It is now a little over five years since the great protests at the G8 summit in Genoa. This event put the anti?capitalist movement in Italy in the vanguard of the struggle against neo-liberalism and war throughout Europe.
Out of this came the protests against the war in Afghanistan in the autumn of 2001 and then the million-strong march against an attack on Iraq that closed the first European Social Forum in Florence on 9 November 2002. Running like a red thread through all these events was the role played by the Partito della Rifondazione Comunista.
Imagine, then, the disappointment that activists all over Europe felt when, a couple of weeks ago, Rifondazione deputies and senators voted to support the dispatch of Italian troops to join the Nato occupation of Afghanistan. Rifondazione is participating in the new centre left coalition government headed by Romano Prodi.
It was especially sad to see a parliamentarian belonging to the Fourth International group in Rifondazione, Gigi Malabarba, vote with the government on this issue.
In last week’s Socialist Worker a Rifondazione comrade, Alessandro Valera, defended his party’s policy. He used two kinds of argument. The first amounts to saying that the decision, while not perfect, isn’t that bad.
Alessandro writes, “The approval of this bill means that Italy will pull all its troops out of Iraq by the end of the year, without ‘topping up’ in Afghanistan. No other similar movement in Europe, not even the British Stop the War movement, has managed to achieve such a result.”
Alessandro forgets the case of Spain where the popular reaction to the Madrid bombings led to the electoral defeat of the right wing government and the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq.
He adds, “The troops are not going to be moved to the south, where there is fighting.” But if they are helping to maintain the occupiers’ control over the rest of Afghanistan they will be supporting the offensive being mounted by US and Nato forces in the south.
Alessandro also appeals to the constraints of coalition politics. “Total withdrawal from Afghanistan is an objective of all Rifondazione MPs, but the dynamics of Italian politics make us aware that compromise, mediation and dialogue are the only weapons we possess to fight war, imperialism and neo-liberalism,” he writes.
This begs the question of why Rifondazione is participating in a government headed by Prodi, who has been quite open in his support for Nato and for the neo-liberal economic agenda. Why didn’t Rifondazione make an electoral pact with the centre left to get rid of the right under Silvio Berlusconi, but stay out of the government and refuse to share responsibility for Prodi’s policies?
Alessandro says that if the government had lost the vote over Afghanistan, then there would be a new election that the right would have won. This highlights the kind of blackmail Prodi has used to control parliament, in whose two chambers the centre left has wafer thin majorities.
Prodi brought the left into line over Afghanistan by calling a vote of confidence, in effect threatening that the government would fall and Berlusconi return if he lost. He has done this seven times in the three months since he took office.
Maybe the Rifondazione comrades should ask why, faced with Berlusconi’s corrupt and unpopular government, the centre left so narrowly won the elections back in April. Surely the answer is that voters couldn’t see much difference between Prodi’s and Berlusconi’s policies.
The lesson that the comrades of Rifondazione - and particularly those on the far left within it - should draw is that you can’t fight “war, imperialism and neo-liberalism” with “compromise, mediation and dialogue”.
They should remember the example of Karl Liebknecht who, as a member of the German parliament, rebelled against the Social Democratic Party after it came out in support of the First World War. Initially he and his comrade Rosa Luxemburg were completely isolated, but gradually their stand of principled opposition attracted growing support, in parliament but much more importantly outside it.
In the face of repression and his and Luxemburg’s eventual murder, Liebknecht’s stance laid the basis of a mass revolutionary party in Germany. The Italian radical left parliamentarians would be risking much less than he did. But by taking a similar position, they could help sustain and strengthen the movement against neo-liberalism and war throughout Europe.
For Alessandro Valera's article go to ‘We defend our votes’