After four decades, the Communist newspaper Il Manifesto is closing. The news was rumored in February and confirmed in May; a final announcement was made on December 17, on the homepage of the newspaper.
Founded in 1969 as a dissident branch of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), Il Manifesto became a symbol of the possible dialogue between the unorthodox side of Italian communism and the radical Marxist movements, in a period marked by student and worker protests and by the experience of left-wing extra-parliamentarism. After being expelled from the PCI for their unorthodox views on the Eastern Bloc and the students’ movement, the founders of Il Manifesto maintained their independence from the party, soon becoming an influential voice inside the Italian left. Initially created as a periodical reflecting the political views of the group, Il Manifesto later became a newspaper. In 1974 the Il Manifesto group joined the short-lived PdUP party (Proletarian Unity Party), an experience marked by frequent fractures and divisions.
Its sharp and witty headlines, its rejection of all compromise with capitalism and neoliberalism and its attention to the global economy made Il Manifesto a rare exception in the bleak landscape of the Italian media.
Il Manifesto never pretended to be an impartial newspaper and always had a militant side; it was against the US invasion of Iraq in 1991 and against the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1997; it supported the No-Global movement in 2001 and the pacifist movement in the 2000s. On December 21, 2000, the Roman office of the newspaper was bombed by Andrea Insabato, a right-wing extremist with past ties to neo-fascist terrorist groups such as NAR and Terza Posizione. The bomb went off while Insabato was still loading it, seriously injuring him. Nobody else was injured.
Not only has Il Manifesto affected the political history of Italy, it has also left a strong legacy to Italian media and culture. Latterly, the newspaper was accompanied by an editorial franchise, promoting books and music. The laws on editorial funding which extended public funding to press cooperatives was also the result of Il Manifesto’s struggles and practices. It was also thanks to Il Manifesto that a bi-weekly digest of Le monde diplomatique was made available to an Italian readership.
The closure did not come as a surprise. Il Manifesto has faced economic hardship for at least a decade, with its readers accustomed to recurrent, cyclical appeals for emergency subscriptions and donations. However, these efforts were no longer sufficient in February 2012, when the Ministry of Economy forced the editorial cooperative to initiate a procedure of controlled bankruptcy; the appeals for donations and the attempts to revamp itself were not able to save the Communist newspaper yet again.
While the reasons for this crisis are many, the final blow to the journal was brought about by draconian cuts to public funds for the politically-oriented press, funds originally meant to preserve pluralism in the Italian media landscape. However, the system has many loopholes, often leading to the illegitimate appropriation of funds using the guise of fake periodicals and daily papers: these flaws partially explain the general opposition to public funding of the press. While the downsizing of press funds to 53 million euros was justified as an austerity measure, it is hard to deny that this affected left-wing newspapers particularly as they were less likely to be able to find private investors and sponsors.
Over the past few years, all major newspapers have faced a continual bleeding of readers due to the rising popularity of other information sources such as online newspapers, and Il Manifesto is no exception: since 1996, the newspaper has lost half of its readers, dropping to a meager 18,000 copies sold in 2011. The cutbacks accelerated the debacle, adding to other systemic factors such as the general right-wing turn taken by Italian society in the 2000s and 2010s, the transformation of journalism in the era of Web 2.0, and the advent of new successful competitors.
With its finances controlled by external trustees, the newspaper shrank the size of its print run, laid its contributors off, and started to rely heavily on voluntary work by its members.
The last two months were characterized by mounting inner tensions, culminating in a cluster of slammed doors and public outcries. Among the first to leave was Vauro Senesi (known as “Vauro”), the popular cartoonist who had been at the newspaper since 1986. Vauro was later followed by Marco d’Eramo and Joseph Halevi, respectively a long-time correspondent from the US and a prestigious economy commentator. Two of the founders, Valentino Parlato and Rossana Rossanda, also left the newspaper, publicly criticizing the current director Norma Rangeri, her management strategies, and her lack of democracy. On December 13, Valentino Parlato publicly wrote that the current crisis is “not only a matter of money, but also of ‘soldiers’ and ‘line’”.
While the current structure of Il Manifesto is doomed in its present form, there are different views about its future. The founders and part of the current board have excluded any possible continuation but another group of board members announced their openness to a fresh new start in an open letter on December 17.
The closure of Il Manifesto closely follows that of Liberazione, the official organ of the PRC (Re-Foundation of Communist Party), which shut down early in January 2012 due to financial hardship. L’Unità, the newspaper founded by Antonio Gramsci, is at constant risk of closure, and it would have already faced this destiny had it not been purchased in 2008 by the Sardinian industrial Renato Soru, politically close to the PD.
In less than two years, the Italian left-wing press has lost two of its most influential newspapers. While advocates of the free market attribute this to “natural selection”, left-wingers mourn these losses as they face an austere future where it seems there will be little or no space for dissident voices.
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