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A new coalition may be the best hope for a weak left

With the centre-left taking a rightward turn, and a fractious left increasingly losing its social base, the prospects for the Italian election look bleak, argues Luciana Castellina

April 13, 2008
5 min read

The experience of the Prodi government was not a good one. This is perhaps the only thing we can all agree on. We tend to agree less on the reason for his failure, but this was surely determined by the moderate approach of his main party (Democratici di Sinistra, DS), which has steadily slipped towards the right wing.

Having said this, we must also add that surviving in the Senate with such a small margin of support as the Prodi government had would have required the stamina of a Stalinist leadership endowed with a very firm sense of discipline. Instead, the coalition was made up of a series of undisciplined and fractious parties, which had never given their alliance a proper test-run or forged a common political strategy. They were intent in running the government with a purposely vague political programme.

We all knew this was happening. The only way to shift the difficult equilibrium that the coalition established between such different powers was to give greater weight to that section of society which veered towards the left. This could have been achieved only if we had had the courage to invest in the attempts to achieve unity over the last couple of years, and letting go of jealousies affecting the organisation and identity of parties, which politicians held onto just to preserve their small and traditional electoral strongholds.

Most of all, we must understand (and act accordingly) that the majority of Leftist powers are outside of the four parties making up the ‘Sinistra Arcobaleno’ coalition. To make a difference we would have had to create something truly new, the famous ‘cosa rossa’ (Red Thing – a proposed coalition between the four left parties in the governing coalition – the PRC, PdCI, SD and the Greens – and a broader range of social actors).

Unfortunately, following an assembly meeting that took place in December, which raised the hopes of many, almost nothing was done. The list that has been prepared recently is a good thing, but we must also admit that it isn’t very appetising. Furthermore, little progress was made on the issue of participation by non-members in the coalition of the four parties, the finalisation of its programme and the choice of candidates.

Secondly, it should be mentioned that, even thought the Prodi government wasn’t a pretty sight, Italian society itself has turned rather ugly in the last few years. The government didn’t exactly betray a population that was pushing for social or political change. Unfortunately, people have increasingly lost hope in democracy as a tool for change and have turned to petty, localised and corporate rebellions instead, as well as collectively losing their common values. Essentially, a serious social regression and impoverishment has taken place.

One reason for this, is that Left parties themselves, not to mention the DS, have abandoned social action as a cause (or what was once referred to as ‘foundation work’), deciding instead to hide behind institutions and television.

This way, left-wing associations have gradually lost their grip upon and roots within their territories, leading to the impoverishment we witness today. We lost with the people a long time before we lost at the Senate.

Making up for the mistakes we made in these years won’t be easy. It will take some time. However, we must recognise that there won’t be any shortcuts to take if we wish to regain any hope for a decent government.

For the reasons I have mentioned above, we are approaching the election in a very bad state. We have witnessed the majority of powers making up the Unione take yet another step towards the right and a fracture between the new Democratic Party and the left.

So what hopes do we have to win against Berlusconi? The fact that Casini’s Unione dei Democratici Cristiani e Democratici di Centro (UDC) split from Forza Italia has reduced the strictly bipolar character of the political framework. There is a possibility that, if Veltroni’s Democratic Party (DP) has some degree of success, it might govern by forming alliances with other powers. And there are only two options: they can either form an alliance with Casini on the right, or with La Sinistra Arcobleno on the left. I think it is worth aiming for the latter option, because the level of political degradation is serious and a Berlusconi government would be very dangerous.

Obviously the Sinistra Arcobaleno has to present itself as a very different entity to the DP and very critical of it as well. But this should not mean singling out the DP as their number one enemy and excluding, a priori, a future collaboration with them.

Furthermore the only way to counteract the otherwise inevitable demise of the left by means of a “voto utile” (tactical vote) in favour of the DP – as the only party who has a winning chance against Berlusconi – is to prove that only a strong left will be able to stop the DS from slipping further towards the right in the future. Hence, voting for the Arcobaleno now might prove very useful later.

Luciana Castellina, a journalist and writer, is one the founders of Il Manifesto. She was MP in Italian and EU parliament.

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