From refoundation to innovation

The 5th Congress of the Communist Refoundation Party of Italy (Partito della Rifondazione Comunista - PRC) represents a watershed for not only the Italian left, but perhaps the European left as well. In winning his perspectives, general secretary Fausto Bertinotti is making a play to remake the party, to refashion an "alternative left" in Italy and to rebuild a European left infused with the anti-capitalist movement. The leadership around comrade Bertinotti won a dramatic shift in organisation and perspectives at the congress. The shift represents a left turn in the context of the reawakening workers' movement in Italy, but it has also created some confusion relating to the relationship between party and the mass movements. In this sense, there is the danger of liquidationism. Around 700 delegates met at Rimini on Italy's Adriatic coast, representing almost 100,000 members. What struck me about most of the congress was the strong culture of Partyism. Despite clear factional divisions, everyone is part of the Rifondazione 'family'. Then there was the general democratic tenor. Opposition speakers were given ample opportunity to present their arguments. Factional literature was openly on sale and the majority treated the minority arguments seriously. Representation on leading committees is also largely proportional to factional strength. This is very healthy and should be a lesson to us in the Socialist Alliance that a strong partyist culture with open factions and publications is not only a possibility, but is actually a reality in Europe's most vibrant and successful left party. In fact, one could say it is a necessity for the health of Rifondazione. In all there were 67 contributions from delegates at congress from across the factions. Each speaker was given 10 minutes. Comrade Bertinotti opened congress with a two-and-a-half hour speech and closed it with a further contribution of around two hours. While he was repetitive at times, in the main he held firm to a consistent and gripping argument. In effect, Bertinotti argued that since the birth of the party 11 years ago after the collapse of the Communist Party of Italy (PCI), Rifondazione had been engaged in a battle for survival, and survived it has. Now the party faces a new situation. Comrade Bertinotti called on the party to relate to the new movements in order to grow. In that sense, the theme of the congress was 'From refoundation to innovation'. In his opening address the general secretary said that "war has become the focus of international relations". He said the UN is dead, Nato superseded and "new alliances formed around US imposition of globalisation" are the order of the day. Yet there is a reaction to this: the anti-capitalist "movement of movements", which is united around the themes of 'No to war' and 'No to neoliberalism'. This new movement combines these twin oppositions, said comrade Bertinotti, with direct democracy. In his analysis of imperialism and the new world order, I felt that Bertinotti exaggerated the extent to which global institutions are in control of the 'new imperialism'. Capital is still bound to the nation-state - and this fact is overlooked in the majority's analysis. While the majority's grasp of the democratic content of the new movement is vital - it is not able to locate this as part of a rounded revolutionary critique and programme of action. It is the thorny question of the relationship between party and mass movement over which Rifondazione seems confused. In the debates, majority delegates consistently said that they need to leave behind the notion of hegemony over the movement as their driving aim. 'Hegemony of the movement over society is more important that Rifondazione's hegemony over the movement' is the refrain. While there is an important point here, what is missing is the real understanding of hegemony. For decades, the 'official' communist parties interpreted the word in extremely narrow terms: 'We tell the movements what to do. We have the leading role.' The SWP has a similar approach. Look at the undemocratic character of the Anti-Nazi League or Globalise Resistance. The Bertinotti majority might be in danger of throwing out the baby with the hegemonic bathwater. Hegemony is, of course, about influence. It is about winning the leading role through your political arguments in relation to the needs of the movement, not through decree or bureaucratic manoeuvre. In place of 'hegemony', the Rifondazione majority has enlisted what it calls 'contamination' - it loses something in the translation. The party and the movement 'cross-contaminate' each other. This two way approach is hardly new. The party teaches. The party learns. The mass movement teaches. The mass movement learns. The problem arises if this simply becomes following spontaneity. However, comrade Bertinotti says that the new globalised world order requires a political solution and that "moving beyond the crisis of politics is not spontaneous". The Ferrando opposition makes at times formally correct criticism of this potential problem of the majority. But the minority displays a distrustful and imperious attitude to the mass movement. One minority delegate said: "Movements come and go, but the party will always be here." This rather misses the point. What is the use of the party if it cannot relate correctly to mass movements? Thus the minority leaves itself open to easy attack from the majority. It is beaten over the head with the mass movement. Bertinotti said of the position of the minority that "it would separate us from the conflict in society". He said that Ferrando ideology was "trapped in an old story", within the interminable "commentary upon commentary" of "politics for the sake of politics". He said to remain in this framework would be "intolerable". Disarmed by economism and formalism, the 'left' minority has no answer. But Bertinotti has no thought of casting out the minority. He rewins them to the party with his unyielding attack on Stalinism. He says that "we now have a culture of debates without splits, and that is a step forward". His other attacks on Stalinism were equally encouraging. Again tying it to a democratic programme for the working class, Bertinotti said that his opposition to Stalinism is "not about the past, but about what sort of 21st century we want". He emphasised that you cannot have socialism in one country and that his criticism of Stalin was not only on the basis of the loss of human life or the lack of democracy: it is based on the lack of socialism. He said the USSR was not a liberating society and that this is what socialism is all about. Comrade Bertinotti went on to call for a new organisational culture in the party. After this congress, gone is the automatic right for cell and federation secretaries to be the representatives at the next higher level. All delegates are to be elected and accountable now. He pointed out that despite their 100,000 members turnover was a very high at 30%. You could sense a degree of frustration with the comrade that they were not going forward as fast as he hoped. Hence his call for an alternative left seems to lack some clarity. Despite the official abandonment of 'hegemony' for 'contamination', the call is clearly an attempt to hegemonise the anti-capitalist movement and to spread the net wider to haul in the European left. Given the class struggle in Italy and the ability of the working class to lead the anti-capitalist movement, it is a fitting and healthy development that the European Social Forum is due to be founded in Florence. A new European-wide cooperation on the left is taking shape. The other main theme of the congress was Palestine. As each day went on, the bloody aggression and crisis unfolded in front of us in the West Bank. More and more comrades appeared wearing the Palestinian keffiyeh. In the Italian press, Rifondazione had to face ludicrous allegations of anti-semitism. Bertinotti said that in the 1970s the ruling class had attempted to use terrorism to delegitimise the Italian revolutionary left, now it was trying to use anti-semitism. The congress was an inspiring and thought-provoking event. Hearing leaders articulate the needs and aspirations of the working class in the language of renewed communism was excellent. The fact that opposition and criticism are not considered crimes or acts of disloyalty but valued contributions was even better. In that sense PRC promises hope for the working class of Europe. From such refoundaions we can together move out of the ideological impasse of the 1990s period of reaction towards a liberationary vision for the 21st century. There are immediate lessons for the Socialist Alliance here. Italy shows how we could develop our own organisation with the aspiration of becoming a revolutionary, multi-tendency party. Although the PRC is often lauded as a 'party of recomposition', all factions of Rifondazione argue for revolutionary Marxism as the basis for their political movement. We could well do the same here in Britain. The incoming National Political Committee (equivalent to a central committee) is to have 135 members. 81 of these are from the Bertinotti faction, 35 from the Grassi group and 17 from the 'left' minority. 34% of the NPC are under 40 years of age. PRC factions The Congress was divided into majority and minority groupings. Within the majority there was the dominant subdivision around general secretary Fausto Bertinotti. Bertinotti himself comes from the PSIUP (the Italian Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity), which was a left centrist split from the Socialist Party of Italy in the revolutionary climate of the 1970s. Included in the majority is the Usec group, Bandiera Rosa, which has a senator and a member on the national secretariat (this will probably be around five to seven-strong after congress). Bandiera Rosa uncritically supported the motions of the Bertinotti group, and so there is no clear way to measure its strength, though it is small. The second largest section of the majority was around comrade Claudio Grassi. This is a more 'official' communist section deriving from the old Partito Comunista Italiano (PCI). There is also a tiny rightist grouping in the majority around comrade Giovanni Confalonieri. This section originates from the Proletarian Democracy of the 1970s. The leftwing minority opposition is dominated by the group around comrade Marco Ferrando called Proposta Comunista (Communist Proposal). This is a very formal Trotskyist group with a small 'international' called the International Trotskyist Organisation. There is also a small grouping around Claudio Bellotti called Falce Martello (Hammer and Sickle). This group is connected to the Socialist Appeal group of Ted Grant and Alan Woods in Britain. Majority (87% of congress delegates) Bertinotti group 59% Grassi group 26% Confalonieri group 2% Minority (13% of congress delegates) Ferrando group 11% Bellotti group 2% Groupings not submitting factional positions at congress would have been calculated as part of the dominant majority or minority group. Hence Bandiera Rosa delegates would be counted as part of the Bertinotti group. There are also a number of other small groupings in Communist Refoundation.