American newspapers and monthlies and weeklies are in serious financial difficulty, so why pay attention to the survival struggles of an Italian daily, Il Manifesto, which has an average circulation of 30,000 and an eccentric devotion to ideas of major social transformation? It calls itself Communist in a world in which revolution counts as another twentieth-century illusion.
The paper’s name derives from a 1969 declaration by a group of Communists calling on their party to awake from its bureaucratic slumbers. The party was by then a pillar of the existing order, partners with the reigning Christian Democrats in running the country. It governed major cities and regions, had great influence in the trade unions and was a major presence in the culture. The Communists’ popular and reflective leader, Enrico Berlinguer, defended settling for a limited share of power as an interim solution preferable to total opposition.
To his impatient younger critics and vexed older ones, the party’s grand bargain ignored the aspirations of the citizenry and blocked the possibilities of transformation. The Manifesto group sought a renewal of party doctrine and practice, a great leap forward in popular participation. The group’s campaign was a critical element in the massive eruption of social protests in Italy in 1969, which took the Communist leadership by surprise. The dissidents left the party. The ensuing shock induced Berlinguer to rejuvenate and redefine the party–in some part in the Manifesto group’s direction.
In April 1971 the group founded a daily, Il Manifesto; its first principle was independence of any party line. The equivalent in the United States would be a daily edition of The Nation (or the old New York left daily, PM, which lasted from 1940-48). Il Manifesto became a school for independent younger journalists and a home to irreconcilably critical older ones. Its main competitor was initially l’Unità, the official daily of the Communist Party until the party dissolved in 1991. L’Unità is still published, and it is associated with the Communist successor, the Democratic Party. Its circulation has diminished from 240,000 to 40,000. Il Manifesto also confronts the much less widely read Liberazione, published by the small, stubbornly leftist Communist Refoundation Party, founded in 1991 and no longer in Parliament. Indeed, none of the smaller political groups close to the Manifesto heritage are any longer in Parliament. Many who vote for the Democrats still think of Il Manifesto as the voice of their sometimes suppressed political conscience.