International Gramsci Society Newsletter
Number 6 (August, 1996): 4-10 < prev | toc | next >  

Lettere dal carcere: Antonio Santucci's new critical edition

Antonio Santucci's new critical edition of Gramsci's prison letters provokes a heated controversy and a lawsuit

One would have to go back several decades to find a period in which the name of Antonio Gramsci appeared as frequently and prominently in the Italian press as it did during the first six months of this year. What triggered all the attention and the accompanying commotion was the news that the Sellerio publishing house of Palermo planned to publish a new two-volume complete critical edition of Lettere dal carcere edited by Antonio Santucci.

A brief, unsigned article in the 11 January 1996 issue of the weekly news magazine Panorama contained a sketchy report on two highly significant projects directly related to the publication and dissemination of Gramsci's best known texts, the Prison Notebooks and the Letters from Prison. The Notebooks, the article reported, would soon enter "cyberspace" thanks to the efforts of Dario Ragazzini who has been constructing an electronic edition of the Quaderni, complete with hypertext. (Information about this important project has appeared before in previous issues of the IGS Newsletter.) Such an edition, which would be of incalculable value to Gramsci scholars--by, potentially, giving them access to the entire text of the Notebooks in the form of a cd-rom and/or through the internet--is in the final stages of preparation. The other project on which the Panorama article reported, namely Santucci's new edition of the Lettere, appeared to be, at first sight, a traditional work of philological scholarship by a well-established and widely respected Gramscian specialist that would be published in coventional book form. Yet, it was Santucci's edition that attracted all the attention and caused a storm of controversy that culminated in a lawsuit--for reasons that seemed to have more to do with "property" rights than with philological accuracy or scholarly integrity.

The need for a new complete Italian critical edition of Gramsci's Lettere dal carcere has been evident for quite some time. More than three decades have passed since the appearance of Elsa Fubini and Sergio Caprioglio's edition, published by Einaudi in 1965 and last reprinted in 1975. In the meantime, a substantial number of additional letters have been discovered. As the Panorama article pointed out, a striking anomaly existed: the most complete and reliable text of Gramsci's prison letters was available not in Italian but, rather, in English translation--i.e., Frank [END PAGE 4] Rosengarten's complete two-volume critical edition of the Letters from Prison published by Columbia University Press in 1994. Santucci's edition would rectify the anomaly by including all the prison letters that have come to light thus far, correcting the errors of transcription and restoring the excised parts in the Fubini and Caprioglio edition, and providing a critical apparatus that incorporates the insights and discoveries made by Gramsci scholars over the past thirty years. There was one more novelty, however, connected with Santucci's edition; a novelty that had little to do with its contents, but that immediately seized the attention of the Panorama reporter. Santucci's edition of the Lettere dal carcere was being published in Palermo by Sellerio Editore; whereas, previously, the major editions of Gramsci's texts had all been brought out first by Einaudi of Turin.

"Einaudi is, thus, no longer Gramsci's publisher," the Panorama reporter writes. He then quotes a statement by Elvira Sellerio, the owner of the Sicilian publishing house: "We have not taken anything away from anybody. The [publishing] rights are in the public domain, and the family has never made any claims. Besides, Gramsci belongs to everyone, and we are ready to publish him, even if we lose money doing it." Before long, Sellerio's decision to publish Gramsci's letters made headlines in the cultural pages of the daily newspapers. The title of an article by Dino Messina, in the Corriere della Sera of 19 January, declared: "Lettere dal carcere: Gramsci cambia editore" (Letters from Prison: Gramsci Changes Publisher). The sub-heading of the same article explained, "L'opera uscirà da Sellerio con una ventina di scritti inediti. Einaudi l'aveva pubblicata nel '47 e nel '65: il problema dei diritti" (The Work Will Be Published by Sellerio with Some Twenty Previously Unpublished Texts. Einaudi Had Published it in '45 and'65: The Question of Rights). Messina opens his article by recalling that in 1947 Palmiro Togliatti decided to publish Gramsci's letters with Einaudi (an independent publisher with no ties to the Italian Communist Party), rather than by the Party's press, precisely because he wanted to underline the fact that, as Croce himself had affirmed, "Gramsci belonged to all Italians." Since that time, all major editions of Gramsci's work bore Einaudi's imprint--although it is important to remember that the PCI's publishing house, Editori Riuniti, also brought out less expensive (but reliable) editions of a great number of Gramsci's writings. In any case, for Messina, the publication of Gramsci's prison letters by Sellerio "marks the end of an epoch" and "it raises the question of publications rights. Who owns the rights of the founder of the Italian Communist Party? The ex-PCI? Gramsci's son, Giuliano, who still lives in Moscow?" Marini quotes Santucci as saying:"What inspired me to undertake this project was the publication by Columbia University Press of Frank Rosengarten's complete edition of the Letters from Prison--a richer and more up-to-date edition that Einaudi's 1965 edition." Similar observations were made in a short unsigned article in the cultural pages of La Repubblica, 19 January 1996. There, too, it is pointed out that [END PAGE 5] "the first thing that strikes the eye is the publisher: Elvira Sellerio and not Giulio Einaudi, historically the publisher of Gramsci's writings."

In no time at all, the question of publication rights exploded into an acrimonious frontal confrontation. Bruno Gravagnuolo's article--"Lite sulle lettere di Antonio Gramsci: Il direttore della Fondazione diffide la Sellerio dal pubblicare gli scritti inediti" (A Row Over Gramsci's Letters: The Director of the Fondazione [Istituto Gramsci of Rome] Warns Sellerio Not To Publish Previously Unpublished Writings)--in L'Unità of 20 January 1996, quoted a "very severe warning written personally by Giuseppe Vacca", the director of the Fondazione Istituto Gramsci, that stated, among other things: "there has been no relationship whatsoever between the publisher Sellerio and the Fondazione Gramsci which holds the rights to the letters in question. . . . I am, therefore, compelled to engage a lawyer on behalf of the Fondazione in order to take legal action against the publisher in Palermo." Gravagnuolo also interviewed Santucci for his article and reported him as questioning the Fondazione's claims to exlusive publication rights: "After 1984, the PCI turned over the papers and other materials to the Fondazione; but who is in a position to affirm that Gramsci's legacy is indeed the property of the PCI-PDS?" Gramsci, as Gravagnuolo pointed out, did not leave a will. Santucci, furthermore, explained that although his edition contained some letters that had not been previously published in Italy, those same letters had already appeared in English translation in Rosengarten's edition. An additional complication in the whole affair, Gravagnuolo reported, was the fact that the Istituto Gramsci of Sicily helped finance Sellerio's edition.

Four other dailies--La Stampa, Il Messaggero, La Repubblica, and the Corriere della Sera-- carried articles on the legal dispute in their issues of 20 January. They all reported that Vittorio Bo, the director of Einaudi, strongly agreed with and fully supported Giuseppe Vacca's determination to take legal action aimed at blocking Sellerio from publishing the Lettere. The article in La Repubblica--"Caso Gramsci, le lettere finiscono in tribunale" (The Gramsci Case: The Letters End Up in Court)--opens on a note of lamentation: "What gloom; Gramsci ends up in the law courts. In the name of 'copyright.' Who owns the publishing rights of the great Sardinian intellectual? Around this question, feelings are heating up. And the Lettere dal cacere end up in the hands of lawyers." Dino Messina, writing for the Corriere della Sera, quoted Vacca as saying: "Where did Dr. Santucci, a former collaborator at the Fondazione Gramsci and editor of the Sellerio volume, get hold of certain writings, such as certain letters by Tania Schucht and Piero Sraffa? I have to infer that he appropriated them arbitrarily when he worked for us." Vacca, moreover, pointed out to Messina, that his objection to Santucci's edition was not only legal but also philological. According to Vacca, the Fondazione Istituto Gramsci has been working for a number of years on a more complete edition (prepared by Chiara Daniele and Aldo Natoli) that would also include the letters written to Gramsci by his sister-in-law Tania Schucht, his wife Giulia Schucht, and his [END PAGE 6] close friend Piero Sraffa. To all of this, Messina reported, Santucci responded as follows: "I never appropriated anything. The letters to which Vacca refers are reproduced from two books published by Editori Riuniti--Aldo Natoli's Antigone e il prigioniero (1990), and Lettere a Tania per Gramsci (1991), edited by my mentor, Valentino Gerratana. . . . For heaven's sake! I am not a lawyer and I cannot dispense legal opinions; but the publication rights would belong to Gramsci's relatives, if they ever claimed them. In that case, they should be the ones asking for compensation now--and not from a small publisher but from Einaudi which has been publishing Gramsci's work since 1947." As for Vacca's argument that a truly complete edition should also include the letters written to Gramsci, Santucci told Messina: "Gramsci's Lettere dal carcere constitutes an autonomous literary work recognized all over the world. . . . I am convinced, more than ever, that the autonomous literary character of the work should be preserved." The article in Il Messaggero, by Renato Minore, stressed the oddity of the situation in which the Fondazione Istituto Gramsci of Rome was seeking to suppress a project funded by the Istituto Gramsci in Sicily. A similar point was made in the article in La Stampa where Elvira Sellerio is quoted as saying: "I must point out that the edition of Gramsci's Lettere is being brought out with the full consent of--indeed, it is being sponsored by--the Istituto Gramsci of Palermo. Furthermore, I find it incredible that a work whose last edition is twenty years old is now being being defended as if it were a matter of life and death; just because a publisher has decided to offer it anew to the Italian public."

The following day, 21 January 1996, Simonetta Fiori shifted the focus of the controversy to Moscow with an article in La Repubblica that appeared under the heading, "Giuliano Gramsci: 'Il copyright di papà? Beh, ora che ci penso . . .'" (Giuliano Gramsci: 'My Father's Copyright? Well, Now That I Think About It . . .'"). Fiori had a telephone conversation with Antonio Gramsci's son, Giuliano, who still lives in Moscow. When told about the forthcoming new edition of the Lettere, Giuliano's initial reaction was enthusiastic: "How wonderful! I am delighted that the young are still reading Gramsci." Fiori admits, in her article, that she found it difficult to expalin to Giuliano Gramsci that things were not that simple. "How does one go about explaining to him that within the family of Italian Gramscists . . .one could hear the loud sound of sabre rattling, in the name of copyright? How does one go about telling him that the director of the Fondazione Gramsci, an institute that is funded for the purpose of disseminating Gramsci's writings, wants to block the publication of the new edition by Sellerio because of a question about publishing rights?" When asked directly who owns Gramsci's copyright, Giuliano responded: "I have never received a penny. Yes, sometimes I thought about it. . . . Ultimately, the heirs are myself and the widow of my brother, Delio, a colonel in the Soviet navy who died at the age of 57. But I never raised the issue, I never wanted to create controversies. . . . So much time has passed. Those were different times. . . . A delicate question, you know; the Party . . . It is now more than fifty years since my father died." At this point, Simonetta Fiori informed Giuliano Gramsci that according to the new [END PAGE 7] Italian law, the rights are protected for seventy years; in Gramsci's case, then, they do not lapse until 2007. To which he responded: "In that case I should make a visit to Italy." Fiori also interviewed Elvira Sellerio and asked her whether she was willing to pay royalties to Gramsci's heir. "I would be happy to do it," said the Sicilian publisher, "I am ready to give him all that he is entitled to. After all, in this entirely sad affair, I never wanted to run roughshod over anyone. Perhaps I should have made a phone call to my friend Giulio Einaudi. But I was so proud of the fact that I'd be the publisher of the Lettere."

Articles on the controversial edition continued to appear in various newspapers, even though there was nothing really new to report. The conflict was deadlocked and the asperity of the accusations that were being levelled made it evident that no out-of-court settlement could be hoped for. In an interview published by Nuova Sardegna (24 January 1996), Giuseppe Vacca went so far as to label Sellerio's publication "a pirated edition." The only justifiably new edition possible, Vacca insisted, would be one that included all the correspondence by and to Gramsci during his prison years. In Vacca's view, even Rosengarten's American edition is not really "new." On 27 January 1996, L'Unità devoted an entire page to the polemic. One large section was devoted to an article by Roberto Roscani on the project of Aldo Natoli and Chiara Danieli who were enrtusted by the Fondazione Gramsci with the task of editing the entire correspondence of Gramsci's prison years. By and large, the article reiterates the theses that Natoli had advanced six years ago in his Antigone e il prigioniero. On the other part of the same page, L'Unità published an interview with Antonio Santucci by Guido Liguori. By way of an introduction, Liguori recalled that Santucci had previously edited two volumes of Gramsci's writings, both of which were published by Einaudi-- one, a volume of pre-prison writings, L'Ordine Nuovo: 1919-1920, co-edited with Valentino Gerratana was published in 1987; the other, a critical edition of Gramsci's pre-prison letters, Lettere: 1908-1926, was brought out in 1992. "How, then," Liguori asked, "did Sellerio enter the picture?" Santucci's answer: "As I said, the last time Einaudi reprinted the Lettere (in an edition already published in 1965) was twenty years ago. I remember very clearly that Elsa Fubini, who was the curator of Gramsci's letters at the Istituto Gramsci and who co-edited the 1965 edition with Sergio Caprioglio (who worked at Einaudi until some years ago), repeatedly suggested a new edition of the Lettere, but nothing was done. Einaudi's edition of the "Opere di Gramsci" [i.e. the multi-volume edition of Grasmci's complete works of which the two volumes edited by Santucci are a part], as all scholars know, has been dormant for years. The pre-prison writings, for example, are stalled in 1920, with the 1987 volume edited by Gerratana and me. Perhaps, the Turin publishing house, like several other publishers I have contacted, regards Gramsci's work as something burdensome, unprofitable, for which there is no market. Therefore, I looked for someone willing to subsidize, at least in part, the book that I wanted to publish . . ." [END PAGE 8]

The connection with Moscow was kept open by the journalist Chiara Valentini who published an interview with Giuliano Gramsci in L'Espresso of 2 February 1996 (that reached the newstands a week earlier). In the course of the interview, Giuliano Gramsci reminisces about the day when the trunk containing his father's possessions was delivered and opened at the house in Moscow where he lived with his mother and his older brother Delio. After the war broke out and Germany threatened to invade Russia, Giuliano recalls, Giulia Schucht consigned Gramsci's manuscripts to Togliatti. In order to safeguard them, Togliatti placed them in a protected place in the autonomous Republic of Bashkir. When Togliatti returned to Italy in 1944, he took Gramsci's manuscripts with him. "Did he also carry with him any document from your mother, the legitimate inheritor, ceding the rights to the PCI?," asked Chiara Valentini. "At the Fondazione Gramsci, they have searched the archives from top to bottom in the hope of finding this piece of paper; but in vain. Do you know anything about it." Giuliano Gramsci responded, saying: "I do not believe my mother ever signed such a document." "At the Fondazione Gramsci, however," Valentini went on, "they say that there exists a letter from Eugenia Schucht to Dimitrov, the Comintern secretary, permitting the use of Gramsci's writings." "I know nothing about it," said Giuliano; "we, the children were kept in the dark about these matters at that time. To be sure, my aunt Eugenia was the most 'official' individual for she had been the secretary of Krupskaya, Lenin's widow. . . . I want to be very clear about this. I have no desire to enter into a conflict with the Fondazione Gramsci which has inherited my father's papers. My family owes a debt of gratitude to Togliatti and the Italian Party. All my connections in Italy have been through the Fondazione Gramsci and I have warm feelings and respect for Giuseppe Vacca. . . . With regards to Einaudi, however, things are different. I do not want to create scandals; but I must say that in all these years I was never approached by anyone from Einaudi--it is as if we, the heirs, did not exist. I am not seeking to punish Mr. Einaudi, but his behavior has not been proper. . . . I will come to Italy to look after my rights and the rights of Delio's widow, especially since I have been told that with the new regulations of the European Economic Community the rights no longer lapse after fifty years but after seventy years from the author's death. Among other things, I have learned that the Einaudi publishing house has now become part of Berlusconi's empire. It seems paradoxical to me that my father's publication rights have ended up in possession of that gentleman. I find it difficult to understand what is going on; but I believe that I should do something." Valentini concluded the interview by asking Giuliano Gramsci whether he agreed that Sellerio should publish the new edition of the Lettere; to which he rersponded: "I cannot but be pleased. For years, a great silence has enveloped my father's work. Then this explosion occurred. I hope that, at the very least, it will help bring attention back to his works." Giulio Einaudi responded to Giuliano Gramsci's comments with an open letter published in the form of an article under the title "Caro Giuliano per noi Gramsci è una bandiera" in L'Unità [END PAGE 9] of 31 January 1996. In it, Giulio Einaudi recalled all the works by and on Gramsci brought out by his publishing house over the years and reiterated his determination to remain Gramsci's publisher.

Shortly afterwards, an article by Rossana Rossanda in Il Manifesto of 16 February revived an old controversy that was only tangentially related to the polemic over publication rights. Rossanda questioned whether the Fondazione Gramsci held or was aware of the existence of unpublished documents related to Gramsci that placed Togliatti and the PCI in an embarrassing light. Is there reason to believe, Rossanda queried, that Toglaitti and others had an interest in scuttling efforts to obtain Gramsci's release from prison? Articles on this issue appeared in La Stampa, La Repubblica, and Il Corriere della Sera on 17 February. Giuseppe Vacca responded with a long article, "La verità su Gramsci" (The Truth on Gramsci), in L'Unità, three days later, wherein he gave an account of all the relevant documents gathered and held by the Fondazione Gramsci. He stressed, among other things, that all the materials in the archives of the Fondazione were available for consultation by all interested scholars. Nonetheless, the questions raised by Rossanda continued to intrigue the press. Articles keeping this aspect of the intense polemic alive appeared in Il Manifesto of 29 February 1996, Il Corriere della Sera of 29 February and 1 March, and L'Espresso of 8 March 1996.

During March and April the controversy subsided as the question of rights was being deliberated by a court of law. Gramsci reappeared in the headlines on 1 May 1996. "Gramsci, bufera sui diritti" (Gramsci: A Storm Over the Publication Rights) was the big headline in L'Unità, where the sub-heading revealed the decision of the court: "Il Tribunale di Palermo dà ragione alla Sellerio: non c'è prova che il copyright sia della Fondazione" (The Court of Palermo Rules in Sellerio's Favor: There Is No Proof that the Copyright Belongs to the Fondazione). On the same day, an article by Dino Messina in Il Corriere della Sera appeared under the heading: "Gramsci: niente sequestro, vince la Sellerio" (Gramsci: No Confiscation, Victory for Sellerio). Also on 1 May 1996, La Repubblica reported the court's decision under the heading: "Gramsci, primo round alla Sellerio" (Gramsci: Sellerio Wins the First Round). Two days later, on 5 May, L'Unità and La Stampa each published a small item reporting that the Fondazione Gramsci and the Einaudi publishing house intended to appeal the court's decision. In the meantime, Antonio Santucci's new complete critical edition of the Lettere dal carcere published by Sellerio in two handsome boxed volumes was on display in bookstores all across Italy. Sales figures were reported to be very high; in all likelihood, the controversy contributed significantly to the marketing success.

"Sellerio's new edition," Valentino Gerratana wrote in L'Unità of 1 May 1996, "fills a void that was created by the fact that over the past few years the old editions had gone out of print and, in many respects, had been rendered obsolete." Now it is to be hoped that Santucci's philological efforts will inspire readers to take a fresh new look at Gramsci's Letters from Prison--an extraordinarily poignant document that has been justifiably described as a twentieth-century classic.   ^ return to top ^ < prev | toc | next >