Italy: The Marxists at the 6th congress of the PRC

In March the PRC is holding its 6th congress. Bertinotti, the party secretary, has made a very sharp turn to the right. For instance, he is no longer calling for the immediate withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq. All this is part of a deal which would allow the party to be part of a grand coalition if the Centre-Left, “Olive Tree” alliance wins the next elections in 2006. At this congress the Marxists of Falcemartello have succeeded in getting their opposition congress document accepted as an official document, which is an enormous step forward for them.

In March 2005 the Partito della Rifondazione Comunista (Party of Communist Refoundation, PRC) will be holding its 6th national congress. The pre-congress period will start in January 2005, so there will be an intense three-month period of branch and provincial congresses of the party.

During the last 18 months, the PRC secretary Bertinotti has made a sharp turn to the right. This was highlighted in October when the PRC signed an official agreement with the four parties of the “Olive Tree” coalition and with the former president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi. This agreement states that a nine party coalition named the “Grand Democratic Alliance” will stand in the next general election with Prodi as its candidate for the premiership. All these nine parties will form a coalition government if Berlusconi is defeated in the general election, due to be held in 2006.

This sharp turn to the right by Bertinotti means that the PRC will be tied up in a government of class collaboration, a coalition where the left wing parties will be used by the ruling class to implement the worst policies of privatisations, casualisation, attacks on the welfare state and so on.

In order to be accepted in this Alliance, Bertinotti has already abandoned his previous position on Iraq. He has dropped the central demand of the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the Italian troops from that country.

This turn represents a threat to the very future of the PRC. The involvement in such a coalition will inevitably result in a deep crisis within the party, a loss of support and a general discrediting of the party, which would be identified with the pro-bourgeois policies of such a coalition government.

It would not be the first time that the party will have given support to such a collation. During the 1990s the PRC was involved in a parliamentary majority in support of the then Prodi government (1996-98). Then it was in the position of supporting the government with its MPs, without actually having ministers. It paid a heavy price for the support it lent to Prodi. After having given its support to a long series of attacks on workers’ rights the PRC leadership came under pressure from the ranks and was forced to leave the coalition.

The decision to withdraw the party’s support for the Prodi government provoked a split with the right wing of the party breaking away and forming its own small force. The party emerged seriously weakened from the whole experience. That explains to a large degree why the PRC was not able to make real gains in the following years.

In spite of the deep crisis within the reformist organizations and the wave of mass mobilizations which has swept across Italy in the last three years, the PRC has not been able to increase its support. Its past weighs on its present. The question of class collaboration and the perspective for a coalition government will therefore be the main issues in the congress debate.

Other important questions, however, will also be discussed. The right-wing turn of Bertinotti has been prepared and backed up over a period by a general campaign of ideological revisionism. Under the false cover of being a criticism of the “mistakes and horrors of 20th century communism”, in reality it amounts to a complete dismissal of any element of Marxism and Leninism and the abandonment of a class point of view. It opens up the party to the ideas of petty-bourgeois pacifism, of the “Christian ethic of socialism”, and to all those superficial ideas that are so popular among the so-called “radical” intellectuals of the anti-globalisation movement.

There has been a very sharp debate within the leading bodies as the party prepared for the pre-congress period. From this debate four different opposition documents have emerged and will be presented against Bertinotti’s “Theses” in the congress. This is the result of a splintering of both the old majority and the minority blocs. In the previous two congresses (1999 and 2002) there were only two documents, that of the Majority around Bertinotti, and that of the party Left. In fact the left wing of the party was commonly referred to as the “Second Resolution”.

On the National Committee of the party, Bertinotti’s resolution received 59% support. The second resolution in terms of support on the National Committee was the one presented by the comrades who are gathered around “L’Ernesto” journal, under the title “Essere comunisti” (To be Communists). They are generally depicted as being a “neo-Stalinist” faction. They support positions which on the international arena are defended by parties such as the Russian CPRF or the Greek KKE. For instance they talk of the need for a “bloc” of countries (Russia, China, etc.) to stand against US imperialism.

The “Ernesto” faction up until very recently had been part of the party majority supporting Bertinotti. But they were forced into opposition by Bertinotti and are now criticizing many of the ideological revisions pursued by Bertinotti. They are also critical of the rush towards an agreement with the Centre-Left coalition and would favour some kind of a partial agreement, i.e. support for a Centre-Left government from outside without entering the government, along the same lines of the “external support” given by the Indian CPs to the Congress Government.

Another group which parted ways with Bertinotti are the “Mandelites” (otherwise known by their international affiliation to the United Secretariat), who got 5,7% support on the National Committee. Previously they had been in alliance with Bertinotti. In fact they were part of the majority faction which has had the leadership of the PRC since 1998. Only very recently did they break with Bertinotti. They are clinging to the line of the last party congress and they defend an uncritical approach to the anti-globalisation movement, putting forward the idea of building a so-called “new workers’ movement”. They have abandoned any reference to Trotskyism and “in principle” they are not against the alliance with bourgeois parties.

While the old majority of the PRC has splintered into its component parts, the left wing is also undergoing a serious crisis. In the last few years we – the supporters of the Marxist journal FalceMartellohave fought a consistent battle to overcome the sectarian limitations of the PRC’s left wing. In particular we have opposed many of the ideas put forward by the main force within the official left of the party, the “Associazione Marxista Rivoluzionaria – Progetto Comunista” (the “Revolutionary Marxist Association – Communist Project”), a split away from the old Mandelite organization. They are now linked to the Argentine Partido Obrero. A long debate took place around issues like the Marxist concept of the United Front, the class nature of the DS party (formerly known as the PDS) which they regard as a bourgeois party, tactics in the trade unions, and so on. In spite of our efforts, this group not only did not correct its mistakes, but proved incapable of accepting our political criticism. Back in 2001 they reacted in a bureaucratic manner with the “expulsion” of our comrades from the left wing of the PRC.

After that episode they experienced a whole series of conflicts, splits and people simply breaking with them, which reduced their representation on the PRC National Committee from 15 members to 9 (7,3% of the total). After their final refusal to open any serious democratic debate to see if there was any political basis for a joint struggle against the PRC’s involvement in disgraceful class collaboration policies, we came to the conclusion that with them there is no future for a left wing opposition in the PRC. We concluded that it was necessary to put forward our own independent position so that any PRC member who participates in the congress will be able to see the political differences and form his or her opinion in an open political debate.

That is why we also put forward our own resolution at the last National Committee meeting, under the title “ Rompere con Prodi, preparare l’alternativa operaia ” (Break with Prodi, prepare the workers’ alternative). In the past any tendency wishing to put forward an alternative document to the party congress had to have the support of a certain minimum number of National Committee members. Our document was only signed by two National Committee members. But this time the congress rules were that if a tendency could collect the signatures of at least 500 party members, then the document could become an official congress document, with the right to be discussed and voted on in all the branch conferences. Thus we campaigned within the party and our supporters immediately set about collecting the required number of signatures. The campaign was brilliantly carried out and in less than 20 days we collected 790 signatures in 51 different provincial organizations of the Party.

For us this is a huge success. It means we will be able to put forward our positions in all the party organizations, at all levels. Although we are still small in numbers we are sure that our position will be carefully listened to by the best and most active members of the PRC and even outside the party itself. Already the media have reported these developments, which shows that we are an established and recognised tendency within the party.

When the congress is over we are confident that we will not only see a positive result for our resolution in terms of increased support within the party ranks, but – and this is the most important thing – that we will also be able to plan ahead for further and bigger steps forward in our work of connecting the genuine ideas of Marxism with the mass movement of the Italian working class.

This coming weekend we will be launching our pre-congress campaign and publicly presenting our congress document. The meeting will be held in Milan on December 4 and 5. It will start on Saturday at 2.30pm and will finsih on Sunday at 3pm. Among the speakers there will be also Alan Woods, Editor of the “In Defence of Marxism” web site, who will be giving his international greetings to the gathering, which we are expecting to be a big success.