By GERRY FOLEY
International editor Gerry Foley reports from Rome:
Throughout the month of August, Italian politics remained polarized by the mass demonstration in Genoa against the summit of the G8, the club of the industrialized countries, and the issue of police attacks on the actions.
On Aug. 20, a march through Genoa commemorated the death of Carlo Giuliani, a young demonstrator shot down at point-blank range by a cop. The police attacks provoked mass protest demonstrations in most Italian cities.
Since the dramatic events of July, political debate has also focused on whether or not the government would go ahead to host international conferences in major Italian cities, the Food and Agriculture Organization summit, originally scheduled for Rome, and the NATO summit, scheduled for Naples.
By the end of August, it appeared that the Italian government would go ahead with the meetings in Italy but try to get them removed to some remote location rather than a major city.
The fact that many of the demonstrators mishandled by the police came from other European countries and the United States put an international spotlight on the outrages of the police. Italy’s new right-wing government, headed by pirate capitalist Silvio Berlusconi, was forced to remove three of the top police officials involved. But the bourgeois parties and press, as well as the police associations, have continued a campaign to try to put the blame for the violence on the demonstrators.
In central Rome in late August tables were in evidence where representatives of police associations were collecting signatures “to defend the forces of order.”
The card the police and the government are using for their campaign is the presence among the demonstrators of a small group, 500 to a thousand out of hundreds of thousands, of ultraleft anarchists, the Tute Nere (Black Overalls), or “Black Bloc” (usually cited in English). In fact, some observers have offered evidence of direct manipulation of the Tute Nere by the police.
A far larger group, but also a relatively small minority of the demonstrators, were the Tute Bianche (White Overalls), who were nonviolent but advocates of civil disobedience.
Social Democrats continue rightward spin
The government and the right are trying to use the issue of violence by the demonstrators to force the rightward-moving majority of the old Communist Party, now called the Social Democrats (DS), still further to the right.
The DS claims to support the protests against globalization but to oppose violence. Actually, the DS had control of the government up until the Italian general elections of a few months ago and bears direct responsibility for Italy’s collaboration with the imperialist financial institutions and the worldwide capitalist offensive. The government obviously hopes to use the opportunism of the DS to turn it in practice against the protest movement.
The DS leaders have shown a notably accommodating attitude to the general capitalist offensive announced at the end of August by the Berlusconi government of wage cuts, easier layoffs, and “flexibilization” of working hours. They stress that they do not have a “knee-jerk” opposition to measures that hurt workers, and that they “understand” the needs of the capitalists.
The DS is facing a national congress in which there are divisions within the party but no real left wing. The differences seem to be mainly tactical, concerning how to evaluate the record of the former DS government.
For his part, the former premier, Massimo d’Alema, is stressing that he is one of those who thinks that when it was in power the party was not too reformist but rather not reformist enough.
Thus, the left opposition to the government is focusing around the antiglobalization protests and the only political party associated with them, Rifondazione Comunista (Communist Refoundation), which grew out of the wing of the old Communist Party opposed to Eurocommunism.
Most of the die-hard Stalinist wing of Communist Refoundation recently left the party, along with the party’s former main leader, Cossuta. Those who walked out wanted to support the DS majority in parliament “from the outside.” This de facto coalition policy was successfully opposed by the left wing, in which Italian supporters of the Fourth International played an important role.
The Cossuta group is waning and appears to be moving toward reintegration into the main post-Stalinist grouping, the DS.
But there is still a significant layer of neo-Stalinists in the Rifondazione, apparently reflected in the line on the Balkan conflict expressed in the party’s daily newspaper, Liberazione., which generally supports the nationalism of the Slavic oppressor nationality in Macedonia.
Thus, the party has not yet been stabilized as a left alternative and will face important debates in its fall congress.
Rifondazione got more than 5 percent in the last Italian general elections and maintained its presence in both houses of parliament. Its newspaper sells about 20,000 copies, in comparison with about 30,000 for the new version of l’Unità, the DS paper.
The conditions for building a left political alternative in Italy seem to be relatively good, especially because of the mass antiglobalization protests. The success of the movement in the streets has staved off the demoralization that might have followed the victory of the right in the general election and put the focus on militant direct action rather than parliamentary games.
In the present circumstances, Rifondazione is in a unique position to gain from that and to become the political expression of the militant opposition. But for that reason also there will be considerable political pressures on the party, and its ability to lead the opposition effectively will depend on the outcome of the upcoming debates.
If the party is unable to adopt a consistent revolutionary line, it may be torn apart by political contradictions.
Along with France, Italy has now become the political cockpit of Europe, where struggles are in the offing that can be decisive for the European working class.
Instability in Berlusconi’s government
The new right-wing government is a mixture of unstable elements that brought down Berlusconi’s last attempt to administer the country a few years ago. It includes the League of the North, which favors separation of the prosperous northern part of the country from the backward south, going from autonomy to actual independence. It also includes forces that have come from the neofascist right.
The right-wing elements are concentrating on a campaign in defense of police repression. Within the present political climate also, there are indications of new terrorist bombing campaigns by fascists.
Berlusconi himself is trying to develop a sort of populist capitalism, trying to compensate for the attacks on wages, conditions, and social spending by offering an ambitious program of public works that promises more jobs and more development of the poorer regions. That is in the tradition of Italian capitalism, where state corporations were the locomotive of capitalist development but eventually became quicksands of corruption and waste.
In August, one of the political issues in Italy was statements by a government minister admitting that an intertwining between capital and the Mafia was inevitable.
The pace of Italian politics is accelerating with the end of the vacation season that followed the Genoa demonstrations. The next few months may be a decisive test of the new situation.