Commentary. Since the Italian left fractured after the fall of communism, it hasn’t yet built a socialist party to unite the left.
Why is there no leftist movement in Italy of the size and attractive force of Podemos, Linke and Syriza, and how has the 5 Star Movement come to occupy this space? It is a puzzle to put your mind to before the referendum on Dec. 4. The “Italian case” of past decades (the most politicized society in Europe with the most fractured, political and social left) has disappeared entirely and it presents many other anomalies and peculiarities.
The turning point occurred in 1989 when “real socialism” shattered, the “turning point” of the Communist Party. Then, a violent diaspora opened among those who intended to liquidate the history and heritage of the left and those who wanted to try to renew it.
The “caravan” of Achille Occhetto did not have ideal anchors, but a generic opening to the new with a simultaneous distancing from the European Socialists (Craxi’s shadow).
The “No” front split within the Communist Party: one group of promoters of a new party (Sergio Garavini, Armando Cossutta, Lucio Magri and others) and another group of those who believed it was possible to stay in the “vortex” (Pietro Ingrao, Aldo Tortorella, Giuseppe Chiarante and Fausto Bertinotti for a period).
Rifondazione Comunista came to be born more from an emotional drive of resistance than on a draft to rethink the Communist experience in need of new projects, organizational structures and political practices. Bertinotti’s leadership tried to overcome the handicap of the birth certificate by placing Rifondazione on the border of the movements.
The break with the Prodi government in 1998 and the subsequent divisions (Communisti Unitari, PDCI, Sel) on government issues and the political stance, however, have gradually made impractical the hypothesis of a neo-communist party. The idea that Italian communism could save itself and remain unscathed after the tsunami thanks to its positive diversity was proved very fragile. In turn, the movements — mostly the non-global ones — failed to occupy the vacuum with a political projection (the Indignados and Podemos in Spain are the counterexample).
The “two lefts” have gradually put more distance between them, PDS-DS on the one hand and on the other Rifondazione. Sergio Cofferati had a chance to reshuffle the cards when, between 2001-2003, he coalesced around the CGIL and himself a left movement of rights and labor on the theme of the defense of Article 18 of the Workers Statute. This was a question that crossed both Rifondazione and the DS.
Could then a Labor party have been created as a regrouping of a new left, which was not the daughter of Communist diaspora, and as an alternative to the Democratic Party project that was taking off? It is probable. And it is very likely that it would have changed the subsequent history of the two lefts.
Still Cofferati’s choice to ghettoize himself in the role of mayor in Bologna remains a mystery. He even gave up in an internal political battle when the Democratic Party took shape, reopening it only after his exclusion from the Democratic regional lists in Liguria.
Rifondazione’s aphasia and Sel’s attempt to start a counter trend, were balanced out by the dangerous navigation of the Democratic Party wanted by Prodi, D’Alema, Veltroni and Rutelli. When Fabio Mussi’s left DS decided not to join the Democratic Party, echoing the chorus of a Dik Dik song (“Io mi fermo qui,” “I stop here”), things had gone too far, beyond the predictions of that component to change the course: There was no other way out but attempting to climb back together with Sel.
After losing Prodi and Rutelli on the road, taking note of Veltroni’s ‘withdrawal,’ and Matteo Renzi’s conquest of the Democratic Party, the omelet was made, and it delivered — depending on the point of view — the failure of the Democratic Party project or its inevitable fulfillment. Though the left was divided and attempted re-mergers, the crisis of Italian politics became even more serious and the phenomenology that gave rise to the 5 Star Movement began to sprout: rampant corruption; abysmal separation among institutions, political activities and real life; the public opinion increasingly less interested in parties; and resentment as a reaction to the spurts of activism.
The so-called “anti-politics” has thus started to spread and none of the two lefts adopted countermeasures. The reform of the political culture and its practices and the moral issues were not considered priorities.
That’s is how the Grillismo has become capable of holding together the left and right transverse thrusts, ambiguous and socially contradictory solicitations unifying them in a generic but motivated contempt for politics and parties as well as in a heralded ideology-free way.
The political and electoral space on the left that is occupied in other countries by Podemos, Linke and Syriza is firmly guarded by 5 Star in Italy.
And it is expected that it will continue to do so in the medium term with a concrete chance to go to the government and reject any unitary relationship with other parties.