SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 111 - July-August 2007

‘The piazza & the ballot box’ setbacks for the PRC

THE LOCAL elections which took place in Italy at the end of May and the beginning of June confirmed the precipitous collapse in support for Romano Prodi’s centre-left government coalition after just over one year in office. Within the coalition, the PRC (Party of Communist Refoundation) fared disastrously, losing nearly half its votes compared to previous council and provincial elections in 2002.

In the provincial elections the centre-left as a whole lost two out of three voters and turnout was 7% lower than previously. Abstentionism was particularly marked in the working-class and industrial areas. In Genoa, the main city where voting was taking place (the elections only involved 30% of the electorate), just 50% bothered to vote in the second round of the provincial elections. Although the centre-left eventually won, the fact that there even had to be a second round and that there was a real possibility that the right could win caused a political earthquake in this once ‘red city’.

The two main capitalist parties in the governing coalition, the Democrats of the Left (DS) and the Margherita are merging to form a new Democratic Party (PD) in October which they hope will revive their electoral fortunes. However, the future does not look very rosy for the PD. In the provincial elections both parties combined got fewer votes than the DS on its own did in 2002!

While Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right alliance got fewer votes than in 2002 it benefited from disillusionment with the government, seizing control of councils and provinces all across the north of Italy. In Verona, the candidate for the right-wing racist and populist Lega Nord, who has two convictions for inciting racism, ousted the centre-left mayor, gaining 60% of the vote. Votes for the Lega Nord are much lower than in its heyday in the 1990s but nevertheless, excluding Liguria (the area which includes Genoa), the party increased its votes by 20% in the provincial elections in the north.

On the left, voters severely ‘punished’ the PRC for its participation in the Prodi coalition government and its support for neo-liberal attacks and pro-US imperialist policies. In the provincial elections in Liguria the PRC’s vote in the first round plummeted from 35,400 to 9,000.

But it is not just in the ballot box that PRC supporters are abandoning the party. They are also deserting them in the ‘piazzas’. On 9 June when George Bush visited Italy 100,000 people marched through the streets of Rome to protest against the warmongering policies of both him and the Prodi government. On the same day in Rome, at the same time, the PRC chose to organise its own rival protest in Piazza del Popolo which the leaders said would be against Bush but not the government. The whole of the Italian media agreed that the protest was a complete and utter disaster. Just a few hundred people bothered to turn up. Many of the PRC’s own supporters decided to go on the main anti-war demonstration instead.

The ‘empty piazza’ fiasco has sent shock waves through the party. Coming on the heels of the local election rout it was a clear and symbolic demonstration of the serious rupture between the party and its previous base among the working class and the social movements. Some in the party, even some who were previously loyal to former leader Fausto Bertinotti, are now talking about ‘external support’ for the government, arguing that the PRC should pull out of the coalition. Party spokespeople have become more ‘radical’ in their speeches, demanding that the government rewards the poor and disadvantaged in the imminent finance bill and even threatening to sit down in front of bulldozers when work begins on construction of the widely opposed US base at Vicenza.

However, it is extremely unlikely that the party will do a ‘1998’ – when the PRC withdrew support for the previous Prodi government, resulting in its downfall. Having lost all faith in the ability of the working class to struggle and to build a mass alternative on the left, being in the government is the main driving force of the PRC leadership, even if this means support for pro-market, anti-working class policies.

The main conclusion that Bertinotti has drawn from these recent disasters, is that the party must speed up the process towards unifying the forces on the governmental left to provide both an electoral counterweight and a coalition partner for the future PD. "Do it and do it quickly. Otherwise we risk disappearing", Bertinotti declared. Deals are being hastily and bureaucratically struck at the tops of the ‘left’ parties in the government – the Italian communists (PdCI), Greens and the Left Democrats (SD, a recent split from the DS) – while the rank and file are having no say in how this process develops.

The potential new force which Bertinotti and the others want to build is being described as a political formation ‘without adjectives’. Bertinotti talks about returning to the time when the words ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ were interchangeable. However, in practice, in order to remain in the government he and the leaders of the other ‘left’ forces have ditched even the reformism of social democracy, capitulating to neo-liberalism. This process is likely to be reinforced in any new formation and would therefore raise the need for the construction of a new mass anti-capitalist party capable of collectively organising workers in struggle as well as providing political representation.

The election results revealed the disillusionment felt by large sections of workers and the middle class towards a government that has failed to break with the policies of the previous right-wing Berlusconi coalition. Casual working is still rife and pensions and public-sector workers are coming under attack. While the economy and company profits have been growing most Italian workers have seen little or no improvement in their wage packets. Italian workers work some of the longest hours in the European Union and are among the lowest paid.

At the same time, the government is losing the support of big business and its organization, Confindustria. Before the elections the president of Confindustria, Luca Cordero Montezemolo, made a speech lambasting the political establishment. The capitalist class is rapidly losing patience with a government which it perceives as inept, unstable and gripped by paralysis. It wants speedier moves to liberalise, privatise and cut services and benefits.

As has been the case for over twelve months now the Prodi government, with its wafer thin majority in the Senate, is hanging by its fingernails. The attacks on pensions, government scandals (of which there are many), any number of issues could trigger its downfall. Hardly anyone expects the government to last much beyond the end of the year, if that long. The capitalist media are now openly speculating about a ‘post-Prodi’ non-party ‘technocratic’ government which they hope would be more decisive in introducing neo-liberal counter-reforms as well as a new electoral law to attempt to stabilise the political system in their interests.

Top of their list is the attack on pensions. Thousands of metalworkers all over the country have been launching spontaneous, warning strikes aimed at both the government and the leaders of the main trade union confederations. They are calling for a general strike if there is any attempt to increase the pension age and/or contributions. Metalworkers are also demanding their share of the economic improvement by presenting a claim for a wage rise of €117 a month on average. At the same time, shipyard workers at the state-owned company, Fincantieri, took part in a one-day national strike against privatisation.

Struggles such as these in the workplaces, as well as the many community and social struggles which are taking place throughout Italy over environmental and other issues, will provide the raw material from which a mass workers’ and revolutionary party will be built in the future.

Christine Thomas


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