Break With Prodi: Prepare a Workers' Alternative - Part Three

In the final part of their document the Marxists in Rifondazone Comunista (FalceMartello) outline the crisis of Social Democracy and the Trade Unions. In answer to both the leadership who are preparing to join forces even with bourgeois parties and also the sectarian fringe who believe these mass organisations can simply be wished away, the comrades develop a strategy based on the best traditions of the Communist International in the days when Lenin's ideas dominated.

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 crisis of Social Democracy and the struggle for hegemony and against sectarianism

The aim and scope of our congress is to draw a viable path that would allow the PRC to become a potentially dominant force in the Italian labour movement, and to change the balance of forces on the left.

The possibility of achieving this aim stems from the crisis of reformism that we have already dealt with. The impossibility of a consistent reformist policy rules out success for the policies of social “peace” and class collaboration. The conditions are set for a deep crisis of the reformist parties.

Alessandro Giardiello, member
of the PRC Central Committee

The political crisis of the Social Democracy can be seen in the growing disputes in the reformist political parties and trade unions all across Europe. Individuals are beginning to voice opposition in these organisations and we are witnessing the development of a more or less consist left wing. Above all, this process has affected the trade unions. In Italy, we first saw this with “Cofferatism” [Cofferati was the General Secretary of the CGIL, the main Italian union confederation, until a couple of years ago. He has always been a champion of class collaboration, but due to pressures from the masses he became the leader of mass demonstrations and for a short period became very popular], then with the FIOM’s bid for political autonomy from the CGIL. In Germany, there are indications that Ig-Metall will move in the same direction, and there have been gatherings of some of the “leftist” groups in the SPD. Finally, we have seen the emergence of opposition to Blair inside the Labour Party, owing to a shift to the left in the union bureaucracies.

These left currents are characterized above all by their uncertainty in opposition to the right of the Social Democracy and for their complete political and programmatic confusion. It is undeniable though that they represent the first, timid crack in the apparatus of these organizations, pushed on by the growing pressure of the masses. Our task is not to partake in ambiguous diplomatic manoeuvres with the leaders of these trends but to go into these cracks that have opened up and widen them, in order to lead our battle for hegemony within the labour movement.

In order to achieve this, we need to have a thorough understanding of the very nature of the Social Democratic parties and the contradictions that are now shaking them.

The essence of Social Democracy is not, and never has been, to merely and continuously put forward social reforms. It also did not always have a gradualist line with “a socialist orientation”. To believe this would be to idealise the Social Democracy of the past. In fact in the past, the Social Democracy never hesitated to endorse the worst bourgeois policies when asked to do so. This is particularly true in times of social and economic crises. Graphic examples of this are the terrible role played by the Social Democrats in the wake of the First World War, the bloody repression of the German Revolution in 1919, or the colonial policies that they supported in France and Britain.

The essence of social democratic politics has always been “to represent”, i.e. to mediate, reach deals, and to negotiate the interests of the working class within the economic and political limits of the capitalist system. The fundamental policy of Social Democracy has not therefore been “reform”, but a passive adaptation to capitalist society. Social Democracy has been pacifist in times of peace, and supported war in periods of conflict. They were Keynesian in the post-war period, and have been monetarists supporting neo-liberal expansion over the last two decades. In terms of their policies and support for capitalism, there is no difference between the Social Democratic parties and the rest of the bourgeois parties. Where the difference lies, however, is in the fact that the Social Democracy dominates and controls the labour movement. This lies not only in their ability to garner electoral support, but also in the control they exert over working class organisations, in particular over the unions, thus allowing them to control the mobilisation of the working class.

Over the last few years many people have talked a lot of nonsense about a “liberal detour”, or about a “final” uprooting of organisations such as the DS and Labour Party from the labour movement. Recent events graphically demonstrate just how wrong they were. These people have confused the policies of the leadership with the mood and class-consciousness of the rank and file. It is not by chance that recent events have affected the Social Democratic parties and not the bourgeois democratic parties. This alone is enough to explain how this formalistic and rigid approach led them to simply provide a superficial and empirical analysis of the political and ideological shifts within the bureaucracies of the trade unions and Social Democratic parties. This prevented these people from making a concrete and dialectical analysis of the unfolding development of class relations.

The Social Democratic parties are not going to simply dissolve. They will not be consumed simply by the heavy burden of the contradictions within them. A viable and mass alternative is necessary. Such an alternative must set itself the target of leading the workers’ movement out of the quagmire it currently finds itself in. But since such an alternative is missing, the masses will attempt to use the Social Democratic parties all the same. The workers will elect them to power, once, maybe twice, even several times, because they hope they can have an influence on the policies these organisations will put forward once in office. This is the lesson we can draw from the recent elections in France and Spain. The workers had severely punished the policies of the Socialist and “pluralist left” governments in Spain and France. This happened in Italy in 2001, and the same could possibly happen in the coming elections in Germany. Nevertheless, a few years after those terrible electoral defeats, the left is ahead in the polls in both countries (France and Spain), and the same thing could happen in Italy.

This process is not simply an orchestration of the bourgeoisie, alternating between left and right governments. The bourgeois cannot alternatively call to power coalitions of right and left as a director calls in different actors to do scenes in a play. It goes without saying that the ruling class has all the power to try to impose its will under any kind of government with any size of parliamentary majority. However, what is more important is that such politically erratic behaviour shows that the masses are searching for a way out of the severe and growing contradictions they are experiencing.

The vote for the left in France, Spain, and Italy is not due to the foolishness or backwardness of the working class, but precisely because when it comes to the most decisive issues, the masses express themselves through the large mass organisations. They simply do not bother with the lesser alternatives. Thus the strategy of building a Party with the perspective of dominating the left cannot be achieved through a mere exposure of the class collaborationist policies put forward by the DS, nor can it simply be a matter of the re-organisation of the Party and its structures. What we need to understand is that the reformists, represented in Italy by the DS and CGIL, do not dominate the organised labour movement by virtue of some sort of “conspiracy”. On the contrary, the role they play in the labour movement stems from profound historical connections with the workers, represented by organisations such as the CGIL and DS that have deep roots and a century-long tradition in the movement. Such a connection cannot be broken simply through the exposure of political errors, or through the repeated charges of “treason”.

This is clearly demonstrated in France where, unlike in Italy, some ultra-left forces (such as Lutte Ouvrière, for example) received some support at the polls. But they soon proved incapable of taking the next step. When the masses really started looking for a way out of the situation and sought an alternative to the right wing government, these ultra-left organisations were plunged into a terrible crisis, even at the polls. The PSF (the Socialist Party of France) and the PCF (Communist Party of France) came back with force and started to grow again.

Naturally, the causes of the difficulties the French “revolutionary” left (and those of the Argentinean left, the development of which followed a similar pattern) has faced cannot be reduced to this question alone. As far as our discussion is concerned we must focus on one thing: it is an illusion to think that we can challenge the domination of the reformists with simple denunciations. In the same way it is an illusion to think we could do this through the establishment of mysterious alternative “blocs” that, following a mere appeal to the rank-and-file, think they can take away the class base of the reformist organisations. These are illusions that have repeatedly led militants into a blind alley, who if they had been better guided, could have played a much different role leading to a much better outcome.

These are old lessons, though they were not understood by the Italian extreme left in its conflicts with the Italian Communist Party in the “Hot Autumn” of 1969 and in the years that followed. More recently these lessons have not been understood by the LCR (the Ligue communiste révolutionaire) and the LO (Lutte Ouvrière) in France, nor by the group that split away from the IU (Izquierda Unida or Corriente roja) in Spain. If this fundamental lesson is not understood, it will prevent the creation of a viable Marxist alternative, whether from the Party discussions we are involved in now or from the broader Italian left in general.

The myth of the “Centre Alliance”

It has now been more than a decade since the DS centred its policy on forming an alliance with the bourgeois centre parties. We were told that this alliance was indispensable and necessary in order to challenge and defeat the right wing, win the elections, and form a government.

“The left on its own loses,” was the mantra repeated a million times over in order to convince the workers of the need to support class collaboration.

Reality has shown us that the opposite is true. The “Centre alliance” has been the very cause of the electoral victories of the right wing and the defeat of the left. If we look back ten years to 1994, we see that an impressive mobilisation of the working class forced the first Berlusconi government to resign. This was a hollow victory, rendered useless by the subsequent Dini government, which was supported by the left (although not by the PRC). The Dini government carried out a pension counter-reform which was very similar to the one proposed by Berlusconi – the counter-reform that the workers had just fought against and defeated. From 1996 to 1998 the support of the left for the Prodi government led to further defeats for the working class: increased “flexibility” was introduced in the workplaces; widespread privatisations were carried out; Italy was involved in the bombings of Yugoslavia; the Turco-Napolitano law on immigration was passed; the privatisation of education and public services began, etc. Such attacks on the working class resulted in the serious electoral defeat of the left in 2001, and Berlusconi’s return to power. It is important to bear in mind that the Party that suffered the most politically from such a social and political defeat was precisely the PRC, which as a result underwent a major split in 1998.

Even in opposition the “Centre Alliance” has been ineffective, systematically working to weaken the movement of the masses. The truth of the matter is that the centre-left coalition has not been able to effectively fight the forces of the right, whether it be through demonstrations or when in office. This is precisely because it has submitted to the interests of the ruling class.

The electoral argument of the centre-left alliance is false from top to bottom. The results of the last election clearly demonstrate the vote shifting to the left. The Olive Tree “grand list” fared poorly in the European elections, while the DS, PDCI [the party that split from the PRC in 1998], the PRC and the Greens fared well. The Margherita [“The Daisy”: the “left” ex-Christian Democrats and main bourgeois party in the Olive Tree coalition] has suffered one defeat after another, and the UDEUR [a tiny party built around Clemente Mastella, an ex-Christian Democrat, whose popularity in some areas of the country has yielded some MPs. The party is now on the “left”, although it began in alliance with Berlusconi] has practically disappeared. Workers, pensioners, the youth - in short, all those firmly in opposition to the Berlusconi government and its policies are not voting for the centre-left alliance, they are voting instead for a left alternative. But as none of the left parties proposes or provides such an alternative, they do what they can: they punish the centre parties and support those on the left wherever possible [as the electoral system varies for different elections, this is not always possible because the Olive Tree coalition sometimes offers a single list of candidates]. When they are forced to swallow the lists of the “Olive Tree” coalition, the workers and youth react with indifference at the polls.

An alliance of the left that consistently called for a break with the policies of the right and clearly stated the need to break with the bourgeois centre parties would not only dramatically enthuse and inspire its militants and rank-and-file, but could also very effectively appeal to all those workers who vote for the right and who are suspicious of politicians such as Prodi, who embodies the austerity measures and rule of capital imposed by the Europe Union.

Which electoral position for the party?

We are therefore convinced that our electoral position must follow this general strategic line, and not the opposite as has systematically happened in the past. The way this position can be applied however, can only be worked out on the ground when we will have a clear picture of how the election campaign will unfold.

If a mass movement were to topple the rightwing government, this would pave the way for a major shift to the left in society. This would allow for more advanced demands, the isolation of the bourgeois parties and would put into question the “Olive Tree” alliance as well as the Prodi leadership. In this context, the proposal of a left government with a programme of defence of the workers would be more credible, understandable and practical. It is exactly out of fear of this kind of development that the leadership of the centre-left parties and coalitions are actually against any attempt to challenge the Berlusconi government by means of a movement of the masses.

However the development of a real alternative to the government seems very far away. This is certainly due to the domination of the centre parties within the GAD and the legacy of the DS’s submission to the policies of class collaboration and liberalism. It will be necessary to make different tactical proposals around one fundamental principal: we must play a role in defeating Berlusconi, but we cannot join a government coalition that would submit to the interests of the ruling class.

An actual method we could adopt is that of “desistenza”, total or partial, by common agreement or unilaterally [this term refers to a method whereby the party does not put up a candidate in those constituencies where the candidate of the Olive Tree is a Left, in order not to split the left vote, but stands in all the other constituencies where the Olive Tree candidate is a bourgeois) clearly stating our utter refusal to vote for any candidate from the bourgeois centre parties. This is a clear militant proposal aimed at preserving the political independence of the Party and safeguarding an independent class position, at the same time keeping the door open for dialogue with the rank-and-file and mass base of the other left parties. Although the current climate of “unity at all costs” may cause some relative difficulties, a correct tactic on this question would put the Party in the best possible position once we experience the beginning of the mass mobilisations that would follow on from an electoral defeat for the rightwing.

Such a tactic would not be aimed at winning an extra MP. Its purpose would be to place the Party in the best political position from which it could take advantage of the inevitable crisis of the reformist parties. It would also allow us to avoid being strangled by the pressure of “unity at all costs”. And lastly, this would also allow us to go onto the offensive once the inevitable crisis of reformism unfolds and becomes clear in the eyes of the masses.

These are the lessons from the best communist traditions, namely those of the first four congresses of the Communist International. These congresses defined the concepts of “united front”, “workers’ government”, and in a much broader perspective, the strategies that national Communist Parties developed in order to deal with the powerful Social Democratic organisations that dominated the labour movement.

The European labour movement is re-awakening after a lull that lasted a whole generation. This will put the next centre-left or left government in a different situation than the 1990s. In fact, in Italy, a victory over the rightwing obtained through the mobilisation on the ground, even if only on the electoral front, will not mean that the mass movement can “go off duty”. Of course, such a going “off duty” of the movement would suit those “leaders” who do not want the movement to go too far, and who want to adapt themselves to a nice position in office. On the contrary, the workers will read Berlusconi’s defeat as the elimination of an obstacle and the key for the success of further mobilisations. In such a scenario, the masses will not water down their demands. On the contrary, they will raise them with even more confidence and determination.

This would be a decisive turning point in the development of the consciousness of the masses. The contradiction between the aspirations and expectations of the masses and the policies of the reformist bureaucracies will open up enormous opportunities for the acceptance of communist ideas on the part of the masses, and for the bringing together of the most determined and conscious layers of the working class around the perspective of revolutionary change.

The Party must sink roots within the working class

The presence of organised party structures in the workplaces and inside the trade unions has reached a historically low point. What is needed is a consistent policy to orientate all of our local branches and activists on this strategically important issue.

The large mobilisations of the last few years are beginning to have an effect inside the CGIL. An entirely new layer of radical activists and shop stewards has emerged. This new layer is determined to turn their backs on the years of class collaboration and continuous setbacks and defeats. At the very same time, we are seeing an increase in union membership and a new collective fighting spirit in all the “new” industries, particularly among young workers, both in the “traditional” industries and in the newer ones (such as call centres, superstores, and so on). It is important to note that this process is developing both in manufacturing and in the service industries. This demonstrates that technological innovation and increased “flexibility” have driven down working conditions and wages, creating the conditions for a greater homogeneity within the labour movement, setting the ground for working class unity and struggle.

The CGIL has benefited the most from this process, and has therefore been able to resist the repeated attempts of the CISL and UIL in agreement with the government, to split the labour movement. [These are the other two main trade union confederations. The CISL was historically connected to the “catholic” workers and therefore with the old Christian Democracy. The UIL is the smallest of the three and has always been linked with smaller bourgeois parties.] As a result the CGIL has been able to win back much of its credibility, which some superficial analysts had declared lost forever.

The old left wing of the CGIL, the “Cambiare Rotta” [“Change direction”] tendency was incapable of recognising this process, itself a clear sign of its own opportunism and bureaucratic nature. It now finds itself to the right of the leadership of FIOM.

The PRC must actively support any leftwing development in the unions affiliated to the CGIL. This development has already started in the FIOM and could encompass many other unions and local organisations. However, our support for these emerging left trends must not ne uncritical. An example of this is Rinaldini [General Secretary of the FIOM]. However positive his positions and speeches may seem, they are always marked by a note of hesitation, an inability to pass from mere words to action, and the inability to provide the workers with effective organisation and militant methods consistent with the nature of the struggles taking place. The struggle for the national collective bargaining agreement of the metal workers highlighted both the positive (the refusal of the FIOM to sign a bad agreement and its attempt to continue the fight for a decent contract) and the negative aspects of these leaders (wrong tactics that divided the workers’ rather than uniting them; an inability to organise an actual mass democratic participation and control over the different stages of the struggle; long periods in which the leadership gave no concrete lead). Our appraisal of the situation leads us to the following conclusion: we must maintain a critical and conscious approach even towards those sectors within the unions that are moving to the left – we cannot give a blank cheque to anybody. We must work consistently to strengthen all mobilisations, to make sure that all words and promises are followed through with action and we must fight against the passive delegation of tasks to the leadership.

This is all the more necessary in those unions where the policies of the leaders have not developed or moved on and where the old policies of class collaboration still dominate. Examples of this are the role of the FILT-CGIL [the CGIL’s transport union] in the struggle of the municipal transport workers, the awful agreement signed by the FILCAMS-CGIL [the CGIL’s shop workers’ union] for 1.5 million shop workers. The list could go on.

The Party cannot merely be a passive, though enthusiastic, observer of the mobilisations of the working class. We have seen this approach far too many times in the past. We must launch a systematic campaign to sink the roots of the Party in all workplaces. We have to gain the support of the working class factory by factory, union by union, Rsu by Rsu [shop stewards’ committees]. In every single struggle of the working class, whether big or small, we must put forward and define the independent view of the communist activists, so that we can become a visible point of reference for all CGIL members, and workers in general, who are looking for an alternative to Epifani’s [the current CGIL General Secretary] policies. A new left can emerge within the CGIL, but it will not be formed by a Party decree or by bureaucratic manoeuvring. These methods have only created disasters in the past. The left will emerge only if the pressure to the left can be gathered and organised into a fighting programme in the best traditions of workers’ democracy.

Finally, this discussion on the trade unions requires a word on the role of the Party in relation to independent unions [that is those unions not belonging to the CGIL, CISL or UIL]. Harsh reality graphically demonstrates how wrong it is to indulge in sectarian perspectives and in the vague bureaucratic proposals about some kind of “fusion” between the left of the CGIL (influenced by the Party) and the independent unions. This policy, adopted at the Party’s “Workers’ Conference”, held in Treviso in 2001, did not give any results. It is unquestionable that the decisive centre of the trade union struggles is the current conflict going on inside the leadership of the CGIL. Naturally, this does not mean that we should abandon our successful work in other unions, nor should we demand that all Party activists abandon other unions and join the CGIL. Nevertheless the Party strategy must necessarily focus on the key issue in the trade union work.

The future of the Party of Communist Refoundation

If we look at the world situation we necessarily draw the conclusion that we are facing a profound historical turning point. We are entering a new period and it seems that the generation of militants who were active in the 1980s and 1990s are finding it difficult to come to terms with this. It seems also that this is even more difficult for the leaders of the labour movement to understand. These people appear to be mesmerised by the legacy of a long gone ear, an era of a relatively stable and “reasonable” capitalism, working in a world regulated by rules and well defined relationships and, most important of all, where the role of these leaders seemed, however it was defined, more or less guaranteed.

Such a vision belongs to the past. This vision was based on steady economic growth, allowing in turn for relative stability and social “peace”, where international relations were generally stable and predictable. This simply no longer exists. Such a vision is growingly undermined, day-by-day, by the organic crisis of the capitalist system. This crisis is becoming ever more explosive and manifests itself through continuous economic crises, wars, and every other convulsion that has shaken the world order. The crisis can also be seen in the re-awakening of the working class and the downtrodden layers, which is taking place in all four corners of the world ‑ although varying in pace and rhythm ‑ from Latin America to Europe, from India to the Middle East.

These dramatic events, of which we have seen but a prelude, will mould the political consciousness of a new generation of militants, both young and old, who will enter the political struggle, the trade unions, and the mass movements with a new spirit. This fighting spirit will be devoid of the hypnosis of the past that paralysed the leadership of the labour movement, and even many honest militants.

Thus we should not be speaking of a “new workers’ movement” [this is an idea developed by the leaders of the PRC who want to dissolve the labour movement into the other social “movements”], but of the urgent necessity of building a new political strategy that breaks with the inheritance of the past and above all with reformism, which is completely incapable (either in its “radical”, “alternative” or right wing versions) of providing any answers to the big expectations we see expressed through the huge mobilisations of the working class.

Our objective is to forge new policies and a new leadership for the labour movement. Such policies need to go far beyond the boundaries which the so-called “alternative left” confines itself to. The aim of a Communist Party cannot be that of fusing together different sections of the bureaucratic apparatus, who for their own reasons are prepared to talk about how “another world is possible”, while at the same time they play their usual games and make deals with the system.

Such a vision would imply abandoning the struggle for hegemony, whether we follow the proposals of Bertinotti [PRC leader], whose vision for the future entails an alliance of the “alternative left” with the “moderate left” and the “progressive” bourgeois, or in Ferrando’s proposals [the leader of the main section of the old Trotskyist minority, now gathered around the Third Document], whose vision entails an “anti-capitalist autonomous class bloc” that never aspires to government (in principle).

For the first time in decades, an entire generation faces the perspective of a worsening of their living conditions. This generation is not only facing the worsening of their material conditions (jobs, education, wages, housing, healthcare and so on), but also a general insecurity, precariousness, the loss of civil rights, and the perspective of a world dragged into the barbarism of a decaying and decadent social system.

These new material conditions are reflected in the consciousness of the masses. It is this that explains why, for the first time in twenty years, a new generation of militants is fighting for the revolutionary transformation of society. The future of the Party of Communist Refoundation depends on whether we can get an echo within the movement and with this new layer of militants, with the workers and youth, and on whether or not we can fuse with them in the struggle for a coherent and consistent revolutionary perspective. Our future depends also on whether we can connect these advanced layers, which are quickly becoming politicised, radicalised and increasingly militant, to the movement of the rank-and-file and the movement of the masses, thus challenging the hegemony of the reformist organisations within the labour movement. However, if the PRC proves incapable of carrying out these fundamental tasks, its defeat will be assured.

This new generation will give new breath and strength to the revolutionary ideas of Marxism and place them where they deserve to be: at the forefront of the mass movement of the working class and the oppressed in the struggle for a better world, a socialist world free from the exploitation and horrors of this decrepit, decaying system.