SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 109 - May 2007

Critical times for Italy’s PRC left

THE ITALIAN PRC (Party of Communist Refoundation) held a special organisational conference from 29 March to 1 April in Carrara.

The conference was officially called to discuss some of the problems that the party is facing almost a year after it entered Romano Prodi’s centre-left coalition government, including how to ‘reconnect’ the ‘party of government’ with the ‘movement’ and the struggle. A survey of party members which was distributed at the conference revealed that less than 17% are under 30 and most branches have no links with the ‘social movements’, such as those against globalisation and war, which the party claims to represent. Only 1.5% say they have links with local trade unions.

In a powerful speech, Marco Veruggio – who is on the national political committee of the PRC and a member of Controcorrente, a left alternative in the party – explained that the crisis in the party is a political one. "It seems that the PRC is going from a party of struggle, to a party of struggle and government, to a party of just government", he said. "When we start talking about ‘liberalisations’ which hit the rich and help the poor it’s like talking about redundancies which hit the bosses and help the workers". "When we don’t talk about whether Alitalia should be privatized, but how". "When instead of discussing the criminality of war we quibble over rules of engagement and whether our troops [in Afghanistan] are ten km to the south or to the north".

"If I say that we must say ‘no’ to the war, to pension attacks, to privatisations, even if it means that the government falls, I’m told that this will help Berlusconi", he continued. "Well, I ask you comrades, what is the limit beyond which we will not go? Is there a limit… or has the ability to govern become the party’s only compass?"

The entry of the PRC into the Prodi coalition and then the government, its acceptance of neo-liberal attacks on the working class, support for war in Afghanistan and the expulsion of the left-wing PRC senator Franco Turigliatto have alienated many workers and youth for whom the party was a point of reference as a fighting, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist organisation.

But the PRC leaders have no intention of voting against the government’s attacks on the working class or demanding the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, let alone leaving the Prodi government. In the run-up to the conference they undemocratically announced to the national press their plans for a new political formation, the ‘cantiere’ (construction site). The conference was left discussing the organisational forms of a party which, if the leadership gets its way, will cease to exist in a year’s time!

Bertinotti, Giordano and the other PRC leaders are responding to a possible change in the electoral law which could favour larger political blocs and adversely affect smaller parties. At the same time, the two main parties in Prodi’s government coalition – the Margherita (Daisy) Party, former Christian Democrats, and the DS (Democrats of the Left), former ‘communists’ – are in the process of forming a new capitalist ‘Democratic Party’. This will almost certainly result in a ‘left’ split from the DS (possibly taking up to 25% of the party). Giordano and Bertinotti are looking to unite with the split from the DS and other forces on the ‘left’ such as the PdCI (Party of Italian Communists) and the Greens to create what would effectively be a liberal reformist party. This, they hope, would form an electoral bloc with the Democratic Party on the ‘centre-left’.

In the context of Italy, where the PRC was formed over 15 years ago as a party which stood for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and attracted the most radical workers and youth, this would clearly mark a step backwards and a qualitative change in the process of the rightward shift in the party. This would, in turn, raise the question of political representation of the working class and the need to begin the creation of a new, mass party of workers and the movement.

However, there is still an important battle to be waged inside the PRC before that point is reached, a battle that will also be watched by many activists outside the party, including internationally.

Unfortunately, Sinistra Critica, the organisation of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, which obtained around 7% of the vote at the last PRC congress, has chosen to opt out of this struggle. At a press conference in Carrara, its MP, Salvatore Cannavo, announced that it would not be participating in the conference. Sinistra Critica’s only contribution was to read out a statement from its senator, Turigliatto.

Sinistra Critica is not leaving the PRC, explained Cannavo, but, in solidarity with Turigliatto’s expulsion, its members will be ‘suspending themselves’ from all positions in the party. At its subsequent national meeting they stated that they will build Sinitstra Critica as an "instrument in the service of a new left alternative", while building "forums of social struggle".

CWI members in Italy distributed an open letter to Sinistra Critica members at this meeting. We explained that their confused ‘third way’ position of not leaving the PRC but not participating in it either will inevitably weaken the forces of the left inside the party and strengthen the likelihood of a victory for Bertinotti and Giordano. It is the equivalent of abandoning the battlefield and raising the white flag when there is still a fight to be conducted.

There is no doubt that the main forces for the building of a genuine mass party of workers and the movement in Italy will come from outside the PRC. They will come from the struggles in the workplaces, from the trade unions, the fight against attacks on pensions, against privatisation and precarious working, and the relentless undermining of working conditions. They will come from the social and community struggles, such as the ones being waged in Vicenza against the building of a US base and in Val di Susa against a high speed rail link. Many of these struggles will involve new forces, which have never participated in movements before.

Marxists should of course be involved in all of these struggles of the working class and youth, putting forward a programme to take the struggles forward linked, in a transitional way, with the need for a revolutionary party and the transformation of society.

However, at the same time, forces still remain inside the PRC which could be mobilised to oppose those in the leadership who want to abandon the party’s fighting anti-capitalist, communist tradition. This can be seen clearly by the fact that, in the run-up to the Carrara conference, resolutions were passed in seven major cities opposing the expulsion of Turigliatto. The votes against expulsion included many majority supporters.

It is true that the space within the PRC is limited. Nevertheless, a skilful united left policy from now until the congress next year could rally and strengthen significant forces in opposition to the leadership’s project. A fighting left policy would include: proposals for all negotiations with other forces outside of the PRC to be open, democratic and transparent; a minimum programme for a new united left formation including a refusal to enter into neo-liberal coalitions; demands that any new formation must be organised on a democratic basis, with the right of political tendencies to organise freely and to put forward their ideas; an approach to forces outside of the PRC – in the DS, PdCI, unions, etc – to adopt and fight for a similar policy in their respective organisations.

Of course, even after a determined struggle it might not be possible to defeat the leadership’s plans to transform the PRC into a liberal capitalist party. However, in the course of that battle it would be possible to build the forces which could form an important component of a new left alternative in the future.

By not giving a concrete lead, Sinistra Critica is allowing those in the PRC who are mistakenly in favour of leading forces into the new formation, come what may, to have an undue influence. The small left group Falce Martello states categorically in the March edition of its newspaper that "it is not a question of building micro-communist parties incapable of influencing reality, but of founding a communist tendency which prepares itself from now on to give battle inside the new political formation which could be born to the left of the Democratic Party". In other words, it is arguing that Marxists should go into the new formation before its character has even been decided! This is a dogmatic and inflexible position which takes no account of the concrete situation.

If Bertinotti and Giordano succeed in their aim, then the building of a new political alternative will be clearly posed for many activists. Such a new alternative would have to resume the task that the PRC should have carried out, namely winning a majority in the working class for real communist policies. But, before that stage is reached, the left must pursue all possibilities inside the PRC in a united struggle, a position endorsed by Controcorrente in its special conference bulletin.

Christine Thomas


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