By Martin Thomas
General background: in 2005 Rifondazione comunista (PRC, the only large leftish splinter to come out of the decomposition of the European Communist Parties) joined the Unione, an electoral alliance of 11 parties under the leadership of the Christian Democrat Romano Prodi.
PRC refused to join the previous Prodi coalition, the Olive Tree, and in 1998 forced the fall of a previous Prodi government by refusing to vote confidence. Prodi's programme - privatisations, financial prudence, maintaining the US alliance - is no different now, but this time PRC has stayed with the alliance through its narrow election victory in April 2006, the subsequent formation of a government, and various crises and votes of confidence over such things as the expansion of a big US military base in north-east Italy, which sparked a demonstration of over 100,000 against it on 17 February 2007.
In some respects, anyway, Italian politics looks like a children's game in which everyone changes seats to move one place to the right. The DS, the majority of the old Italian Communist Party, is completing its mutation into a straightforward bourgeois party by merging with the ex-Christian-Democrat Margherita party to form a "Democratic Party". (Margherita got 11% of the vote in 2006 to DS's 17%; this is not a case of a bourgeois workers' party absorbing a small bourgeois splinter group without changing its fundamental nature).
A left minority of the DS has split off in protest at the merger. It looks possible (though both Roberto and Franco warned me that it is not at all certain) that PRC will merge with this ex-DS left and maybe other groups (PCdI, etc.) to form a new "ministerial"-type social-democratic party.
Sinistra Critica, the Mandelite group in the PRC, went along with the leadership all the way to the participation in the Unione coalition and the votes of confidence for Prodi. Finally, after the Vicenza demonstration, Franco Turigliatto, a PRC senator affiliated with Sinistra Critica plucked up the courage to abstain on a vote. Less than heroically, he only did so because he calculated (wrongly, as it turned out) that the Unione would have a majority anyway; he announced that he would resign his Senate seat and hand it over to a PRC loyalist; that offer refused, he has said that he will continue to back the government in votes of confidence, but sometimes abstain or vote against it on other issues.
PRC nevertheless expelled Turigliatto, and Sinistra Critica is on the way to forming an independent group outside the PRC - one which however promises to be extremely vague, going "beyond the ideological demarcations of the last century - for example such definitions as those of the Trotskyists... all the important points of reference of the 20th century, from Trotsky to Luxemburg, from Gramsci to good old Che Guevara, should be reviewed today with the new internationalism, feminism, and the ecologist critique..." (Inprecor 526/527, April/May 2007). It talks a lot about the search for "a new political subject" and "a process of social recomposition".
There was a "harder" left opposition in the PRC, which split away in April-May 2006 after a battle against the PRC's support for Prodi. The bad news: the left-opposition faction itself split, into two groupings roughly comparable in numbers, at the same time; and the politics of both splinters are very much what we would call "kitsch-Trotskyist", focused on such causes as "critical support" for the Taliban in Afghanistan on the grounds that it is allegedly "anti-imperialist".
The two splinters are the PdAC and the McPCL. Both publish papers called Progetto Comunista. Both Progettos are due to appear every two months: PdAC's does so (seven issues so far), but McPCL has only got out three issues so far. The papers are rather high-priced: two euros (£1.50) for 12 pages with McPCL or 16 with PdAC.
According to Franco Grisolia of McPCL, there is "no programmatic basis for a split". The McPCL's Progetto is much more geared to social and class-struggle issues in Italy than the very (kitsch) "anti-imperialist" Progetto of the PdAC, but Franco explained that by the PdAC paper being geared mostly to consolidating and cohering the PdAC's members, while the McPCL paper is aimed more at a broader working-class audience.
In the former joint faction inside PRC, the now-PdAC people had a majority on the leading committee, but the now-McPCL people a majority in the membership. There were all sorts of organisational shenanigans. Franco estimates the McPCL at 1200 supporters and 500 activists, the PdAC at 250 supporters and 150 activists.
In May the McPCL got 7% of the vote in local elections in a small town in Sicily. Franco warned me, however, that the 7% was an exception. He would be happy with an average of 0.7% in further local elections at the end of May. In fact the McPCL got an average of 0.76% over 11 candidates (including the one in Sicily). PdAC got 0.3% and 1% for the two candidates it stood.
The PdAC, now aligned with the main "Morenist" international grouping, the LIT, claimed in their forum that the split was on the grounds that the people now leading the McPCL "wanted a mish-mash with all sorts of different groupings held together only by a prestigious leader. It is now falling apart".
Both McPCL and PdAC concede (and Robert Luzzi confirmed) that there is a considerable degree of demoralisation in the Italian working class, which sees itself faced with only two species of neo-liberalism (Prodi and Berlusconi) as political alternatives, and is not yet confident or combative enough to create new, authentic forms of working-class political representation. PdAC claimed excitedly that Rifondazione had lost 50% of its members in the last year, but Franco Grisolia thought that any such figure could be arrived at only by statistical manipulation, e.g. comparing figures at the point in the year after those not having renewed their party card for that year are finally struck off with the point in the previous year just before the strike-off.
Franco also suggested to me that there is a link between the apparently leftish turn of Rifondazione, in April 2002, to "the social movements", and its current right turn. The Rifondazione leadership around Fausto Bertinotti had argued that all the ideological reference points of the 20th century now need to be discarded as obsolete.
Rifondazione had taken on large quantities, in dilution, of the ideology of "changing the world without taking power" inspired by Mexico's Zapatistas. (See review and a further quick comment). That semi-anarchist ideology came to aliment reformism. Prodi's government would not be a workers' government, or anything like it? No, but then workers' governments are not what we should aim for anyway. We want to change the world without taking power. (In Bertinotti's variant, we are "non-violent" at all costs). The best we can hope for in governments is that they are "permeable" to the oh-so-varied "social movements" of progress. And Prodi's might be that.