Archive article from The Socialist Issue 366
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 anti-war march.
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 de-regulation.
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 Iraqi 'resistance'.
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 class!
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.
European Social Forum: on this site
'Solid' General Strike
Workers Must Fight