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Australia, no country for revolutionaries

Review: No Country for Revolutionaries: Italian Communists in Sydney 1971-1991: Their Activities, Policies and Liaison with the Italian and Australian Communist Parties. By Gianfranco Cresciani (Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2018), pp.ix- 185, AU$39.95 (pb).

In his latest book, Gianfranco Cresciani, who is perhaps best-known for his excellent work on the Italian fascist movement in Australia, turns his attention to another interesting area of political action within the Italian immigrant population, specifically, the activities of Italian communists in Sydney, from the early 1970s up to the collapse of European communism in 1991.

Cresciani introduces the reader to a dizzying array of Italian and Australian communist party leaders and members and the intricate and sometimes complex battles that took place between the Sydney branch of the Federation of the Communist Party of Italy, the Communist Party of Italy itself and the Communist Party of Australia, all of which had their own ideas on what the goals and political activities should be in terms of promoting communism in Australia.

Italian Communists march in Sydney on May Day 1961. Image: ASIO photograph of Italian CPA members marching behind the Italian flag.

This is not to discount the complex leadership battles going on within the Sydney Branch itself, further heightened by splits within the Australian Communist Party that saw the emergence of a rival organisation, the Socialist Party of Australia, which some within the Sydney Italian communist leadership favoured closer alignment with.

It would be easy to become lost in the detail of these numerous splits, tensions and arguments between Australian and Italian Communist leaders, but the strength of Cresciani’s book is that he never lets this happen, leading the reader through this complexity with a deftness that allows for the significance of these arguments to come through.

What becomes clear is how complex international diversions during the 1970s and 1980s about the future direction of communism as manifested in the breach between the Soviet Union and China as well as the Italian Communist Party’s changing policies in Italy affected smaller political movements involving Italians in Australia.

Australian Journal of Politics and History March 2019

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Between 1971 and 1991 the Italian Communist Party endeavoured to mobilise Italian migrants in Australia in order to extend its influence and power, attract their vote and defend their rights. Its establishment of an ‘autonomous’ Federation in Sydney resulted in a troubled relationship with the Communist Party of Australia and in grassroots surveillance of Italian migrants by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. This book tells their story during the Cold War.

Gianfranco Cresciani emigrated to Australia in 1962. Since 1971 he has researched on the history of Italian migration to Australia, and is the author of many books, articles, exhibitions, radio and television programs and web sites in Australia and Italy. He worked for Electric Power Transmission Pty Ltd, the Ethnic Affairs Commission and the Ministry for the Arts of the NSW Government. In 1989 and 1994 Cresciani was a member of the Australian Delegation re-negotiating with the Italian Government the Italo-Australian Cultural Agreement. Master of Arts from the University of Sydney in 1978 and Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, from the University of New South Wales in 2005. In 2004 the Italian Government awarded him the honour of Cavaliere Ufficiale dell’Ordine al Merito. Member of the Scientific Committee of the journal Altreitalie, published by the Centro Altreitalie, Turin, Italy. In 2015 he was awarded the C.H. Currey Memorial Fellowship by the State Library of New South Wales, to research on Italian communists in Sydney 1971-1991 and was appointed Library Fellow. In 2018 he received the prestigious Bathurst Macquarie Heritage Medal.

Simone Battiston teaches Italian studies and history at Swinburne University of Technology. He specialises in the history of Italian migration to Australia with a special interest for politics and work. His publications include “Immigrants Turned Activists” (2012) and, with Stefano Luconi, “Autopsia di un diritto politico” (2018).

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