Italy: Democratic Party launched

Conference marks final demise of once powerful Communist Party

The ’ Internationale’ has gone forever. Instead of using the traditional hymn of international working class struggle, the Democrats of the Left (Ds) held their final conference last week in Florence to the strains of the Italian national anthem and the song ’Somewhere over the rainbow’, made famous by Judy Garland in the ‘Wizard of Oz’!

The Ds is the main successor party to what was once the biggest Communist Party in Europe – the Pci. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the majority of the Pci voted to change their name to the Party of Democrats of the Left and later the Ds – a capitalist party which, in government up to 2001 and again for the past year, has presided over neo-liberal attacks against the working class.

Just over a quarter of the former Pci went on to form the Party of Communist Refoundation (Prc) as an anti-capitalist workers’ party. But then the Prc leadership moved to the right and this party is also currently part of the governing coalition.

Now the Ds is burying any last vestiges of its communist past in preparation for a merger with the Margherita (Daisy) party, which was simultaneously holding its last conference in Rome. The Margherita is a remnant of the Christian Democratic party (Dc) – the capitalist party which was in Italy’s governments for most of the post-war period until its collapse, following corruption scandals in 1992. These two parties, the main forces in Romano Prodi’s ‘ centre-left’ coalition government, will now go on to found the Democratic Party (Pd).

Berlusconi gives endorsement

The neo-liberal character of this new party is not in doubt. It even has the endorsement of former right-wing prime minister and self-confessed ’communist hater’, Silvio Berlusconi, who was a visitor to both conferences. At the Ds conference he was greeted with applause by the delegates instead of the usual heckling. He himself applauded the speech by Ds leader Piero Fassino. "Ninety-five per cent of what I heard I agree with" said Berlusconi. "I could almost join this Pd".

The Italian capitalist class views the creation of the Pd as an important step away from unstable multi-party government coalitions and towards an American-style political system, with two reliable and relatively stable capitalist parties to carry out their bidding. They are also pushing for a change in the electoral law which they hope will speed up this process.

Berlusconi announced outside the Ds conference his willingness to buy a stake in Telecom Italia after an offer from the American company AT&T was recently withdrawn. The prospect of foreign capitalists buying up a leading Italian company unleashed a wave of ’economic patriotism’ in the pages of the capitalist press and in the government. But it is alright for Berlusconi – a media magnate and the richest man in the country – to own a stake because he is Italian! And, of course, he might express his gratitude to Prodi and Co. by guaranteeing the co-operation of his right-wing alliance in parliament over the electoral law.

According to the most recent opinion polls, the Pd would be lucky to get 23% of the vote if elections were held tomorrow. That is 8% less than the combined vote of the Ds and Margherita in the 2006 general election.

The Pd might be a new party, but its policies will be the same anti-working class, pro-imperialist policies that this government has been pursuing for the last 12 months and which are being rejected by growing sections of the working and middle class. While the leaders jockey for positions and power in the soon to be formed party, working-class people continue to suffer from poverty pay (only Portuguese workers in the euro zone have lower wages) and the problems of casual working. At least nine workers have been killed at work since the beginning of the year as unscrupulous bosses ignore health and safety in the scramble for profits.

Dissenters

A group of Ds members around one of the party’s ministers, Fabio Mussi, is refusing to join the Pd and walked out from the Ds conference. Mussi’s ’2nd motion’ against going into this new party gained the support of 38,000 out of 165,000 Ds members, although it is not clear at this stage how many of those will actually leave the party. Some may wait until after the local elections at the end of May to make sure that they get elected as councillors first. Mussi’s group is being courted by the small Sdi (Social Democrats) who talk about re-founding the Psi – the Italian Socialist Party which also collapsed in a mire of corruption at the beginning of the 1990s.

At the same time, the leader of the Prc, Franco Giordano, has approached Mussi to join the new political formation which he wants to form – the ’cantiere’ (literally ‘construction site’) involving everyone to the left of the Pd (See recent articles on socialistworld.net). In a recent interview with the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, Giordano said that one of the common characteristics of this new formation must be "criticism of the current form of capitalism". This implies that there is a form of capitalism which is acceptable.

His comments reinforce the CWI’s argument that Giordano and the other Prc leaders are looking to form a liberal capitalist party. However, they will be challenged by forces on the left of the Prc who still want to build a mass, fighting, anti-capitalist party of workers and the social movements in Italy.

The class struggles which could provide the forces for the building of a real mass workers’ party are already being prepared. Workers at the Fincantieri (shipyards) have been taking strike action against privatisation and have called a national strike for June. The leaders of the big trade union federations – Cgil, Uil, Cisl – are also being forced to talk again about a general strike in the public sector, this time on 5 May. Members of the smaller ‘unions of the base’ in the public sector are being asked to come out on 30 April on the same issue of wages.

‘Tesoretto’ must benefit workers

The Italian economy is experiencing a slight period of growth at the moment. But underlying problems of competitiveness mean that the capitalist class will not let up in their relentless pursuit of attacks on wages, working conditions and social spending. A battle is brewing over whether the ’tesoretto’ – the increase in government income from economic improvement and a crackdown on tax evasion – should go to the working-class through increased social spending or be used to cut the public debt.

At the same time, the government’s plans for raising the pension age and introducing counter reforms in the public sector could lead to confrontation with workers, despite the weakness of the leaders of the three main confederal trade unions. The Italian ruling class may dream of a stable two-party political system but the economic and social crises inherent in capitalism today make that dream impossible.

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