Magazine article The Nation

Opera Buffa

Magazine article The Nation

Opera Buffa

Article excerpt

After nearly a year of internecine warfare, the Italian Communist Party has changed its name to Democratic Party of the Left. Since the redubbed party offers few clear new policies, outsiders might well ask, What's in a name? To which stalwarts of the old P.C.I. would reply, Everything.

It all began last November while the Berlin wall was crumbling. Party secretary Achille Occhetto announced his intention to form a new democratic socialist coalition, referred to as La Cosa ("The Thing") in its embryonic stage. But his project, a bold attempt at self-renewal, soon degenerated into a kind of tragicomic name game.

For years the P.C.I.'s leaders acted and thought like social democrats, but they were careful not to broadcast that to the rank and file, most of whom still revered the glories of the Bolshevik Revolution. So when Occhetto launched La Cosa he found himself with a revolt on his hands. About a third of the party's leadership voted against change, and its 1.5 million members were similarly divided. At local meetings workers wept and sang "Bandiera Rossa" ("Red Flag"), the anthem of the party that had helped defeat Fascism. When the P.C.l.'s share of the vote in the May local elections sagged from 30 percent to 24 percent, the opposition hardened.

Alarmed by threats of secession, Occhetto spent much of the summer trying to give a name to The Thing,' seeking a symbol that would unite the seemingly disparate elements of the Italian left. Using polls and market research, he and his staff spent months testing dozens of names and symbols: Progressive Party, Labor Party, Party of the Left and innumerable variations on these themes. …

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