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Peter Hadden

Within the Italian Left

(February 1994)

From Militant Labour, No. 220, February 1994.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Peter Hadden on behalf of Militant Labour in Northern Ireland, together with Soraya Lawrence of Militant Labour in Britain, attended as visitors, the Second Congress of the Partito della Rifondazione Communista (Party of Communist Refoundation – PRC) in Rome on 20–23 January. Here Peter Hadden reports on the Congress and the current situation in Italy in the run up to next month’s elections.

It is now over three years since the massive Italian Communist Party, the dominant party of the Italian working class, divided into two parts.

The right wing leadership of the old party decided to reconstitute themselves as the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS). Those who refused to accept the change launched Rifondazione Communista early in 1991.

Since then the PRC has rated barely a mention in the British/Irish press, other than an occasional and dismissive reference to this “Communist rump”. True this new party is smaller, both in terms of membership and electoral support than the PDS, but is a bit more than a “rump”.

Active Membership

Current membership is 120,000, against three or four times that the PDS, although the difference in the active membership of the two is much less. Generally the more militant sections of the old Communist Party joined the PRC, as did many thousands of others who were not members of the old party. Activists in the rank and file trade union movement, known as the COBAS, also generally look towards the PRC.

On 25 September last year the PRC, together with some factory councils, organised a massive demonstration in Rome of tens of thousands against government policies.

It has also done well in recent elections, especially in the north, winning 11% in Milan and 14% in Turin. In fact it emerged ahead of the PDS, as the first left wing party, over the north of Italy as a whole.

Italy has just gone through a period of unparralled political turmoil. The “tangentopli” (bribery) scandal has touched right to the heart of the political and social institutions constructed after the last war. Politicians and political parties have been swept away. The Christian Democratic Party, never out of government since the war and the main political pillar of Italian capitalism, has disintegrated, its leading figures disgraced. The once powerful Socialist Party has been reduced a political sect, its former leader and ex-Prime Minister, Craxi, driven from political life, Meanwhile Italian big business, through their CBI equivalent, the Confindustria, are demanding that the working class pay the price for the current recession and the problems of over-indebtedness in the economy.

Already there have been privatisations and savage attacks on social spending and the bosses are demanding more. Fiat car workers, faced with 20,000 redundancies, have been taking to the streets in recent weeks. In December hundreds of thousands of school students demonstrated against attacks on education.

This is the background to the general election campaign now in full swing. The enormous desire for change was seen in last year’s local elections, with victories for the PDS and the left.

But these elections also raised a danger signal in the form of the rise of the extreme right, the votes for the fascist MSI in the south, and the reactionary Northern Leagues, who emerged as the largest single party in the north.

Political Right

Three main blocs are emerging in the elections. A new “People’s Party” has been created from the ruins of the old Christian Democracy and is the main force on the centre right. Silvio Berlusconi, media magnate, billionaire and owner of AC Milan, has used his newspapers and television companies to launch himself as a new political force on the right. He is attempting to form a bloc with the fascist MSI and the Northern Leagues.

On the left the PDS are attempting to form a “progressive” bloc with other groups such as the Greens, the remains of the Socialist Party and the anti-corruption party “La Rete”. At the moment this group is ahead in the polls.

These developments presented a turbulent backcloth against which the 800 delegates and 600 visitors gathered in Rome for the second congress of the PRC. For those present one issue was uppermost – should their party enter the electoral bloc offered by the PDS?

For the main leaders of the PRC this issue had been decided long before the congress. They all spoke in favour of a deal with the PDS. On the floor there was profound unease at this proposal.

At our Militant Labour stall just outside the main conference hall, we met a succession of delegates and visitors deeply concerned about what was being proposed. One PRC councillor from Brindisi, in the south, pointed out that in his town the party got 80% of the vote by standing on its own. Yet in a neighbouring area where it formed a bloc with the PDS it got only 12%. Other workers described the proposal as a betrayal of the ideas of the party. Some even said: “I hope we lose the elections as that’s the only thing that will save us”.

In the end the leadership won 70% support for the electoral bloc. A “soft” opposition motion got 10%, while a third motion, rejecting outright the idea of a deal with the PDS, got 20%. There is no doubt that the vote for this third motion would have been higher had it been more skillfully argued. Its proposers did not answer the arguments of the leadership, of the need to stop the fascist right and also of the dangers of the PRC being sidelined by refusing to take part in the government.

Electoral Deal

In discussion with delegates, including some who were reluctantly voting with the leadership, our ideas got an immediate echo. We argued that the PRC should stand firm on its programme and should propose this to the PDS as the basis for a government, but that they should not enter a government on the basis of the pro-capitalist policies put forward by the PDS leaders.

Since the conference the electoral deal has been agreed, further privatisation and other attacks included as part of the programme of this bloc. This will be deeply disappointing to PRC members.

If the left win the elections on this programme they will end up carrying out policies similar to those of the recent governments. Opposition to the PRC’s continued presence in the government is bound to develop within the party.

A very favourable opportunity therefore exists for the formation of a genuine Marxist opposition within the PRC. Those who led the opposition at the conference have no real intention of building a force within the party. Their sights are set on finding the time and opportunity to launch a split.

But members who agreed with our analysis, programme and on the need to fight within the party to convince the rank and file, who now support the leadership, are now prepared to launch a more serious opposition.

The formation of a group committed to a genuine refounding of Marxism in Italy would indeed be an historic step forward.

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