Italy: Right split from ‘Rifondazione comunista’ proceeds, but slowly!

Controcorrente pushes party to break from coalition and capitalist politics

Six months after their unexpected defeat at the national congress in Chianciano, the right wing of the Italian Prc (Party of communist refoundation) has finally split away. Or at least one part has. The majority of the rank and file supporters of Nichi Vendola and former party leader Fausto Bertinotti (grouped around congress motion number 2) seem to be staying put – at least for the moment.

The pretext for the split was the removal of the editor of Liberazione, the daily paper linked to the Prc. But already immediately after the congress the supporters of Motion 2 had formed their own organisation, ‘Rifondazione per la Sinistra’ (Left refoundation). This was clearly a prelude to their eventual exit from the party. In the pre-congress period it had looked as if the supporters of Motion 2 would win, leading to the Prc being dissolved as a communist party and absorbed into an amorphous ‘left’ formation whose main aim would be to constitute a coalition partner for the capitalist Democratic Party (Pd). But that strategy was defeated after a bitter struggle which saw supporters of the other motions (1,3, 4 +5) unite together and vote to maintain the Prc’s communist identity and launch a new ‘left turn’.

The supporters of Motion 2 who have walked out are not moving immediately towards forming a new political party, postponing this until after the local and European elections in June. They hope to contest these elections in alliance with the miniscule Sd (Democrats of the left) – a split from the Pd, who want to move immediately to a party, and the Greens, who barely register in the polls but want to maintain their own identity! Clearly there is a real danger of commiting electoral suicide. That is why Bertinotti wanted to delay the whole process of leaving the party until after the elections and also explains why so many of his followers have decided to stay in the Prc for the time being.

Some are betting on a future major split from the pro- capitalist Pd, which would be comprised of former members of the Pci (the former communist party that effectively dissolved itself in 1991) around Massimo D’Alema. The Pd itself is in crisis, racked by corruption scandals and internal divisions. Just 15% of people think of it favourably as an opposition party. The main financial newspaper, ‘Il Sole 24 Ore’ – mouthpiece of the employers’ organisation Confindustria – writes constant editorials urging the party to get its act together; they want a credible capitalist party waiting in the wings as an alternative for when support for Berlusconi’s coalition government collapses, as it inevitably will as a result of economic and social crisis.

Languishing at just 26% in the polls, many are anticipating a disastrous showing for the Pd in the June elections. Clearly many Motion 2 supporters hope that this will be the trigger for the D’Alema wing to break away, laying the basis for the emergence of a formation which would be more ‘socially progressive’ than the current Pd and in which they could find a home and avoid electoral oblivion.

Battle for a real workers’ party

This is a messy and confused split which still leaves many obstacles in the way of the Prc implementing a real left turn. The majority of ‘Rifondazione per la Sinistra’ members who have decided to stay in the party are pursuing a different tactic to those who have left but their ultimate aim is the same – to destroy the Prc and prevent it becoming a fighting independent, anti-capitalist communist party.

The Prc’s credibility has been severely tarnished by its experience of governing in alliance with capitalist parties and electorally it is barely recovering from its general election wipe-out, when all of its MPs lost their seats. The latest opinion polls give the party less than 3%, about the same as when it stood in the general election in April 2007 with three other organisations but well below the 5% plus it was getting before entering the Prodi government three years ago.

The real challenge now is for the Prc to establish itself as a party which, against the backdrop of severe economic crisis, fights implacably in the interests of workers and young people. This means adopting a programme of fighting demands and action to defend jobs, wages, and services as part of a broader anti-capitalist/communist platform. including nationalisation of the banks, financial institutions and major companies, democratically controlled and managed by working class people. It also means a rejection of coalitions which implement cuts, privatisation and anti-working class policies, at a local as well as at a national level.

A battle is already being waged inside the party around these issues. The biggest grouping in the leadership of the party, around Paolo Ferrero the general secretary, has a very ambiguous position on the question of coalitions at a local level. In several cities and regions the party is still governing with the Pd, despite the fact that it is pursuing neoliberal policies and, in the case of Abruzzo for example, under investigation for corruption .

At the December meeting of the Prc’s national political committee, however, Marco Veruggio of the Controcorrente group moved an amendment concerning the issue of the party breaking with local coalitions which carry out anti-working class policies. This amendment received 31 votes (15%), including votes from Ferrero’s group.

Moreover, in Genoa where Controcorrente is particularily active, the Prc walked out of the local coalition with the Pd at the end of last year. This is the most important Italian city in which such a break has occurred.

Under the impact of the economic crisis and the role of groups like Controcorrente on the left of the party (in which the Cwi in Italy participates), new realignments are taking place with the possibility of pushing the leadership further to the left. However, this will be countered by similar realignments taking place on the right of the party, including alliances forming between the right-wing of Ferrero’s group and those from ‘Rifondazione per la Sinistra’.

The economic recession and government attacks are already leading to mass struggles by workers and students. At the end of last year there was the ‘wave’ of struggle in the schools and universities which swept Italy and a general strike on December 12 called by the main union federation, the Cgil. Now, on February 13, the metalworkers’ union, Fiom, will be organising a national general strike together with the Cgil in the public sector. By orientating towards these and future movements, not as cheerleaders but with a clear, fighting anti-capitalist programme, a mass communist workers’ party could be built in Italy. Exactly what role the Prc will play in that process is not yet clear but there are still many genuine activists inside the party who are prepared to move in that direction. It would therefore be premature to abandon that struggle, as unfortunately other left groups have done, while it is still in the process of being waged.

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January 2009