Italy: Party of Communist Re-foundation conference

Fight to maintain a force capable of genuine anti-capitalist struggle

Four days of discussion and debate – but for what purpose? This was a question that many members of Rifondazione Comunista (Prc) must have asked themselves at the special organisational conference of the party which took place in Carrara, Italy from 29 March to 1 April.

The conference was called to discuss some of the problems that the party is facing almost a year after it entered Romano Prodi’s centre-left coalition government and how it can best organise to confront them. On the agenda were debates around issues such as ’gender democracy’ and ’the European left’.

But in the run-up to the conference, in the pages of the national press, the Prc leaders undemocratically announced a party ’project’ of their own. Claiming it as ‘socialist’, they are aiming to unite the left in Italy in what would effectively become a new liberal capitalist formation. The conference was left discussing the organisational forms of a party which, if the leadership gets its way, will cease to exist in a year’s time!

A survey of party members which was distributed at the conference clearly revealed some of the problems that the Prc is experiencing. Less than 17% of party members are under 30 and most branches have no links with the ‘social movements’ – against globalisation and war – which the leadership claims to represent. Only 1.5% claim to have links with the local trade unions.

On the conference floor, Donato Marone, from the (Fiat) Melfi branch graphically explained the conditions which ordinary workers are having to endure. Only this week a survey revealed that Italian workers are the lowest paid in Europe. "Our electorate is not happy" declared Donato. “What are we doing in this government?" Even Paulo Ferrero, a minister of welfare in the government, admitted that although the ‘Unione’ had won the general election in April last year, its ’people’ feel defeated – that they have not gained.

In a powerful speech, Marco Veruggio – who is on the national political committee of the Prc and a member of Controcorrente, a left alternative in the party – explained that the crisis in the party is a political one. "It seems that the Prc is going to form a party of struggle, to a party of struggle and government, to a party of just government", he said. "When we start talking about ’liberalisations’ which hit the rich and help the poor it’s like talking about redundancies which hit the bosses and help the workers". "When we don’t talk about whether Alitalia should be privatised but how". "When instead of discussing the criminality of war we quibble over rules of engagement and whether our troops (in Afghanistan) are 10 km to the south or to the north".

What is the limit?

"If I say that we must say ‘no’ to the war, to pension attacks, to privatisations, even if it means that the government falls, I’m told that this will help Berlusconi," he continued. "Well, I ask you comrades – what is the limit beyond which we will not go? Is there a limit… or has maintaining the government become the party’s only compass?".

While several speakers expressed unease about the party leaders preparing to ditch ’communism’ for ’socialism’ – seen in Italy as a retreat- the final resolution proposed by the leadership-dominated political committee was overwhelmingly passed. The resolution itself is extremely vague and abstract, talking about approaching political and social movements for a discussion about a ‘left building site’. Nevertheless it is clear that the party general secretary, Giordano, and Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Bertinotti, want to move the party even further to the right for electoral reasons.

This is in anticipation of a change in the election law favouring larger political blocs and the merger of two of the main parties in Romano Prodi’s government coalition – the Margherita (Daisy) Party (former Christian Democrats) and the DS (Democrats of the Left former ‘communists’) to form a new capitalist ’Democratic Party’. This will almost certainly result in a left split from the DS (possibly taking up to 25% of the party) following their conference this month. Giordano and Bertinotti are looking to unite with the split from the DS and other forces to create a liberal reformist party which could form an electoral bloc with the Democratic Party from the ’centre-left’.

Qualitative change

In the context of Italy, where the Prc was formed over 15 years ago as a small mass party which stood for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and which attracted the most radical workers and youth, this would clearly mark a step backwards and a qualitative change in the process of the rightward shift in the party. This would, in turn, raise the question of political representation of the working class and the need to begin the creation of a new, mass party of workers and the movement.

A mass workers’ party in Italy will be built primarily from the forces involved in workplace and trade union struggles, such as those which are likely to take place over attacks on pensions, over casual working, over privatisation and public sector ’reforms’, and from social and community struggles such as the movement against the building of the US base in Vicenza and the Tav high-speed rail link in Val di Susa.

Organise the left

Controcorrente correctly see their main task as building these struggles and organising the left in the Prc to resist the rightward turn of Giordano and Bertinotti. If, explained Marco Veruggio in his speech, to be in the government is the main aim of the party leaders in proposing a new formation, “Then, from tomorrow until the next National Congress we will ask all those comrades who still think that an anti-capitalist communist party is needed, one that can give voice to the workers… to the movements for struggle, to say, altogether ‘no’ we do not agree".

Unfortunately, ‘Sinistra Critica’, the organisation of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International who obtained around 7% of the vote at the last Prc Congress, have chosen to opt out of this struggle inside the Prc. At a press conference in Carrara, their MP, Salvatore Cannavo, announced that they would not be participating in the conference. Their only contribution was to read out a statement from their senator, Turigliatto, who was scandalously expelled from the party for voting against the government’s foreign policy, including the war in Afghanistan.

Sinistra Critica are not leaving the Prc, explained Cannavo, but their members will be ’suspending’ themselves from all positions in the party and concentrating on building their organisation and ’forums of social struggle’. This is a muddled ’third way’ position which reflects both their lack of political clarity and the divisions within their own ranks.

There is still a battle to be waged inside the Prc. Even if that battle ends in defeat, in the course of that struggle the forces of the left can be organised and strengthened both inside and outside the Prc in preparation for the building of a future mass workers’ party.

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