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New Left Review 75, May-June 2012


Gregory Elliott

PARTI PRIS

In recent ruminations on the theme, the ‘idea of communism’ is almost invariably counter-posed to the ‘real movement’ of the same name—which, in the wake of its defeat, has been widely subject to retrospective demonization. [1] Lucio Magri, The Tailor of Ulm: Communism in the Twentieth Century, Verso: London and New York 2011, £30, hardback 434 pp, 978 1 84467 6989 Such has been the proliferation of totalitariana since the Cold War ended in capitalist victory that Eric Hobsbawm’s strictures on the ‘witch-hunting’ school in the historiography of Communism, penned some forty years ago, retain much of their relevance. This is the approximate intellectual setting in which the late Lucio Magri’s noble intervention Il sarto di Ulm, published in Italy in 2009, now appears in English, in a fine translation by Patrick Camiller. Bidding farewell to La Rivista del Manifesto in 2004, its author professed himself ‘an often apostate communist’, who felt ‘the need and the duty to go against the grain, and not to cross that line which divides even the harshest criticism from a blanket dismissal and wholesale rejection of the communist heritage’. Doubtful that he could himself acquit so arduous a task, he closed by impressing the need for ‘a differentiated analysis, a counter-factual history of the communist tradition and its overcoming’.

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