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New Left Review I/60, March-April 1970

new left review

Introduction to Magri

The central paradox of Italian Marxism since the war has been the intellectual dominance of a school whose philosophical inspiration was directly opposed to that of Gramsci. Galvano Della Volpe and his pupils, in particular Lucio Colletti, were to develop an original and radical anti-Hegelian oeuvre, characterized by an unflinching hostility to the influence of Croce (see nlr 59). The success of the Della Volpean school owed much to its intrinsic coherence and trenchancy. But it must also be understood in the context of the fate of Gramsci’s own thought within the Italian Communist Party. By the mid-’fifties, the pci had canonized Gramsci into an official icon of the party, whose function was largely to legitimate day-to-day tactical manoeuvres on the ideological front, by providing them with nominal revolutionary credentials. Togliatti’s organizational succession to Gramsci in the leadership of the party was equated with theoretical continuation of his thought, and mediated it as an orthodoxy to party members. The result was a suffocating cult of Gramsci within the pci, combined with very little serious study or development of his work (a situation symbolized by the absence even today of a scholarly edition of his writings, 25 years after the Liberation). This institutional embrace of Gramsci thus had the ironic effect of considerably neutralizing his intellectual influence; today many younger Italian militants outside the pci evince an emotional reaction ‘against’ Gramsci comparable to that of young Czechs or Russians ‘against’ Lenin. The source of the confusion in both cases is the bureaucratic appropriation of their name. In this atmosphere of official and uncritical celebration, the ideas of Della Volpe—deriving from an altogether other horizon—had a refreshing astringency and independence of spirit.

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