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Italian elections: choosing our ground

As Italy prepares for elections, Elena Iannuzzi of the Leoncavallo social centre writes on how the movement has related to electoral politics

February 21, 2013
9 min read

The occupied social centres came from a drive to bring people together to achieve aims that are social as well as political. So you will always find a bar and a kitchen in which people can eat together, along with all kinds of cultural activities, including gyms, workshops, music studios, radio stations and performance spaces. The political aspect lies in participation in the assembly-based self-management of the occupied space.

In 1989, in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a right-wing offensive started in Italy both electorally and with fierce police repression. The fascists were reorganising on the streets and entering key positions in state institutions at the same time. That summer, Leoncavallo made the news with its resistance against an attempt to close it down. In 1991, Andrea Rossini, a comrade from Radio Onda D’Urto was stabbed by the fascists in front of the social centre and nearly died. In 1993, the candidate of the far-right Lega Nord became the mayor of Milan, and in 1994 Berlusconi became prime minister.

In this context, a significant part of the extra-parliamentary left chose to abandon the idea that the social movements should be entirely separate from political institutions. We could not allow the right to conquer the public institutions without any opposition. So we decided in 1998, with the ‘Milan Charter’, to launch a political offensive. The charter was a statement aimed at building a bridge between social movements and left parties, especially the Greens and Rifondazione Comunista (see guide), which had become increasingly oriented towards those movements. In that period there was also a recomposition of the relationship between social centres and a new militant grassroots trade unionism.

Our dialogue with Rifondazione became focused on making the political institutions responsive to social movement pressure. Rifondazione supported centre left candidates who did not represent the movements at all but this was compensated by the fact that we had our own direct representative inside the party, Daniele Farina. He had to relay back and forth between our assembly practices and the party organisation. The personal virtue of single comrades such as Daniele within the party compensated for the limited ability of the party to come to terms with participative democracy.

The shortcomings and advantages of the new strategy reached a peak with the great global justice movement that began in the late 1990s. The social forums that it stimulated drew energy from international connections, for instance with the Zapatista rebellion in Mexico. Mobilisations in the early 21st century united the best of the anti-mafia movement, the social centres, feminists, immigrants, environmentalists, the resistance from within the institutions, sections of unions and schools.

It was a great novelty; however, it came up against the contradictions of the institutional left. In Genoa at the 2001 G8 summit, the day after the police killing of a demonstrator and serious beatings of many more, a huge demonstration took place that was opposed by the Democratic Left (now the Democratic Party). The subaltern governmentalism of the centre left eventually subordinated the struggles, and after Genoa the different strands of the extra-parliamentary movements that had united there separated again.

Relationships that broke nationally, however, survived in many local contexts. In Milan, Leoncavallo continued its collaboration with Rifondazione and later with the Left Ecology Freedom Party, SEL (see guide), and this culminated with the radical left lawyer, Giuliano Pisapia, becoming mayor. Pisapia is close to SEL but has no membership card. SEL is a fragile and small party but it is also a movement, in the sense that it provides a platform for non-members and gives them access to state institutions. Leoncavallo is not affiliated to SEL or any other party. We will not fly party flags inside Leoncavallo.

In Milan we have managed to influence a part of the Democratic Party, which is in coalition with SEL, and to gain its support for the self-managed social spaces and the occupations to meet living needs; for the exclusion from the city administration of the fascists the former council leadership had put into position; and for some social and environmental measures, such as the reduction of council house rents and limiting the use of cars in the city. But many parts of the social movements did not support SEL in the council elections. This meant that SEL’s presence in the administration is not strong enough to allow for more radical changes that would otherwise have been possible.

Support from social movements is even more necessary in the coming political elections. Today the right is falling apart, and yet the situation is chaotic. Disaffection towards liberal democracy has given the upper hand to an anti-politics wave that was exploited by Beppe Grillo’s Movimento Cinque Stelle (see guide). This is dangerous because it appropriates some leftist themes, such as environmentalism and opposition to the power of finance, but hijacks them towards right wing positions. For example, it tends to be anti-immigrant and issues of class are totally forsaken.

I am also critical of the so-called ‘orange left’ that opposes all parties. In the absence of the great and powerful movements of the 1970s, what do they want to substitute the parties with? The only result might be to help the right by fragmenting the left.

For this reason, I believe that the only way to defeat the right and neoliberalism is to support the Democratic Party-SEL coalition led by Perluigi Bersani. By concentrating our support on SEL, we can reduce the influence of the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party. Our central programme includes: universal minimum income to compensate for the austerity measures; investment in public education; industrial policies to convert the country to sustainable development; legalisation of cannabis and consequent emptying of the prisons for related crimes; civil unions for all, including homosexuals. For us, choosing Bersani’s Democratic Party today means to choose the ground for tomorrow’s struggle.

Elena Iannuzzi was talking to Lorenzo Fe


Who’s who in Italy’s elections

Lorenzo Fe guides us through the maze of political parties competing and combining in the elections

The left wing coalition

Led by Perluigi Bersani

Expected total: 36-42 per cent

Democratic Party (Partito Democratico, PD)

Expected result: 31-34 per cent

The Democratic Party, led by Pier Luigi Bersani, was born in 2007 out of the fusion between two long-time rivals: Democratici di Sinistra – coming from the Italian Communist Party, the major left party in the ‘first republic’ (1948-1994) – and the Margherita, a formation originating from Democrazia Cristiana (Christian Democracy), the main ruling party during the whole of the first republic.

Left Ecology Freedom (Sinistra Ecologia Libertà, SEL)

Expected result: 4-6 per cent

SEL was founded in 2008 when Nichi Vendola and others left the Partito della Rifondazione Comunista. Vendola, currently president of the Puglia region, is building on the idea of innovation of the communist tradition. SEL refuses orthodoxy and works closely with social movements. Some activists from the Green Party, the Italian Socialist Party, and the Democratic Party joined too.

The centre coalition

Led by Mario Monti

Expected total: 10-16 per cent

Centre Union (Unione di Centro, UDC)

Expected result: 4-6 per cent

The UDC comes from the right wing of Christian Democracy, which refused to coalesce with its old-time communist opponents and preferred to ally with Berlusconi in the 1994 elections. Its constituency is mainly formed by conservative Catholics.

Future and Liberty for Italy (Futuro e Libertà per l’Italia, FLI)

Expected result: 0.5-1.5 per cent

FLI leader Gianfranco Fini’s journey started with the Movimento Sociale Italiano, formed in 1946 by the remnants of the Fascist Party. In 1995 the party changed its name to the Alleanza Nazionale and decided to embrace a liberal conservatism closer to other European right-wing parties. In 2009 the party dissolved in order to unite with Berlusconi’s Forza Italia in the PDL. In 2010 Fini left the PDL due to his disagreements with Berlusconi and founded the FLI, which claims to be more moderate than the populist right.

Civic choice for Italy (Scelta civic per l’Italia)

Expected result: 6-9 per cent

An electoral list formed by outgoing prime minister Mario Monti with contributions by Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, president of the Ferrari car manufacturing company. The list will collect dissidents from PD and PDL along with ‘civil society’ and business figures in order to support Monti’s neoliberal, technocratic agenda.

The right wing coalition

Led by Silvio Berlusconi

Expected total: 27-33 per cent

People of Freedom (Popolo Della Libertà, PDL)

Expected result: 18-20 per cent

PDL came into being after the fusion of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the post-fascist Alleanza Nazionale. Berlusconi founded Forza Italia in 1994 to stop the left from winning the elections after the old party system based on the alliance between Christian Democracy and the Italian Socialist Party had collapsed under the weight of major corruption scandals.

Northern League (Lega Nord)

Expected result: 4-7 per cent

The Northern League is a territorial party, the expression of a Euro-sceptic and anti-immigration right seeking greater autonomy (and at times independence) for the wealthier north. Apart from a break in 1996, it has been a faithful ally of Berlusconi under the leadership of Umberto Bossi. Last summer, a wave of corruption scandals hit the party and especially the Bossi family, leading to a reduction in the party’s influence and a new leader Roberto Maroni.

Others

Five Stars Movement (Movimento Cinque Stelle, M5S)

Expected result: 10-13 per cent

M5S builds on the frustration that most Italians feel towards the political class as a whole. The movement claims that left-right divisions are meaningless and has a mixed agenda comprising environmentalism, Euro-scepticism, anti-corruption, anti-finance, and some anti-immigration remarks. In many ways it has an innovative organisation using the internet, local ‘meet ups’ etc to spread the movement but the founder, comedian Beppe Grillo, exercises considerable power and the sense in which it is democratic is controversial.

Civil Revolution (Rivoluzione Civile)

Expected result: 2-4 per cent

Not a party but an electoral list put together by the anti-mafia judge Antonio Ingroia. It features candidates from the Partito della Rifondazione Comunista and the Partito dei Comunisti Italiani. It also has candidates from the Italia dei Valori, an anti‑corruption party that was quite influential but has lost much of its lustre, ironically, after a recent corruption scandal.

Some minor parties excluded, but included in coalition totals. Poll data comes from an average of the main surveys

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