Italy’s new centre left government is facing an early test as MPs and senators prepare to vote on whether or not to send more Italian troops to reinforce the US and Nato war in Afghanistan.
There are 73 MPs and 38 senators - all members of the three parties in the centre left coalition - who clearly opposed both the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Yet only two Italian MPs and eight members of the Senate - parliament’s upper house - have pledged to vote against increasing the number of Italian troops in Afghanistan.
Currently there are 1,300 Italian troops in Afghanistan, ordered there by George Bush and Tony Blair’s buddy, Silvio Berlusconi - the right wing media magnate forced out of office in April’s general election.
The government led by Romano Prodi will ask MPs to vote on 20 July to boost the Italian presence in Afghanistan. If passed it then needs to secure a majority in the Senate.
The government’s majority in the Senate is wafer thin and if the eight senators vote against sending more troops to Afghanistan the government would face serious divisions.
The new government was elected on a promise to withdraw Italian troops from Iraq.
Prodi has pledged to withdraw Italian troops from Iraq, but not until December. This is the same timetable put forward by the previous right wing administration of Silvio Berlusconi.
Nowhere in Prodi’s programme was there any suggestion that extra troops would be sent to Afghanistan.
Salvatore Cannavo is one of the two rebel MPs. He was elected in April as an MP for Rifondazione Comunista. Salvatore told Socialist Worker, “The US has declared an illegal war in Afghanistan. The Italian military contingent would be part of the Nato mission, clearly supporting the US. Under Italian law this would be unconstitutional.
“This is not a war against terrorism but a war to get hold of natural resources and for geo-strategic control of the planet. These are the real reasons for Bush’s illegal war.”
Salvatore points out that “one reason this government won the election was thanks to the strong support of the peace movement.
“If it wins the vote to send forces to Afghanistan this will demoralise those people who voted for it and disappoint their expectations.”
Rifondazione’s leadership is arguing that it will vote for a package approving Italian military interventions overseas and boosting troop numbers in Afghanistan as long as there is no overall increase in military spending and in the size of the armed forces.
Noam Chomsky has previously written praising Rifondazione’s “courageous stand against Italy’s participation in the military operations of Nato, as it is being converted into an international intervention force subordinate to the United States... The new and still more expansive role Nato is assuming poses serious threats to international order.”
Writer and broadcaster Tariq Ali has sent an open letter to Rifondazione arguing that to vote in favour of keeping troops in Afghanistan would be “a tragedy for the European left” and would lead to “disasters both in Afghanistan and in terms of creating an alternative in Italy”.
He argues that, “There is no excuse for the Nato presence in Afghanistan except that of pleasing Washington.”
Young activists argue way forward
Giovani Comunisti, the youth wing of Rifondazione, is holding regional congresses across Italy.
Brune from Rome explains, “It is the first time young activists have been able to meet to draw up a balance sheet of this government. Two key issues are the war and the government’s economic policy.
“The main party congress was held over a year ago when delegates voted to join the centre left coalition.”
Brune is part of Sinistra Critica, an anti-capitalist current within Rifondazione, which opposes participation in the centre left government because of its support for neo-liberal measures.
She explains that the party leadership is arguing for voting to send more troops to Afghanistan as “part of an insistence that the party must stay within the governing coalition. Its cabinet members already abstained on a package extending privatisation to services such as transport and cutting business tax.”
Alessandro, also in Sinistra Critica, reports that “Our current won the biggest share of the vote at the recent Giovani Comunisti regional congress in Rome.”