The Euroleft, or, Who's Afraid of Tina?
Divided They Fall?
>How should this budding radical left--numerically inferior, to begin with--deal with the mainstream left, more respectful of the established order? The problem has become salient in Italy since October 9, when, amid a chorus of condemnation, Fausto Bertinotti, leader of Rifondazione Comunista, or Communist Refounding, chose to bring down a center-left government headed by Romano Prodi. Was he right in principle? And if so, were his timing and manner appropriate?
Italy's Communist Party changed its name and policies after 1989 to move out of opposition. Now, as the Left Democrats (DS), they sit on the conservative side within the Socialist International, and since October their leader, Massimo D'Alema, has been Italy's prime minister. Meanwhile, many militants left the party and set up Rifondazione, which was joined by fragments of Italy's New Left. By 1994 the new party had a two-headed leadership: The traditionalists were represented by the president, Armando Cossutta; the radicals by the secretary, Bertinotti, a newcomer who had built his reputation as a progressive labor leader.
In April 1996 the left won the parliamentary election. D'Alema's party, though the strongest within the ruling Olive Tree coalition, which included the Left Democrats, leftish Christian Democrats and technocrats, did not demand the prime minister's job, which was given to Prodi, a moderate Catholic economist. The task of the government was to tighten the country's belt, to reduce the deficit so that Italy could join the euro from the start. Rifondazione stayed outside the government, but its thirty-four votes were needed for a parliamentary majority.
There were strains. In October of 1997 a break was avoided only at the last minute when Prodi promised a law ordaining a thirty-five-hour workweek as a reward. But it was clear that once Italy was admitted into the monetary club, matters would come to a head. Bertinotti expressed it in a metaphor: You are made to walk in the desert because you must reach the oasis on the horizon. Once there, you are told: Sorry, it was a mirage, keep on going. His party was not moving. Unless it was shown a concrete shift in policy in favor of the working people, it would not vote for the budget. Cossutta protested that to precipitate the crisis now was to open the door for the tycoon Silvio Berlusconi and the neo-fascist Gianfranco Fini. Although Bertinotti carried the party, Cossutta held the parliamentary group. Twenty-one Rifondazione deputies voted for the budget, but thirteen followed Bertinotti and voted against it. That was enough. Prodi was defeated 313 to 312.
Now we can move on to the heart of the matter. I think Bertinotti was right on the principle at stake. All the precedents in the left-wing movement, notably in the British Labor Party, show that if you turn the defense of the bad against the worse into a categorical imperative, you carry no weight. You let the Clintons, Blairs and Prodis get away with murder. They take you for granted. The only way you count is if they know that beyond a certain point, you will not hesitate to veto their action. The timing? The result did not prove as dramatic as predicted. D'Alema, the real master, replaced Prodi as prime minister. Admittedly, to get this result, the votes of the Christian Democratic supporters of the reactionary former president, Francesco Cossiga, were required. You now have a government with a follower of Cossutta sitting together with supporters of Cossiga. This should worry his comrades, and the Left Democrats should be perturbed to discover how far their party is ready to move to the right. But these are confirmations of the state of things rather than new departures.
The ideal way in which the radical left should proceed is by sketching the vision of a different society, by presenting an alternative project and mobilizing a mass movement behind it. It can win in Parliament only if it wins the minds of the people in the country. Bertinotti would probably not disagree, though he can plead that Rifondazione is not the only party that is still in the early stages of its search for an alternative.
This, then, is the state of the European left at the fascinating stage when things are beginning to move once again. Historians may well conclude that the French winter of discontent was the ideological turning point. Tina was badly shaken when the protesters proclaimed, If that is the future we are offered, to hell with it, alternative or no alternative! But to get rid of Tina altogether, we must build on this foundation. Democratically, from below, we must start elaborating an alternative project, outlining the vision of a different future. This task, however, is not specifically Italian, French or European. It is our urgent and common task.