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Does the Left Have a Future? | The Nation

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Does the Left Have a Future?

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Tapie is a different kind of fish. He comes from the people and knows their language. To call him a tycoon may be an exaggeration. Though he has taken over and sold many companies, his greatest gift, it turns out, is for getting money from banks. His claim to fame is that he bought the Marseilles soccer team and turned it into the first French club to win the European championship. While living high, Tapie does so on borrowed money; he seems to have more debts than assets. During the electoral campaign he was sued for bribing players from an opposing team and for tax evasion, while his bank tried to seize his yacht and antique furniture. More recently, he was arrested in a dawn police raid. This harassment, presumably designed by opponents to weaken him, actually brought him votes, because it made him appear to be a victim and not a member of the establishment.

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Daniel Singer
Daniel Singer, for many years The Nation's Paris-based Europe correspondent, was born on September 26, 1926, in...

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It is a battle royal, and it foreshadows many more like it in the struggle for the economic mastery of Europe.

Handsome, pleasant, calling a spade a spade, Tapie is a TV natural. He is obviously a supersalesman, but at the same time his hatred of Le Pen's xenophobia seems sincere. While others bow before its inevitability, Tapie will passionately describe unemployment as such a calamity that it must be "outlawed" (how is unspecified). Still, it is a measure of the road traveled by the French Socialists, and Rocard in particular, toward consensus politics and identification with the right that this speculator, this amiable scoundrel, should be taken by a good section of the left's popular electorate as a radical, almost utopian alternative. It is also a sign of the deep change in Western Europe's cultural climate.

In Gramsci's Country

The parallel between Tapie and Silvio Berlusconi should not be overdrawn. The former has neither the financial power nor, above all, the media control of the latter. Tapie is also a committed fighter against the extreme right, whereas Berlusconi had no scruple or hesitation about climbing to power with neo-Fascist backing. Nevertheless, it is significant that the popular heroes of our times are moneymakers, speculators, the owners of successful sports clubs--the "winners" as opposed to the "losers." This shows the tremendous shift in the ideological atmosphere in Western Europe in the past twenty years or so. Antonio Gramsci, the great Italian Communist thinker, stressed the importance of ideological supremacy, or "hegemony," in gaining real political power, as opposed to merely winning an election. It is for totally ignoring his teaching that Achille Occhetto must now pay the penalty. He had to go when the European elections confirmed that the victory of the right in Italy's earlier national elections was no flash in the pan. Berlusconi has come to stay, and Thatcherism in a country that lacks England's centuries-old tradition of bourgeois parliamentary democracy is no joke.

When in 1988 Occhetto took over the leadership of the Italian Communist Party, it still had the support of between a quarter and a third of the Italian electorate. Its handicap was not, as was sometimes suggested, a connection with the Soviet model; it had broken its ties with Moscow long before. The weakness was that, having no socialist substitute for the Russian model, it surrendered to the capitalist ideology prevailing at home. Also, the party kept seeking a historical compromise when the right had nothing to offer. Occhetto, far from reversing this trend, speeded it up. In November 1989, after the fall of the Berlin wall, he sponsored a radical transformation of his movement [see Singer, "P.C.I.--What's in a New Name?" April 16, 1990]. The party, soon to be known as the Democratic Party of the Left (P.D.S.), was to be a looser electoral machine, seeking an alliance with the center and helping it to reform the electoral law. The reward for the P.D.S. was to be an important place in the government. Instead, its policy paved the way for the striking victory of the new right, much more dangerous than its predecessor.

One man cannot be blamed for it all. The whole party, indeed the whole European left, could share part of the blame. During the 1980s, while the labor movement was being defeated through restructuring and international deregulation, the political left meekly surrendered to the ideological offensive that proclaimed capitalism eternal and ruled out any alternative, on the grounds that there can be no freedom without private property, no efficiency without the market and no progress without profits. In Italy the nadir was reached during this year's parliamentary poll, when no distinction could be drawn between the economic program of the ex-Communists and that of the former governor of the Bank of Italy. The harmless, disinfected P.D.S. not only did not obtain the massive vote of the middle classes it counted on, but it also lost a great deal of support from its traditional working-class base. Above all, it opened up a huge avenue on which Berlusconi rode to power. It is true that he was greatly helped in his bid by his control of private television. Yet he could not have advanced so spectacularly without years of ideological retreat by the left. To reverse Orwell, the trouble is not that Big Brother is watching the Italians; it is that the Italians have been watching him passively for too long.

The major question for the P.D.S. today is not whether Massimo D'Alema, Occhetto's successor, or Walter Veltroni, the editor of l'Unità, will take over its leadership after the party congress next fall. The problem for the Italian left--and for the whole West European left--is whether it offers its own solution to the economic crisis or accepts the capitalist establishment's. What is now being proposed is not compromise but the terms for total surrender.

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