While we're on the subject of the Italian Left, I hadn't realised that the recent elections saw the complete disappearance of communists from both chambers of the Italian parliament. Gustav Seibt mourns their passing:
Because communism in Italy was always an entire culture. There were the 'Feste dell'Unita' in summer, which were not only about sitting outside on long benches and drinking, singing and dancing; but there were always book stands selling tomes from Einaudi publishers and writers, actors and directors would always step up onto the podium to discuss things. Almost everything which Italy contributed - on an international level as well - to post-war culture, originated in this communist culture, which was an alternative world on Italian soil. Neorealism in film and literature, the tragic black and white epiphanies of Rossellini or De Sica, the return to dialect and local language traditions – none of this would have happened without the background of communist ideas.
I've posted before about my own youthful affection for the eurocommunism of the PCI (which Eric Hobsbawm once described as his spiritual home), the only survivor of whose cultural legacy is the newspaper l'Unita, with its title banner still proudly announcing 'Quotidiano fondato da Antonio Gramsci il 12 febbraio 1924'.
Actually, it's not strictly true to say that no communists won seats in these elections. Certainly, the far-left grouping La Sinistra - L'Arcobaleno (The Left - The Rainbow), which included the Partito della Rifondazione Comunista (Communist Refoundation Party), failed to gain any seats. But the PRC are a minority party of hardliners who broke away when the PCI relaunched itself as the Partito Democratico della Sinistra (Democratic Party of the Left) in 1991.
The Democratic Party of the Left, later the Democrats of the Left, joined Romani Prodi's centre-left Olive Tree Coalition for the 2006 general election. In 2007 the party dissolved itself (along with a number of other left-wing and centrist parties) into the new Democratic Party, led by Walter Veltroni. The new party, which resembles a mainstream European social-democratic party, came second in the recent election, after Berlusconi's People of Freedom party, winning about 239 seats in the lower house and 130 seats in the Senate.
So while it's true to say there are no longer any representatives in the Italian parliament who ran as communists, there are plenty there who have done so in the past, and probably still share some of those old Gramscian ideals, even if they now use rather different language to describe their politics.
If I were Italian, I'd vote Partito Democratico and I certainly have no time for the quasi-Stalinist politics of the Communist Refoundation Party. It has to be admitted, though, that the latter do have some of the more colourful candidates - Nichi Vendola, for example. An old-fashioned communist who is also a faithful Catholic, he somehow managed to get himself elected president of the ultra-conservative region of Puglia, despite being openly gay. Only in Italy...