Some reflections on Livio Maitan on the occasion of the centenary

This is Dave Kellaway’s contribution to the conference marking the centenary of Livio Maitan’s birth.


After so many thoughts swirling around in my head this past week while I was in Sicily, I finally decided to focus on one key point relevant to us all.

How can one maintain a lifelong revolutionary commitment when the socialist revolution does not seem to be on the horizon, the hopes of 68 have not been realised, and the ecological crisis threatens our existence?

I don’t think Livio gives us a full answer to this problem, but I’ve learned some things from how he lived his life.

I knew Livio very well for 5 years in the first half of the 1980s when I worked as an administrator and translator at the Fourth International Bureau with Ernest Mandel, Miguel Romero, Charle Andre Udry, Miguel Aguilar Mora, Sakai, Jacqueline Heinien, Jeannette Habel, Daniel Bensaid, and Livio Maitan. A good team! I translated Livio’s texts many times and heard many of his speeches.

But we also lived in the same house in Montreil, near Paris. We regularly played football at Parc de Sceaux; he was almost 60 years old but played an intelligent but very slow catennacio near the goal. Livio used to come to our parties; he often ate with us, and we went to the cinema together. A couple of times, we even went on holiday together. We often watched matches on TV and sometimes went to see Paris St. Germain.

As Fabrizio Buranttini said in his recent article, Livio was a leader who didn’t keep his distance from his grassroots comrades. This did not happen with other left-wing leaders (even our current). It is very important because if we want to build another society, another world, we too must live a more friendly, human, and socialist way of life. Even now we must act in an ecologically correct way; we cannot postpone everything until after the revolution. We in England speak of pre-figurative forms.

Tip 1. So I can already say that the first advice to follow is to live differently, to model another society to a certain extent.

Tip 2. The second piece of advice I learned from Livio is not to live only for politics—social life, emotional relationships, family, culture, sport, and holidays are just as important. It is good to have other interests beyond politics. I remember Livio at the time of the 1982 World Cup in Seville. Livio liked Platini’s French team,  with stars like Giresse and Tigana, which played champagne football. Plus there was Dominique Rocheteau, who expressed some sympathy for the ideas of our comrades in the LCR (Revolutionary Communist League).

We were watching the France/Germany semi-final. At one point, Battiston advances on the German goal with a good chance to score. And bang!  Schumacher (not the Formula 1 driver) hit him; Battiston was knocked out, got a broken vertebra, and had his teeth knocked out. The referee did nothing, and the Germans won. Livio was furious. His fury lasted a while. Marco, Livio’s son, who is the spitting image of his dad, confirmed how angry Livio was at the conference.

Many times we have seen comrades who were very (too) committed to politics for a few years only to later abandon it. (burnt out). A certain balance is important, and our parties must reflect this in their functioning.

Tip 3: In my opinion, Livio is an excellent example of a bullshit detector. Bullshit, or crap detector in English, is a phrase popularised by Ernest Hemingway and the pedagogue Neil Postman. Revolutionaries must not exaggerate one way or another when the struggle is high or low after a victory or defeat.

Recently, we have had a lot of pro-Corbyn militants in Britain who were active in the Labour Party during its rise, but now after Corbyn’s defeat, many are saying that the Labour Party is the same as the Conservative Party. Some say they are against voting for Labour to throw out the Conservatives. This is the wrong position.

I well remember an example of his bullshit detector. At an international meeting, American comrades made a great deal of their solidarity with black families in the US South when a serial killer was murdering children. It was a useful and just campaign of solidarity, but the political meaning was greatly exaggerated. Livio ironically asked me:

How many people are really in favour of the massacre of children? It is not surprising that their campaign has a certain amount of popularity, but let’s not exaggerate its political impact.

Tip 4: I remember that Livio had pictures of great composers like Mozart, Beethoven, etc. on his desk. Livio knew history and culture well. I well remember one evening when we all went to the cinema to see Milos Forman’s beautiful film Amadeus about the rivalry between Mozart and Salieri. Livio was the one who criticised the film the most of all. He said the historical facts did not hold; for him, the idea that Salieri had a hand in Mozart’s death was just fantasy.

He knew that you couldn’t build socialism just by breaking away from the capitalist and bourgeois state. You also have to bring together all the progress, science, rationality, culture, and beauty that people in the past have made. All the Maoist, ultra-left ideas of the Chinese Cultural Revolution or of the Year Zero in Cambodia were anathema to him. This week in Sicily showed me the beauty of Arab, Greek, Roman, and Baroque cultures, which must be preserved and understood as resources for the future.

Tip 5. Livio had a sense of self-criticism and modesty. He was sober and calm. I translated part of his book on the history of the Fourth International into English. He does not make a long sectarian defence of all the political positions taken by the Fourth. Livio tries to examine all arguments fairly. Regrouping today with other revolutionary currents is only possible with this approach. We must accept our limitations and weaknesses. His work in the Rifondazione leadership shows this quality well.

Surely Livio would have looked at this conference with some irony. He was not one with great pretensions.

I have only known him closely for five years, but I have already learned so much. I saw in Porto Empodecle this Thursday at Pirandello’s birthplace this beautiful sentence:

You will learn to your cost that on the long journey of life, you will meet many masks and few faces.

Livio was not a mask; he had a face.

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Dave Kellaway is on the Editorial Board of Anti*Capitalist Resistance, a member of Socialist Resistance, and Hackney and Stoke Newington Labour Party, a contributor to International Viewpoint and Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.

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