The Rifondazione Comunista (Communist Refoundation) conference last week was an important and significant success for party leader, Fausto Bertinotti. This is the largest far left organisation in Europe — 130 foreign delegations were mixing with hundreds of Italian delegates in a snow-bound Venice.
Bertinotti’s strategy was backed by about 60 percent of delegates — although many of those who voted for it are uneasy.
The decision means that if the left wins the next election then Rifondazione will join the government, perhaps even taking up ministerial positions. The prime minister would be the current leader of the left coalition Romano Prodi, until recently EU commissioner, and prime minister in the last left government from 1996-8.
Prodi said the decision means Rifondazione “is a reformist party that wants to be part of a reformist majority” and that the party is “talking about a fair and equal relationship between capital and labour”.
The party has also convinced wider areas of society to support its strategy. The conference began with the news that Pietro Ingrao, a 90 year old partisan leader and former leader of the Communist Party, had finally decided to join Rifondazione.
Ingrao is the Italian equivalent of Tony Benn, so the whole hall rose to their feet to applaud the news.
On the other extreme is 28 year old Francesco Caruso. He is a leading member of the Dissobedienti autonomist protest movement currently fighting trumped-up charges of “subversion” which would earn him a 15-year jail sentence. He announced the day before conference that he approved of Rifondazione joining a left wing government.
Rifondazione has changed its policy towards participation in a left government as a response to the attacks from the government of Silvio Berlusconi and the fact the widespread protests and strikes have not removed him.
The government has ripped into working class communities and living standards and has passed laws decriminalising crimes for which Berlusconi and his mates were facing trial.
Yet Rifondazione’s history suggests that joining a centre left government is no way to fight attacks from the right. In 1996-8 it supported Prodi’s first centre left government that engaged in mass job casualisation, privatisation and foreign wars. Such was the pressure from Rifondazione’s rank and file that it had to break with the government — although a third of the party split and effectively remained to support the government.
Bertinotti says that things are now different and that the centre left has been undermined by the anti-capitalist and anti-war movements.
Flavia D’Angeli, a delegate and supporter of a motion which stressed the centrality of the anti-capitalist movement, replied, “The centre left hasn’t changed. It governs many local councils and is engaged in mass privatisations of public services.
“Rifondazione is abandoning the building of an alternative left in favour of a moderate left and becoming the left of the centre left. Furthermore, our objective shouldn’t just be limiting the damage caused by Berlusconi’s right wing government.”
If the centre left defeats Berlusconi in next year’s election and Rifondazione joins the new government, the crucial factor will be the strength of the social and trade union movement resistance outside parliament.