The Italian Senate on Wednesday rejected the foreign policy of the Prodi government. The timing and the manner in which this vote came about may come as somewhat of a surprise. But the mechanism that generated this outcome should not come as a surprise to anyone.
Now the hunt is on to find who was to "blame", but such an operation is of scant use. A closer look at the vote reveals that the government lost support both on the right (Andreotti, De Gregorio, Pininfarina) and on the left (Turigliatto, Rossi). It does not take much to understand what has happened: to use an Italian saying, "the blanket was too short". D'Alema [Foreign Minister and leader of the DS] in his speech where he presented the government's foreign policy to the Senate, raised several very sharp criticisms of the foreign policy of the previous [Berlusconi] government. This made it impossible to find any "centre" party senators that might be able to provide some "patches" that could make the blanket longer.
The outcome of this vote simply accelerates a process that was already underway. Ever since last year's April elections - and even earlier - this tendency had warned that inevitably the unity and cohesion of the "Unione" coalition government would break down quite soon and that this would lead to it shifting its base of support to some of the "centre" parties. In other words the fall of the Prodi government can only lead to a new coalition government that is shifted further to the right.
The fall of the government is simply the last act in a series of events that have served to utterly expose the policy of the majority of the PRC. The events of these last nine months speak very clearly.
In the beginning what was said was that this government would last for five years thanks to the loyalty of the various forces to its programme. And yet these nine months have seen one parliamentary manoeuvre after another organised by the so-called "centre" parties that make up the coalition: the Senator De Gregorio who voted with the right to stop Lidia Menapace becoming chair of the Defence Commission; the anti-eviction decree that was voted down in the Senate; the Catholics of the Margherita [Daisy party, a "centre-left" bourgeois party] campaigning against the legal recognition of unmarried couples; and finally the defeat of the government a few weeks ago when Dini and others voted with the right wing. On each occasion Giordano [the new general secretary of the PRC after Bertinotti became speaker of the parliament] and the PRC executive behaved like ostriches, pretending that everything was fine, until the toy broke in their hands.
They went even further after the Caserta summit [of all the parties that make up the Unione coalition, held in January]. Giordano declared triumphantly that the social issues were once again at the top of the agenda of the government, that the party had won once again, that the government was shifting to the left. Unfortunately there wasn't a shred of evidence that such a shift to the left was taking place.
They claimed that the "movements" would permeate the government from below and shift it to the left. The concrete facts demonstrate the exact opposite. The massive movement against the expansion of the US military base in Vicenza [see previous article,Â Italy: 150,000 people march against new US base] had the effect of bringing out an even more right-wing reaction on the part of the government. Amato, the Minister of Defence and Rutelli, the Deputy Prime Minister, came out with disgraceful threats against anyone who was planning to take part in that demonstration. Napolitano, the President of Italy, announced that anyone who thinks that decisions can be taken on the streets and not in the state institutions, is just a few steps from becoming a terrorist (a Red Brigadist). The very next day after the Vicenza demonstration Prodi came out saying that "a demonstration does not make the government change its mind".
Fassino, the general secretary of the DS, has come out with the idea that we should not consider only those who came out to demonstrate but also those who did not demonstrate. This is merely a repetition of Berlusconi's statement that if one million people turned out on a demonstration, then the other 55 million were with him. Fassino also added that the government must respect the country's international commitments made by previous governments.
Padoa Schioppa, the Minister of the Economy, announced on the very next day after the demonstration that the plans to build the TAV, a high speed train, in Val Susa will now go ahead, [in spite of the massive mobilisation against it during the Berlusconi government] and that the final decision will be taken in September.
So where are these "openings to the left" that the PRC leaders fantasise about? D'Alema has said that not to go ahead with the US military base would mean carrying out a hostile act against the United States. We would ask the question: isn't building the base a hostile act against a people most of whom do not want it?
The truth is that the prospect of new mobilisations (that the ruling class fears, and rightly so) does not strengthen our party inside the government. On the contrary, it increases the weight of all those "centre" parties that are very close to the Confindustria [Italian Confederation of Industry], who say, "You see, the government is weighted too far to the left, it has been taken hostage by the street, we have to lower the drawbridge and open a dialogue with the centre parties of the House of Freedom [the title under which the right-wing alliance of parties led by Berlusconi is known]."
Therefore the most likely outcome of the defeat of the Prodi government in the Senate is an even more patchwork coalition, even more shifted to the "centre" [i.e. the right].
The call for new elections raised by the MPs of the right is a bluff, given the present situation. The conditions for new elections less than a year since the 2006 elections do not exist. The results of such elections would most likely be an even more unstable parliament, and this is the last thing the Italian bourgeoisie wants.
Therefore the most likely outcome is that Napolitano calls on Prodi to sort out his coalition and return to Parliament for a new vote of confidence. Another option would be for Prodi to seek new allies to bring into the coalition and increase his parliamentary majority, involving Follini [leader of a small centre party that split away from Berlusconi's centre-right alliance] and other splinter groups that have broken away from the centre-right. This, however, would need a cabinet reshuffle that would involve lengthy and complicated negotiations.
The possibility of a Grand Coalition is also in the list of options. This would be a government of national unity whose task it would be to vote the new budget, change the electoral system and go to new elections.
These are the three options they have, in order of likelihood. However, they could also be considered as successive phases in the inevitable and drawn out crisis of this coalition. It is a crisis that opened up the very next day after the vote in the Senate and that will continue to be played out over a period. What is clear is that the perspective of a five-year legislature -and with it all those who had placed their bets on it - has been well and truly buried.
Prodi has suffered a defeat. But in the longer term the most ardent supporters of the idea of creating a "Democratic Party" [involving the fusion of the DS with a series of bourgeois parties] have also been defeated. The prospect of an alliance of all the "centre" parties involving inevitably the break up of the two main blocs, will massively increase the level of conflict between the DS and the Margherita, as well as the internal conflicts within these two parties. All this will place many obstacles on the road that leads to the Democratic Party, a road which resembles more the one that leads to hell.
But the leadership of Rifondazione Comunista also emerges defeated from all this, and this is something which concerns us very closely. The policy of clinging on to Prodi, of being his "bodyguards" (Giordano) has been exposed for what it is. Clinging to Prodi means preparing oneself to sink with him.
Some comments must be made on the decision of Franco Turigliatto to vote against. [Turigliatto is a Rifondazione senator who belongs to the Sinistra Critica - Critical Left - wing of the party, which internationally is linked to the Mandelite tendency.]
Turigliatto had already announced that he would be standing down as a senator even before the final vote on the government's foreign policy. His action, however, serves to highlight one important fact. The "critical" tendencies of the PRC lack a sufficiently organised mass force with widespread political support, and by accepting parliamentary seats they have put themselves in a very contradictory position. In the case of Grassi and Giannini [who belong to the neo-Stalinist wing of the party, known by the name of their magazine, L'Ernesto, and who have a position similar to the Greek KKE] they have had to bend under the pressure of the majority of the party leadership. In the case of the Sinistra Critica, it has placed them in the embarrassing position of facing a debacle at the first serious test. The pressures are such that as soon as Turigliatto was put in a position of having to vote against the government he has had to offer his resignation from the Senate.
However, this impotence only serves to highlight in an acute manner the contradictions that the whole party has placed itself in by joining the coalition.
Precisely because of this, we will firmly oppose any attempt on the part of the PRC Executive to carry out disciplinary measures against Turigliatto and the whole of the Sinistra Critica tendency. The comrades of the majority would do well to make a healthy self-criticism of their own errors, of the bankrupt policy they have imposed on the party, rather than launch a witch hunt inside the party. We would like to invite the editorial board of Liberazione [the organ of the PRC] to do likewise. Unfortunately, Liberazione for the past nine months has done nothing but publish articles and editorial statements full of pro-government reformist conformism. We invite it to refrain from uttering such calls as the request to apply the "death sentence" [these are the actual words used!] against Turigliatto.
After the fall of the government the pressures to shift to the left will be enormous. But the aim of such pressure will most likely not be to kick the PRC out of the government, but rather to pressurise the party into buckling under completely and to squeeze us like a lemon. Whatever bizarre parliamentary manoeuvres we will witness in the next period, the line of march is very clear. This is how the organ of the Confindustria poses the problem:
"But in the end something went wrong. Now what is to be done? Foreign policy is not just the responsibility of the Foreign Minister. The whole government is collectively responsible for it. This means that we are facing a serious and grave crisis. Prodi has a constitutional duty to consult the head of state and to set in motion all the necessary steps to solve the crisis. This includes the resignation of the government if need be. But above all, what is called for is a deep and thorough investigation to see whether the majority still exists. If this cannot be guaranteed then the government must step aside. Either a new government is formed that is capable of taking into account the irreversible crisis of our bi-polar system (very good for winning elections, but unable to guarantee governance of the country), or to put the mandate back in the hands of Napolitano whose task it would be to dissolve parliament after confirming its impotence. We have before us a dramatic moment of the legislature. In any case, nothing can remove the fact that, over and above any solution that may come up, the number of seats held by the Centre-Left in the Senate is far from being what is required to overcome any serious challenge. Today it is the foreign policy. Tomorrow it will be the pension system and all the rest. (Stefano Folli, writing in the online edition of Il Sole-24 Ore).
What is particularly significant is the reference to the pension system. The bosses want a rock solid government capable of resisting social conflict, because they are pushing for an offensive, not only on pensions but also on deregulation, privatisations, attacks on public sector workers, and so on.
The PRC needs to hold an open and honest debate, without any hypocrisy on what has happened and above all on what is going to happen. What is not acceptable is that the party allows itself to be dragged into a confused crisis, whose outcome would be one where the left as a whole, and our party in particular, would be called upon to bleed itself dry simply to support a government that is getting weaker and weaker and to march with it until the next inevitable crisis, one in which we would end up being the first to sink.
The next government, in whatever shape or form it appears, cannot but be one more short step towards the break up and discrediting of the Unione coalition. The party should accept that the line adopted at the last congress has been buried and that a new policy is required, a policy based on the independence of the party, on a patient rebuilding of the links between the party and the workers. We must break from the mortal embrace which is chaining us down. This is the exact opposite of the "unconditional confidence" in Prodi as comrade Giordano has proposed.
The crisis has not come from the left, but we are now fully immersed in it. Therefore if there has to be crisis, let us acknowledge it and act accordingly. Giordano should open up a wide-ranging debate, not in the corridors of Palazzo Chigi [the office of the Prime Minister] but among the masses that voted for the Unione. He should call on the workers, the youth, the pensioners, the unemployed, temporary workers and the immigrants, to debate over what has divided the Unione coalition, from the war in Afghanistan to Vicenza, but also on pensions, temporary work, economic and social policy, education and so on. We need to discuss and take decisions in the factories, in the neighbourhoods, in the mass organisations in an open and democratic manner. And the PRC should commit itself to respect and defend the demands and aspirations of the masses. This is the only kind of "confidence" that we can support today, without any doubts and without tying ourselves to anti-working class policies.
February 22, 2007