Italian PRC National Congress - Growing Support for the Marxist tendency

The national congress of the PRC, Partito della Rifondazione Comunista, is taking place this coming weekend, December 2-4. After moving left at the previous congress, the leadership have moved back to the idea of some kind of alliance involving the Democratic Party. The Marxists have opposed this and produced an opposition document for the congress, receiving a substantial amount of support within the ranks of the party. Here we provide a report on the intervention of the Marxists in the local congresses and a shortened version of their congress document in English.

The Italian Communist Refoundation Party (PRC) is holding its national congress this coming weekend in a stormy period, with the country gripped by the euro financial crisis. The ignominious fall of Berlusconi and the establishment of the emergency national-solidarity government headed by Mario Monti, is a clear indication that the pro-EU bankers and “technocrats” are making a sharp turn towards austerity policies. But at a certain stage, elections will have to be called, and a return to power of a centre-left coalition around the Democratic Party (PD) is likely. What attitude should the PRC take to such a government is of paramount importance.

The debate of the congress is polarised between two main positions. The majority document, (in Italian) presented by secretary Paolo Ferrero and supported by the vast majority of the leadership, is proposing a broad democratic front, including the Democratic Party (PD) against the right wing. This represents a re-hash of the previous “olive-tree coalition”, which incidentally, was repudiated at the 2008 congress in Chianciano by the same Ferrero. Now he has changed his tune.

But history shows that those who do not learn from past mistakes are doomed to repeat them. The “olive tree coalition” led to a disastrous result for the PRC after it participated for 2 years in the second government of Romano Prodi, which carried out attacks on the workers. As a result, in the 2008 parliamentary elections, the PRC was wiped out of the Italian parliament, losing all its MPs. Many in the rank and file were demoralized and party membership plummetted. Now, the majority of the current PRC leadership wants to take the party back down that same discredited road.

The Marxist tendency FalceMartello has presented the main opposition document: “For a Working Class Party”. We have translated into English an abstract of the document [See below]. The full text in Italian can be found here.

At the last PRC congress, in 2008, the document presented by FalceMartello gained 1,401 votes (3.3% of the total). Now, three years later, the Marxist opposition document has gained the support of 2,248 party members: 13.4% of the total vote and a 60% increase in absolute terms.

A third opposition document (in Italian) gained around 5%.

Results at the federation and regional level have been released by the National Congress Commission and are available on marxismo.net.

The Marxist tendency has consistently defended the idea that any coalition with the PD would necessarily imply a government of austerity and anti-working class policies, and that the PRC should by no means participate in such a coalition. Instead, the party should base its strategy upon the need to build a working class-based opposition to the bourgeois austerity policies.

The majority faction still counts on a solid majority of over 80%. But while the Marxists have shown their ability to sink roots and broaden their influence in the last few years, the majority faction around secretary Ferrero has lost more than 4,000 votes, as compared to the 2008 congress. The rise of the national-solidarity government of Mario Monti, supported by the PD and various satellites and the right wing, is exposing the contradictions of the strategy of the PRC majority.

After being defeated by a razor-thin margin at the 2008 PRC congress, the right-wing majority faction around Vendola and Bertinotti split from the party. The PRC has only partially recovered from this split, which halved the total membership to just 41,000 in 2010. The weakened state of the party is confirmed by the relatively low turnout in the 2011 congress elections at the branch level, with just above 40% of the membership attending and voting.

However, the growth of the Marxist wing in absolute and relative terms will have a strong impact on the future development of the PRC. The FalceMartello document gained a base of support in 112 federations out of 120 at the national level, and won a majority in more than 100 party branches all over the country, emerging as a truly nation-wide alternative to the right-wing turn proposed by the Ferrero leadership.

Support for the Marxist tendency’s document is strongest in the industrial urban areas of the North where they have gained 25%. Overall support for the Marxists is 20% in the North, 12.8% in the central regions, and 7.5% in the South and the islands.

It is important to highlight the victories of the FalceMartello document in important workplace and factory branches like the transport workers’ PRC branches in Turin and Milan, the postal workers’ branch in Milan, and other factory branches in Napoli (gas workers and in the FIAT Avio Pomigliano car plant). Overall, scoring 42% of the votes, the Marxists won 11 workplace branches nationally, while the majority won 16.

The congress results reveal the consolidation and growth of the traditional bases of support for the Marxist tendency of the PRC in the Lombardia and Emilia Romagna regions, but also shows important breakthroughs in new areas of the country where the Marxists were relatively weak. This was the case above all in the region of Liguria, where the Marxists’ document reached more than 35% support. There were also breakthroughs in the central regions of Marche and Lazio, where the support for the Marxists more than doubled in absolute terms.

In the Genova party federation, the overall vote resulted in a narrow majority for Ferrero, of just 114 votes to 106. There were also important results in the industrial town of Modena, where the Marxist tendency won the strategic “Gramsci” Modena city branch congress with 58 votes to 50, in spite of a last-minute attempt to overturn the result by registering 49 new pro-majority supporters. The manoeuvre was defeated by the Marxists after successfully convincing a layer of these new members not to be used by the party majority for the simple purpose of gaining control of the branch. The branch congress had wide media coverage in the local press and significantly, one report highlighted that the “working class base of the branch sided with the Left of the party, starting with the Ferrari, Maserati and New Holland shop-stewards.” (Cronaca di Modena).

Other important bases of support for  the Marxist tendency are in the federations of Milan (21%); Brescia (34%); Savona (32%); Crema (41%); Varese (25%); Trieste (21%); Udine (26%); Trento (29%); Bologna (31%); Parma (33%); Reggio Emilia (28%); Arezzo (27%); Ancona (23%); Ascoli (23%); Frosinone (33%); Caserta (41%); Agrigento (43%); Trapani (31%); and Sassari (31%).

The growing support for Marxist ideas within the PRC reflects the more radical, defiant mood developing within the youth and the working class over the last years. The Marxist opposition is growing both in the PRC and at the trade union level. We are preparing for bigger convulsions in the class struggle in the coming period, where every political trend in the workers’ movement will be put to a test in order to provide a clear revolutionary alternative to the crisis of capitalism.

For a working-class party – document of the Marxists at the PRC Congress 

Since 2008 we have seen a huge vacuum opening up in workers’ representation and organized expression in our country. The disappearance of the Left from the parliament was just the most crushing expression of this void. However, left-wing activity did not disappear and even the Communist Refoundation Party, in spite of splits and although abandoned by a part of its membership, managed to hold on to heritage of organized strength.

“Pomigliano does not give in!” and the revival of the mass movement

On October 16th 2010, the mass response to the FIOM’s appeal showed how working-class struggle represents the focal point of all the struggles taking place in our country. This was confirmed by the referendum at the FIAT Mirafiori plant in Turin, the student and youth demonstration on December 14th to drive Berlusconi out of office, the metalworkers’ general strike on January 28th-29th, the No-TAV [High Speed Train] struggle in the Susa Valley and the movement in defence of a publicly-owned water supply which ended in the victory in the June referendum. Also the success of the latest general strikes on May 6th and September 6th demonstrates that we must put on the agenda not a retreat in the face of a hegemonic Right, but a stepping up of the class struggle to its highest point: for the first time in the last 30 years, i.e. since the defeat at FIAT in 1980, a mass movement with a clear class character, centred around the working class and with the workers as the dominant element can develop in our country.

The analysis of the crisis and late-Keynesian illusions

The crisis that erupted in 2007 saw the coming together of a classical cyclical crisis with a change in the period which goes beyond the basic cycle of booms and recessions. Far from being a financial crisis, it flows from huge overproduction or productive overcapacity. The idea that today dominates the reformist Left is that all is needed is to invest in a different manner the mass of public money so as to achieve beneficial effects for the workers and the lower classes. In actual fact, it is an attempt to go back to the golden age of the post-war economic boom and to classical Keynesian policies.

It is both a deceptive and a dangerous a utopia, because with the explosion of public debt in the last three years, neither in the USA nor in Europe is a revival of classical Keynesian policies possible. Both the resources (given the enormous public and private debt) and the political will are missing for such a course of action.

The principles of an alternative programme

Our party must be identified as the party of public property as opposed to private, the party of nationalisations, the party of control from below by the organised workers – even more so in a period when the idea of the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy is rapidly becoming understandable to millions. Such a programme implies breaking out of the constraints imposed by the European Union. To the capitalist European Union we counterpose a voluntary socialist federation of the European peoples.

No to another centre-left government

The crisis of the Berlusconi government has paved the way for attempts at a controlled transition, a new national unity government, including frantic endeavours to introduce into the political scene the likes of Monti, Montezemolo, Profumo [bankers and industrialists supposedly above party politics]. It is the letter of the ECB [to the Italian government] that dictates the policy of future governments.

Any alternative must necessarily involve the Democratic Party. This basic fact explains why we raise the demand – that is essential for us – of maintaining a strategic opposition to the Democrats and refusing to be brought back into any new Centre-Left. We call for the formation of a front of the working-class Left with those forces that share this basic principle.

For a working-class party

The party of Pomigliano, the party of Fincantieri [two key centres of working class struggle], does not exist today. It has to be built. The struggles are running faster than the organisations – this is the naked truth. The FIOM [metalworkers’ union] has often found itself in the position of playing the role of political point of reference much beyond the scope of industrial struggles. This has not come about by chance. The militants of our class that take upon themselves most of the burden of leading the most advanced struggles are also those that are called on to take on the task of creating a political force that matches their needs. In fact, throughout history it has always been the vanguard among the workers who have built organisations that could give the labour movement a political expression. The history of the Italian Communist Party in its early days, when it based itself on the best expressions of the labour movement during the Two Red Years (1919-1920), is in itself a fundamental reminder of the connection between the real mass movement and its organised expressions.

The forces that are available

Outside our party, the forces available for building a working-class party are currently to be found in the FIOM, in the left wing of the CGIL, in a sector of the smaller left-wing trade unions, in a sector of the far-left splinter groups coming from the Communist Refoundation Party, in the movement for the defence of state education and in the movements in defence of public property (against the privatisation of water, etc.). This is not about making a sum of all these forces. It is a question of pointing out that the class struggle is the pivotal point for their coming together as one. The metalworkers’ demonstration of October 16th, 2010 showed that around the workers’ struggles an extremely broad front can be built, and it can break the balance of the two-coalition system. This is the model that we should base ourselves on.

On the other hand, we must resist any attempt to push the movement back towards supporting some kind of New Olive Tree coalition [Centre-Left], through such mechanisms as the “primary elections”, whether these are to choose the candidates or the programme of any future centre-left coalition. In this sense, the appeal made by “United for the Alternative” [led by a group of trade unionists, among them key leaders of the FIOM, who issued a statement that indicates a clear leaning towards support for a future Centre-Left coalition] is a step backwards and we must criticise it openly.

A class strategy for trade union struggles

On the trade union front, it was a serious mistake of the party to deny our support for the struggle of the FIOM at the CGIL congress, tying ourselves, instead, to the “Lavoro e Società” [Work and Society] faction within the CGIL. This position must be radically changed from top to bottom.

The party must adopt a long-term and consistent trade union strategy, without which it will be impossible to sink roots in the workplaces.

The main programmatic points of our struggle on the trade union front are as follows:

  • Win back national collective bargaining rights with universal protection for all workers and with decent wages.
  • Fight the casualisation of jobs; abolish the Legge 30 [a law passed in 2003 that removed past gains of the workers and introduced a greater “flexibility” of labour] and all other laws that make labour more casualised.
  • Fight the fragmentation of bargaining agreements.
  • Fight flexibility and the extension of the working day.
  • Impose tighter controls over conditions and working hours.
  • Resist the offensive by FIAT and the Ministry of Labour aimed at total corporate control over the workers.
  • Introduce full democracy in the trade unions and in the workplaces, by placing union reps, the elaboration of demands and all industrial agreements under the control of the workers themselves.

Our struggle must begin with the formation of an opposition within the CGIL as a lever for developing the class conflict in the workplaces. Side by side with this, the party must be engaged through its activists in a process of unification of the smaller militant trade unions to the left of the CGIL. This is urgently needed; however, it cannot be forced through in a “cold” bureaucratic manner from above, but solely through the development of a mass movement. The rise of a new workers’ councils movement, self-organised from below as we have seen in other times in history (the Hot Autumn of 1969; 1984; 1992-’93) is a plausible scenario and we must work towards such a movement. Such a movement would also rebuild the class unity that was lost in the rivalry between different trade unions, which would also overcome those barriers that have been built up by the bureaucracy to keep the members of the CGIL separated from those of the other left-wing unions.

Recognise the failure of the Federation of the Left (Federazione della sinistra

The Federation of the Left [a federation of left parties and groups, of which the PRC is a part, and which has also stood in elections under that name] has placed the party in a kind of cage, an undemocratic structure that has limited its autonomy and has constantly conditioned it in a reformist direction. It has sanctioned an unacceptable tie with the trade union faction, “Lavoro e Società” inside the CGIL, which makes it impossible for us to develop our criticisms and opposition to the position adopted by the CGIL leadership. In fact what is most striking is what happened after the June 28th pact [an agreement between all three trade unions federations and the Confindustria, the bosses’ association]. The leading body of the Federation of the Left virtually repudiated its own spokesperson, who had expressed a clear criticism of the pact, and decided with a majority vote not to express any opinion on the subject.

The Federation of the Left has also encouraged processes of “trasformismo” [a traditional method in Italian politics of forming a centre coalition government which isolated the extremes of the left and the right after the unification of Italy in the 19th century], because its undemocratic internal mechanisms favour the over-representation of small groups that have no real base in society and which are often characterised by questionable political positions, all to the detriment of genuine political activity. The national congress must therefore reject any attempt to give up the party’s decision-making powers to the Federation of the Left on specific questions, such as on standing lists in the elections, council groups, etc.

What kind of party do we want?

We are putting forward the proposal of a working-class party not as a self-enclosed solution. Such a party must be one of the components in the process of building a working class front in this country. We have to encourage the emergence of elements of class conflict and radicalisation, basing ourselves on those that have already emerged in recent years, to spread them to every struggle and draw out the general lessons. So far, most of our cadres have been oriented in a completely different direction, often bogged down by a policy of prioritising the winning of seats in local councils and parliament and of putting on a show of bureaucratic diplomacy towards other political parties, with a widespread lack of interest in either connecting the party with the class, or developing theory and political education. Now we must reconnect with our social base and try to break down the wall of mistrust that still exists towards us. It is not enough for these individual comrades to be points of reference for the workers; we must guarantee that the behaviour of these individuals that the workers respect is seen as flowing from the party’s overall strategy and attitude to the working class.

Therefore, we see ourselves as being involved in an open struggle for leadership within the party and the movement, as the only possible foundation for a genuine unity among the rank and file of the party. At the core of our action we do not consider that our aim should be to establish an endless and tiring internal equilibrium between different tendencies within an exhausted leadership, but rather we should look towards a revolutionary perspective of the struggle for a different society.