Italy: War fuels class struggle

Italy is the European country which has seen the biggest and most widespread protests against the US bombing of Afghanistan. It is also the only country that has seen its prime minister urging the population onto the streets in pro-war demonstrations. There is a deep polarisation as well as a deep radicalisation going on in Italian society. These processes seem to have been accelerated rather than obliterated by the onset of war. With or without it, Italy’s workers and youth have undoubtedly taken up a position in the front ranks of the international struggle against capitalism.

Only weeks after the replacement of the ‘Olive Tree’ government in this May’s general election, by that of the billionaire tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, millions of engineering workers were on strike against attempts to undermine their wages and conditions. The burgeoning hatred for the new government undoubtedly lay behind the massive turnout of 300,000 demonstrators in July on the streets of Genoa at the time of the G8 summit.

After the attacks of September 11 th in the USA on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, Italian workers and young people were among the first to show they would not be intimidated by attempts to paint as terrorists anyone who opposed capitalist governments. They were on the streets in larger than usual numbers during the annual Communist Refoundation demonstration in Rome on September 29. 120,000 trade unionists, activists, school and university students demonstrated under red flags and banners with placards saying things like: "Down with the three ‘B’s of the Apocalypse – Bush, Bin Laden and Berlusconi!"

Bombing in Afghanistan

Two days after the first air attacks on Afghanistan, tens of thousands of students and left activists were on the streets of Italy’s cities to say ‘No to War!’ In the week before the traditional Peace March from Perugia to Assisi on October 14, transport workers – on the underground, the trains, even taxi-drivers – had been stopping work for anything between an hour and 24 hours in protest against the war or in pursuit of their own demands, or both. School students everywhere had been walking out or occupying their classrooms to express their hatred of war. Many in Rome’s schools had decided on a citywide protest on Friday 12 October, for example.

The Perugia march of 14 October was phenomenal – bigger than on any occasion in its 41 year history. It was far larger than any during the Gulf War or two years ago when Italy decided to participate directly in the NATO bombardment of Serbia. It could have numbered up to half a million and all estimates made it larger than the massive anti G8 demonstration in Genoa in July (except those of the right-wing press and of the activists from Genoa!) Liberazione, the daily paper of Communist Refoundation, whose banners and flags always produce a sea of red on such occasions, described the event as "An invasion of peace" across the Umbrian countryside.

The October day was as hot as July 21 had been in Genoa. The assistance from local residents with water hoses and buckets was just as welcome. The spirit of the predominantly young demonstrators was as determined and defiant against a rotten world order as it had been in Genoa. Now, with the richest super powers waging war against one of the poorest countries on the earth’s surface, their anger was intense. But this did not prevent many sections of the march from celebrating the justice of their cause and the elation of the solidarity they felt by singing, dancing, laughing and making merry all the 23 kilometres of the procession!

Democratic Left

The only sour note on the march was struck by the appearance of the leaders of two parties who had voted in Parliament to support the US war effort. Francesco Rutelli of the Margherita (Christian social democratic) party told journalists, "We are all committed to ending the conflict as soon as possible. But military action is a duty, necessary to combat terrorism." Massimo D’Alema of the one-time ‘communist’ party, now pro-capitalist Democratic Left (Ds), claimed they were as entitled as anyone else to take their place on the demonstration! Few agreed. They were booed and whistled at in derision until they left the march… well before the end!

These were the main figures in the centre left ‘Olive Tree’ coalition which was in power for five years until May this year. They lost power mainly because of the wide range of anti-working class policies they initiated, including more privatisation than any previous government. They had also been the government that agreed to participate in NATO’s Kosova war. At the first vote in parliament on the US military action against the Taliban, the Olive Tree had fractured. The Greens and Cossutta’s Party of Italian Communists (Pcdi) went against the bombings while the larger Margherita and Democratic Left (DS) parties voted in favour.

The same pattern was followed over the vote on November 7 for Italy to send 2,700 military personnel to Afghanistan, including soldiers and carabinieri. There is a large layer of Ds members who have now gone into open revolt against their leaders. A layer of youth clings to the idea that their party can be taken back to the left. They have not gone over to Rifondazione, in some cases wary of an over-centralised approach towards politics and organisation.

Many of them argue that their party should never have voted for Italy’s involvement in the military action in Afghanistan. They would have been amongst the 150,000 or so who participated in another lively anti-war march in Rome on November 10. There too was the Ds vice-president of the Senate, Cesare Salvi. He told La Repubblica he had no qualms about being in the same demonstration as the leader of Rifondazione, Fausto Bertinotti. "On May 13 the left lost (the election) with two million votes going by the wayside because of the absence of an agreement with Refoundation." This, he said, is what had given Berlusconi his victory.

At the other extreme of his party stands Luciano Violante, parliamentary leader of the Ds in the lower house. He was quoted in the Il Manifesto newspaper (November 10), declaring his intention of going on the pro-war demonstration organised by Forza Italia and Berlusconi’s House of Liberty in Rome – also on November 10! On this occasion – dubbed Usaday – instead of going on either demonstration, Rutelli and the newly-elected leader of the DS, Piero Fassino, flew off to Brindisi on Italy’s south eastern coast to visit the troops embarking for Afghanistan.

US day

The anti-war demonstrators again scored a resounding success, outnumbering the pro-USA march by at least three to one and some say ten to one! "Two Itays will make their way through Rome" said Luca Casarini of the ‘disobedients’, but there was no doubt who represented the strongest feelings in the country over the war. The government sponsored ‘show’ had been widely advertised in the media (not surprisingly given Berlusconi’s personal ownership of so much of it!). There had also been a massive poster campaign showing an Italian tricolour flag merging into a stars and stripes and the slogans ‘Against Terrorism; for a just peace!’

 Nevertheless, the pro-war rally was widely dubbed a ‘flop’ in the press. There were reports that there were far more flags to wave than participants to wave them and many had taken the opportunity of a free bus-ride to Rome to go on a shopping trip! The TV news blanked out both demonstrations so as not to show up the victory for the ant-war camp. In the country as a whole, opinion polls showed a majority of the population against Italy’s involvement in the fighting. This makes the decision of the Ds to give the government of Berlusconi unprecedented support in parliament all the more sensational. "A reformist left conducts itself in opposition just as it would do in government!" they explained.

On the weekend of 17-18 November in Pesaro, the Democratic Left held its congress amid mounting speculation of explosions and splits. A German newspaper reported the new right wing leader, Piero Fassino as saying: "The Ds must experience its Bad Godesburg" meaning its final departure from any socialist ideas. (At its congress in the town of that name in 1959 the German Social Democratic Party formally abandoned the last remnants of Marxism in its party basic programme and clearly accepted capitalism.) Right-wingers in the Ds, who have defended the policy of participation in the war, welcome their party lining up with Blair, Bush, Schroeder and Jospin.

Although the Ds long ago adopted a thoroughly pro-capitalist outlook and policy, the majority views expressed at the Pesaro congress will be the final straw for those Ds members who felt it was still possible to renew the party’s left credentials by breaking with neo-liberal and imperialist policies. They may well conclude that the time has come to leave the party; the Democratic Left has obviously already begun to fracture. The size and influence it retains in the future is yet to be determined but gone are its days of claiming to have any ‘left’ credentials in the workers’ movement of Italy.

Contradictions in the ruling camp

The issue of Italy’s involvement in what has, from the beginning, been seen as the USA’s war, has naturally put all political forces to the test. The behaviour of Berlusconi himself during the war has aroused the anger of millions of workers and students, but also of the far right in his own coalition. Members of the ‘post-fascist’ National Alliance were unwilling to march with him on the streets of their fatherland under the banner of the United States.

There is an irony, if not a large measure of hypocrisy, in the prime minister trying to be accepted into Bush’s team in the crusade against terrorism when sitting in his cabinet are representatives of the party – the National Alliance – whose members were responsible for the ‘Strategy of Tension’ which culminated in the planting of a bomb in Bologna railway station in 1980 that killed 85 people.

His attempts were not helped by the infamous comments he made about the inferiority of Muslim civilisation which threatened to undermine all the diplomatic efforts of his allies to get a number of important Muslim countries to tolerate, if not support, the US bombings. Berlusconi used the same occasion to ‘reveal’ the threat of a terror attack on the G8 Summit and use it as an excuse for the notoriously brutal police attack on the Diaz school on the night of 21 July.

Under cover of the war, too, the business tycoon prime minister has been busy getting laws changed to keep him out of the fraud and corruption courts. (One of the measures has been to make more difficult the exchange of incriminating evidence across borders, at a time when his allies in the war effort have been calling for an easing of cross-border exchanges!).

A died-in-the-wool Italian nationalist, Berlusconi has found himself lending support in some previously unimagined quarters. He has jumped to the defence of the hapless president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, who in Italy used to head a centre-left government. In the debate in the Italian parliament on military intervention in Afghanistan, he went further and warmly praised the work done by his centre-left predecessors. In turn, they warmly applauded his call for national unity!

The Italian prime minister, the wealthiest man in Italy, has also displayed a marked preference for being seen as a friend of US president Bush and the wealthiest nation in the world rather than as a poor relation in the European family. His reluctance to go into the European Airbus venture (at a cost of £1.14bn), while backed by the Defence Minister, Martino, has irritated some of his other ministers, including Ruggiero the Foreign Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, Fini. (The same Martino had said in response to the WTC attacks in September that Italian troops would not participate in any military action in Afghanistan.)

Harsh Budget

Recent material has actually confirmed that, strictly speaking, Italy should not even be part of the Euro project within the European Union. It was the previous ‘Olive Tree’ administration who managed to halve the size of Italy’s more than 6% budget deficit by a blatant fiddle. Using the derivatives market, it had issued bonds converting a large part of the government’s debt into Japanese yen. Since calculations for membership of the Euro project would only take into account debts in Italian currency, the country was allowed to qualify! Now it is Berlusconi’s government which is pursuing a harsh austerity budget to stay within the criteria.

It can only do this by making enormous cutbacks on its public spending and trying to undermine the power of the historically militant working class of Italy.

Figures for growth have been revised downwards to less than 2% even before the world downturn began to make itself felt. Alitalia workers have already entered a struggle over retrenchment and the textile, clothing and fashion industry is said to be in grave peril. The Milan Chamber of Commerce recently published a survey of 600 companies who already reported falls averaging nearly 10% in value added over the past year. Badly hit were those depending on exporting to the USA (falls of 32%) and to the rest of Europe (28%). Service industries depending on tourism were most vulnerable, with 80% of hotels and 20% of restaurants already being hit.

The on-going struggles in the Italian car industry arise from the large fall-off in sales due to a classical crisis of over-capacity on the world market. The major employers, like the super-rich Agnelli family which owns the Fiat Empire, will always seek to put the onus for the crisis on their workforce rather than suffer themselves.

It is a testament to the strength and combativity of the Italian workers that only now are the bosses and their spokespeople in government moving to attack long-held employment rights that their other European counter-parts lost years or even decades ago.

Berlusconi’s ministers are now trying to impose all manner of anti-working class policies. The ‘white book’ of Labour and Welfare Minister Maroni is arousing the anger of millions of workers. It constitutes a "Broad range of market reforms" as the English Financial Times puts it (28/11/01). "The law gives ministers powers to amend Italy’s ‘workers’ statute’ for the first time since it was introduced in 1970".

The unions

The leaders of the three main union federations – Sergio Cofferati of the Cgil, Luigi Angeletti of the Uil and Savino Pezzotta of the Cisl – have been prepared to sit down together with the government to try to get changes to the project. Late at night on November 26, however, reflecting the pressure building up amongst the members, they walked out of the negotiations and prepared for industrial action.

The following day the unions announced they would organise general strike action of two hours’ duration. They planned for it to take place over two days and in different places at different times – a favourite tactic of the union leaders in Italy. They aim through this tactic to allow workers to express their anger but to lessen the impact of their action. It will also reduce the feeling workers can gain, during a simultaneous general strike, of the power they can wield and the capacity they have to take over the running of society.

It was clear, however, even to the journalists reporting the announcement, that the Cgil had favoured more prolonged action. It could well be forced to call for a generalised strike at least throughout the public sector. The state, in various guises, employs over three and a half million people – from schools to health, from universities to government departments and ministries. Their claim has been for a wage rise in line with inflation of about between 2.2 and 2.3%. They were offered 0.3%!

The Cgil has a membership of 5,300,000. Although less than half of them are in work and nearly 3 million are pensioners, the leadership is coming under strong pressure to take more militant action. The conference of the Cgil, to be held in February 2002, will undoubtedly reveal big divisions over how to proceed in the battles over jobs and conditions in the face of the Berlusconi government’s wholesale attacks. The general Secretary, Coferatti, plays quite a prominent role in the Ds on its ‘left’. Now, however, relations between the Ds and Cgil are stretched, possibly to breaking point.

Within the Cgil itself there is a current supported by the Rc called ‘Cambiare rotta’ (‘Change Course’) which is opposed to the moderation of both the Ds and of the Cgil leadership. It argues against the infamous labour contracts of 1992 and 1993 which Cofferati still supports but its position on labour flexibility is weak. It also calls for wages to be tied to the level of Gross Domestic Product – particularly unwise at a time of world recession from which the Italian economy cannot escape.

At the September meeting of the leadership committee of the Cgil, this left grouping managed to get the support of around one quarter of the members (27 votes for and 87 against) on a resolution of total opposition to the war. Exactly the same voting took place on their resolution to give full support to the metalworkers’ strike on November 16 and fight the government’s ‘White Book’ with all-out industrial action.

The metalworkers of Fiom, affiliated to Cgil, are way to the left of its leadership. They have been conducting a battle against their own labour contract, already signed by two other unions in the industry – Fim and Uilm. Their leader, Claudio Sabatini, told a journalist three days before their November national stoppage, "The war represents a problem for every trade union struggle, but we cannot stop, also because war is the (most) extreme form of oppression." Demonstrations against the war "are not anti-American".

Fiom has also been spear-heading a campaign against changes in the labour law – especially of article 18 – which would lift restrictions on making workers redundant and diminish their right to compensation. The bosses and their mouthpieces in government are also intent on replacing national bargaining, and its inherent potential for national work stoppages, with local bargaining and other measures to weaken the power of the trade unions. A whole list of other measures aim at easing the way for deregulation, privatisation and casualisation.

The fightback

Fiom and the independent unions like Cobas and Cub, when organising for strike action in the recent period, have linked their demands with total opposition to the war budget. The only ministry whose budget has been increased is that of Defence. "For all the others the treatment will be drastic" (Cub leaflet, Roma, 1 October 2001)

One of Berlusconi’s pledges during his election campaign was for substantial pensions increases along with quite drastic changes in their financing and allocation. The ‘Welfare’ minister, Maroni, has seen the implementation of the increase in the minimum pension, which affects about 2 million people but has so far been unable to implement the restructuring. The increase was the sugar-coating on the plans to raise the retirement age and gradually whittle away pensioners’ entitlements. This is being fiercely resisted in a country with the smallest proportion of the population in Europe participating in employment (around 53%).

Education minister Letizia Moratti, is trying to push through a whole list of measures to be implemented in the schools and colleges. It includes destroying up to 50,000 full-time jobs and pouring resources into private rather than state education. Hence the nickname for her ministry as ‘the ministry for the 6%’ (of private school enrolments).

A wave of school student strikes and occupations has swept the country and a number of initiatives have been taken by different unions to protest at the cuts. The Cobas education strike on 31 October saw one third of the workforce walk out. One called for 12 November by the Schools sections of a number of unions including Cgil, Usi/Ait, Cub, Gilda and Unicobas, had a similar level of support in many regions but possibly involved more than half of all teaching staff.

Strikes and ‘direct actions’ by various different sectors of workers (and also even of commuters refusing to pay their tickets etc.) have been breaking out almost daily over some issue or another. In spite of the war propaganda and the cuts directly connected with it, the metalworkers maintained their action. On October 12, the stoppages at Fiat plants throughout the country were solid.

On 16 November, the national engineering general strike was widely respected. It brought heavy industry in many parts of Italy to a standstill. A quarter of a million workers marched in Rome, joined by leading activists from the Social Forum movement, young communists of the Rifondazione and the ‘dissobedienti’. The latter have grown out of the movement of ‘Tutte Bianchi’ and are having regular days of civil disobedience on a number of different issues.

The 17th saw a national day of non-obedience with occupations of disused buildings, school strikes and occupations, protests and social events in one hundred cities and towns across Italy. One of the TAZs (Temporary Autogestion (self-management) Zones) was in Milan where there was a night of music in the central piazza.

Anti-war protesters filled the Fontano di Castello Sforzeco in the centre of the city with fake blood. In Ancona, demonstrators took over a theatre which has been empty for fifteen years. In Turin, students blocked traffic and covered a war monument in paper. In Reggio Emilia protesters covered government buildings in posters and banners and blocked the road between a NATO base and its main oil supply station.

The temperature of protest and industrial struggle is undoubtedly still rising in Italy. Il Manifesto commented on 10 November that: "The idea is beginning to circulate of an open social confrontation, leading up to a possible general strike (a word not yet uttered)".

Towards a general strike?

In fact, the party of Communist Refoundation has begun to pose this as the only way to bring together and generalise the wave of protests taking place almost daily in Italy at the present time. Piero Bernocchi, leader of Cobas, spoke at a rally of 30,000 in Rome on 31 October, the day of education strikes throughout the country. "We are against a war budget that cuts resources for education and diverts them into military spending – L3,000 milliard (£1 billion) is destined from the government to the Ministry of Defence – and against a war that adds deaths to deaths without succeeding in dealing with the basis of terror."

A Cobas leaflet, agitating for general strike action on November 9, has the headline: "The government of the rich, along with the treasury, has declared war on workers, the unemployed and the pensioners". The privatisations, the attacks on workers’ rights and conditions started by the centre left (Olive Tree government), it maintains, have found a ‘large space’ in Berlusconi’s budget. Every attack, it correctly says, must be stopped and all forces opposed to the war and the budget must unite in coordinated general strike action.

To gain the maximum support and effectiveness, a general strike needs to be campaigned for and prepared. Action committees need to be set up with elected representatives from every workplace in an area, linked up on a regional and national basis. Warning general strikes of one day or 48 hours are needed to make it clear that unless the attacks on workers’ rights are withdrawn, stronger action will follow. An indefinite general strike would be a political challenge to the government itself the very existence of their system, posing the question of an alternative, workers’ government to take its place.

The term ‘hot autumn’ is back on people’s lips in Italy, reviving memories of the gigantic strike struggles of 1969. As yet, the strikes and social movements are by no means on the same scale as in that historic year. Nor is there as widespread an awareness as then that the bosses’ system needs to be totally replaced. 1969, after all, ushered in a prolonged period of class struggle which often presented pre-revolutionary situations. It lasted seven years during which there were many occasions when, with a far-sighted leadership, the Italian working class and poor peasantry could have taken power into their own hands and proceeded to construct a genuinely socialist society, spreading across the rest of Europe and beyond.

Nevertheless, due partly to the phenomenon of the anti-globalisation movement, there is today perhaps an even wider awareness than in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s of the full extent of capitalism’s exploitation on a world scale.


The radical stance of such a large part of Italy’s working class and its youth is to a certain extent ‘traditional’, but the existence of a sizeable party that explains the role of capitalism world-wide, and campaigns against it, is undoubtedly an important factor that does not exist today in other European countries.

The Communist Refoundation is an active campaigning party with a membership of 100,000 or so including 10,000 members in their youth wing. It has a wide layer of support amongst workers and young people – undoubtedly on the increase today, as a direct result of the events that have taken place within the first 100 days of Berlusconi’s government. The Rc has a daily paper – Liberazione – and agitates for full support to strikes and demonstrations organised by Cobas, Rdb, Cub (Confederazione unitaria di Base), Fiom and any other trade unions when they move into action.

Fausto Bertinotti, the Rifondazione leader, warned at a press conference in early November of "a profound crisis in society". The "double evil of war and terrorism" are "an organic component of the second (phase of) globalisation" that follows the collapse of the Twin Towers. Thanks to Seattle and Genoa, "The conclusion is just one: a left capable of putting forward an alternative society, based on the only promise in the field, that raised by the ‘No Global’ (movement)".

But, as an alternative to the imperialist war coalition, Bertinotti demands only that the United Nations comes up with a ‘solution’ – a vain hope given the track record of this body. Itself totally controlled by the big powers of imperialism, the UN has proved, on many occasions to be incapable even of carrying out successful relief operations, let alone resolving conflicts.

As an alternative to capitalism, unfortunately Bertinotti goes little further than the slogans of the anti-globalisation movement, known in Italy as ‘No Global’.

This means settling for the lowest common denominator – slogans on which everyone can agree. Bertinotti has joined the campaign for the Tobin Tax – a tiny percentage to be levied on the movement of speculative capital and given to the most exploited countries. But even if accepted by governments (and, more tellingly, by the speculators!), it is a measure based on the acceptance of the continuation of capitalism… and of speculation!

After Genoa, September 11 and the Afghan war, the Rc has adapted the slogan of the anti-globalisation movement ‘Another World is Possible’ to say these events underline that ‘Another World is Necessary’. However they do not bring out what kind of ‘other world’ is needed – in class terms. If they mean socialist, they need to say explain this and give an idea of how the struggle should be organised to achieve it.

The Social Forums now say that ‘Another World is Already Being Built’. In the sense that the forces for change are really gathering strength, this is correct. But the campaign launched recently by Agnoletto, the Genoa Social Forum leader, for a boycott of goods produced by the major multinationals "who do damage in the ‘third world’" points to the real culprits as far as exploitation and suffering is concerned. Nevertheless, unless it involves layers of the working class taking industrial action against them and fighting for their nationalisation, the multinationals will continue their dirty work, hardly affected by the action of consumers, however earnest they are in trying to make their protest felt.

‘No Global’

In all countries, the anti-globalisation movement is extremely diverse. One of the themes of the national meeting of Social Forums in Florence in October was: "The only thing we must do is change the world; the rest we will improvise!" On the one hand, this represents a healthy mistrust and aversion against the Stalinist way of running ‘left’ organisations and the discredited ‘model’ of so-called socialist societies in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. There is also a certain hostility towards political parties, which undoubtedly stems from the corruption prevalent in capitalist parties and also the long history of workers’ parties betraying the aspirations of working and poor people.

On the other hand, the ruling class is very well organised. Genoa showed how far they are prepared to go to defend their system. This class cannot be defeated by ‘spontaneity’ and a dispersed movement. The working class and the oppressed must also organise – industrially and politically. Italy has a proud tradition of organising – strong trade unions and workplace committees, a heroic movement against fascism and what was the biggest Communist Party in Europe. A political party that is made up of and represents workers and poor people is a vital necessity to defeat the ruling class and win the struggle for a different society – a socialist society.

Such a party does not stand aside from broad movements. While maintaining its own identity and programme, it would be all in favour of joint campaigns on specific demands to mobilise the widest possible range of opposition forces against war, against capitalism and against the effects of neo-liberal politics.

The movement in Italy associated with the ‘Social Centres’ that have been established in all the country’s major cities is often led by extremely radical figures. Casarini, for example, their recognised spokesperson, is linked with the ‘Tutte Bianchi’ civil disobedience movement. He is the subject of popular songs sung by the youth on their marches. Some of these self-managed ‘popular’ centres have been harassed and closed down by the authorities. Others have thrived and filled a political ‘space’ in Italian society.

The Social Forums that have spread across Italy in the past year have drawn in more moderate forces involved in the ‘No Global’ and peace movements. But they are already showing the strain of trying to be a totally diverse structure. Obviously the Christian pacifists involved, and the environmentalists are going to have a different outlook on life and on struggle from the ‘disobedients’, the militant trade unionists and the Communist Refoundation. There is a big difference between those who look for solutions on an individual or ‘moral’ plane and those who look to collective action and organisation, drawing on the ideas of Marx and Engels and on the experience of the Russian Revolution.

This was illustrated over the issue of going ahead with the anti-WTO and anti-war march in Rome on November 10 when there was an open disagreement over tactics. The Liliput (Church) network, the environmentalists and some of the cultural centres argued that: "Our strategy is one of entering society (locally) with many little demonstrations". The most radical and political organisations, in showing a determination to go to Rome, were expressing the desire of the youth for a showdown with Berlusconi.

"All those (organisations) were there who were on the tragic days of Genoa", noted La Repubblica: "The social centres, the immigrants, … Rifondazione and the Greens, the youth of Ds in conflict with their party…" In the Piazza del Populo, Luca Casarini declared that the movement must be built to bring the country to a standstill with a general strike. There was only one brief confrontation with the forces of order in which "four teargas canisters and one paper aeroplane were thrown"!

There was the music of the movement – a rap song entitled ‘Not in my name’ and a song in memory of the Genoa martyr, Carlo Giuliani, ‘One of us’. There was a sea of red banners, white armbands and slogans like ‘Down with the War Trade Organisation’ and ‘No to war – economic, social and military!’ "Meanwhile everyone", continued the report, from Casarini to the Greens was calling on the soldiers to desert".

It is clear that the organisations which have come out most forcefully against the war and against the policies of the Berlusconi government – those with a policy of defiance, of occupations and of strikes – have been boosted in the course of the anti-war protests – the party of Communist Refoundation, the Cobas, RdB and Cub trade unions and the militant Metalworkers’ union (Fiom).

Pressure to go further

The voice of the left inside the largest trade union federation – the Cgil – is also growing. All this reflects the enormous pressure building up from below in Italian society and the struggle taking place in other parts of the anti-capitalist movement between those who think capitalism can be reformed and those who are convinced it needs to be replaced with genuine socialism.

Refoundation’s leaders clearly believe that capitalism needs to be overthrown but lack a clear strategy for replacing it with genuine communism or socialism. In their daily propaganda, they seldom mention these as their goal. They talk often of ‘not being a majority in political society’ but fail to pose what needs to be done in order to become the major workers’ party in Italy and to be in a position to get rid of capitalism.

It is important that the Rc participates and acts as a catalyst in the still growing anti-globalisation movement. It can channel the anger expressed there into a real challenge to capitalist society by putting forward specifically socialist propaganda. With a programme of demands on wages, jobs, racism, democratic rights, nationalisation and democratic workers’ control the Rc can attract into its ranks the most radicalised layers of youth and workers. They must avoid submerging their own identity into that of the movement and accepting empty slogans that blur over the class lines in society.

A programme that includes demands to stop privatisations, closures and job losses, for big injections of public finance into schools, health, housing and transport must explain that capitalism itself is not able to provide the basic necessities for all. Such a programme can lay the basis for an appeal to Ds voters and disappointed members of that once mighty workers’ party turned tool of capitalism. If Refoundation is to go further in building more powerful forces and re-conquer the ground occupied in the past by the Pci, it must spell out clearly a programme of public ownership of the big banks, industrial companies and land, under democratic control and management by the working class.

Such ideas have come under relentless attack by the defenders of capitalism especially since the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The non-capitalist bureaucratically run societies that they have subjected to a propaganda onslaught were anyway a caricature of socialism. Stalinism was a vile distortion of the real ideas of the Marxist thinkers and fighters like Marx himself, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. In arguing the case for genuine socialism, unfortunately activists in the Rc have to give a clear explanation of the reasons for the rise of Stalinism and for its collapse.

The renewed combativity of workers and students at this time in Italy provides fertile ground for a genuine communist party with a revolutionary programme to take on flesh. The active and youthful layers in Refoundation – in the colleges, schools and workplaces – must step up the campaign to build a vehicle for ending capitalism and establishing genuine democratic and international socialism.

The polarisation in Italian society now sees attempts by far right and fascist forces to raise their voices. These in turn are being countered by mass demonstrations nationwide. It is possible that the rising wave of strikes by numerous different sections of workers could lead, once again, to the Berlusconi government being forced to resign.

Then the question would arise of what kind of government would take its place. The tensions and divisions in the Olive Tree coalition, especially inside the Ds, have left the opposition in disarray. Its weakness together with the growing economic crisis on a world-scale mean that a new centre left coalition would be even less able than in the past to solve any of the problems facing Italy’s workers and youth. By not breaking with capitalism and the dictates of the banks and monopolies in society, they would be forced fundamentally to continue with a policy of harsh anti-working class measures.

This situation would provide the Rc with still further opportunities for growth, provided they conduct an intransigent campaign against all cuts and put forward a programme for socialism. The urgency could not be greater than at the present time of building in Italy and internationally the forces capable of fighting for a socialist alternative to capitalism.

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November 2001