The reconstruction process of the left in Italy has indicated a new benchmark. But to better understand the path, we must start out once again from the last European elections in 2014.
At that time, the choice of the European Left Party (EL) to nominate Alexis Tsipras as candidate for the presidency of the European Commission had raised hopes that, in Italy too, a left political force could be reconstructed around the European Left. In other words, around an idea of radical opposition to the policies of austerity, as had already been the case in many countries, above all, in Mediterranean Europe, such as Greece and Spain. The launch of the “L’Altra Europa con Tsipras” (The Other Europe with Tsipras) list had coalesced the political forces of the left and, after a long absence, brought three deputies back to the European Parliament.
From that moment on, the unified path was a difficult and troubled one. Part of this coalition, Sinistra Ecologia e Libertà (SEL) and ex-Democratic Party (PD) members, the most well-known being Stefano Fassina, formerly responsible for the PD’s labour policies, chose to avoid a unified path, heading down the unilateral one instead to form a new party: Sinistra Italiana (SI).
The referendum incident regarding the modification of the constitution in December 2016, inspired by the then head of government and PD secretary, Renzi, made a re-emerging of unity in opposition to the plan possible, with the construction of committees for the defence of the constitution throughout the country.
The success of the “No” vote in the referendum led to Renzi’s resignation and the fall of the government he chaired, immediately replaced by a photocopy government to reconfirm the choices made in previous policies. Many expected an immediate return to the polls and therefore the need to follow up on the campaign against Renzi’s PD. At the time, Renzi had seen the defection of further elements of his party’s establishment, with former secretary Bersani, and founder and former president D'Alema, trying to give a political form to the many democrats and leftists who had constituted a fundamental resistance in the success of their campaign at the referendum.
This is why two prominent members of the “No” Committee, Anna Falcone and Tomaso Montanari, launched a proposal for an electoral list, for what was thought to be imminent elections. The appeal to a unified list away from the PD and the radical programme launched by the Brancaccio assembly, from the name of the theatre where it was presented, seemed to have picked up once again on the need for unity and radicality, lost in previous months.
But, once again, a unitary process was disregarded and, alongside it, so was the possibility of holding together two things that perhaps cannot be kept together: on the one hand, the need for a radical criticism of the policies that the centre-left had adopted in the recent past too; and, on the other hand, the possibility to use the breakdown of the democratic party.
Breaking Brancaccio’s path, two left-wing streams crystallize once again. On the first side sits the one that looks to the reconstruction of a centre-left, which aims to compete for a government that can nibble away at and temper liberal policies. On the second side lies the construction of a left that overturns tables, resisting and joining the many anti-neoliberal battles that are present throughout the country, and perhaps acting as inspiration for the many people who remain silent and powerless.
Sinistra Italiana and ex-PD MPs, aiming to assert their media exposure on parliamentary presence, have formed an electoral cartel called “Liberi e Eguali”, with the intention of turning it into a real political force. Political organisations such as Rifondazione Comunista and “L’Altra Europa con Tsipras”, as well as the many individual citizens who had believed in the proposal of a list with a radical profile and discontinuity with the past, found themselves in an assembly convened from a social centre in Naples, so as not to leave a continued present and active political space.
The novelty of a descent into the field of that precarious and underpaid generation, which so far has not been particularly involved in the sphere of politics, is certainly a positive and interesting event, even though the danger of an insignificant result remains very real.
However, these two left wings are not just two different political profiles. To some extent and with their due differentiations, they represent two social aspects that can be described in the context of the transformation of the neoliberal production model.
On the one hand, we have the world of guaranteed and stable work with its struggles for the defence of its conquests and the job. It stands against the attack in favour of deregulation and delocalization. The typical social bloc of the historical left and its battles on the one side, and the world of precariousness and wild exploitation on the other. This social layer of those who are unsecured, often unorganized and invisible in the sphere of governmental narrative represents another social bloc, also composed of people with black skin and without rights, that the economic crisis has magnified, and that national and European policies have impoverished and crushed.
This gap can also be seen in the trade union world and has been manifestly represented by two major demonstrations that were held on a national level within just a few days of one another. The first, promoted by the most important trade union, CGIL (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro), protested against the automatic raising of the retirement age, which will go up to 67 in 2019. There was a high turnout at the demonstration, which once again showed the need for a breakdown of the austerity policies imposed by the European Commission, to which the government itself had requested the possibility to amend.
The same CGIL, it must be said, had not promoted a barricade when this provision was taken by the Monti government in 2011. It is more interested in a relationship with the moderate trade-union bodies than with grassroots ones, and rather than adopting forms of radical conflict. This lack of radicalism and, in many cases, acquiescence towards government policies, has pushed workers towards disillusionment or grassroots unions which, on 16th December, participated in and, to a large extent supported, a national “Rights without borders” demonstration. Here, and for the first time so overwhelmingly, the vast majority of the participants were made up of migrants, living and working in our country. Alongside them, social centres, social solidarity organisations and the precarious world of work, filled the streets in a smaller parade, showing a resumption of social conflict outside the box.
The day after, many of those subjects were in an assembly to “accept the challenge” of the construction of an electoral list called “Potere al Popolo” (Power to the People).