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Issue 37, April 1999

Rifondazione Communista, Italy

THE FOURTH Congress of Italy's left-wing Party of Communist Refoundation (PRC) met in Rimini from 18-21 March. The assembled delegates reasserted their opposition to the centre-left government headed by Massimo D'Alema, leader of the Left Democrats (DS - formerly the Italian Communist Party). Last October the PRC broke with the government of the centre-left 'Olive Tree' coalition, led by Romano Prodi. This had a big impact on the party, which suffered a split at the top. After Prodi fell a new government coalition was formed, including the UDR centre party led by Francesco Cossiga, and the split-away group from the PRC led by Armando Cossutta, now named the Party of Italian Communists (PCI).

In general, the PRC has reacted well to the split. It has succeeded in retaining most of its membership, and is also recruiting new members: membership figures as of March 1999 were around 76,000 (the final figure for 1998 was around 118,000). Moreover, the Italian working class seems to be shaking-off its unusual torpor and entering a new period of significant social unrest. Industrial actions are taking place all over the country, most significantly by transport workers badly hit by the privatisation plans which have been implemented since 1992. This situation may open up a new phase of class struggle where the PRC could play a leading role in the renewal of the workers' movement. This, however, requires a bold orientation and a clear anti-capitalist perspective, which is lacking in Fausto Bertinotti's leadership.

The PRC has pretty much broken with the Stalinist traditions of its PCI past. This is a party which allows real internal democracy, the existence of permanent factions with their own publications and semi-public activities, and proportional representation in various leading bodies. But its political perspectives remain contradictory: while they are not openly reformist, they put forward a 'reforming strategy'. The PRC states its intent to build an anti-capitalist strategy and a mass movement to fight for it, yet for more than two years it compromised itself by supporting a government which ruled in the interests of the capitalist class.

  Nor is Bertinotti's break with the centre-left the result of a serious reappraisal of the situation. The Congress slogan, 'For an alternative society' was not, as one could have thought, an inspirational project towards a different kind of society, based on overcoming the market to put an end to unemployment and exploitation. It is rather a utopian desire for a 'more democratic' capitalism, looking back to Lord Keynes as a source of inspiration.

Working people, women, youth, the unemployed, elderly people, as well as the growing number of immigrant workers and refugees, may be able to find their voice in the PRC, a party that defends them against the attacks of capitalist governments in the name of the 'market'. But they need a leadership capable of putting forward a bold socialist alternative. Otherwise any gains made will remain temporary and fragile, open to a counter-offensive by the bosses.

If the PRC can win support among new layers of the working class, and begins organising more party branches and sinking solid roots in the workplaces and factories, it might be able to take a lead in the new struggles ahead. This would then pose the key question facing Marxists in Italy - the need to win the working class from the DS stranglehold. But for that a different strategic orientation is required.

Prior to the Congress the left wing of the party had consolidated its position by winning the support of 16% of the party members who participated in the 2,200 local party congresses. This level of support is particularly significant given that at the 1996 Congress, the left wing was made up of three groupings: The Fourth International supporters around the journal, Bandiera Rossa (Red Flag), who are today part of the Bertinotti majority; the largest grouping, centred in Tuscany and led by Bacciardi, which in large part left the PRC after the 1997 crisis; and the Proposta group. Only the grouping around Proposta and its allies make up the PRC left wing today. Thus the 5,350 party card-holders who voted for the left-wing document, out of the 34,000 members who took part in the local congresses, represent a significant force.

Of the 120 party federations, two are run by the left-wing: one in Vibo Valentia in the South, and Savona in the industrial North. In Vibo the left vote went from 56% in 1996 to a massive 87.5% this year. The left wing now has 62 of the 386 members on the national committee, and ten of the 60-member executive committee (none on the smaller secretariat).

  The left-wing document contained a sharp criticism of the party leadership's attitude to Prodi's government and demanded a more open and self-critical approach from the leadership. It was well received by a number of former Bertinotti supporters throughout the country, who replenished the ranks of the left wing.

Now the tasks facing the left wing are quite sharply posed: firstly, to keep up the opposition to any wavering and uncertainty in the Bertinotti leadership; and, secondly, to open up a discussion with the party majority, primarily to convince the rank and file that the left wing's position would help transform the PRC into a militant, working-class party capable of giving an anti-capitalist direction to the struggles of the working people of Italy.

To be able to pursue this course of action, the left wing must structure itself into a cohesive force, resolutely defending its political positions, whilst raising them patiently and sensitively in party discussions. Above all, the PRC lefts need to show the validity of their approach in practice, by building branches that can recruit and organise new members. These new forces would be able to intervene in the class struggle on a programme which clearly explains the link between the struggle against attacks on the working class and the need for socialism.

Luciano Dondero

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