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New Left Review I/189, September-October 1991


Lucio Magri

The European Left Between Crisis and Refoundation

Today we cannot understand anything of Europe, the European Left or any other problem in the world unless we start out, in a spirit of truth, from the epochal shift of the last few years that has resulted in the political, ideological and economic collapse of the Communist states in Eastern Europe. [*] This is the text of a lecture given on 14 September 1991 in São Paulo to a seminar convened by the Instituto Cajamar and the Workers Party (pt). It has been an event as overwhelming and as fraught with long-term consequences as the conclusion of the anti-fascist war half a century ago. When the Berlin Wall came down the judgement of many people, especially in Europe, was one of euphoria. They saw the coming of a new historical period marked by world cooperation, disarmament and democratic advance, which would provide a clear opportunity for democratic socialism with a human face. Now we can see that the reality is different and much harsher. Let us be clear. For my own part, I am no orphan of actually existing socialism or the Cold War, nor have I ever looked back at them with nostalgia. I have been active from an early age in a Communist Party, the pci, which has always striven both theoretically and practically to develop a line independent of the Eastern-bloc countries. Moreover, twenty years ago I was expelled from the party with the Manifesto Group—a long exclusion due to our openly argued position that we were witnessing a social and political degeneration of the regimes in the East, and that they could not be reformed without a radical break. If I mention this, it is not only to explain why I feel neither surprised nor contradicted by the present crisis, which I regard as inevitable and in many ways a liberation. It is also to recall that an earlier crisis, at the time of our expulsion, did not appear to herald defeat, but rather to constitute the great historic opportunity for a theoretical and practical leap forward by a revolutionary movement that based itself on the major gains of the preceding epoch. Those were the times, we should remember, of anti-imperialist struggle in the Third World, of the student and workers’ movements of 1968 in the West, the Prague Spring and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. In both East and West that attempt to move forward did not reach fulfilment, but nor did it end in rapid failure.

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