Betraying socialism

Rifondazione Comunista used to be regarded as something of a model by sections of the disoriented left. It was one of those parties of 'recomposition' - others were the Party of Democratic Socialism in Germany, the Left Bloc in Portugal and the Scottish Socialist Party. In reality Rifondazione is a centrist political formation which, after dabbling in movementism over the last few years, has just opted to join Romano Prodi's Olive Tree coalition and (assuming victory in the 2006 general election) will follow him into government. This is an act of class treachery. Rifondazione will be used by Prodi to defuse popular anger. It will be used to control the working class in the interests of capital. Tina Becker spoke to Franco Russo (pictured below), a member of the national committee of Rifondazione Comunista, about this shameful decision

Rifondazione's turn to government has surprised many people, particularly those who shared or followed your party's recent emphasis on the social movements. The fact that Rifondazione has decided to join Prodi's alliance does not mean it has changed its position towards the social movements. On the contrary, the most important thing for us is that we retain a strong link with them. The anti-capitalist movement has led to many big changes inside some of Italy's most important organisations, like for example the CGIL union, Arci [a political-cultural institute with over one million members, linked to the Democratic Left - DS] and Legambiente [the largest Italian environmental organisation]. The peace movement has put pressure on these organisations and many of them are now involved in it. Rifondazione is, of course, a part of this movement, too. As a result of pressure from the movements, there is now a real shift in the attitude many trade unions take towards their own bureaucratic regimes and there is a mood for the democratisation of decision-making. Cobas has taken a leading role in ensuring that the workers always have the final say over any agreements the union leadership makes, and also in establishing a new relationship between the social and the political sphere. There are other important campaigns: for example, against the casualisation of labour and for 'citizenship by residence'. Rifondazione cannot walk away from these developments. Do you feel these aims can best be served by being part of a bourgeois government? The government is not the most important thing for us - the movements are. We have a real possibility here to reposition ourselves, along with sections of the union and pacifist movements, in a different context in society and thereby break the hegemony of the Blairite DS over many working people. But you will be in a coalition with the DS! Being in a coalition with them does not mean that we become the same thing. Also, there would be five or six other parties involved. Rifondazione must avoid telling people that we are their 'friends in government' and that we will sort out all of their problems. In the 30s, many popular frontist governments used the strength of the movements for their own ends. We must be able to respect the autonomy of the movements - their platforms and their objectives - in which case I think our experience in government will be a good one. Rifondazione will not be sidelined to the field of politics: we will still be part of the movements. But being part of the government will enable us to push out into another area in order to fight against some of the worst legislation introduced by Berlusconi. The alliance too is moving. For example, long-time Rifondazione member Nichi Vendola was recently elected as the candidate of the alliance for next year's election in the region of Puglia - against the wishes of the centre-left, who had put forward their own candidate. This was a great success for us and it involved more than 80,000 members from all parties of the alliance. In Tuscany, the centre-left did not want Rifondazione as a partner in the coalition at all. But now a candidate has been elected who is very close to Rifondazione and who is a member of the left wing of the DS. Even the DS majority did not want him, but too many grassroots members voted for him. At the last DS conference, the left wing was not only numerically reduced to about 20% - the leadership has also made clear it wants to sideline it further. The left in the alliance seems to be quite small, despite some of the success you describe. I am a leftist. I know there is a danger that our relationship with some parts of the DS can push Rifondazione to the right. But we on the left can push hard too. I think it is worth trying. We have a responsibility to get rid of Silvio Berlusconi and we have to defeat his politics. If we had refused to join this new coalition, Rifondazione would have risked being cut off from many of the movements which demand we use our strength against Berlusconi. When Rifondazione supported the 1996-98 minority government of Romano Prodi, it made some decisions of which the party is now very critical. For example, it voted for the setting up of temporary detention centres. Is there not a danger that history will repeat itself? The 90s were a very icy period for the left. A lot of things have changed since then, including the strength of the movements. We have to retain our suspicion of the centre-left leaders and keep our distance from them, while at the same time building a good relationship with the normal members. I was expelled from the old Communist Party for being a Trotskyist, so I know what bureaucratic leaderships can do. We have to keep alive the ideas and the programme of the movements inside the government. There was a cultural break when the movements started to campaign for European democracy, workers' and migrants' rights, environmentalism, etc. We should not be afraid of parliamentary and governmental institutions. We are now at a crossroads where we can try out something new - can parliamentary institutions work democratically and openly alongside the extra-parliamentary movements? I don't have all the ready-made answers, but I know we have to try. Almost 40% of Rifondazione members are against the turn - that is a very sizable minority. Much of the current opposition was also against the party's turn towards the social movements, so it is hard to take them seriously. The largest opposition section [the 'official communists' around l'Ernesto - TB] dreams of the grand old days of the Communist Party - which was in fact a rotten opportunist organisation: it was against 68; against workers' struggles; it suffered first from Stalinism and then Euro-communism. A few years back, these people argued against the revolution - now they are ultra-leftists. This opposition wants us to adopt a number of demands or conditions for government participation: I think this is a bargaining tactic adopted by trade unions and it is the wrong tactic for now. We have to expose the centre-left to the pressure of the movements and so far we have been able to do so, as our experience in Puglia has shown. It is the social movements (of which Rifondazione is a part) that will be pressurising the government, not Rifondazione. We cannot speak for the movements - they will speak for themselves. Are there sections of the social movements that are unhappy about your turn to government? The social forums and the movements are not a hegemonic, united force. Of course it is not like in 1968, where the movement was made up of lots of unattached individuals. Now it is the organisations that constitute the movements: the unions, the political institutions, the peace and environmental groups. They are less radical, but they are also more organised. 1968 only lasted six months, the current struggle of the movements has been going on for over four years. Most of these organisations not only agree with the change: they have forcefully demanded it. But there are some currents who disagree very vociferously: for example, the Cobas union. Their representatives are trying very hard to convince us otherwise. But we can only state and state again that we stand for certain aims - we need to pursue a course that takes us closer to those aims. So there is a parliamentary road to socialism? No, of course not. But the destruction of parliamentary institutions in eastern Europe led to a total destruction of every form of democracy. At the same time, our aim is to overcome parliamentary institutions to get to real democracy. We have the general goal that every woman and every man should be able to decide not just about their own life but also about the society in which they live. The question is: how do we get there? In the here and now, we have to conquer some new rights and defend some old ones - against casualisation at work, for instance; we have to fight to expand democracy in the unions; we have to defend public services and we have to experiment with new forms of production. Water, energy, air, agriculture, culture - we have lots of ideas about how not only consumption, but also production, can be dramatically changed - and I do not simply mean nationalisation. Is this socialism? Maybe not. But the plan in socialist societies was not able to give people a decent standard of living and wasted natural resources massively. But it was an unrealistic plan imposed from on top, not a democratically constructed plan based on the needs of people. Yes, of course. That is why for us democracy is very important, including the democratisation of production. That goes to the heart of socialism. We must always remember that in the 20th century we have failed. 'Official communism' has failed. The task for us is, how can we move on from this tragedy? We have to listen to people who are not Marxists, like Walden Bello. We have to learn from the struggles of the indigenous people, who also are not Marxists. But do you really think that local struggles in underdeveloped countries can give better answers than the global theory of scientific Marxism? They do not have all the answers, I agree. But they have some of the answers. For example, in India many peasants have fought successfully against the building of dams, which was threatening to take away their livelihood. There are hundreds of these struggles going on - and the communists and the Marxists have ignored them for a long time. Of course Marx was very important in identifying the progressive role of the bourgeoisie and the dynamics of capitalism - what can be called its 'creative destruction'. But things have changed since Marx's day. There is famine, there is the exploitation of nature, the lack of healthcare in the south. There are challenges that capitalism is not able to deal with. They can revolutionise production, of course - but they cannot deal with the 'people problems'. But Marx also clearly wrote that capitalism will eventually become reactionary and hold back the technological revolution. Surely that is where we were from 1914 and where we are today. Capitalism invests for profit not to save labour time. The only way to overcome poverty, famine, the despoliation of nature "¦ and the dehumanisation of labour is for the working class to win political power against all parties and factions of the bourgeoisie. In other words Marx's vision of socialism as the rule of the working class is even more relevant today. I think we have to ask what the essence of socialism is: the market should not control people's lives; people must come before profit. Yes, big pharmaceutical companies today, for example, produce not to cure disease and meet the needs of the majority of people - they produce for a small sector of society, for the most profitable sector. I believe that the people together can decide which are the most suitable forms of production. But we socialists have a big problem: how to maintain the dynamic of society - not production per se, but the research, the education, the culture. That was a key problem for the Soviet Union. Lenin thought that electrification plus soviets would be enough to answer capitalism. But that was not so. We need a different form of production and a different form of society - a society from below. Our guide must always be the needs of people. We can experiment with different forms of production, but it must always be controlled and directed by the people, not by some abstract system. We carry on our backs the crimes and tragedies that were committed in the name of socialism. It was the movements that kept alive the fight for a different world, not the communist parties. We have wasted so much energy on internal fights and as a result have been sidetracked so many times. But now I firmly believe that we are witnessing the dawn of a new world.