has often been described as a Catholic Marxist but his Marxism was always unorthodox and he was never a Catholic although brought up in an environment permeated by the imagery and values of Italian Catholicism. Like most people on the left in Italy in the 1950s he was strongly anti-clerical (not surprising given the profoundly reactionary role played by the Catholic Church in Italy in the period) and it is only in his poetry that another side of him appears — an identification with suffering as experienced by the oppressed and potentially embodied in the figure of Christ. Then in 1958 the election of Pope John XXIII was a massive force for change — in Italian society, in the Church, and in Pasolini himself. Catholicism became something to engage with — as myth (in the noble sense of the word), as culture, as ideology, as a political force that was not necessarily quite so reactionary as it had been or seemed to be throughout most of preceding Italian history.

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  • "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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