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PD, the American Party

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PD, the American Party

Luciana Castellina, 29 May 2014, printed in Il Manifesto

[explanatory note: for 25 years the Italian parties have been in flux. The Italian Democratic Party (PD), an evolution of the Communist Party and the Christian Democrats, received 41% in the Euro elections this week, a historic high, headed by the centrist Renzi. Grillo's 5 Stelle were down to 20% and Berlusconi's Forza Italia down to 15%, with the far right nowhere getting past the 4% threshhold necessary for Euro deputies. The Lista di Tsiparas, which aims to emulate Greece's Syriza, did, receiving 3 representatives. The article also refers to Rifondazione and SEL, two left groups who participated in the Lista.]

 

Inside the Vote. No longer left, nor centre-left. Not even a reincarnation of the old Christian Democrats.

The Italian results of the 25 May elections can't be quickly judged. I will limit myself to some provisional thoughts.

While it seems easy enough to read the shifts in other European countries, ours are more complicated. There are many reasons why: primarily because new forces have entered that weren't present before, and not just ones which have grown or shrunk.

I would list the PD (Partito Democratico) amongst these, because it is not the continuation of the parties that preceded it. It's something else that is new: not a party of the left, nor even the centre-left. I wouldn't even call it a reincarnation of the old Christian Democrats: even in that party existed very different social interests and representations, but they were strongly ideologically marked and each had their own specific cultures and leaders with historical weight. Renzi's party is also a social rainbow, but its currents are far less clear, much less weighty, with scant reference to the traditions that have preceded it in the last 25 years.

If one had to find an equivalent I would say it would be the American Democratic Party. Which would definitely never openly represent the unions which have always been affiliated to it, but certainly includes amongst its ranks - just take a look at its donors - extremely different strata in terms of thought, actual power, and culture.

If I say American Democrats it's because Renzi's new party signals above all a decisive step towards the Americanisation of our political life: high abstention due to a large part of the population being cut out of the political process, by which I mean active participation, and so has no interest in the election; the absences of parties beyond being electoral committees; personalisation dictated by presidential structures. The fact that Italy is getting closer to this model results from the long decline of the mass parties, which has also hit the left, and because of the reduction of the competition to leaders' television shows in which citizens choose as if it's a kind of Twitter: 'like' or 'unlike'.

I think this change is extremely serious: it impoverishes democracy, whose strength lies above all in the politicisation of the people, in making them active protagonists, in building up their consciousness as opposed to them just giving power of attorney.

Anyway there's no point in crying nostalgically, I don't think it's possible for a return to strong democracy based on large popular parties, at least not like we've known in the past. Before we even start to think about how to rebuild the left we need to rethink the model of democracy, not leaving the field to whoever is now resigned to the sorry current situation: Renzi offered us an accentuation of personality, short term pragmatism, a renunciation of building a social bloc adequate to the deep transformations in society (in name of a strategic project between different interests which have their own representation, and not an indistinct hotchpotch held together by falsely neutral choices).

That said I think we need to avoid demonising the over 40% who voted PD: they are not all Berlusconians or populists, and I am happy that, out of the traditional strongholds of the historic left the PD has regained votes that had been going to Forza Italia or to Grillo. For many a vote for the PD was a vote to reject the worst in a moment of great suffering and confusion in Italian society. I wouldn't want to identify them all with Renzi as they are also products of the history of the left.

Now it's up to us to convince people that there are other ways of rejecting the worst: much harder and longer term, but a lot more effective in starting the search for a real alternative. And here we come to our own affairs, we of a left which is diffuse, or organised into fragile parties born from the ashes of other parties. To me, the experience of the Lista di Tsiparas, irrespective of the many mistakes it made, seems positive. The results show it: everywhere it was higher than the sum total of Rifondazione and SEL's votes, and shows that there are forces available which must not be wasted and that should be involved by the existing parties in rebuilding the Italian left, not restricting the task to each party's respective enclosure. Let's bear in mind that these forces are greater than the number of people who voted Tsiparas: wherever the Lista di Tsiparas had a profile (the big cities) our percentages were double those in outlying regions unreached by our communications.

Some of the forces that the Lista managed to group together are many of the almost-always local micro-movements, which are self-organised but fragmented. They are a treasure trove that is unique to our country, which retains a good dose of social initiative. This is the basis to work from, interweaving the groups' initiatives with the party's and involving PD voters in struggles for specific objectives and in building more stable organisations capable of achieving victories (like the water privatisation referendum, for example). A party where many are with us on many objectives: guaranteed income, civil rights, environmental concerns, trade union representation... We need to accompany such grassroots work with analysis, collective thought on how to combat the primitivism of much protests and their oft-theorised shortsightedness of the base: the left needs to fight for basic needs but, God willing, also needs Karl Marx to aid an understanding of how to satisfy them.

I know through long experience how difficult this is, but I think we should never give up trying. What I mean is that the worst thing that could happen would be to limit ourselves to shouty opposition, or worse, to shelter in the cauldron of the PD thinking we could play any role in it. For decades the Communist Party - allow me this one jaunt down memory lane - was the great party of opposition, but it achieved much more in terms of concrete change in Italy than the Italian social democrats who have always been in government. And that's because, despite being in the opposition, it had a view of government: that is it went about trying to construct alternatives, not limiting itself to protests or denunciations. But above all it was because it did not believe that elections were the only date to keep, or that politics just meant becoming MPs or councillors. Is it possible, as a start, to consolidate the network of Tsiparas committees?

Is it possible for Rifondazione and SEL - who nobody is asking to immediately dissolve themselves into the movement - to be active in working together with them for a more ambitious left project? Is it possible to create new forms of democracy that can rebuild the relationship between citizens and institutions?

Do we at least want to give it a go?


article suggested and translated by Louis Bayman, rs21.