Commentary. Without her contribution as an intellectual and militant communist, we would have never become what il manifesto has been.

The intense passions of an austere woman

I saw her for the last time on Thursday, before I left for another rally in the election and referendum campaign. She liked it when I used to tell her what was going on, how things were going in this or that place. Because Rossana, unable to move because of that cursed stroke that had paralyzed her for so many years, kept traveling around the world with her mind: the table next to her bed was always full of books that had just come out, but also of those that allowed her to go back to important things of the past.

Now she was reading about the history of China. And then, there were the newspapers, the TV, the visits of her friends, who by that point were very tiring to her, but she tried not to give them up, because they were a channel of communication with the world that the disease had deprived her of.

Rossana, who was a messenger for the Partisans with the code name Miranda, always continued to be a fighter, to take a side and a stand. When, after so many years spent in Paris beside Karol, who had gone blind and was thus in need of constant assistance, she returned to Rome, the first thing she told me when she arrived was: let’s ask il manifesto to publish a weekly insert of 8 pages, a new magazine, which is greatly needed. I looked at her in amazement: “You are 93 years old, I am 88,” I told her, “I don’t think it’s possible.” But she was like that, she didn’t want to give up. She was bewildered by the great difficulties faced by the Italian left, which she had found to be more serious than expected now that she was back in Italy after so many years. But never for a moment did she think to close herself off, like so many others, in a melancholic detachment from her commitment.

On the occasion of the last electoral campaign, the one for the European elections, she even came to participate in an initiative in favor of the Sinistra list, at the House of Women, which, after the news of her presence, was crowded as never before. But also at the last Sinistra Italiana Congress in Rimini, where she took the time to send a message that was read out by a young and excited comrade and which was met by a very long and emotional round of standing applause by all the delegates, who sang the International. She wasn’t concerned about what they had agreed or disagreed with, she wanted to say that she was on the side of those who were trying to stay on the playing field.

Because Rossana was a great unpublished intellectual: cultured and refined, but at the same time as militant as any other comrade at the grassroots level. In Milan, where for a long time she led the House of Culture, an extraordinary window on the new European avant-garde from which the Italians had been cut off because of Fascism, Rossana was also a member of the secretariat of a Federation that was engaged, first and foremost, in working with the new working class.

Her political history was a curious one: the Milanese House of Culture that she led was the target of criticism from the PCI leadership at the time, and Togliatti was similarly critical—it’s enough to recall the falling out with Elio Vittorini. But it was Togliatti himself who chose to entrust her with the then-very-important national cultural commission of the party. And this is how she arrived in Rome.

But it was in Milan, in her house in Via Bigli, that we started the first reflections in the 1950s, which led us to the creation of the Manifesto magazine ten years later. Lucio Magri was also in Milan back then, in the secretariat of the Lombardy regional committee; Aniello Coppola was vice-director of the Milanese Unity; Achille Occhetto—he was also there with us. And Michelangelo Notarianni, secretary of the FGCI of the city, who was succeeded by Lia Cigarini—she was the first to write about feminism in that earliest version of Manifesto, already in issue 2 of what was then a monthly magazine. And also Luca Cafiero, a very young lecturer at the Faculty of Philosophy and future leader of the Milanese student movement and then of the PDUP.

I would come in from Rome, where I was the editor of the FGCI weekly, Nuova generazione; and likewise Beppe Chiarante, who was at Paese sera after having written for Franco Rodano’s magazine, Il Dibattito politico. Back then, we already wanted to make a magazine, which would have been called Il Principe (“The Prince”), a name drawn from the writings of Gramsci, who in turn had taken it from Machiavelli. With this, we wanted to underline the need for a party capable of hegemony and taking the long view.

But nothing came of that idea. The idea for il manifesto came to fruition much later, still at Rossana’s house, but in Rome this time, in Via San Valentino, right in front of mine. But then, our network of friendships—we were never a “current” as such—had been enriched by other comrades: Trentin, Garavini, even Reichlin, and Rossana’s very young collaborator at Botteghe Oscure, Filippo Maone. And, above all, Pietro Ingrao.

You all know the rest of the story. I wanted to recall its less-well-known beginnings to emphasize once again how important Rossana was in the creation of il manifesto, and then, of course, in its subsequent history. We used to meet at her house from the very beginning, because she acted as a link between us. Without her contribution as an intellectual and militant communist, we would have never become what il manifesto has been.

I do not wish to underplay the disagreements, including harsh ones, that have marked the history of our group at certain times. The most painful and harmful: the fracture that occurred at a certain point between the newspaper and the party, the PDUP. And the more recent breaks, due to which Rossana suffered a lot. But I want to bring to mind an episode from our experience that explains how not even conflicts were able to break our relationships.

When Lucio Magri decided to end his life, suffering from severe depression that had led him to conclude that the left would not be able to recover from the defeat of the ‘90s for many decades and that he would be dead by that point anyway, it was Rossana whom he asked for help. And Rossana flew to Milan from Paris, where the two of them met and went to Switzerland together. They spent two days, his last two days, talking as they walked around Lake Lugano. I had long phone conversations with both of them, until Rossana called me to tell me that Lucio had passed away holding her hand.

It was extraordinarily sad, but in those conversations we also told each other that our political adventure had been beautiful. Accompanying him on this final and very painful journey took a great toll on Rossana—a pain that she often told me about, an open wound. It was a proof of extraordinary friendship, which shows how much affection has bound us despite our quarrels.

On behalf of all you readers, I want to thank Doriana Ricci, who was Rossana’s secretary and friend when she was still at the newspaper. Not only for the extraordinary help she gave her over the years, but, in particular, for having done a wonderful thing for her: just a few days ago, between the end of August and the beginning of September, she took a very bold step and took her to the sea, to a hotel on the beach near Sperlonga; and, thanks to a special rubber stretcher, got her to swim in the sea! The sea: one of Rossana’s great passions. The other was Karol, her second husband. It is the story of a grand and very beautiful love. Because Rossana, so austere in appearance, was a woman of great passions.

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