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Lucio Magri

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In a piece on Italy’s ‘invertebrate left’, published in the LRB in 2009, Perry Anderson wrote:

From the mid-1960s onwards, Italian Communism had another strand, neither official nor operaista, that remained more authentically Gramscian than anything its leadership could offer, or ultimately tolerate. Expelled in 1969, the Manifesto group around Lucio Magri, Rossana Rossanda and Luciana Castellina went on to create the newspaper of that name that continues to this day, the one genuinely radical daily in Europe. Over the years, it was this current that produced by far the most coherent and incisive strategic analysis of the problems facing the left, and the country as a whole – descent from Hegel, not surprisingly, supplying better equipment for the task than fascination with Heidegger. Today its legacy is in the balance, its three leading figures composing memorials of their experience, each of which will be significant.

Magri’s ‘extremely shrewd and despondent book’, Il sarto di Ulm, which recently appeared in English, was reviewed by Eric Hobsbawm last year:

Magri’s thesis is that changes in the international power configuration and the transformations of a globalising neoliberal capitalism, along with the exhaustion of the ‘propulsive impetus’ of the October Revolution, determined the decline of Italian Communism and the left. This is true enough, but applies too generally in Europe to explain the specific parabola of the PCI and its successor parties. More to the point, he stresses the Party’s inability to adjust to Italy’s sudden broken-backed leaps from backwardness into the late 20th century, compounded by the sharp turn to Catholic integralism under the Polish pope…

Magri’s title is inspired by an intervention during the debates on changing the Party’s name. Pietro Ingrao, a senior figure in the PCI, referred to Brecht’s poem about the tailor of 16th-century Ulm who claimed he could fly, was challenged by the bishop to prove it and crashed to his death. But, Brecht said in a postscript to the poem, many centuries later humanity did, after all, learn to fly. Nothing illustrates Italian Communism’s demoralisation more vividly than that Ingrao, the longtime standard-bearer of the left in the PCI, should, as it foundered, have called up the shade of the tailor of Ulm.

Magri died this week, at the age of 79, by assisted suicide in Switzerland.

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