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Rifondazione Comunista – from antagonism to toadyism

4. February 2004

By Leonardo Mazzei

The blind alley
Rifondazione Comunista – from antagonism to toadyism
By Leonardo Mazzei*

The secretary of Rifondazione Comunista (PRC, Party for a Communist Re-foundation) still enjoys large credit in the European left. Its credibility is on the other hand rapidly declining in Italy where his prestige games do not any more bewitch anybody. Let us see why.

In the first years after he came to office, ten years ago at the Second Congress of the PRC that took place in Rome in January 1994, Bertinotti appeared as the “new man” of Italian politics: both brilliant and telegenic to the point of being a regular guest on TV programmes, radical enough to be listened to and to get consent in the most combative strata of the working class milieu.

In 1995, thanks to his opposition to the pensions counter-reform approved by the Dini government, his popularity reached a peak. But in the years 1996-1998 the “antagonist” Bertinotti of the previous period, is succeeded by a Bertinotti who supported the Prodi government, a government born in the sign of Maastricht with the objective of “bringing” Italy into Europe. In those years the PRC voted for the introduction of temporary work contracts, the institution of detention centres for immigrants and agreed to the decisive privatizations.

In Autumn 1998, the PRC broke its alliance with the centre-left, causing the fall of the Prodi government. From that moment onwards, it is mainly the “movementist” Bertinotti to be seen on the scene, a chunk of socialist maximalism (Bertinotti comes from the left current of the old Italian Socialist Party), cooked in anti-globalisation sauce and sprinkled with growing opportunism in his political choices.

And here we come to the point. If in the general elections of 1996 the PRC could get off thanks to a “desistence pact” with the Ulivo [the centre-left coalition], and in 2001 it cut a so-called “non-belligerence” deal (in both cases these agreements were aimed at favouring the centre-left in the uninominal colleges), for the elections 2004 a real political and programmatic pact of government is being prepared, and the presence of communist ministers in the future cabinet, in case of an electoral victory, is openly discussed.

On December 27, 2003, the daily paper La Repubblica dedicated a long article to the secretary of the PRC entitled “From the proletariat to the anti-globalisers, Bertinotti´s Bad Godesberg”. The columnist speaks of a “protracted Bad Godesberg” consisting not of a single act, but in a concatenation of acts. It cites Bertinotti´s evaluation of the nineteenth century, the removal of all references to Lenin and Gramsci from the charter of the party, and Bertinotti´s definition of communism as an “open and indefinite process”.

But the crucial point is another: “non-violence” as an absolute principle. The choice is not specifically referred to Italy or Europe, but is conceived as a “politically correct” positioning in the heart of the “infinite war” proclaimed by Bush. So one should not be astonished to hear Bertinotti citing Gandhi or to see him (together with all the leaders of the Ulivo and a Buddhist stole around his neck) embracing the Dalai Lama during the latter´s recent visit in Rome. In his new turn Bertinotti affirms that “Brecht´s statement …‘we want a gentle word but to get it we cannot act gently´ does not any longer belong to me”.

It is clear that it is not a pure academic statement. In the framework of this “non-violent” course, Bertinotti has accepted the definition of “terrorism” attributed to the Iraqi resistance: he has labelled the attack to the Italian contingent in Nassiriya as “terrorist” pretending to ignore that Italy is an occupying power (even if a subordinated one); he goes on speaking of a spiral of “war and terrorism” (the same image is also strongly presented by the newspaper of the party); finally – despite his libertarian facade – he declared as incompatible the adhesion to his party and the participation to the demonstration in support of the Iraqi resistance that took place in Rome, December 13, 2003. Notwithstanding his veto many members of the participated in the demonstration.

The same holds for Palestine. On December 21, 2003, Bertinotti demonstrated with all the other leaders of the centre-left, represented by no less than nine party symbols, on an appeal based on equidistance between the racist and colonialist policy of Israel and the actions of the Palestinian resistance.

Once again, “non violence” does not represent an ethical choice, but a political keystone not only to keep himself out of the ongoing confrontation, but also and mainly to legitimate himself and his party as a governing force in the system of two-party alternation.

Once, the ex communists had to go to Wall Street or the City in London to obtain a pass, and the permit was stamped directly by the Confindustria [Italian employer´s association]. Today these tests are considered unnecessary as the dominion of the one and only thinking is granted by the two-party system and by a totalitarian (though cunningly articulated) control of media and culture. But there is still one more test to pass: the one of “non-confrontation” with the American Empire. If back in 1994 Bertinotti linked the participation of his party to the government to the request that Italy should get out the NATO, today this issue is not even mentioned. This is the real meaning of his declarations on “non-violence” which, together with the equation resistance-terrorism, is designed to avoid an US veto.

On the question of the “war on terrorism”, Bertinotti has gone even farther: on November 19, 2003, he demonstrated in Florence together with the parties of the current right wing government, including Forza Italia and Alleanza Nazionale. This demonstration has been labelled by the Marxist philosopher Domenico Losurdo, who is also a member of the PRC, as a “red-black-blue bloc” (blue being the colour of Forza Italia).

Obviously, the PRC´s derive is being covered on the left by countless references to the anti-globalisation movement, pompously defined in its conference theses as “movement of movements”. The opportunistic attitude of the PRC towards the movement is proved by its total indifference to the crisis the latter is currently living through. Moreover, this crisis is denied and covered up in order to have the possibility to better use the movement for its own ends.

In the last National Political Committee (CPN) of the PRC, October 2003, Bertinotti refused to fix a programmatic base on which the negotiations with the centre-left would be conducted – the classic policy of “free hands”.

Opportunism and maximalism – when confronted with reality – can only produce void statements as: “the programme [to be negotiated with the centre-left] cannot be understood as a …‘shopping list´, nor as a too generic or undetermined programme, but as a general idea of society, though it´s not completely finalised, ” (CPN, October 2003). And: “The choice not to limit ourselves to simple contractual claims towards the centre-left, does not mean at all that we do not have any”.

For ten years the party has been avoiding all confrontation with the authoritarian structure of the Second Republic based on the two-party system. But the time has come where cheating will no longer be possible.

After the PRC has given up all prospective of a communist re-foundation (despite the name), has curbed its “antagonistic” purposes, has been reduced to a mere electoral representation of the most combative social milieus which were channelled into the river-bed of the institutional two party system, has lost the credibility gained in the first years of the party´s life thanks to a certain “alternative” appeal, the Bertinottian vessel is finally navigating to a safer harbour.

But if this arrival is surely to be appreciated by a certain political layer which in the local governments (regions, provinces, municipalities) already collaborates with the centre-left parties, it is not sure that this will strengthen the PRC in the long run. On the contrary. The PRC is already a party in severe crisis, with a clear decline in membership and electoral consensus (it went down from 8.6% in 1996 to 5% in 2001, a diminution only partly due to the schism of the Cossuttians of the PdCI), let alone the dramatic crisis of militancy.

The arrival of Bertinotti is not only a political choice, it is also the result of a strategic void of the one-leader party, monarchical as few others. Having refused to decidedly oppose the bipolar regime, the party is now swallowed by it.

In this sense Bertinotti has led his party in a real blind alley, a cul-de-sac which the very same secretary seems to be aware of, painting the future of the party in black: “Stuck between an unconditioned support [to the centre-left government] or a destructive confrontation – with the consequence that [the party] will be massacred by the public and popular opinion” (conclusions of the CPN, October 2003).

This is the result of ten years of Bertinottism. The brilliant “antagonist” who still today proposes (and as far as we know also wants to lead) the construction of a “political European subject of an alternative left” on the continental arena, has reach the end of the line in his very own country. A terminus where the leaders of the centre-left are awaiting him, first of all the one who bombed Yugoslavia and admires Tony Blair, the former prime minister Massimo D´Alema.

* Leonardo Mazzei, after having been member of Democrazia Proletaria from 1978 to 1989, he joined the RPC at its foundation in 1991. Since the very beginning he had been member of the National Political Committee and the National Direction until he left the party in 1997 following a lost struggle against the support for the Prodi government.