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.