Whilst the participation of Rifondazione Comunista and other parties of the “radical left” in the Prodi government of 2006-08 was clearly a serious mistake and has been belatedly acknowledged as such by Bertinotti himself (see il Manifesto, 6 April 2008), Hugh Edwards is wrong to concentrate his fire on Bertinotti and the PRC (Solidarity 3-130).
Whatever its many faults, the Rainbow Left is clearly part of the workers’ movement, standing on a platform that wants to get rid of all types of agency work, link wages and pensions to inflation, enhance employment protection in small enterprises, increase taxes on the rich and so on, in addition to defending secularism, women’s rights (including abortion) and gay rights (including civil partnerships) and making numerous environmental demands. Veltroni and the Democratic Party are a much greater danger as far as working class representation is concerned.
Veltroni’s choice of an American name for his party is no accident. This erstwhile Eurocommunist careerist bureaucrat, who became a leader of the PCI’s Youth Federation in his teens straight from school, without any experience of either university or manual work, who years ago wrote a crass hagiography of the egregious Robert Kennedy and has long been obsessed with Hollywood films, has now rejected even a nominal linkage with European social democracy — the new party’s name quite deliberately excludes the very words “socialist”, “social democratic”, “left”, “labour” or “workers”, which many objectively right-wing social democratic parties continue to employ (most notably the PSOE of Zapatero).
He has explicitly repudiated any notion of Italian society being divided into bosses and workers; keeps comparing himself (or even better has the actor George Clooney compare him) with Barack Obama; uses Obama’s vacuous “Yes, we can!” as his chief campaign slogan; has adopted the Village People’s YMCA as his campaign song (with a new chorus of “I am piddi” in English!) and gets his ex-Christian Democratic deputy leader to brand Bertinotti as the Italian Nader.
The Democratic Party’s repudiation of the working class is mirrored in the working class’s repudiation of the Democratic Party. Recent opinion polls show Veltroni’s coalition (Democrats plus Lista Di Pietro) has only 31.6% amongst manual workers as against 51.2% amongst white collar employees, 45.7% amongst pensioners and 43.7% amongst students. Contrary to opponents’ slurs branding it a party of nostalgic pensioners or utopian students, the Rainbow left has a higher score amongst manual workers than amongst any other group (11.9%)
Unfortunately the bulk of the widespread despair and alienation amongst manual workers facing rising food and utility prices and falling real wages has taken the form of support for Berlusconi’s coalition, which has the backing of 46.5% of manual workers.
Veltroni has quite deliberately refused to do any deal with the Rainbow Left along the lines of the broad centre left alliances of 1996 or 2006 — he aims to eliminate the Rainbow Left from parliament or at any rate the upper house, the Senate, where each region has an 8% threshold (the Rainbow Left’s nationwide opinion poll standing is about 5-6%).
For Veltroni in the event of a hung parliament a grand coalition (perhaps to change the electoral and constitutional arrangements in a more Anglo-American direction) is far more attractive than any deal with the Rainbow Left. Given the Democratic Party’s inclusion of various homophobic and misogynist clerical and military bigots in its lists, not only the defence of the working class but also the defence of secularism and abortion rights requires the continuing parliamentary presence of the Rainbow Left.
Whilst I have some affection for Sinistra Critica’s genuinely ecosocialist and feminist version of Trotskyism, neither they nor the more dogmatic sectarians of the Partito comunista dei lavoratori or the Partito d’Alternativa Comunista stood any chance of getting a single deputy. Workers should have voted for the Sinistra Arcobaleno as “Una scelta di parte” (a taking of sides), to use their election slogan, and as far as I can judge the best place to do political work is still inside, not outside the Sinistra Arcobaleno
(13 April 2008, the day of the election)