Italy: The Marxists in the congress of Rifondazione Comunista

Tomorrow the 6th national congress of Rifondazione Comunista opens in Venice. The party is being called on to join a future Centre-Left governmenet headed by Prodi, as it looks very likely that Berlusconi will lose the next general election. The Marxists of FalceMartello have intervened up and down the country in over 1000 local party congresses warning the ranks of the party that to go down this road would be a disastrous policy. We provide here a brief introduction by Fernando D'Alessandro and Part One of the document the Marxists are defending in the congress.

Italy: The Marxists in the congress of Rifondazione Comunista

By Fernando D’Alessandro

Tomorrow, the 6th national congress of the Partito dell Rifondazione Comunista (PRC) opens in Venice. The congress comes at a crucial moment in Italian politics. The Berlusconi government has been steadily losing support over the recent period. This is not surprising considering its extremely anti-working class and unpopular policies.

Most analysts are expecting a victory of the so-called Centre-Left at the next general election. The Centre-Left is already preparing a new alliance with Prodi as its candidate for prime minister. The Centre-Left was in government before Berlusconi returned to power. It was precisely the programme and policies of the previous Centre-Left government that prepared the ground for the victory of Berlusconi. Now the pendulum is beginning to swing the other way, back towards the Left.

The policies that a future Prodi-led Centre-Left government will carry out are quite clear. They will be a continuation of what we have already seen so far, further cuts in welfare, more privatisations, more anti-working class legislation, and so on. No one can really deny that this will be the policy of such a government.

This process directly affects the PRC, for Prodi has asked the party not only to support the Centre-Left coalition but to actually be part of the future government. Prodi has insisted that he wants Bertinotti, the PRC general secretary, to be a minister in such a government. And the tragedy of the situation is that Bertinotti has shown his willingness, even enthusiasm, for such a scenario.

This means the party leadership has understood nothing from the experience of the past. The party gave support to the previous Centre-Left government and paid a heavy price for its class collaboration. It suffered a split and lost votes and also saw a decline in its membership. In spite of this the party leaders are pushing the same idea that we must form an alliance with the Centre-Left, even join it, because “we must stop Berlusconi” at all costs. They said this last time Berlusconi was in power.

Yes, eventually after a few months Berlusconi was ousted from power, thanks to the massive mobilisations of the workers in the factories, and to the biggest demonstration Italy had ever seen of 1.5 million in Rome. [This figure was surpassed several years later, but at that time it was a record demo.]

However, a few years of Centre-Left government served to disillusion an important part of the traditional Left electorate, and this prepared the ground for Berlusconi’s return. As Marx explained, history often repeats itself, the first time as a tragedy, the second time as a farce. If the Centre-Left wins the next elections, with its present programme, it will once again be exposed for what it really is, an unholy alliance where the bourgeois parties use the Left parties as a cover for their anti-working class policies, use them and then discard them like an old shirt.

Traditionally the PRC congresses have been divided into two main camps, gathered around two documents the “mozione uno” and the “mozione due”, the first being the document of the more moderate majority faction with Bertinotti at its head, and the second of the minority left faction.

This traditional set up has broken down. At the present party congress five documents have been presented. The old majority has broken up into three separate groupings, around documents one, two and four. Document one is Bertinotti’s. This is the most openly in favour of entering a Centre-Left government. The second document represents a section of the old majority that poses some questions as to how and when to enter such a government. The fourth document is basically that of the group whose international point of reference is the Mandelite so-called “Fourth International”, who basically say that the party should go back to the positions of the previous 5th congress, where they were comfortably snuggling up to the party majority in a very opportunist manner.

The old “mozione due”, the old left of the party, also has expressed different positions. The leaders of this faction have come out with a hidebound sectarian line, whereby Communists should “always” be in opposition. This does not answer the burning desire of the workers to see the back of Berlusconi. It leaves the workers with the choice of either supporting the Centre-Left or nothing.

Fortunately there is the fifth document, entitled “Break with Prodi, prepare a workers’ alternative”. This is being presented to the party congress by the Marxist tendency in Rifondazione Comunista, gathered around the journal FalceMartello (the Hammer and Sickle). The comrades had to struggle hard to get their document accepted as an official congress document. Two members of the party’s National Political Committee (CPN) – the party’s central committee – Alessandro Giardiello and Claudio Bellotti promoted the document.

In the past these comrades had attempted to push the Left faction in the right direction. They struggled to get a genuine Marxist position adopted by the Left of the party. They did this through amendments to the official Left position and by intervening in the gatherings of the Left. Eventually the leaders of the Left decided to expel the supporters of FalceMartello from the official Left. This was a sign that they could no longer tolerate a consistent Marxist critique of their sectarian positions.

In preparation for this congress the party changed the rules that governed who could present a separate document. In the past a certain number of central committee members were required to sign such a document. This year the rule was introduced that as long as a document received the backing of at least 500 party members, who did this by signing the document, then this would be accepted as a national congress document. The supporters of FalceMartello managed to collect almost 800 signatures.

The next phase was to take the document to the ranks of the party. This required the supporters of FalceMartello defending the 5th document in all local and provincial party congresses. They did this very successfully covering over 1000 local congresses. They received 834 votes (and 12 delegates to national congress), which lays the basis for spreading the support for genuine Marxist ideas in many areas where prior to this congress there were no supporters.

However, the extent of the influence of the comrades of FalceMartello goes beyond the mere number of votes. One indication of this is the large number of journals and books sold in all the various congresses they intervened in (more than 3000 journals and 160 books). In January alone they also collected over 4200 euros for their fighting fund and a similar figure was raised in February.

Also significant was the way many party members who voted for the other documents listened carefully to what the supporters of FalceMartello had to say. Ten years of experience have not passed by idly. Many within the ranks are more open to criticisms of the party’s policy, especially after the previous disastrous support for the Centre-Left. Of course, at this stage, many give the leadership the benefit of the doubt, but they are waiting to see what is going to happen.

This means the Marxists have put down a marker for the future. Their ideas have reached tens of thousands of party members. In fact 100,000 copies of the congress documents were printed and distributed to the party ranks. This means practically the whole party has had the opportunity to listen to what the Marxists have to say.

Events over the next few years will help to clarify the issues discussed in this congress. When the policy of the party leadership fails, as it inevitably will do, the rank and file will have a clear point of reference to turn to on the left of the party, and Marxism will emerge enormously strengthened.

Anyone who can read Italian, can find a lot more information on the FalceMartello web site. And anyone who has the opportunity to attend the congress can find the supporters of FalceMartello at their stand in the “ex-Palazzo del Casinò”, next to where the congress is being held. After the congress is over, the comrades will be providing a more detailed analysis of the whole intervention.

Here we provide an English translation of the 5th document of the FalceMartello comrades. We will be publishing it in three parts, starting with part one today.

March 2, 2005

Break With Prodi:

Prepare a Workers’ Alternative

Part One

First Signatories: Claudio Bellotti, Alessandro Giardiello [members of the Central Committee]

[Notes containing additional information for our non-Italian readers are included within brackets throughout the text]


The GAD (Grand Democratic Alliance) – a Deadly Embrace for the PRC (Partito della Rifondazione Comunista)

The 6th PRC congress is utterly exceptional. We have all been called upon to make choices that will have profound consequences for the future of our Party and for the future of the Left as a whole. The process of convergence with the Centre-left “Olive Tree” coalition has, in the space of only a few months, clearly shown us the problems we must address. This rush into the embrace of Prodi and the GAD is the consequence of decided shifts towards the centre in our slogans, policies, general Party work and overall political outlook.

From its very first formal declarations, the Alliance has been clearly anchored to the centre. The most prominent amongst these was the October 11th agreement on Iraq, which all GAD Parties (including the PRC) signed. The agreement states:

We, all the parties of the GAD, stand for a role for Italy in launching a process towards an international conference for Iraq. All Iraqi parties should be allowed to participate, so as to guarantee the transparent and democratic unfolding of the electoral process as a founding milestone for a free and democratic Iraq. A crucial point for that is the substitution of occupation forces with other multinational forces, which are forces that could be clearly perceived by the Iraqi people as peaceful forces working for humanitarian assistance to the population and supporting the reconstruction of the country. This is the framework in which the withdrawal of the troops, which we repeatedly asked for, has to be conceived.”

The signing of this statement is a betrayal of a primary slogan of our Party: “Out of Iraq, without any ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’!” Now they have scrapped the slogan as well. As a result, we now find ourselves on the side of those bourgeois analysts who prefer a switch from an American occupation to a “multilateral” one –like the occupations of Afghanistan and the Balkans. This new position is not only wrong, it is a criminal betrayal of the Iraqi people. Accepting such a policy on Iraq means the denial of the fundamental principle that Iraq cannot be free until the occupation forces are gone. Additionally, this policy gives legitimacy to the staggered “electoral process” that the imperialists are conducting in Iraq.

The leadership of the GAD has taken steps to ensure that their agenda is secured. To that end, henceforth all GAD statements will be confirmed on the basis of a majority approval. The PRC has accepted this measure and has submitted to the discipline of the coalition, compelling the party to defend the GAD’s positions. This is a clear threat to our political autonomy. To make matters worse, the PRC leadership is presenting the party with a mystifying portrayal of the alliance, seeking to cover up that which the rank and file of the party would never accept. These manoeuvres of the party leadership aim to paralyse the active involvement of the membership, turning us into mere spectators of the diplomatic ballet starring Prodi and the Olive Tree leaders.

This stunning loss of the political and class independence of our Party did not occur overnight. This is the sad consequence of a long and conscious process of revision, which has subverted our political and ideological principles, weakened our organisation, and dramatically distanced the PRC from the workers’ movement and a class-based standpoint.

In the last elections to the European Parliament, the polls gave us a 60,000-vote increase. However this is not enough to secure the future of our Party. We must bear in mind that, in the past, the PRC has received many more votes (approximately one million), but that these extremely positive results were squandered by a policy of class collaboration. This policy was responsible for the disastrous policy of support for the Olive Tree government, which caused us to suffer a major split in our Party after we had supported unpopular and unacceptable bourgeois policies for two years. In 1996 we received 8.6% in the elections, more than 3 million votes. But this great potential was not used to build the mass movement. Instead, it was sacrificed upon the altar of bourgeois laws, such as: the “Pacchetto Treu” [This contained a number measures relating to “flexibility” in workplace conditions and the loosening of hiring and firing procedure.]; the “Turco-Napolitano” law [The first law to endorse the idea of a maximum legal number of immigrants. To enforce this it established virtual prisons called “Centri di Permanenza Temporanea” [Temporary Stay Centres]; the financial “autonomy” of educational institutions [Meaning that schools and colleges shall manage their own funding, through competition for funding from private enterprises, charities, etc.]; privatisations and cuts in the name of the Maastricht treaty, and many others. It is clear that a radical change of course is necessary. We therefore need a new radical turn, based upon the urgent and inescapable need to maintain the class independence and political autonomy of the Party. Our perspective must be to formulate a realistic strategy to create a genuine alternative for the left, to give a political outlet to the mass mobilisations taking place all over Italy.

The reawakening of the mass movements

We are entering an entirely new historical period. This new epoch is one characterized by the organic crisis of capitalism on a world scale and, at the same time, the growing wave of mass mobilisations that are spreading across the world. Gigantic movements are developing in Europe, India, South Africa, and Latin America. The recent elections in India marked a historic defeat for the right. This event followed in the wake of the most impressive general strike in India’s history, in which innumerable masses of workers, peasants and poor participated in political struggle.

Latin America has been at the forefront of the movement in the last few years. Political upheaval has rocked the entire continent. Ecuador in 2000, Argentina in 2001, Bolivia in 2003 – all have seen impressive popular uprisings, fighting against the powers that be, forcing several governments out of power. The Venezuelan masses have repeatedly shattered the schemes of the reactionaries, the April 2002 coup was defeated in just one day – a historic victory. The masses then defied reaction yet again, in December 2002, during the oil industry lockouts. And then, last summer, when the reaction and the US imperialists attempted to use the recall referendum to overthrow the Chavez government, the masses showed their total opposition to reactionary policies. Most recently, the local elections across Venezuela registered yet another defeat for the forces of reaction. Mass demonstrations, general strikes and local uprisings have also shaken many other countries, foreshadowing impending revolutionary crises in Uruguay, Peru, Chile and Colombia...

After decades under the rule of military dictatorships and the US-sponsored “democracies”, the Latin American masses are back on the move. The despair of previous defeats has been overcome by the masses as they rediscover their role in the unbroken thread of the revolutionary process. But the course of the struggle is revealing itself to be something completely different from what the theorists of the “anti-globalisation movement” (including the Zapatistas) foresaw. This movement is not being led by “municipalities”, organizations of “civil society”, or “solidarity/free trade” networks, etc. This is an open and direct struggle of the masses aimed at the seizure of power, as the only real way to improve their living conditions. This is the real lesson that we must draw from the struggle in Latin America, especially from its more advanced sections.

The Latin American masses are now fighting back after more than twenty years of continuous defeats that had thrown most of the left organizations across the continent into deep crisis, be they guerrilla, Maoist, socialist or communist. As a consequence, this movement is seeking its way blindly, without that political leadership that would make the process of achieving victory faster and more linear. Yet despite all of the difficulties and mistakes, what is decisive is that the objective conditions of capitalism compel the masses to act. Significantly, the workers and peasants have placed faith in their own forces; conscious of their own power, they are prepared to rely on it to fight on until the end, as the events outlined earlier in this document graphically demonstrate.

On the basis of the new historical period, the Bolivarian dream of Latin American unity can be reborn on the basis of the socialist revolution across the Latin American continent and through the creation of a Socialist Federation of Latin American states. This is the only way to achieve substantial and lasting economic and social development, and moreover it is the only way in which the masses may secure for themselves independence from the domination of imperialism.

The struggle now underway will determine the destiny of the Cuban revolution as well, which faces dire threats both external as well as internal. During the first years after the Cuban Revolution, Ernesto “Che” Guevara attempted to pursue an internationalist perspective as the only way of guaranteeing the victory and the future of the Cuban Revolution. Today, the perspective of a continental revolution has returned. But this time it will not deploy its forces in the form of small nuclei of guerrillas, but in the unstoppable force of the gigantic mass movements of the whole urban population, with the proletariat at the forefront. Over the past decades, the Latin American working class has dramatically grown quantitatively and qualitatively as the most economically and socially influential class. As the movement progresses across the continent, it will be joined and strengthened by the workers of such countries as Mexico and Brazil, and it will become unstoppable.

Lula’s victory in Brazil unleashed the hopes of the downtrodden across Latin America. But now, after two years of his government, many of these hopes have been crushed. Brazil loyally follows the diktats of the IMF, complying fully with its economic requirements. It seems that the only concern of Brazil’s government is to conform to the world market and then reap the profits. But then this makes perfect sense, due to the fact that, excluding the ministers of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Lula’s party), the entire government is composed of the most influential individuals among the ruling class of Brazil. Within the coalition government, they exert their social weight to great effect.

While the macroeconomic balance sheet may be “in the black” for the capitalists, there is the same cannot be said as far as land distribution, unemployment, and hunger which affects tens of millions of workers and their families. A stark example is the fact that, in 2003 alone, Brazil spent 50 million Euros to pay off interest on foreign debt – a sum five times greater than what was spent on healthcare.

The disappointment that these policies have caused is clearly the cause of the electoral defeats suffered by the PT in the recent round of local elections, in such cities as Sao Paulo and Porto Alegre. This same disappointment is also underlined by a significant increase in strikes, the most significant of which are those of the bank workers and metalworkers of the Sao Paulo industrial belt, the area where the PT was born. And as this disappointment spreads and comes to be expressed within the party, the PT leadership – once counted amongst the most democratic – now expels dissenters and stifles any questioning of their policy of counter-reform.

The experience of the Lula government shows clearly, yet again, that one cannot serve two masters. “The half-worker and half-bourgeois government”, as the Movimento Sem Terra defines it, must drop all of its illusions in its present class-collaborationist policies. If it does not, it will mean a massive victory for the right wing. It is impossible to avoid a conflict with the Brazilian oligarchy and the imperialists if the government wishes to meet the expectations of millions of workers across the continent, in a situation that has never been seen so favourable for the left.

The fundamental problem is therefore one of the leadership. The present leadership is trying to carry out “half a revolution” – and it is this confusion that we must fight against. Their so-called “new” ways are actually nothing more than the re-enactment of the old and discredited gradualist approach that was responsible for the terrible defeats suffered by the Chilean workers in 1973 and, later, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

Workers’ reawakening in Europe and Italy

Although they are each proceeding in different conditions and speeds, we are witnessing the reawakening of workers’ movements in many European countries. Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Britain – in one country after another we have seen the workers coming back into action in enormous demonstrations, strikes, and even general strikes. Such a heightened level of mobilisation and energy makes it clear that a new generation of workers is now on the move. This new generation has left behind it the defeats suffered during the years of class collaboration. This is very clear in Italy.

First there were the enormous demonstrations over the question of Article 18 [This is an article of the “Statuto dei lavoratori”, a kind of bill of workers’ rights that compels bosses to hire back workers who have been fired without good reason. The Berlusconi government has tried to repeal it several times, but the huge workers’ demonstrations prevented that.] Later there were the demonstrations against the war in Iraq. And all the while there have been many symptomatic localized struggles. The strike of the FIAT workers at the Termini Imerese plant [near Palermo, Sicily] in December of 2002 can be considered as the starting point of this series of localised struggles. A number of militant campaigns followed, including the metalworkers’ struggle for a national collective bargaining agreement, the struggle of the municipal transport workers, the actions taken by the steelworkers in Genoa and Terni and, finally, the struggle of the FIAT workers at the Melfi [in the south]. Every one of these struggles was an important turning point in the class war. The workers have now won better salaries and improved working conditions. This kind of victory had been unknown for twenty years. Even more important, however, are the indications of advancing class-consciousness that these struggles have revealed, namely:

1) The workers are not hesitating to use militant fighting methods. They are ready to challenge the anti-strike laws, to oppose decrees of the Prefecture [decrees which the local police Prefecture can use to force workers back to work] and police repression. In other words, they are prepared to “break the rules of the game” – those rules that were established not only by the bosses and the government but also by the class-collaborationist union leaders in order to hold the labour movement in check.

2) Every strike and demonstration has been met with widespread sympathy. This fact stands in stark contrast to the situation we experienced only a few years ago, when long and courageous struggles did occur, but were sorely lacking active support from outside the workplace.

3) Determined struggles of the kind outlined above are now serving as guiding beacons for the activity of the class as a whole. Sentiments such as, “We have to do what the municipal transport workers did” or “We have to do what they did in Melfi” were the clearest and most popular ways in which – even in sectors that were not directly mobilized by the activities taken as examples – the need for staunchly conducted struggle in order to get results was realized.

4) Workers’ struggles are now clearly stimulating various social protests, even on issues not directly related to workplace issues. And these protests in turn affect the workers, leading to mass demonstrations such as those in Scanzano against the creation of a nuclear waste dump, in Acerra against the building of an incinerator plant, and numerous demonstrations against cuts in education. If the workers’ movement had not become involved in these demonstrations, then these local disputes would never have acquired their mass nature and been so successful. In the course of these struggles, the immigrants have played a role that stands out clearly – they have been actively involved not only in their own struggles on the issues relating to immigration, but are increasingly participating in union demonstrations, the anti-war movement, and so on.

So far these demonstrations that reveal an advanced class-consciousness have still only involved specific layers of the working class and not the class as a whole, all at once. But does this mean that all of these mobilisations are merely isolated phenomena? Or do they foreshadow more generalised movements? The answer is very simple, if one poses another question. How many more situations like Melfi, ATM and Termini Imerese are brewing? [The public transport workers of Milan were at the forefront of the national municipal transport strike, and succeeded in completely paralysing the city for days while enjoying the complete support of the population.] How many more Scanzano’s and Acerra’s are ready to explode at any moment, given the tense economic, social, wage and unemployment conditions in Italy today?

These new struggles demolish once and for all those trifling ideas that preach the end of the class struggle, proclaiming the notion that “casualisation of labour” would have prevented any collective struggle by the workers. [The idea of “casualisation of labour” is a common issue in Italian debates. Basically, the idea is that “flexible”, temporary working contracts should be the norm. Naturally, the bosses exalt the virtues of this alternative.] These strikes also provide a clear reply to all who claimed that FIAT had succeeded in establishing an “integrated” factory, or a “no-strike” factory, in Melfi. All such nonsensical theories put forward by reformist left-wing intellectuals have been thoroughly debunked, and the political impotence and opportunism of these “radicals” has been exposed.

If the polices of the 1990s was a one of blood, sweat and tears for the whole of the Italian proletariat, for the South of Italy they were absolutely devastating. 75% of poor families are concentrated in the South. Unemployment in the south stands at 18%, double the national average of 9%. For youth under 24 years of age, the figure is 49%! There are 450,000 families in the south, in which not one member of the family is employed. The idea that Italy has solved the problem of an underdeveloped south is utterly false. The Italian bourgeoisie have exploited the south like a colony for 150 years. This continues into the present day, although naturally the way in which this comes about has changed.

The South is used as a huge reserve of cheap labour, both in terms of a constant flow of internal immigration towards the North, reaching heights of 90,000 workers per year, and in the development of industrial areas, such as Melfi, thanks to the bosses being able to pay the lowest salaries possible while also benefiting from huge state subsidies.

Additionally, the Southern workers suffer other forms of exploitation, such as large scale speculation or the building of rubbish dumps (as in Scanzano). Public health and the environment are sacrificed to the needs of eco-business (as in Acerra) or to the needs of the military, as happened in Maddalena, a natural wildlife oasis in Sardinia.

But now we see how this situation is turning around. The epoch of apathy is over. There is a widespread mood amongst people of revolt in favour of ending all of these forms of exploitation. The workers, and the people in the south are now ready to stand at the forefront of some of the most militant mobilisations.

The South now leads the country in workers’ and people’s struggles (e.g., the actions in Termini Imerese, Melfi, Polti sud, Scanzano, Acerra). The stage is set for the South to play a crucial role in the mass movements in the future. From this we can see why the PRC should invest energy and resources in building the party and sinking roots in the south.

The social crisis weighs especially heavily on the shoulders of working women. In the decade between 1992 and 2002, female employment rose from 28.6% to 32.3%. This has resulted in an epidemic of casual and poorly paid jobs, without any paid maternity leave (and when they are allowed they are absolutely minimal). Women are also forced to do night shift work, which has caused serious harm to many families, as workingwomen go to punishing lengths to find time for both their work and their family commitments.

Workingwomen are affected in a brutal manner by welfare cuts. The total lack of public services and structures for the care of the elderly and the sick means that their care falls directly on the shoulders of women. Cuts in education being carried out by Moratti [the Minister of Education; a woman, ex- manager, and married to an Italian oil industry magnate] will result 17,000 teachers losing their jobs. This is a frontal attack on what was a traditional source of employment for women. Moratti’s measures will also mean the end of full-time schooling for many children, meaning that mothers must resign from their jobs if they cannot afford to pay for childcare. To make matters worse, a law was recently passed on fertility treatment that gives the foetus legal status, meaning that it can be considered to be alive and to have rights – a development that seriously threatens the right to abortion. This law provides monetary incentives for women who choose not to abort and there is a further proposal now being discussed that women should have to pay for an abortion. All this shows how the hypocrisy of this obscurantist bourgeois ideology is seriously threatening women’s right to choose and their control over their own bodies.

We are fully aware of the fact that only through a collective effort can we successfully find a solution to these problems. The way forward is a mass movement with working women fighting at the forefront against capitalism. We firmly believe that the Party must push the labour movement to champion women’s rights, and not to barter the fundamental rights of women in “diplomatic” manoeuvres with other parties [namely the Catholic parties, which are also present in the Centre-Left alliance] as has happened too often in the past.