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We must avoid being absorbed by the State

Paolo Cacciari, a former Rifondazione MP, argues that the left should avoid being 'absorbed' by state institutions, and explains how citizens' associations can work to bring about a new left culture

April 13, 2008
5 min read

How is La Sinistra – L’Arcobaleno organised in the Veneto region and how does its decision-making process work?

On 24 and 25 February, 250 stalls were set up throughout the region to collect support for the Veneto Association of La Sinistra – L’Arcobaleno. Anyone could adhere by donating two Euros or by reading the programme and participating in any party-led initiatives.

The Association has very little electoral backing in Veneto, where the majority of people support Berlusconi and the Lega parties, so we have had to promote a plural and socially engaged political structure from the bottom up. Although we receive support from the four main parties that make up the Arcobaleno coalition (Rifondazione, Verdi, Comunisti Italiani and the Sinistra Democratica), our Association aims to develop itself independently and autonomously from them. For instance, while the parties of La Sinistra – L’Arcobaleno have created a single, unified group within the Regional Council, support for our Association is on an individual basis and it is up to members themselves to organise meetings and decide if and how they will establish themselves at the local level. To some degree, this initiative aims to resolve the organisational problems facing the left in light of the imminent elections. However, it also wishes to address the long-term problems that our recent government crisis has revealed, such as how the left intends to represent society and take actions to improve it.

Unfortunately, the present electoral system is such that, at the national level the eligible candidates for the next general election will be chosen by the parties’ secretaries, involving very low levels of participation. This is due to what are known as ‘blocked electoral lists,’, which have greatly hampered the public’s ability to participate in the selection process of those who are standing for election.

How do you think the left’s election campaign should be presented? What lessons can be learnt from other campaigns, such as Nicky Vendola’s in Bari?

Ideally, the Veneto Association would like to take advantage of the electoral campaign by welcoming a wide range of social movements, groups and association that are already operating within civil society. This would serve to overcome the traditional barriers that exist between small parties and the society they aim to represent.

Regrettably, in the Veneto region, we lack the right conditions to breed a successful and charismatic leader similar to Nicky Vendola. On the contrary, we must rely on balanced common interests and grass roots politics. In this sense, the council elections for the city of Vicenza could prove to be an important experience. For instance, it appears that even within the Democratic Party, Achille Variati, a politician who openly supports the No-Dal Molin campaign, will run for the mayoral elections (1). Therefore, the council elections can effectively be seen as a referendum against the new American military base.

What are the prospects for La Sinistra – L’Arcobaleno? How would you like to see this coalition develop and do you think it can potentially lead a new political era for the Italian left?

One hundred pages would not suffice to answer these questions! My opinion is that La Sinistra – L’Arcobaleno is the only left wing project worth believing in. I am aware that it would entail a clear break from the past and that we would have to move away from a logic of division to one of cooperation between many different groups (i.e. between communists, socialists, environmentalists, feminists, anarchists, liberals etc.). This would finally signal the end of an approach influenced by the Third International and encourage us to take new, if not unexplored paths instead. For this reason, social forums could be of extraordinary help and guidance. The modalities are decisive. To paraphrase Ghandi: ‘The means are to the ends as the seeds are to their fruit.’ We must experiment with new models of representation that aim to diffuse power away from the top by decentralising it and avoiding the creation of hierarchies.

The lessons we learnt from participating within Prodi’s government are catastrophic because we were deprived of our autonomy. Above all, we were implicated in a crisis of reliability, representation and of politics in general. For this reason, we must consider a truthful assessment of the Prodi government’s failed experiences.

Will you be a candidate? If not what would be your advice to any candidate who might win?

No, surely not. My personal experience has been utterly negative. I have matured the belief that it is impossible to bring about any real change from within Parliament. It is a colossal waste of time, if not worse. I believe that representatives and those who are elected should function as watchdogs for the people with very clear mandates from the electorate. We must enter institutions, but we must enter them with the intention of destroying them. The State is not a neutral instrument. Its logic is to preserve power indeterminately and to absorb anyone who becomes a part of it. This is the government culture that has gone missing in the left.

Paolo Cacciari is a professor of architecture and a longstanding member of the Partito della Rifondazione Comunista (PRC). From 1995 to 2000 and from 2001 to 2005 he held the position of Regional Counsellor for Venice and, more recently, was a PRC delegate in Italy’s parliament.(1)Dal Molin is a military airport in the province of Vicenza that has been chosen as the location for a new American military base. No-Dal Molin is a local campaigning group that aims to stop these plans from materialising.

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