Italy: Conference of FalceMartello – on the verge of a new leap forward

Last week, (May 1-4) the Marxist Tendency in Italy, gathered around the journal FalceMartello, held its national conference. More than 175 comrades took part in the four-day event. One could feel that the comrades are on the verge of another leap forward in their development.

Last week, (May 1-4) the Marxist Tendency in Italy, gathered around the journal FalceMartello, held its national conference. More than 175 comrades took part in the four-day event. There were comrades present from every corner of Italy, from Turin to Trieste, from Milan to Sicily and Sardinia, from Rome, Naples, Florence, Bologna and many others.

Conference of FalceMartelloThere were many youth but also an important layer of older militants, some going back to the day of the old PCI (Italian Communist Party). Without doubt, this conference was a major turning point for the Marxists of FalceMartello. One could feel that the comrades are on the verge of another leap forward in their development.

FalceMartello has now built a base in most parts of Italy, in the Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna, Friuli, Tuscany, Lazio, Campania, Calabria, Molise, Sicily, Sardinia and it is a recognised tendency within the PRC (Partito della Rifondazione Comunista). In fact, it was holding its conference in the Federal headquarters of the Bologna PRC. An important item on the agenda was the forthcoming national congress of the PRC, where the Marxists are planning to present their own document.

After the recent electoral debacle of the PRC there has been a veritable revolt of the rank and file, with a collapse in the authority of the party leadership. The Bertinotti leadership had imposed on the ranks of the party an alliance of four parties, known as the Sinistra Arcobaleno [Rainbow Left], made up of the PRC, the PDCI, the Greens and the Sinistra Democratica [Democratic Left, a breakaway group from the DS, the Left Democrats, after they decided to dissolve into the new Democratic Party].

They went ahead with this proposal while postponing the party's national congress. Thus they denied the rank and file any possibility of expressing their views on this question, even when it was clear that the overwhelming majority of party members were against diluting the party's identity.

The idea of the Bertinotti was that this alliance would be more attractive to the electorate. It is clear that they believe that Communism, the Red Flag, the Hammer and Sickle are all vote-losers. The opposite turned out to be true. Whereas the PRC had won about 7% in the previous general elections in 2006, when it had stood alone under its own name and banner, this time the joint forces of the four parties mustered a miserable 3.5% and lost all their MPs and Senators.

What the leaders of the PRC failed to understand was that the two years they had spent collaborating in the Prodi government, voting for a series of anti-working class policies, is what led to this disaster. They are looking for all kinds of excuses to hide this fact, but the rank and file has had enough.

Conference of FalceMartelloThe PRC's leadership had led the party into supporting Prodi [without actually entering the government] after Berlusconi was brought down by a mass movement in 1993. At that time the Marxists warned the party that such a policy would be disastrous. The leadership refused to listen. However, under growing pressure they were eventually forced to withdraw their support, but in the process the party suffered a split to its right with the formation of the Partito dei Comunisti Italiani [PDCI, Party of Italian Communist] which went on to support Prodi.

The first Prodi government prepared the ground for the return of Berlusconi in 2001, who proceeded to carry out further attacks on the working class and was eventually defeated in the 2006 elections by a slim majority around Prodi. Not having learnt any lessons from the past, this time the PRC leadership entered the new Prodi government, accepting ministerial posts.

Throughout all these years the main excuse for such class-collaborationist policies on the part of the PRC leadership was that unless they supported Prodi, Berlusconi would make a comeback. Well now they have had their comeuppance. Not only is he back, but the left have been trounced.

This whole process had had the effect of producing a major shock to the ranks of the party. History teaches! Sometimes it can take a while for the lesson to sink in, but now the ranks of the party are looking for a serious alternative. That explains why the FalceMartello tendency is attracting such a lot of interest from party members who in the past would have been loyal Bertinotti supporters. A radical change is taking place, and big opportunities are opening up for the Marxists now. This was quite evident throughout the four days of the FalceMartello conference.

The main political discussions were on Italian Perspectives, Perspectives for the PRC and a special session on the Trade Union question. There was also a report on the work of the International Marxist Tendency around the world.

Italian Perspectives

Claudio Bellotti of the Editorial Board of FalceMartello, but also a member of the National Executive [Direzione] and Central Committee [CPN] of the PRC, gave the introductory speech on Italian Perspectives. He emphasised the fact that what had happened in the recent elections was a "political earthquake", but that this was only the beginning of a process. This sharp turn unfolded in the space of 48 hours, but it was the result of years of collaboration with the Centre-Left and Prodi.

Claudio explained how the Italian working class is facing a major onslaught on the part of the bosses. The Italian capitalist class is moving towards the abolition of "national collective bargaining agreements" and the removal of all those rights won over decades of struggle. He said, "There is an ideological offensive of an unprecedented level."

Conference of FalceMartelloHe went on to highlight the dire state of Italian capitalism, with its low level of investments, sluggish growth in productivity and low competitiveness in the face of aggressive competition from the other capitalist powers just as we head towards recession. In this context the Italian capitalists have no other choice but to take on the working class.

Some of the more serious and farsighted bourgeois analysts are, however, concerned at the fact that the left has been removed from parliament. They are worried that the PRC outside parliament could be pushed radically to the left. As more than one comrades stated, "let us make sure their concerns become reality".

Alan Woods intervened in the debate, highlighting the world situation and how this impacts on Italy. He explained what was happening in the US economy, with the housing bubble having been burst and how this was pushing the whole economy into recession. He put emphasis on the growing levels of class struggle everywhere and put the situation in Italy in this international context. He stated that Italy was "the sick man of Europe" and the Italian capitalist class had no other option but to attack the working class. This opens up a new situation for the Marxists, who will find an echo in the ranks of the Italian labour movement.

Comrade Alessandro Giardiello, of the FalceMartello editorial board, and also a member of the PRC Central Committee intervened, explaining that the present crisis of the left in Italy has its roots in "Togliattism", i.e. to the Stalinist traditions of Togliatti, and yet there are some even in the PRC who pose the need to "return to Togliatti"! He highlighted the plight of many militant workers in Italy during the Prodi government. A common saying would be, "When I mobilise, I not only have to do so against the bosses, but also against ‘my government', my own party leaders and the trade union officials."

Another comrade who intervened in the debate was Paolo Brini from Modena, and a member of the Central Committee of the FIOM [metalworkers' union]. He highlighted the contradictory process taking place, with a shift to the right on the electoral plane but with an explosive social situation in society in general. The bosses are on the offensive, while the CGIL [main trade union federation, traditionally linked to the Communist and Socialist parties in the past] has no real answer. He explained that a section of the working class abstained in protest, but now a crisis inside the mass organisations is opening up.

Comrades from Florence, Genoa, Milan, Pavia, Trieste, Turin, Parma, Bologna, Naples, Modena, Rome also intervened in the debate, explaining the situation as it had evolved in their areas, and all of them referring to the effects of the April 14 electoral debacle. All the comrades reported local strikes, such as the dockworkers in Trieste who blocked the port for four days, or breakthroughs in several factories where workers comrades, supporters of FalceMartello have been winning some important shop-steward elections, such as at the CESAB in Bologna.

Fred Weston also intervened in the debate, pointing the finger at the leaders of the PRC who are completely out of touch with ordinary workers. He explained that in a situation like this Marxists must look deep down into the working class and read the real mood that exists there. He explained that the workers who voted for Berlusconi or for the Northern League, "did not vote for cuts in public spending or cuts in wages; they voted against the anti-working class policies of Prodi." Those same workers will fight back in the future and "will be with us in the future."

The stress the working class is being put under was highlighted by a comrade from Naples, who explained that at the FIAT plant in Pomigliano (near Naples) the bosses want to raise production from 660 cars a day to 1000 with no investment in new machinery. Many of the comrades highlighted this point: the workers are reaching the limit of what they can take.

Antonio Santorelli
Antonio Santorelli

One very significant intervention was by comrade Antonio Santorelli. This is a longstanding trade union militant that works in one of the factories of the FIAT group, the Avio in Pomigliano. He was sacked and fought back, putting up a tent and picketing the factory day and night for weeks. He eventually won and got his job back, although the bosses prefer to pay him and keep him at home. Antonio is the coordinator of the factory branches of the PRC in Pomigliano, one of the industrial heartlands around Naples. Antonio recently decided to join the Marxist Tendency and in his speech he said, "I am with you. After the elections the leadership abandoned the working class, but we must put the working class at the centre of our focus."

In summing up the discussion, Claudio Bellotti explained how, "We must listen to our worker comrades. We must be able to explain to the advanced layers how to intervene in this situation, in this contradictory process." While there is an ideological offensive that bombards the workers from every angle, there is an advanced layer that is looking for answers. That is why the Marxist tendency is making headway and digging roots among the workers. In fact, as Claudio, pointed out, "No other tendency does the amount of political work in the factories, and workplaces, as we do."

He reminded the comrades of what the situation was like prior to 1968, and how that prepared the social explosion that shook Italy throughout the 1970s. In this context, "we have big possibilities, well beyond anything we have seen in the past."

Perspectives for the PRC

Alessandro Giardiello introduced the discussion on Rifondazione Comunista. He reminded the comrades of the document FalceMartello presented to the Sixth Congress of the PRC. Then "they used to accuse us of risking dragging the party into an extra-parliamentary position" by which they meant that if the party had adopted the ideas of the Marxists the party would be reduced to being an extra-parliamentary force. Now we can turn that accusation round: the reformist ideas and class collaborationist stance of the PRC leadership have transformed the party into an extra-parliamentary force!

Conference of FalceMartelloAlessandro explained that the loss of all its parliamentary seats is the worst nightmare for the reformists. They are in a state of panic and shock. They do not know how to act. Now we are looking at the possibility of the right wing of the party, the old leadership around Bertinotti and Giordano (the outgoing general secretary), being removed from its positions of control.

The comrade explained how a whole layer of longstanding party activists is now moving towards us. What we predicted has come true. The collapse in authority of the party leadership is opening up big possibilities. Comrades like Antonio Santorelli are joining the Tendency, and many more will come. Another example is a worker like Franco Ferrara from Genoa, in his sixties and with a political record that goes back to the old Communist Party in the 1970s. He stressed the fact that he joined the Tendency because its aim is to transform Rifondazione. He also explained that until last year he would have quite sharp discussions with the comrades of FalceMartello in Genoa but considering recent events, he had been won over.

Whole branches are coming out in support of the Marxists. The factory branches in and around Naples are an important example of this. There are also significant longstanding local leaders who go back to the founding days of the party, who are now expressing support.

Alessandro turned his attention to the tasks in the coming period. The party is now in a pre-congress period and the branch congresses will shortly be starting. The aim of the comrades is to cover most of the 2000 branch congresses that will soon be held throughout Italy. All the comrades will be stretched to the utmost as they spread across the country to present the document in each branch. The comrades will get equal time with the other three national documents that are being presented.

As Alessandro explained, "We are the only tendency in the party that has consistently refused collaboration with the bourgeois." He added that, "Our firmness and consistent positions will pay off."

Conference of FalceMartelloHe explained that, "We are also against the dissolution of the PRC. We are for a genuinely communist PRC. We should demand that all those who are responsible for this mess must go."

In the debate comrades from around the country added detail to the general picture. Everywhere there were reports of a massive collapse of the PRC vote. Comrade Livio from Naples explained how in the Campania region the party had lost 250,000 of its previous 300,000 votes.

Comrades from every area highlighted one point: there is a return of activists to the party taking place. Many who had left in the past are flocking back, and they are doing so from a left-wing stance. They are coming back to fight the old leadership, and many of these are open to the Marxist tendency.

Comrade Antonio Santorelli in his intervention referred to FalceMartello as "our tendency" and he stated that he was "prepared to travel throughout the south of Italy to present the tendency's congress document".

Such was the degree of enthusiasm and confidence of all the comrades who took part in the debate that in his summing up Alessandro Giardiello said, "This debate shows we are ready for the work we have to do in the coming period, in the intervention in the party congress."

The Trade Union Question

Paolo Grassi introduced the discussion on the trade union question. With the creation of the Democratic Party, the old bureaucracy of the DS [Left Democrats] is putting huge pressure on the CGIL bureaucracy to moderate its stance. As a result there is a witch-hunting atmosphere in the CGIL. The bureaucracy comes down very heavily on any dissenting voice. The bureaucracy is using the tactic of trying to wear down the best militants. This is particularly felt inside the FIOM, the metalworkers' section of the CGIL.

A left wing has emerged called the "April 28 Network" [Rete 28 aprile] which gathers some of the best militants inside the FIOM and this has become a point of reference for those who want to fight the right wing in the union. In some areas, the worker comrades of FalceMartello are the promoters of this left wing. There is, however, a contradiction in that the recognised national public leader of the April 28 Network, Cremaschi, has on many occasions vacillated and not taken advantage of the possibilities to build a strong left wing in the union.

There is big potential for a strong, militant left wing inside the CGIL if only the left leaders took the initiative. In spite of this, the Network is an important development and the FalceMartello worker comrades are fully active in promoting it.

Conference of FalceMartelloThe conditions of the Italian workers are among the worst in Europe. Wages are the lowest, together with the Portuguese and Greek workers. One comrade gave one little detail which speaks volumes. According to one trade union study there are six times the number of fatal accidents at work in Italy than in Britain. This gives an idea of the enormous stress Italian workers have been placed in. It also adds to the argument that the Italian working class is a powder keg about to explode.

As was stated in the previous discussion, no other tendency does the amount of work in the workplaces that FalceMartello does. Last year in the ballot on "pension reform" the comrades intervened in 114 different workplaces, including some of the most important factories in Italy. In some factories the comrades were the determining factor in winning a majority for the NO vote!

What was striking about the debate on the trade unions was the number of young shop stewards the Tendency has gathered around itself. Although many of these work in the North, they come from the South. As Antonio Santorelli put it, "so many shop stewards from my lands who have been forced to emigrate to the North to work." He added that this "pained" him. In fact in the recent period there has been a return to that phenomenon that we saw in the 1950s and 1960s: 270,000 workers emigrate from the south to the north every year, and 120,000 of these become permanent.

In a very moving speech, expressing the real voice of the Italian working class, Antonio Santorelli said, "if you are a slave inside the factory, you are a slave also outside the factory gates. We must make the workers the main protagonists. We must talk to head and to the stomach of the workers, but above all we must talk to heart of the working class."

The work in the trade unions ties in well with the work in Rifondazione Comunista, as very often the best and most militant workers in the unions are also the most militant members of the PRC. There is a natural link between the two.

To give our readers an idea of the trade union base the comrades of FalceMartello have built up, it is worth giving some examples. In Milan they have ten shop stewards in eight workplaces, in the local municipal transport company, at the UPS, among the railways workers, the shop workers, the bank workers, the metalworkers and also in the unemployed workers section of the CGIL. In Modena there is Paolo Brini, a shop steward at Smalti-Modena, and also a member of the Central Committee of the FIOM, the metalworkers' union, but also shop stewards at Terim, at the Ferrari plant, as well as workers at the Maserati plant. There is also a shop steward at Inalca, a meat processing plant and another among the shopworkers. In Bologna the tendency has shop stewards among the metalworkers at the CESAB, Bonfiglioli, Minarelli and Ima and also among the government workers. They also have shop stewards in Reggio Emilia, Pavia, Rome, Udine and Naples and Caserta. The tendency is truly on the map, both in the party and in the trade unions.

Following on from the discussion on the trade unions there was a session on the work of the International Marxist Tendency. Fred Weston gave the report, highlighting the very successful work in Latin America, but also dealing with the pioneering work we have started in the Arab world, and of course the very successful work in Pakistan. This is not the place to reproduce that report. Suffice it to say that the comrades listened attentively, many expressing how that part of the conference had really enthused them and given them even more determination to build the Marxist Tendency when they went back home to their areas.

Enormous enthusiasm

The enthusiasm of all those present was further confirmed by the very good collection. A total of near to €11,000 was collected and more will be raised when reports are given to those comrades who were unable to attend.

Conference of FalceMartelloAlan Woods made the closing remarks to the conference. He explained how far we have come from those early days when the young founders of FalceMartello had been expelled from the Young Communists and the Communist Party. Then they accused us of wanting to destroy the Communist Party. Well, now it is they who have destroyed it. Those Stalinists of the past have now formed a bourgeois party. This is the vengeance of history. He said, "We do not renounce Italy's Communist tradition. We base ourselves on  those generations of communist fighters, on the anti-fascist resistance." Outside the PRC headquarters in Bologna there is a plaque in honour of a 17-year old partisan shot by the Nazis in 1944. Alan said, "It is on that tradition that we base ourselves." At which he received a rapturous applause.

At the end of his speech he led the whole conference in a rendition of the Internationale, followed by Bandiera Rossa. All the comrades left the conference enthused and determined to intervene with all their forces in the forthcoming PRC congress and build the genuine forces of Marxism in Italy.

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