New publication: Franco Venturi’s “Comunismo e Socialismo. Storia di un’idea”

Franco Venturi, Comunismo e Socialismo. Storia di un’idea. A cura di Manuela Albertone, Daniela Steila, Edoardo Tortarolo, Antonello Venturi, Centro Studi si Storia dell’Università di Torino, Torino, 2014, € 14.

This previously unpublished history of the Idea of Communism and Socialism consists of two essays, which Franco Venturi wrote in Paris in 1939, and in Avigliano (in Southern Italy, where here was interned) in 1941-1942. It shows Venturi as a young man in the 1930s, passionately involved in culture and politics. The themes for these essays will recur as a sub-text throughout all of Venturi’s subsequent writings. The future author of Settecento riformatore (1969-1990), who had already shown himself to be a self-assured historian, can be seen in these pages in a slightly different light. The Anti-Fascist activist, who had already acquired a solid philosophical and political culture, also shared the excitement of youth in the face of the tragic dilemmas of those years.

The vitalism of the eighteenth-century Idea of Nature, which shaped the economics and politics of that century, is at the heart of this reflection on the emergence of the Communist Idea, and is the key point of the 1939 essay. Venturi’s method and style were quite opposed to the rigid dogmas of the Marxist culture which could be found in Paris in the 1930s. He was influenced by Elie Halévy’s lectures and by his own political involvement in the radical Anti-Fascist movement, Giustizia e Libertà. During the period of enforced immobility in 1941-1942 Venturi connected eighteenth-century Communism to his reflections on nineteenth-century Socialism, Marx, Social Democracy, the Russian Revolution, creating an intellectual web which explains how the historian of the Enlightenment became also a historian of Russian Populism.

Franco Venturi (1914-1994) remains one of the greatest historians of the Enlightenment, and also a major historian of nineteenth-century Russian intellectual history. He was professor of Modern History at the University of Turin (1958-1984), having previously taught at the universities of Cagliari and Genoa. He had studied in Paris, where he had followed in exile his father Lionello Venturi (the Art historian who had refused to take the oath of loyalty to the Fascist regime in 1931). He was a member of the Anti-fascist movement “Giustizia e Libertà”, and took part in the Resistance in wartime Piedmont. He was Cultural Attaché in Moscow (1947-1950). He was Editor of the Rivista storica italiana from 1959 until his death. He was visiting lecturer in many foreign universities (including Great Britain, France, Switzerland, the United states, Japan and Australia). His international fame was due especially to the multi-volume Settecento riformatore (1969-1990); partially translated into English by R. Burr Litchfield as The End of the Old Regime in Europe, 1768-1776 : the First Crisis and The End of the Old Regime in Europe, 1776-1789 ( Princeton 1989-91), his Trevelyan Lectures, Utopia and reform in the Enlightenment (Cambridge 1970) and Roots of Revolution.A history of the Populist and Socialist Movements in Nineteenth Century Russia (Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1960).

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