Italy: “Festa Rossa” – very successful first ever festival of FalceMartello

The Marxist Tendency in Italy gathered around the journal FalceMartello organised its first ever open air festival in Bologna between June 21st and 24th. It attracted several thousand people and was a success in every sense of the word, financially and politically. Here we provide a brief report of the four days and also some short videos (in Italian).

The recent “Festa Rossa” [Red Festival] organised by the comrades of FalceMartello in Bologna between 21st and 24th June turned out to be a huge success. Prior to the festival the comrades were somewhat concerned.

There is a tradition in Italy of left-wing festivals organised around the journals of left parties. For decades people were used to the many Feste de L’Unita’, organised by the old PCI (Partito Comunista Italiano) and since the split in the old Communist Party in 1991 the tradition has also been established of the Feste di Liberazione of the journal of Rifondazione Comunista.

These festivals involve a lot of hard work on the part of party members. The stands have to be built, all the equipment, from gas stoves to water supplies, from power supplies to the daily ordering of food and drinks, all has to be done by volunteer staff. The festivals have to be manned 24 hours a day, with night rotas of stewards to watch over the site and so on.

Being the first time that the comrades of FalceMartello had organised such a festival they were not sure how it would turn out. There was an element of risk involved, a bit of a gamble. But it was gamble that paid off big time.

The festival was organised on a site in Bologna that is traditionally used to hold the festivals of Liberazione, the journal of Rifondazione Comunista. It was a classical open air festival, with all the stands built by the comrades and stewarded 24 hours a day by supporters of FalceMartello.

There was a restaurant with a seating capacity of 450, which required a huge effort in terms of all the work of preparing the food beforehand, getting a team of comrades to do the waitering and clean up afterwards. Apart from the restaurant there were a further eight stands covering an area of around 100 square metres each. There was a very professionally organised bar which attracted a lot of people and where people could also eat. There was also a kebab stand organised through Moroccan supporters.

At one end of the festival there was a stage under a huge tent where every evening free concerts were held. These attracted a sizeable number of people. Among the bands playing were Yo Yo Mundi, famous for having provided the musical soundtrack to Eisenstein’s film “Strike”. There were also the Malapizzica, a very lively group that plays traditional popular music from the south of Italy. Once their music started it became irresistible and many of those listening just had to jump in and dance the night away!

The organisation of the festival was a big investment on the part of the comrades, especially if you consider that they organised it mainly with their own forces, with the help of a few PRC activists who have experience in running such events. We should still remember that they are still a small opposition tendency within Rifondazione Comunista. They do not have the forces available to the party as a whole. Nonetheless, close to 200 comrades from all over Italy worked at the festival, making sure that it would be both a political and financial success. They managed both.

Many were the comments on how well organised the whole festival was. Many party members commented that they could not believe it was all organised by supporters of FalceMartello alone. Many commented that this was a genuine popular festival, a bit like the “old days” before the Feste de L’Unita’ became commercialised. There were no big name sponsors here, no FIAT stands or expensive shops on display. The food and drink was cheaper than you would find elsewhere and the main emphasis was on politics, genuine communist politics.

The success of the festival can be seen from the overall figures. There were queues to eat at the restaurant, with over 1400 people placing orders over the four days. The exhibition of over twenty years of our journal, FalceMartello, attracted a lot of attention and the bookshop sold 240 books, and overall during the four days over 4000 people visited the festival.

There were four political debates, one every day and they attracted between 60 and 100 people every evening. The first debate was entitled, “After one year of the Prodi government: crisis of politics or political crisis of the left?” with Claudio Bellotti, a member of the national executive of the PRC and of the Editorial Board of FalceMartello speaking together with Ramon Mantovani and G. Pegolo, both PRC members of parliament.

The following day the debate was on “Communists in the factory: workers, trade unions, struggles and the party”. In this debate F. Ferrara, the national Organisational Secretary of Rifondazione, took part, as well as many worker comrades and shop stewards from the factory branches of Rifondazione and also supporters of FalceMartello. This was followed the next day by a debate on “1969: the Hot Autumn!” with two main speakers, Alessandro Giardiello, member of the National Committee of Rifondazione and Editorial Board of FalceMartello, and Gianni Alasia, a long standing party member who was the Secretary of the CGIL trade union in Turin in the 1960s when those historic events took place. On the last day the debate was dedicated to Latin America.

A special mention needs to be made about a recent publication of the comrades of FalceMartello. They have just published a 650-page book of selected works of Ted Grant, available for the first time in Italian. It covers the period 1942 to 2002 and is an excellent introduction to the ideas of Ted Grant for any Italian reader who has no knowledge of English. The book was launched at the festival on the second day with a presentation by Claudio Bellotti who did the overall editorial work of gathering and selecting the texts, getting them translated and proofreading the book.

It was a lively and political festival which was exactly what the comrades had worked for. The Marxist tendency in Italy is not a traditional organisation of the labour movement, but it proved capable of attracting a large layer of working class people. The five short videos that you can view on their website site give you an idea of the atmosphere that permeated the festival throughout the four days.

The reasons behind this success are to be found in the work that the comrades did in preparing it, a little bit of luck, but above all in the fact that many people on the left are seeking a genuine political alternative. This is the most significant factor and this is something they will build on in the future.

The comrades went into this project fully aware of both their limitations and their strong points, and they strove to maximise their strong points, their abilities and skills. They distributed more than 30,000 leaflets and put up about 7,000 posters. Their Bologna supporters literally spoke about the festival to everyone they could, outside factory gates, supermarkets, the university, and anywhere else they could.

Of course, the main protagonist of the festival was the tendency itself. They have worked very hard for more than twenty years, almost invisibly, outside factory gates, in trade union struggles, in the youth movement, inside the party to build up their authority and give credibility to the perspective of a revolutionary communist transformation of this world. And now the time has come to present all this accumulated human and political experience to a wider public, beyond the narrower layer of party and trade union activists that take part in the more traditional kind of activity.

The aim was to use this festival to present the tendency that they have built up over these years to the widest possible layer of leftward thinking people as possible. They wanted to get the message across that people need to be active politically, that they shouldn’t leave the task of solving our social and political problems to anyone, that they must join the trade unions and Rifondazione Comunista, and that there are people like the Marxist Tendency that are waging an intransigent struggle in defence of the labour movement and that people can join them in this battle.

The comrades have stressed that there were two key aspects behind the success. On the one hand there was the enthusiastic and collective work of their supporters in Bologna and from all over Italy that came to help out in the four days of the festival, without whom none of all this would have been possible. On the other hand they also have the accumulated political capital which is the result of many years of rigorous and systematic work, in which the comrades of FalceMartello have always distinguished themselves for their intellectual honesty and political consistency.

One last point that needs to underlined is the enthusiastic response of those that took part in the festival. They thanked the comrades for having organised it. They kept coming back every evening to enjoy it to the full, taking part in the wide variety of events and also appreciating the political stimulus they received from these. All this reveals that all those pessimists, who shout about the apathy and irreversible decline in interest of people on the left, should be a bit more careful when making such claims. The interest is there. It is simply not finding a channel through which it can be expressed.

The comrades expressed particular thanks to the comrades of the Bologna federation of Rifondazione Comunista, including the secretary Tiziano Loreti, but above all comrades Stefano Franchi, Franco Gavina and Francesco Pizzinat, who worked with them under the scorching heat putting up the stands and putting their experience at their disposal in solving many technical problems. They also appreciated the contributions of the following comrades who contributed to making the debates a success: Gianni Alasia, Ramon Mantovani, Gianluigi Pegolo, Fabio Amato, Francesco Ferrara and Giuseppe Carroccia, all leading comrades of Rifondazione Comunista.

The comrades were particularly pleased with and proud of the presence of comrade Antonio Santorelli to whom they have conveyed a special thankyou. He is the secretary of the branch of Rifondazione in the factories of Pomigliano d’Arco [near Naples], and a worker who has been victimised and sacked for political reasons from the Avio plant in Pomigliano. He has been camped out in a protest tent outside the factory for months. To him and to all those workers in struggle like himself, the comrades wish to send their solidarity as communist activists who continue the struggle in all conditions, even the most difficult.

Many people wished the comrades goodbye hoping to see them at the next festival. The comrades are discussing the possibility of repeating such a festival. For now, they are recovering from the huge effort they put in this year.

As they said, “Our aim is to build a strong communist party, starting with Rifondazione, as an instrument for the emancipation of the working class from the slavery of this degrading system. To all our readers we say: get organised, don’t be satisfied with simply criticising the system, get involved politically and join us!”