Italian communists' congress confirms left course
By Livio Maitan
ROME — Since its foundation in 1991, Italy's Party of Communist Refoundation (PRC) has had a turbulent history. Only two of its seven initial leaders, Bianca Braccitorsi and Guido Cappelloni, remain, and neither plays a central leadership role. Armando Cossutta (former president of the PRC), Sergio Garavini (former first secretary), Ersilia Salvato and Rino Serri have all led splits from the party. The seventh, Lucio Libertini, has died.
The 1999 congress, held in mid-March, was called to give Cossutta's minority a chance to reconsider its decision to remain in the parliamentary majority after the PRC decided to end its participation. After the Cossutta group split away in October, it was unclear what the congress would be about.
The need to address strategy and to debate both the concept and functioning of the party was clear, but it was equally clear that this would be impossible to accomplish in the two-month pre-congress discussion period.
The majority emphasised that its aim was to clearly identify the party's policies. The project of defining a general plan for a left opposition would be undertaken in the period between this congress and the next.
This congress had much less weight than the two previous: the 1994 gathering was concerned with political alliances on the eve of the elections, and the 1996 meeting debated participation in the parliamentary majority coalition.
The main report by party leader Fausto Bertinotti confirmed the radicalisation of the PRC, its opposition to the centre-left government, its criticisms of the main ruling coalition party, the Left Democrats (formerly the Socialist Left Democrats), and its anti-imperialist stance. Bertinotti opened his remarks with a quote by Che Guevara, translated into the Kurdish language: "We must always be able to feel deeply in our own being any injustice against any other person, in any other part of the world: that is the best quality of a revolutionary".
This internationalist tone was underlined by the presence of more than 100 foreign guests, including Communist party representatives from Europe, Cuba, North Korea, Latin America and South Africa, anti-imperialist organisations from many Third World countries, environmental groups and far-left parties like the Revolutionary Communist League of France. The Fourth International was represented.
Bertinotti concentrated on the PRC's strategy for opposing the centre-left government. Given the national and international balance of forces, he argued, the task facing the PRC was to articulate an alternative social project which, while not going beyond capitalism, could be a radical rupture with the economic and intellectual aspects of neo-liberalism. He talked about neo-Keynesian economic strategies, and the need to oppose the introduction of a more authoritarian version of bourgeois democracy.
One priority, Bertinotti noted, was to mobilise against the referendum with which the government hoped to replace Italy's proportional electoral system with a first-past-the-post system. This would remove any chance of electoral representation for the PRC, even if it won 12% of the vote.
Concerning the June municipal, regional and European elections, Bertinotti argued for the PRC to form agreements with the centre-left. Programmatic convergence was possible, he said.
Some left currents in the party argued that since the PRC had broken with the centre-left government, it should not seek local alliances. The real problem, in many regions, is that programmatic agreement exists on paper, but is not respected by the centre-left parties.
Half of the traditional left opposition in the national leadership, led by Livio Maitan and Franco Turigliatto, supported Bertinotti's motion on the PRC withdrawal from the government majority. The other half, led by Marco Ferrando and Franco Grisolia, supported the withdrawal, but presented their own motion.
The Maitan-Turigliatto group saw no reason to present a minority motion, given the PRC's move to the left under Bertinotti's leadership, the fact that this congress concentrated on the immediate political line, and that the debate on the strategy and nature of the party was delayed until a future date.
The priority, the group's leaders argued, was to contribute to the renovation of PRC work, the reorientation of the party towards intervention in day-to-day struggles and the construction of party organisations at the various levels. While the Maitan-Turigliatto group noted that Bertinotti had avoided the necessary negative evaluation of PRC support for the Prodi government, it felt the current convergence of thinking was more important.
The Ferrando-Grisolia section of the left minority argued that a criticism on support for Prodi was absolutely essential. They argued that Bertinotti's change of direction, and the PRC's passage into opposition, was nothing more than a short-term swing. The group's motion was supported by 16% of delegates.
The Maitan-Turigliatto current won 30 seats in the 250-member national political committee, which is less than its weight in the party would justify. At the higher levels of the leadership, the various tendencies and the social movements were more seriously under-represented.
However, the vote for the leadership contained a warning to the dominant current, which failed to mobilise and convince all its supporters. One third of the majority tendency's 600 delegates abstained or voted against its candidates.
The PRC congress confirmed the leftward reorientation of the party since the Cossutta split and its withdrawal of our support to the centre-left government. It creates more favourable conditions for future struggles, and improves opportunities for left militants to intervene and sink roots within the Italian working class.
However, there has been no improvement in the internal functioning of the party. This is particularly regrettable since the coming months will bring serious challenges that would be better handled if the PRC we were more democratic and transparent.
The membership of the PRC fluctuates around 120-130,000. The losses connected to the October 1998 split have been more than compensated for by new membership applications. It also seems that a higher proportion of members are renewing their membership.
[Livio Maitan is a supporter of the Bandiera Rossa current within the PRC and a leading member of the Fourth International. Maitan and Franco Turigliatto were elected to the PRC national political committee and its executive, the Direzzione. Abridged from International Viewpoint. Special low rate for new subscribers: send a cheque for $35, payable to Solidarity Publications, to PO Box A105, Sydney South, NSW 2000.]