The Socialist 16 October 2004 |
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Italy - Mass Struggle And The Forces Of The Left
ITALY IS the country in which the anti-globalisation and anti-war protests
of the new century have brought the greatest numbers onto the streets - up to
3 million on 15 February, 2003.
It is the home of a wide network of local Social Forums, not least that of
Genoa which organised the week of protest against the G8 summit in July 2001.
It was then that the most brutal and reactionary face of the Italian state was
revealed to the world - in the killing of one young protester, Carlo Giuliani;
in the bloody clubbing of demonstrators sleeping at the Diaz school; in the
torturing of those arrested by police with a mindless allegiance to the
fascist dictator, Mussolini. The first European Social Forum was held in the
Italian city of Florence in 2002 and included an impressive two million strong
At the same time, there has been a wave of workers' action, including
general strikes, against the neo-liberal attacks of the Berlusconi government
and the biggest ever protest in Europe in defence of workers' rights - the
3-million strong demonstration in Rome in March 2002.
There have been dramatic strikes already this year, but an Italian 'hot
autumn' is not at present expected. One of the main reasons for this is the
failure of the leaders of the three main trade union federations to make calls
for decisive general strike action or for a serious counter-offensive.
The opposition Olive Tree alliance of centre-left parties, now to be under
the leadership of out-going European Commission president, Romano Prodi, has
also failed to capitalise on the mass discontent and to demand the resignation
of Berlusconi and his crew. It made some gains in this year's elections, but
hardly altered its percentage of the popular vote.
Parties on the left flank of the Olive Tree fared best. These include the
party of Communist Refoundation (Rc). Its leadership has now come out for a
programmatic alliance with the capitalist parties of the Olive Tree and some
workers understandably welcome this 'anti-Berlusconi' unity.
But it was the neo-liberal capitalist policies initiated by the previous
Olive Tree governments - undermining workers' living standards and employment
prospects - which lost them popularity and allowed Berlusconi to win in 2001.
Now the Rc leadership is advocating support for a new Olive Tree government
that will do little different from the last time.
Already some of the centre-left leaders like Piero Fassino of the Democrats
of the Left (Ds - former Communists) and Francesco Rutelli of the
centre-democratic Margherita, have made it clear they actually support pension
'reform' and have no intention of reversing the processes of privatisation and
The Iraq war
On the issue of ending the imperialist occupation of Iraq, some of the
centre-left leaders retreated from the unanimous call they made, at the time
of the Abu Ghraib revelations, for the immediate withdrawal of troops from
Iraq. Even Fausto Bertinotti, leader of the Rc (and now of the new European
Left Party founded last May) abandoned this demand when the two female Italian
volunteers were taken hostage in Iraq. Instead of stepping up the campaign for
Italian troops to be withdrawn he assured Berlusconi of his support for a
unified national position on the issue.
Once the 'Two Simones' were released, Bertinotti tried to regain his left
credentials with a renewed 'Troops out now!' demand, adding a suggestion that
fresh troops could go to Iraq on the basis of a peace conference involving the
Instead he should be giving maximum support to the building of independent
trade unions and working class parties in Iraq and for the foreign troops to
be replaced with united militias under the democratic control of all
ethnicities and national groupings in the country.
It is not only on foreign policy that the RC leaders are falling short of a
revolutionary socialist or communist programme.
In relation to the crises in Fiat, Parmalat and Alitalia - major
flag-carriers of the struggling Italian economy - the party and its daily
paper Liberazione have failed to conduct a full-bloodied campaign for public
ownership with compensation only on the basis of need and with control through
democratically elected workers' and consumers' committees.
Bertinotti pronounced the problem of the Italian economy not as one of
capitalist ownership and exploitation, but one of tax evasion! The solution?
Employ 10,000 more tax inspectors to make the rich pay.
The Young Communists, whom you might expect to be more radically
anti-capitalist, appear to be convinced that switching to 'ethical' banks and
consuming 'Fair Trade' products is sufficient to end exploitation and hardship
in the neo-colonial world.
The European Party of the Left has been set up without discussion inside
the Rc and involves all kinds of parties with little connection with
revolutionary communism or socialism - the PDS in Germany, the PCF of France -
both of whom have participated at national or local level in implementing
neo-liberal, anti-working class policies!
Much was expected of the Rc - in Italy, Europe and beyond. It was a small
mass party that split from the Ds as that party travelled further and further
to the right. It had rejected the 1990s argument that the capitalist market
system is the only way of organising society.
With its red flags, its revolutionary songs and its anti-capitalist
programme it won wide support amongst student and worker activists. A party
like the Rc should be thundering its opposition to a re-run of the Olive Tree
government. It should denounce at every opportunity the social contract ideas
of Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the new head of the bosses' organisation
Confindustria. Montezemolo is a top man in Fiat and a member of the Margherita
party, naturally seeing the Olive Tree as the preferred choice of his social
The leaders of the Rc must be forced to reverse their current policy of
collaboration with parties representing the interests of the ruling capitalist
class or to step aside. If the necessary turn is not made soon there will be a
further exodus from the party. Many regions have seen a substantial drop in
members renewing their party cards. This year's annual national rally in Rome
of the Rc on 26 September was less than half the size it has been in recent
years. Bertinotti mentioned the word socialism once, but as a final goal and
not a set of ideas and strategies for the struggles of workers and young
people to succeed.
Shedding its original character, the Rc is in danger of atrophying as a
force for anti-capitalist change. This would be a blow for the whole of the
workers' movement internationally.
The past three years of mass mobilisation in Italy against Berlusconi and
the capitalist system - at home and abroad - provided fertile ground for the
Rc to grow phenomenally. It should have aimed to mobilise support amongst
workers and anti-globalisation and anti-war protesters for genuinely socialist
or communist policies as the only way to solve the immediate and long-term
problems of today. It should have raised the need for a government of elected
representatives from the workers and young people involved in the general
strikes and mass protests.
The leadership of 'Rifondazione' must not be allowed to re-tie the party to
those very forces and ideas from which it broke at its birth - of 'concertazione'
and class collaboration. Its members must be allowed to have their say and to
revive in their party and in society the real fighting, communist traditions
of the Italian working class.