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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La gauche italienne se cherche une raison d’être

by Gaël De Santis

The Italian left is trying to determine its purpose.

Translated Thursday 31 July 2008, by Gene Zbikowski

ITALY, July 24. The four-day congress of the Communist Refoundation Party today begins in Tuscany, three months after the entire left was eliminated from the Italian parliament.

Sienna, from our special correspondent.

Practically the whole left has come through Chianciano Terme over the past month. This little Tuscan town, which historically has been run by the Italian Communist Party (PCI), will be home at the end of this week to the Seventh Congress of the Communist Refoundation Party (PRC). Over the past weeks, the congress of the Greens and the assembly of the Sinistra Democratica (the Democratic Left for European Socialism, SD), formed by left-wing democrats who have refused to join the Partito Democratico (Democratic Party, PD) have been held here. And to further prove that the left has been hard at work this July, the Partito dei Comunisti Italiani (Party of Italian Communists, PDCI) also held its congress last week.

Why the left was defeated.

All of the political organizations of the left must answer this question: “To be, or not to be?” On the agenda for discussion: the reasons for April’s defeat, in which the left lost 2.5 million votes and was eliminated from Parliament. Another subject of discussion is a qualitative leap past the present political forces through the establishment of a “Constituent of the Left” which would be more than a federation of political parties.

The latter was the option chosen by a majority of Communist Refoundation’s 45,000 activists, who voted in section assemblies in preparation for the congress. 47% of the activists voted for Motion 2, which was proposed by the preceding leadership, which, however, had been in the minority at a stormy National Political Committee (CPN) meeting the week after the elections.

The motion, entitled “Manifesto for Refoundation” and signed by the governor of Apulia, Nichi Vendola, calls for a qualitative leap past Communist Refoundation in order to launch a constituent process on the left. “A new political subject” is to be born, which is meant to be “unitarian in the political arena and pluralist in terms of the cultures and experiences forming it.” The text forecasts that a new left “cannot be born within the old forms.” Like a minority in the PDCI, a majority among the Greens and the whole of the Democratic Left, the former leadership group of Refoundation has determined that the Rainbow Left (SinArc) was created in a rush. The voters saw SinArc, the label under which the PRC, the PDCI, the Greens and the SD ran in the last elections, as an electoral cartel. The backers of Motion 2 say it is now necessary to go farther.

While a relative majority has expressed itself in favor of a constituent of the left, the proposal has been rejected by the other activists and could therefore be still-born, all the more so as the PDCI refuses to take part in the process. Motion 1, backed by a majority of the outgoing national council and by the former minister of social solidarity, Paolo Ferrero, rejects both a constituent of the left and the union of the communists of the PRC and the PDCI, which the PDCI favors. Motion 1, which obtained 40% of the vote, favors pursuing the original line of Communist Refoundation, that is to say, seeking to renew communist goals and organization by plunging into the social movement. “Refoundation continues by innovating to pursue the search for new political forms, which seek to close the gap between political cultures and practices, based on the subjectivity of women and the inwardness of the alterglobalist movement.”

For a forum for social opposition.

Aware of the need for unity on the left, Motion 1 favors “building the left from the bottom up” and wants to set up a “forum for social opposition,” to include “the different left-wing parties and organizations.” The PRC “would participate as a collective subject in the building of a united and pluralistic left.” This phrasing is similar to that of the plan for a confederation of left-wing forces that the PDCI has backed in recent years. In a context in which no real majority has emerged in the party, no one yet knows the shape of the leadership that will be elected or the general line that will be adopted. It will all depend on the attitude of the backers of three minority motions, who from the beginning have adopted a critical attitude to participation in the Prodi government and to Refoundation’s joining SinArc. Moreover, Motion 3, “an alternative to Motions 1 and 2,” which received 7% of the vote, and which was inspired by the group around the magazine Ernesto, favors the perspective of a communist constituent as put forward by the PDCI.

The other question to be debated at the congress will be the reasons for the defeat of the Rainbow Left. Besides the short-term results of people voting for the Democratic Party so as not to waste their vote, and the newness of SinArc, the delegates will discuss the long-term phenomena behind the victory of the right, not only in Italy, but also throughout the European Union (EU). The texts submitted to the congress analyze this as a crisis of neo-conservatism which the populist right has been able to meet. “The strength of the populist right resides in the fact that it has been able to interpret these developments and has made security the main theme of its own political response,” explains the motion presented by Paolo Ferrero. Thus, the right has linked “the new nationalist populisms” with the defense of “free market competitive individualism.” Participation in the Prodi government is also being questioned. According to Nichi Vendola, “the left appeared to be Prodi’s prisoner,” and was not able to bring its weight to bear on government decisions and to enact the progressive concessions that it had succeeded in imposing in Unione’s election platform. Everyone agrees on the need to build a political culture of change that is able to mobilize the people and to answer the right.

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