Italy: Young Communists national conference - Marxist opposition wins 25%

In February the national conference of the Italian Young Communists (GC), the youth wing of the PRC, met to discuss two counterposed political documents, one presented by the Marxist tendency and the other by all the other currents who came together as one block. The Marxists emerged far stronger than they have ever been and are now a respected current within the youth, one that has shown in practice that it knows how to build the party with correct Marxists ideas.

The National Conference of the Young Communists (GC, Giovani Comunisti) was held from 19 to 21 February with 260 delegates taking part, elected by the local conferences that had taken place from 8 January to 16 February with the participation of over two thousand members of the youth organization of the Communist Refoundation Party (PRC).

The document of the Marxist opposition, “Struggle, occupy, resist”, won 494 votes, amounting to 24.53 per cent. One member in four therefore declared themselves for a clear left-wing revolutionary alternative; the alternative document is now the line of the Provincial Coordinating Committees in 19 provincial federations, including important towns like Milan, Caserta and Parma. and has won a majority in three regions [Italy is divided into about 110 provinces, grouped into 20 regions] (For detailed results of the Conference see Dati finali convalidati dalla commissione nazionale per la Conferenza).

At the last GC conference, held in 2006 when the party was in government, the document promoted by the supporters of FalceMartello won 7.1% with 420 votes (See the 2006 results, when the Marxist tendency presented the fourth document in discussion: III Conferenza nazionale Giovani comunisti - Risultati). The numbers voting then were almost six thousand. Since then splits and crises have reduced the other tendencies by almost two thirds, while ours is the only one that has increased its support and above all its ability to work politically amongst the youth.

The topics of the discussion

At the last GC Conference there were five political documents under discussion, while this Conference saw the presentation of only two alternative documents, which is due to the recent splits from the PRC and the crisis of the various bureaucratic currents.

National Secretary Pablo Ferrero speaking at the Young Communist Conference. Photo by Giovani Comunisti.National Secretary Pablo Ferrero speaking at the Young Communist Conference. Photo by Giovani Comunisti. The party leadership tried everything to get the different political currents within the GC to join forces and adopt a single “unified” document. This, however, would have been an unprincipled unity, not based on any serious political debate of the different ideas that are present within the GC, but on a few general slogans that everyone can agree on, combined with a bureaucratic agreement on how to share out the positions in the leading bodies.

The idea was to use the crisis of the party, shaken by recent electoral defeats, to impose a kind of “we must all stand” logic: we’re so weak and in crisis that we can’t have internal divisions. The need to bury all the differences was justified by leaning on the common commitment to rebuild the youth organization. It should be remembered in fact that the Young Communists suffered a split to the right in February 2009, when the followers of the old leadership (Vendola/Bertinotti) of the party split. This reduced the GC organization to zero in several areas of the country and halved the overall membership.

The PRC had shifted to the left after the massive electoral defeat in 2008, and the old right-wing leadership emerged discredited. However, already last year the new leadership began to shift its ground away from the positions adopted in 2008 and was slowing swinging back to the right, adopting similar ideas to the old right-wing leadership of the party. The proposal of getting all tendencies within the GC to unite around one unified document was therefore an attempt to normalize the debate in order to hide this gradual rightward drift under the PRC leader Paolo Ferrero, rather than have all this discussed openly at the Young Communists conference.

Ferrero’s recent positions are in full contradiction with the left turn that characterized the PRC national conference in summer 2008. That conference, among many other things, had adopted a position that defined the PRC as “strategically alternative” to the Democratic Party (PD). This was supposed to put an end to the idea that it was necessary to enter into an alliance with the PD – the party of the so-called “progressive bourgeoisie” – to defeat the Berlusconi right.

The whole history of the PRC shows that such alliances may halt the right on the electoral front, but only to prepare its eventual comeback, in an even more aggressive form. Now, however, things are even worse. The PRC has not only adopted once more the idea that it is necessary to form alliances with the Democratic Party, but in a number of regions where local elections are to be held shortly, Ferrero has even come up with the idea of a so-called “government of democratic emergency” against Berlusconi.

Such an alliance would bring together all the parties that are in opposition to Berlusconi, including forces such as the centre-right UDC [one of the small bourgeois parties that emerged from the collapse and splintering of the old conservative Christian Democracy]. The task of such a government, supposedly, is to “save Italian democracy” by writing new “democratic rules”. This is a modern-day version of the “two-stage theory”, except that what we have here is a first stage of democratic unity with the parties of the bourgeoisie that oppose Berlusconi, followed by a second stage when the PRC would recover its alternative strategic orientation.

Such a policy would be disastrous for the PRC. It is utopian to think that with the present crisis of Italian capitalism, with the immense pressure that the bourgeoisie is under to attack workers on all fronts, it would be possible to reach a kind of gentleman’s agreement whereby all the parties in such an alliance simply limit themselves to rewriting the rules of the game, presumably that would allow for a parliamentary system based on greater proportional representation so that the PRC can get back into parliament.

Voting at the conferenceVoting at the conference On this and other questions, as a Marxist tendency we therefore confirmed our choice of presenting our own document for discussion at the GC conference, entitled: “Struggle, occupy, resist”. The title is a clear reference to the process of occupation and resistance of a number of factories fighting layoffs and closure.

Last summer in Milan the INNSE workers won their struggle after 14 months’ occupation, three of which had been spent producing under workers’ control. But the term “resist” is also a clear reference to the need to develop an effective anti-fascist struggle, as in the recent period there has been a revival of racist and fascist-type positions. There have been several cases of conflicts involving immigrants that the right-wing have exploited to whip up racist hysteria among some layers. The problem is that the labour movement is not offering a concrete alternative to the racist policies of the right.

The whole of our political position is characterized by an explanation of the need to free the party and the GC from the mortal embrace of the Democratic Party, to sink new roots in the labour movement, in working class neighbourhoods and within the student movement. This cannot be done if the party enters an alliance with bourgeois parties.

As we explained above, the party leadership tried to present the fact that there were two documents at the GC conference as a clash between a “unitary” and a “sectarian” position. But this was just their way of avoiding entering into the merits of the political questions and criminalising any internal dissent. This attack was brought against the Marxist tendency in particular by the “Togliattian” (i.e. Stalinist) current which at the moment controls the organisational structures of the party and has a relative majority within the GC.

We were thus presented as a small sectarian group that was merely exploiting the GC conferences to “count” its supporters, exploiting the “malaise” within the party for its own ends. The debates in the local and national conferences, the way we intervened and at the end the final vote dispelled this myth. The Marxists, far from a marginal group, emerged from the Conference as an important and growing part of the PRC youth organization.

The debate at the National Conference

Margherita Colella from FalceMartello speaking at the conference.Margherita Colella from FalceMartello speaking at the conference. At the National Conference around fifteen supporters of the Marxist tendency were able to intervene in the debate. The comrades did not simply limit themselves to repeating the ideas in our document, but brought into the debate the living experience of comrades engaged every day in the struggles of the workers and youth and also in the building of the GC and the PRC in this difficult period. We feel we can say without any exaggeration that our interventions contributed in a decisive manner to generating an open debate, and certainly one where different points of view were aired, which had the merit of preventing the conference from being simply a self-celebration for the new “unitary” majority.

There was a lively exchange of views with the participation of the PRC national secretary Paolo Ferrero in the proceedings. In his greetings to the conference he replied to the intervention previously made by one of our comrades, Margherita Colella, who criticised the line of alliances with the centre-left and the idea of a democratic front with the PD and the UDC against Berlusconi.

Ferrero brought out the old phraseology about the “democratic emergency” to support his arguments, but he received a reply soon afterwards from a supporter of the majority document from Sicily, who asked how it was possible to justify to farm labourers, workers and youth, an alliance with a party like the UDC, which is completely tied to mafia interests.

The attempt to present us as a little group detached from reality was laughable when we consider the list of comrades who intervened in the debate in the name of our tendency: temporary workers, casual workers employed in cooperatives, students active in the Onda [“the Wave”, the name adopted by the Italian student movement last autumn – Ed.] and factory shop stewards.

A somewhat disunited unitary document

During the conference the strategic differences that exist within the various currents that had come together to support the first document emerged in all their contradictions. An occasion for one such clash came with a resolution approved unanimously in the federal provincial conference of Catania (Sicily), which strongly questioned any idea of an alliance with the UDC. This was opposed by a supporter of the “Essere Comunisti” current [Togliattiian/Stalinist – Ed.] who spoke of the need, in the “phase of democratic emergency”, to enter into an agreement with any political force that was willing to modify the rules of the Italian political system, to defend the Constitution, calling for the evaluation of agreements with the PD to be decided on a “case by case” basis.

We made a comradely criticism of both these positions and particularly of the left wing of the first document. We explained that in order to change course what is required within the GC is a consistent, clear battle of opposition based on a programme and concrete proposals, and not sudden last minute changes.

We also explained that it is not enough to limit oneself to criticising only agreements with the UDC, because we believe the characteristics of this party are not very different from those of the PD, which in the South of Italy is not foreign to Mafia interests and supports the interests of the bourgeoisie and big business everywhere.

However, although we made these criticisms we supported the Catania resolution, which was passed at the national conference with 110 votes in favour, 104 against and 24 abstentions, which came mainly from the Communist Left current.

Then there was a vote on two resolutions that had been passed at the Caserta provincial conference, where we had won the majority. The first, entitled “For an 8th of March of struggle”, as well as putting forward a series of clear proposals about how to work among women workers and female youth, made a strong criticism of the dominant position within the party on guaranteed quotas for women, and this was passed with only 5 votes against. The second analysed the need for a revival of the struggle against the Mafia as a struggle against capitalism and proposed a meeting of the GC of the South to be held at Caserta, a province notorious for the activities of the Camorra [the name by which organised crime is known in Naples and the Campania region – Ed.]. This resolution was passed by a large majority, with only three abstentions.

Thus the outcome of this attempt to tie everyone down to a “unitary document” ended up with a series of divisions within the various currents that had been brought together around the first document. This expressed itself fundamentally in the re-emergence of the old “movementista” trend in counter-position to the Stalinist current. [Note: “movimentismo” would literally translate as “movementism”, i.e. those political trends that believe the movement is everything, that stress the radical political activity of the various “movements” such as the anti-global, anti-war movements etc., and minimise or even deny the role of an organised revolutionary workers’ party].

The “unitary leadership” which emerged from this conference therefore takes the form of an agreement between different currents, based on hiding one’s real differences, not debating them out, and on a permanent state of hypocrisy. We were not prepared to enter into such unprincipled agreements, preferring to state our position clearly. It was on this basis that 12 Marxists were elected to the new National Coordinating Committee of the GC out of a total of 50 members.

In the end the political document presented by us in the Conference received the support of 28% of the delegates, a sign of a further shift towards our position by some of the delegates during the course of the debate. We believe the conference demonstrated the validity of our political ideas, programme and analysis, as an integral part of the GC. Ours was an anti-bureaucratic response, which is not prepared to bow down to any alleged uniformity of the history of communism and one which sees the need to face up to and deal with the degeneration represented by Stalinism.

“Struggle, occupy, resist” was not therefore simply an attempt to gather together the accumulated discontent within the rank-and-file. It offered a concrete alternative, one based on fighting for the genuine ideas of revolutionary communism, of taking up the immediate demands of the workers and youth of Italy. It is based on the idea that we must rebuild the GC and the PRC in the workplaces, in the working class neighbourhoods, in the schools and universities, in opposition to all the bourgeois parties. We believe that with that programme, with the demands we raised, we can make a new start, and prepare that fight-back that the youth, the workers, the immigrants and the women of this country need.

We have emerged as a strong tendency within the GC. We have shown that we are not a marginal group as the party leadership would like people to believe. We are an integral part of the GC and the party and our ideas are getting more and more of an echo. That is because our ideas, the ideas of genuine Marxism, correspond to the needs of the workers and youth in these times of acute crisis of capitalism. Our aim is to build the party on the ideas of genuine communism.