Italian Blairism

The parliamentary elections in Italy on April 21 produced a surprising result. It was expected that no overall majority would be gained, and that the regionalists of the Northern League might hold the balance of power. As it has turned out, the Olive Tree Alliance won an overall majority in both the Chamber of Deputies and the upper house, the Senate.

In the Chamber of Deputies, this majority depends on support from the 35 deputies elected for Communist Refoundation. The greater part of the old Italian Communist Party changed itself into the Party of the Democratic Left, turning its back on Marxism. It now constitutes the key element in the Olive Tree Alliance. Communist Refoundation reacted against this process, hanging on grimly to the hammer and sickle symbol which the Party of the Democratic Left minimised and now looks like shedding altogether.

Communist Refoundation campaigned for index-linked pay increases for employees and generally sought to defend social security. Its resolve in this area may face a test very soon. Romano Prodi, the man likely to become prime minister in an Olive Tree Alliance government, said a period of “austerity” was ahead. Italy’s stock exchange shares actually rose after the election, an interesting reaction to a prospective government of the ‘left’.

The Alliance is considered more likely than the political right to tackle Italy’s budget deficit, privatise state companies and tighten the country’s fiscal belt in order to conform more closely with the European Union. In spite of this, or more likely because of it, The Guardian (April 23) welcomed the Olive Tree Alliance victory, becoming almost lyrical about a “young new olive tree”.

The newspaper has a similar enthusiasm about New Labour in Britain. It looks like the Olive Tree Alliance will be doing its Italian Blairite best to sustain capitalism, not replace it with socialism.

Confronted with this, it will be interesting to see which way Communist Refoundation jumps, since “communist” denotes not merely a word and a symbol, but action as well.

Some sections of the left in Britain, most notably Militant Labour, have quoted the CR as a model for united organisation in Britain. It has been able to unite different groups and tendencies in an alliance-type structure. Its organisation is not a communist one and the purpose of this ‘unity’ will have to be analysed in light of its practice within the government.

The fact that a party claiming the mantle of Marxism was able to gain 35 seats is, however, significant and is a base from which to build in a positive, revolutionary direction.

Steve Kay