Rituals occupy a central role in contemporary political life, although this role is often not recognized. Through the examination of the transformation, in 1989-1991, of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) into a post-communist party, the key role of ritual in modern politics is demonstrated. Along the way, the ways in which rituals are employed for political purposes are examined and illustrated. Following the fall of the Berlin wall, PCI leaders decided that a Communist identity had become too stigmatic, and that a new identity was required for the party to avoid inevitable decline. Long the second largest party in Italy, the PCI had been steadily losing electoral support since the mid-1970s. In attempting to change its identity, however, the PCI leaders faced the great potency of the symbolism associated with Communism in Italy. For many members, being "Communist" was a central part of their own self-image. The opposition within the party took advantage of the strength of this symbolism, and associated rites, to try to rally the party faithful to oppose the change. Inability to invent new rites and symbols that would have the same power left the leadership vulnerable. This article examines this battle, fought through symbolism and ritual, looking at the process where by the Partito comunista italiano became the Partito democratico della sinistra.
Italian Comunist Party; Italian Social Movement; politics; rituals