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Crossing the boundaries between social movements and political institutions

The formation of a new radical left coalition, La Sinstra - L'Arcobaleno, is a political necessity for the forthcoming election. But attempting to win power is not enough, argues Anna Pizzo, social movement organising and participation remain crucial if politics is to be transformed

April 13, 2008
4 min read

As a councillor, social activist and the co-editor of Carta magazine, you have occupied many different roles that cross the boundaries of political institutions and social movements. What do you feel can be learnt from the participation of radical left-wing parties within Government?

More than a lesson, this experience has once again confirmed that politics is impossible to reform, and that whoever tries to change it without tackling the deeper mechanisms of power, will inevitably fail. This is what happened to Rifondazione Comunista, the first party to recognise the potential of social movements, but which failed to take any consequent action to nurture their energy. However, I would be wary of planting all the blame on Rifondazione’s political system. Recently, social movements themselves have shown little interest in providing the necessary cultural tools to transform politics and the methods of representation. Instead, they chose to relegate issues they considered less important and less unifying at the global level (such as shared wealth, peace and anti-neoliberalism). For these reasons, we are currently left with few instruments to help us analyse the state of affairs. It is difficult for a ‘borderline’ thinker like myself to confront such an inert political apparatus, which is so clogged-up that it is close to dying.

Carta has highlighted the presence of local unrest across Italy. How do you feel these and other conflicts, including the struggle of trade unions, could grow in the future? What are the organisational and political needs of these struggles?

I have come to believe that conflicts are no longer born within socially pre-established contexts. They also emerge as a result of other factors, including territory, environment, the desire for a certain lifestyle and so forth. Nowadays, the places we inhabit are no longer private locations, distant from public and political spaces. Instead, they merge together to become a whole. There are other forms of conflict too, which transcend local struggles. Identity conflicts are now common and they are often interlaced with traditional ones, including struggles for employment, social and civil rights. In other words, forms of unification and segregation emerge, only to disappear again and then resurface in a different form.

This is the new geography of unification from the bottom-up, happy to discuss a multiplicity of topics, but increasingly unwilling to communicate with institutions. By this, I mean governmental institutions as well as trade unions. The crisis of the Cgil, the biggest trade union in Italy, is evident not only by the insignificant number of members it currently comprises, but especially by the increasing distance it has developed between itself and the people it supposedly represents. This rapid political and institutional segregation has left much destruction behind, especially in regards to citizens, who have not yet built alternative instruments for self-representation. On the other hand, this void can be seen as an opportunity, a chance for new forms of democratisation to fill it up.

Innovative instruments of participation that encourage involvement from the bottom-up still need to be tested and will require much time, work and effort to develop effectively. The famous transition from the First to the Second Republic never took place in Italy, but once it does, it will be very different from what most people expected.

What opportunities can La Sinistra – L’Arcobaleno look forward to in the immediate future? How will it reach out to the entire body of the electorate and could it possibly represent a new political subject?

La Sinistra – L’Arcobaleno is an undeniable political necessity. Unfortunately it has come too late and is marked with the stigma of undelivered promises. It is also badly predisposed to any real change. My prediction is that, if Berlusconi wins, La Sinistra – L’Arcobaleno may well resist the historic temptation, so common within the left, to wither away. However, if Veltroni’s Democratic Party succeeds (PD), so many exponents of the radical left will migrate to the PD that there might be no left to speak of anymore.

Anna Pizzo is an independent councillor for the Lazio region, a prominent activist and co-editor of Carta magazine.

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