Almost 180 comrades from over 25 cities gathered in Milan from 24-26 February to attend the 22nd national congress of Sinistra Classe Rivoluzione, the Italian section of the International Marxist Tendency. This was our first in-person congress since the beginning of the pandemic three years ago, which ushered in a period of intense and profound change. As a revolutionary Marxist organisation, we have sought to bring out the fundamental trends underlying this period, identifying its unique features and distinguishing between superficial characteristics and the key processes going on under the surface.
It is our consistent and committed approach to this that has allowed us to strengthen and grow our organisation.
Discussion on international perspectives
The morning of 24 February opened with a discussion on the world situation, which has never been more necessary than today. Francesco Merli, representing the International Marxist Tendency, introduced the discussion by explaining that capitalism is increasingly incapable of reacting to the shocks generated by its own contradictions. It cannot respond to the most essential needs of millions of people.
The shock of the pandemic and the blowback from the war in Ukraine have brought the contradictions accumulating for years to the surface. We have really entered a new epoch.
Fifteen years ago, states responded to the so-called ‘subprime’ credit crisis with massive bailouts and the accumulation of enormous debts, for which the masses have borne the brunt of the cost. After 2008, austerity measures were carried out by every government and temporarily alleviated the crisis. The price of this illusory and precarious stability has been the profound deterioration of the living and working conditions of the working class and the poorest layers of society.
The COVID-19 crisis – with the ensuing lack of shortages, bottlenecks and the chaos arising from the inability of countries to plan and coordinate a common response – demonstrated the irrationality of capitalism before the eyes of the entire world.
Hopes for an improvement in the economic situation following the end of the most acute phase of the pandemic were quickly extinguished by the explosion of inflation and new and deep economic crisis. The outbreak of war in Ukraine was not the cause of this crisis, but brought it to maturity.
Bourgeois economists were alarmed. Their fear could be read in countless articles and comments.
In the words of Larry Summers, former United States Secretary of the Treasury, “I can remember previous moments of equal or even greater gravity for the world economy, but I cannot remember moments when there were as many separate aspects and as many cross-currents as there are right now.”
To list some of them: inflation, monetary tightening and the end of ‘easy money’, the impact of the energy crisis, growing trade and international tensions, uncertainties over the future of China and its relations with the West. And, again, the totally uncertain outcome of the war in Ukraine, in which both sides are committed to further deepening the conflict.
On top of all this are the growing tensions between the various imperialist powers. Today we can say that the division of the world market into different blocs is an irreversible process. The main conflict in this context is that between China and the United States, and it is a conflict that cannot be defused. In this clash, the US retains its role as the main imperialist power, even managing to exploit the war in Ukraine in order to force the European powers to fall in line. All this is taking place in an economic situation that combines the worst elements of the 1973 crisis (stagflation) with those of the 2008 crisis (debt and gigantic growth of the money supply).
Never have so many threats to economic stability been combined at one point. As Marxists, we are primarily interested in the effects this has on the working class. In the US, the workers are awakening and taking to the streets. In Europe the ferment of the working class is expressed mainly through economic struggles. Britain and France are the most obvious examples of this. But this is only the beginning, and the conflict will not be limited to the trade unions, but will also have political consequences.
Today, the two fundamental developments we are facing are the increased threat of barbarism throughout the world and the strengthening of the class struggle on an international scale. There is no middle road. The alternative is increasingly between revolution and barbarism.
The situation in Italy and the tasks of the Marxists
The position of Italy’s weak economy and our tasks in the coming period were the points discussed on the following day.
Comrade Alessio Marconi’s talk on this topic started by looking at the growth of inflation and the raising of interest rates to contain it. This explains the recession that is brewing in Italy and that is already weighing on the pockets of families and companies, as well as state coffers. Any illusions in the Italian government’s ‘Recovery Plan’ have disappeared. Today, the European Union is responding haphazardly to the increase in international competition and the gigantic American investment plan known as the IRA (Inflation Reduction Act), with its clear protectionist character.
In this context, Italy finds itself in a position of extreme weakness, with the increase in state spending destined in large part to repay interest on the country’s debts. Further intervention has been limited to little more than the infamous ‘Superbonus’ – a scheme of tax credits intended to boost the construction of energy-efficient homes – which was a huge speculative trough and whose sudden withdrawal aggravates an already present and growing housing problem. State coffers are being drained by incentives and handouts for companies. And while poverty and the gap between rich and poor in our country increases (in Italy the richest 20 percent own 68 percent of the wealth), Italy’s largest trade union merely demands a higher proportion of social spending.
Instead, a serious mobilisation should be prepared, starting with the issue of wages and the demand for a sliding scale of wages. This is a demand for which more than 85 percent of Italians are in favour (according to a recent Censis report), as we ourselves have been able to verify for the past year outside workplaces throughout Italy with a campaign targeting precisely this. If the CGIL were willing to observe and respond to the deep-seated moods of the Italian working class, it would realise that there is a broad awareness among workers of the dangers threatening their social condition. A call for a serious mobilisation would undoubtedly find a strong response from the working class. Instead, the CGIL focusses on a superficial defence of working conditions and the wages that are being undermined by inflation.
In such a context, the Meloni government’s ‘honeymoon’ has come to a swift end. The budget constraints put it in a particularly difficult situation today. The removal of the Superbonus, the attack on social welfare, the increase in duties on petrol and, finally, the government’s new, contested regulations on regional autonomy are beginning to erode Meloni’s base of support. There have also been a number of provocations from several ministers and the most reactionary supporters (and there is no shortage of them!) of Fratelli d'Italia.
Building among workers and youth
Young people undoubtedly represent the layer most disgusted by the reactionary and bigoted nature of the government.
What is being offered to them? Nothing more than Minister Valditara's constant provocations, including the conscious efforts to make the school system increasingly unfair, divided between a few high quality schools in which to train the scions of the ruling class, a quota of technical-professional schools strictly subservient to the needs of companies, and a sector of basic schools, a social dumping ground for those young people the minister openly despises.
These are the same young people who are faced with the choice between a university education divided along class lines and an increasingly poorer job market. Among the youth, a radicalised and militant layer is emerging that anticipates the mood and determination that will develop in the class struggle in our country.
Our activity among young people was discussed in a special commission, in which comrades from all over Italy discussed the day-to-day work we do in schools and universities, involving collectives that try to spread the ideas of Marxism among the student body and organise a response to the government through a struggle against capitalism.
Our activities among the working class were the subject of a trade union committee discussion, in which, among other things, we took stock of the CGIL congress, which is now in its final stages. By participating in the CGIL congress meetings, we were able to see the ever-increasing gap between the union bureaucracy and the rank-and-file workers. Our comrades defended an alternative document to that of the majority in dozens of assemblies and managed to win thousands of votes. But our main work today is in the living body of the working class – the workplaces – where we must continually promote the ideas of Marxism and intervene in labour disputes, aiming to advance the workers' consciousness with our proposals and aiming to gain a foothold as a point of reference.
The growth of our organisation
The third and final day of the congress was devoted to the state of the organisation. Comrade Paolo Grassi, in his report, emphasised the important results of our activities among the youth. More than 60 percent of the comrades who joined Sinistra Classe Rivoluzione in the last two years are under 20 years old. Important steps forward have been made in our presence in high schools and universities, where we are distributing one third of the more than 14,000 copies of our paper, Revolution, circulated in 2022. We have also grown substantially among young workers. Today, 50 percent of our comrades are under 30 years old.
Our exceptional growth requires us to devote even more care to theoretical training. Building on the excellent experience of last year’s national theoretical schools and the youth camp in September, we will continue to devote special attention to education and theoretical publications. In addition to the national school on 11 March on the question of women’s liberation, we will devote a new training seminar on 15 and 16 April to Marxist philosophy and the centenary of the German revolution of 1918-1923. After republishing Lenin’s Imperialism in 2022, which was followed by a series of launch events throughout Italy, we published the new edition of our theoretical journal Falcemartello dedicated to the issue of inter-imperialist conflict. Within a few weeks we will publish a new book, Alan Woods’ History of Philosophy.
Discussions on the state of the organisation in Italy and the growth of the various sections of our International confirm that we are moving in the right direction. With the profound faith in the ideas of Marxism and the determination that characterises us, we will know how to intervene in the exceptional events that await us and build a revolutionary organisation that is up to the tasks imposed on us by our epoch.
The congress concluded with a vote on the political document and the unanimous election of the Central Committee.