Romano Prodi resigned as the prime minister of Italy last week. Since taking power last year, his centre left government has sent troops to Afghanistan, supported a US military base in the northern city of Vicenza and passed a neoliberal budget.
But Prodi’s government lost its majority in the Italian Senate last Wednesday during a vote on foreign policy. Franco Turigliatto of Rifondazione Comunista and Fernando Rossi of the smaller Comunisti Italiani abstained from the vote. Abstentions are counted as no votes in the Senate.
The campaign to withdraw Italian troops from Iraq and Afghanistan has been strong and widespread. A huge demonstration in Vicenza, just days before the vote, showed the popular feeling against escalating George Bush’s “long war”.
Yet as Gianni Rinaldini, leader of the FIOM metal workers’ union, has pointed out, the government did not simply “fall” over the question of the war. A decisive element in its temporary breakdown was the behaviour of two “senators for life” – Giulio Andreotti and Sergio Pininfarina – who promised to vote for Prodi but then reneged.
Andreotti is a former Christian Democrat prime minister who was found guilty five years ago of ordering the killing of an anti-Mafia journalist. Pininfarina is former head of Confindustria, the Italian employers’ federation.
The two senators hoped that Prodi would form a new coalition without the anti-capitalist left. They probably also wanted to discredit Rifondazione by forcing it to support a warmongering foreign policy. The leadership of Rifondazione unfortunately seems to have fallen into the trap.
Rifondazione had a good presence among the 120,000 at the demonstration in Vicenza. The party’s contingent was one of the largest there.
But just four days later, Rifondazione voted in the Senate to double the size of the US base at Vicenza and to keep the troops in Afghanistan. “We fully support the government’s foreign policy,” the leader of Rifondazione’s Senate group declared. Statements like this will create more cracks at the base of the party.
The right has gone on the attack on all fronts. Prodi has now invited Marco Follini into his government. Follini served as deputy prime minister under the previous right wing administration.
At the same time, Rifondazione’s leadership has been whipping up a lynch mob atmosphere against the dissident senators and the Sinistra Critica (Critical Left) opposition grouping.
Rifondazione’s rebel senator, Turigliatto, has been declared “incompatible” with the party, and although he has not been expelled, he has been “distanced”. Turigliatto has joined the “mixed” group of radical MPs and announced the creation of a Sinistra Critica parliamentary grouping.
A website set up to gather support for his stand against the war attracted a thousand signatures in the first day of being active. His stand has drawn support from many activists in the movement and on the left.
Opinion in the movement is, however, divided. Many letters arriving at the left wing Il Manifesto newspaper are in support of Turigliatto and Rossi and deeply critical of Prodi – but there is also a great deal of confusion.
A national anti-war assembly held last weekend avoided calling a national demonstration in March out of fear that they could not mobilise in the present climate. It decided to concentrate instead on local campaigns against military bases.
The left and the movement need clear points of reference around which to regroup. These are sad days because they signal the end of the left alternative which Rifondazione has represented over the last few years. But it’s also a time when we can lay the basis for an alternative left and real opposition to the right.
This basis is Sinistra Critica – organised inside and outside Rifondazione – which opposed the party joining the Prodi government, arguing instead that we should stand with the movement. There are sections of the trade unions with us, along with other sections of the anti-war movement. The Vicenza mobilisation has shown the possibilities.
Translated by Phil Rushton. Fabio Ruggiero and Phil Rushton are both Sinistra Critica activists in Naples, Italy