Lessons for left

Marcus Ström reported on the Rifondazione Comunista congress at a CPGB open forum on April 21. After outlining how Italy's first republic emerged from the anti-Mussolini struggle and the leading role of communist partisans, he explained that the second republic, instigated by a rotten coalition of Berlusconi and the so-called Democratic Left, was an attack on the social and democratic gains won following World War II and the end of the monarchical-fascist constitution. The general strike to defend article 18 of the labour code is of strategic importance: a clash of class against class. Three million have already taken to the streets of Rome. Then on April 16 13 million workers staged a token general strike. The first thing that the comrade emphasised was the unity of all the PRC's factions around the need for a united Communist Party. All factions in the PRC recognise their central task as the refounding of such a combat organisation - not of a halfway-house 'party of recomposition' or a 'united front' party. The differences between Rifondazione's factions lie mainly in how the party should relate to the working class as it enters into a decisive battle with Berlusconi's rightwing government. Another question highlighted by the comrade was the importance of democracy. Comrade Ström described the culture of the congress as being far more healthy and democratic than that of the Socialist Alliance or the British left in general. The congress demonstrated, particularly to our comrades in the SWP, that a Communist Party can and must operate with open factions. Even though the faction around Fausto Bertinotti was larger than all the others put together (59% of delegates), the Grassi grouping (26% of delegates) and Confalonieri grouping (2% of delegates) minorities were treated seriously and formed an integral part of the majority bloc: yet even when it came to the opposition groupings around Ferrando and Bellotti (13% of delegates between the two), no one called them 'anti-party' for having a different perspective. Factional literature was on sale openly. Although he would certainly not claim the PRC to be a hardened Bolshevik Party - comrade Ström described the PRC as centrist, but left-moving - it shows that a previously fractured left can come together in a single working class party. Democracy is obviously key. The PRC comrades seek to innovate in order to deal with the new political situation - not only in the labour and anti-capitalist movements within Italy, but also in Europe as a whole. Rifondazione has a programme to democratise the European Union. It does not simply say 'No to the EU'. It demands a democratic Europe in the interests of the working class. Equally positive it envisages the establishment of continent-wide organisations of the working class. Comrade Ström argue that the PRC not only stands in stark contrast to those who want to set up a 'united front of a new type' as a conduit into their already existing 'revolutionary party'; it also scotches all the nonsense about the need for a fixed stepping-stone process towards a Communist Party. In the following debate there were a range of different contributions. However, three basic positions were put forward. First comrade Cath Clement from the AWL agreed that the significance of the PRC goes well beyond implications for the working class of Italy alone. The attitude the Socialist Alliance takes towards Europe-wide developments is important. She argued that we ended up with a 'no to the euro' line, that would cut across any project to build serious Europe-wide workers' organisations beginning with the European Social Forum to be founded in Florence later this year. She accepted that a democratic centralist Communist Party is needed in Britain, but cautioned that the different histories of Britain and Italy prevents the use of the PRC experience as a direct model. It does not answer the question of how to break the link between the trade unions and the Labour Party. Also, the creation of the kind of Communist Party we want will require a massive change in perspective by the SWP - maybe even a crisis in that organisation. Therefore, she argued, the work of revolutionaries in the Socialist Alliance should be oriented to the SWP. The path towards revolutionary unity in a democratic centralist Communist Party is not simple or automatic. She argued that the fight for revolutionary unity must be combined with efforts to relate to the working class beyond the limitations of the Socialist Alliance, such as through the campaign for a Labour Representation Committee. However, this does not mean the Socialist Alliance must go through a stage of being a Labour Representation Committee before it can become a fully-fledged party: they are two separate processes. The second position came from comrade Dave Craig (RDG). He described the PRC as essentially the same as the SA or the Scottish Socialist Party. He said the role of revolutionaries is to form a communist wing within such organisations. In Britain the Socialist Alliance is centrist, but it has not succeeded in drawing in large sections of the labour movement. It is still a marginal fringe organisation of marginal fringe groups. He would like to see the bigger battalions of the left brought into the Socialist Alliance, with revolutionaries forming the revolutionary wing and engaging these reformists in debate. Such a "brittle, sterile, mechanical approach to categories disarms us politically", replied comrade Mark Fischer on behalf of the third position - that of the CPGB. The notion that in order for the working class to move towards reconstituting itself as a political class it must inevitably go through a stage of centrist fudge is not a Marxist approach. The key strategic question of the British revolution is overcoming the grip of the Labour Party and Labourism, and replacing the Labour Party as the natural party of our class. Unity of revolutionaries in a single principled organisation facilitates this task. Mary Godwin * Build the ESF movement * Vittorio Agnoletto * April 16: class against class * 'Contaminated' by the movement