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New Left Review I/112, November-December 1978

New left Reviw

Introduction to Sraffa

Piero Sraffa was born in Turin in 1898, the son of a law professor at the university. As he himself described in a 1924 letter to Gramsci (quoted in the article by Ferrata below), he was a ‘pacifist socialist’ as an adolescent, in the years 1915–17: the Italian Socialist Party was one of the few Second-International parties to maintain its opposition to the War after August 1914, and even after Italian entry on the Allied side in May 1915 continued a policy of ‘non-collaboration’ (but also of ‘non-sabotage’) with respect to the national war effort. As a university student, in 1918–20, Sraffa was caught up in the wave of radicalization which followed the Russian Revolution and the end of the War. It was at this time that he came into contact with the revolutionary journal l’Ordine Nuovo, edited by Gramsci, which was at once the theoretical animator and a political reflection of the factory-council movement in Turin. During these so-called Two Red Years, Turin—‘Italy’s Petrograd’, as Gramsci was to term it—was one of the most revolutionary and most proletarian cities in Europe, its advanced industrial complex centred on fiat enormously expanded by war production. The atmosphere was a heady one for a young socialist intellectual such as Sraffa. Introduced to Gramsci by a university professor—Umberto Cosmo—who had befriended the latter during his student days, Sraffa began to contribute translations and reading notes to the weekly Ordine Nuovo.

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