Politics and Symbols

The Italian Communist Party and the Fall of Communism

David I. Kertzer

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In the wake of the fall of the Berlin wall, and with the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe collapsing, Italian Communist Party (PCI) head Achille Occhetto shocked his party in 1989 by insisting that the PCI jettison its old name and become something new. This dramatic book tells of the ensuing struggle within the PCI, which at the time was Italy's second-largest party and the most powerful Communist party in the West. David I. Kertzer's vivid depiction of the conflict brings to life the tactics that party factions employed and the anguish of party members for whom Communism was the core of their identity. Kertzer also tells a larger story from an anthropologist's perspective: the story of the importance of symbols, myths, and rituals in modern politics.

Those who seek dramatic political change, Kertzer contends, must remake history. He recounts how those who succeeded in transforming the PCI into the new Democratic Party of the Left effectively used ritual and manipulated political symbols. Bringing the views of Antonio Gramsci, Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Foucault, and other political thinkers into his discussion, Kertzer explores theoretical issues involving the relation between symbolism and political power, concluding that modern politics is fundamentally a struggle over symbols and the redefinition of history.

David I. Kertzer is Paul Dupee, Jr., University Professor of Social Science and professor of anthropology and history at Brown University. He is the author of Ritual, Politics, and Power and co-editor of The Family in Italy from Antiquity to the Present, both published by Yale University Press.

"The book is very well written and carefully argued. Its analytical and theoretical dimensions are modest, which may prompt critical responses from the more theoretically minded students of political symbolism. Yet this theoretical simplicity is also a virtue; the work is particularly suitable for undergraduates, who need to be introduced to current thinking about the relationship between culture and politics."—Jan Kubik, American Journal of Sociology

"Kertzer's book should be read by all political scientists, whether they are specialists in Italian communism or comparative European politics, or are interested in party behavior in general. . . . Kertzer provides welcome food for thought. Strongly recommended for general audiences, specialists, and students."—Choice

"The powers of symbols, the magical power of words: Kertzer’s book offers an extraordinary illustration of the formidable impact of words and signs in the political universe."—Marc Abeles, L’Homme

"The story which unfolds is rich in drama and pathos, and David I. Kertzer tells it with great flair."—Donald Sassoon, Times Literary Supplement

"An intriguing, well written, and provocative book that deserves to find a readership beyond specialists in Italian history and politics."—Alexander De Grand, Political Science Quarterly

"David I. Kertzer in Politics and Symbols develops an interesting and informative account of the demise of the Italian Communist Party."—Richard W. Wilson, World Politics

"Highly readable and lively. . .this book has important implications for the dynamics of contemporary political change in many places where Communist parties once dominated or were strong."—Jane Schneider, City University of New York

ISBN: 9780300077247
Publication Date: October 11, 1998
224 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
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