Politics and Symbols: The Italian Communist Party and the Fall of Communism

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Politics and Symbols: The Italian Communist Party and the Fall of Communism

By David I. Kertzer
Yale University Press, 1996
211 pp. $25.00
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A social scientist who teaches anthropology and history, Kertzer is interested in a large part of what Brustein leaves out: the role of symbols and ritual in politics. He applies his expertise to the internal struggles that accompanied the transformation of the Italian Communist Party into the Democratic Party of the Left in the early 1990s. He focuses on the party's interpretation of its past, the construction of a collective memory in which the October Revolution and the Italian resistance were the central points, and the "ritual struggle" in party congresses, where different groups offered, and fought over, "alternative histories." It is an interesting story, but it is a bit precious. With many quotes from French scholar Pierre Bourdieu, Kertzer tries to convince us that the battle over the party's name "revealed its magical ability to change the political world," and that "the ability to name is at the center of political power, at the heart of political innovation." But what about the international and domestic context, which pretty much forced the Italian PC to abandon its past in order to survive, and also provided it with opportunities to get rid of baggage that had become an obstacle to expansion? The problem with focusing on symbols and rituals is that it relegates to the background the ideas that people fight over, or die for, as well as the calculations and passions involved in struggles for power.