Forwarded from Luciano Dondero

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Apr 17 11:07:52 MDT 2002


An attempt at an analysis and a balance-sheet

WHY DID THE LEFT-WING LOSE THE SAVONA FEDERATION?

2nd April 2002 - Luciano Dondero


A Premise

I would like to propose an attempt at an analysis and a first balance-sheet
of the situation in Savona, because I believe that without doing this, one
can end up with false explanations that are only useful in justifying
ourselves, and do not allow us to take a single step forward in the
understanding of the problems.

If to lead means before anything else to foresee, as Trotsky used to say,
to understand after the facts is crucial, at least in order to avoid
repeating the same mistakes.

A Crisis of leadership

Perhaps starting from first principles is not the worst way to initiate
this discussion. In this sense, let's start with the point that a crucial
element of the world political situation is the absence of a Marxist
political leadership of the working class, capable of bringing about a
revolutionary social change, and begin thus to build a new, just and
equitative [??] world. What is the profound meaning of this basic concept
of the Trotskyist analysis? Not simply the obvious point that the conscious
revolutionary forces are weak, and the equally obvious absence of mass
revolutionary parties. But it also means that we put an emphasis on certain
key elements of an overall political backwardness in the vanguard itself.
It has been in part corroded by decades of rampant Stalinism (in all of its
variants), and in part it has been conditioned by a piling up of defeats
that remained without an explanation.

Where is a clear and deep analysis of the crumbling of the Soviet Union and
of the dismantlement of the fabric of society throughout the whole of
Eastern Europe? Where is an analysis of today's China?

The revolutionary left does not have appropriate theoretical instruments.
(Of course the left that does not want to be revolutionary can't even
consider this issue - they have simply written off the word "Communist"
from their name, and they believe that everything is thus solved).
Sure, every specific organisation has written its own analysis and there
are wide disputes over this or that particular interpretation of facts. But
there are no notions which stand out clearly as a beacon from this debate,
around which we can reach a clear-cut political understanding which could
provide the instruments for further actions.

Rifondazione is only coasting

In its eleven years of existence, the PRC has obtained important results.
This is clear. In the first place it managed to survive and to assert its
own right to represent a chunk of the workers movement in Italy. Very
important. But in practical terms there isn't much more. If we regard
Rifondazione in connection with the task of "refounding Communism", we find
that there is a huge gap between intentions and concrete implementation.
The PRC was born in opposition to the majority of the PCI, which got rid of
every notion of "Communism", and therefore also with the entire experience
of the Russian revolution. The will of not accepting those liquidationist
positions has been very important. But there has not been any ability in
opening in our own organisation a serious debate on that experience and
especially on the cause of its miserable ending. From Congress to Congress
documents are put forward that express a specific evaluation of Stalinism,
but all this in the absence of a discussion that could be the outcome of a
study, and of a Marxist analysis and elaboration.

If we move from the world to the national plan, the situation is no better.

One can obviously point out, as the texts of the party's left-wing usually
do, that there was a set of basic positions that have characterised and
characterise the party orientation in its eleven years of existence - they
are not, however, the product of a clear and well-defined line. On the
contrary, the leading majority tries to avoid a serious balance-sheet of
the party, and therefore it does not help us in bringing about clarity.

Because, the truth wills out, Rifondazione is only coasting, it has not
traced a course of its own that could lead it in the high seas of a mid-
and long-term political struggle. We don't go beyond coasting, without ever
moving away from the shores represented by the positions of the centre-left
and of the parliamentarian political positions, and especially from an
endless search for electoral alliances. Even today emphasis on the
"movement of the movements" does not become the axis around which an
autonomous strategy is built; that would be in any case difficult given the
extreme heterogeneity of that movement.

The left-wing, too, is only coasting

Well, that's the trouble, exactly: even though the left-wing of the PRC has
kept on paper its own strategic orientation, which represents an
alternative to the party majority, in actual fact motion two has not been
able to do anything else but to run after the official positions of
Rifondazione. The left-wing adopts its positions on the basis of what the
secretary says - and then, it only has one position: it is against, always
and no matter what, regardless of content, form, timing and circumstances.

There is no ability to outline an autonomous orientation - which does not
mean something separated and away from the reality of the PRC as a whole -
but capable of moving out of the shallows of sterile repetitious debates
where "YES to an alliance with the centre-left!" is counterposed to "NO to
an alliance with the centre-left!"

This is a problem that we have faced in all its seriousness in Savona as well.

The victory of the left-wing in Savona in 1999 in the context of the
history of the PRC in Savona

We might be helped in understanding things if we go through a quick summary
of the history of Rifon-dazione in Savona.

Here, like in Genova, the comrades of the LCR organised around the comrades
Marco Ferrando, Franco Grisolia and Piero Acquilino, who were all members
of Democrazia Proletaria (and of the Fourth International Association [AQI]
within it), took the iniziative of helping build the PRC. As we know the
leaders of AQI, from Livio Maitan to Franco Turigliatto and others, were
rather sceptical about dissolving DP in the new political formation.
The results has been, and remains, that the group around the journal
Proposta has had and has more weight than the LCR-AQI.

In Savona, Ferrando found a small nucleus of comrades coming out of the PCI
that started working vig-orously and energetically. The key figure of that
group was Paola Vottero, one of those exceptional elements that have gone
over from the PCI to the revolutionary positions of Trotskyism. The
Ferrando-Vottero team set up the Savona federation and kept it going.
Vottero was the first local coordinator and Ferrando became the secretary
at the first PRC Congress. In 1993 in Savona the left-wing still had a
small majority of the delegates, and an agreement was established with the
national majority, thanks to which motion one got the secretary of the
federation and the delegate to the national Congress was from motion two.
That was very important in order to project on a national scale the
soon-to-be left-wing tendency, which precisely at the 1993 Congress won the
right to enter in the national leadership in Roma.

In 1996 in Savona motion one got a clear-cut majority (60 to 40 percent).
This situation was drastically modified by the 1998 split. The main leader
of motion one, a member of the local government in Savona and former party
secretary, Piero Casaccia, went over to the Pdci [the Cossutta splinter
party]. With him went other local councillors in Savona and elsewehere, a
number of active cadre, most of the youth group, and so on. In 1999 the
left-wing, which had substantially kept the 1996 votes, won a majority
against the Bertinotti supporters, severely weakened by Cossutta's split,
reversing the percentages.

The 1999 victory was a golden chance to show in practice that the left-wing
was capable of running a federation, and to carry forward the party work,
as well as and even better that the national majority. Savona had not been
the only federation won by the left-wing. There was Vibo Valentia, which
had already been won in 1996, and where in 1999 the motion two got almost
80 percent of the vote. But Vibo is in the far away South, little seen and
little thought about.

While Savona is in the North, has an impact on Genova, is a working-class
city with a formidable historical tradition, with an industrial belt which
remains, notwithstanding the closing of plants and factories; it also had
an expanding harbor. And above everything else this is the federation of
Marco Ferrando, and what the left-wing does or does not do in Savona  has a
huge impact on a national scale.

A political action plan or an electoralistic orientation?

In 1999 within the motion two victorious at the Congress, there was a clash
between two clearly coun-terposed orientations. Today, after a three-year
experience of this management, one can see more clearly what was then clear
only to a few comrades: the counterposition was 100 percent political,
be-tween a political leadership of the federation aiming to articulate the
political program of motion two as a set of exemplary actions - and
electoralist coasting. With a pejorative variant, that is an incredibly
repetitious emphasis in putting forward the party secretary as a candidate
in all the various electoral contexts. That is, we have have a personal
electoralistic management of the federation.
It is one of those things that turned Amadeo Bordiga, the secretary of the
Communist party of Italy at its foundation in 1921, into a convinced
supporter of electoral abstentionism.

Now, in a party that wants to be Communist, it's not acceptable that there
should be comrades who act with the aim of finding a place in any available
institution, running from one election to another for every available post.
And above anything else, it's unthinkable that this be the end of a party
tendency that wants to be revolutionary and an alternative to the PRC
majority.

Concentration of power and petty authoritarism

The party management in Savona has been characterised by centralising and
authoritarian methods. From this to use the category "Stalinism" to define
it, however, there is quite a gap. I believe we are faced with something
different: this is what happens when you promote a Sergeant to Coronel and
you charge him with decisive military operations. The lack of specific
skills and abilities is not a fault in and by itself -- but it becomes
damaging for oneself and for all when one does not recognise his/her own
limitations and does not work in order to overcome them.

In the end, at any rate, the problem is that every evalutation is based on
the results, and not on desires or pious intentions.

In the Savona area, in terms of the initiatives led by the federation,
Rifondazione has become a more marginal and less effective political force,
both in the political and trade union plans.

This is not to say that looking from the outside one has necessarily that
opinion about the PRC, as sev-eral party branches have been active and even
very active, and they have carried forward several effective and successful
initiatives.
In reality the problem in Savona has to do with the fact that several
different "parties" have been working using the same PRC label, and that in
itself is an indictment of the local party management.

Now, there are objective difficulties that nobody can escape from. However,
since 1999 the conditions under which we have been operating were not
exactly some of the worst ones. There have been two wars, Kossovo and
Afghanistan, in which Italy has been directly involved, and against which
the PRC has represented a beacon in the night of bi-partisan positions
which united in obscene fashion the centre-right and the centre-left, in
sending in the fighter-bombers over Beograd and the warships in the
Per-sian Gulf. And there has been a certain amount of popular oppositions
to these wars.
But the PRC in Savona has been unable to channel that.

And then there was the no-global movement, before and after Genoa, but even
there the axis of the federation's intervention in the Savona Social Forum
in the last few months has been the attempt to build support for the
mayoralty candidacy of Patrizia Turchi!

Overall the party functioning has been really lacking. The coming unstuck
of motion two in power and motion one more and more in opposition, has been
a disaster. In the end, one can't run a federation with 55-60 percent of
the votes without getting the other 35-40 percent involved. And what has
been done in that direction?

The example of the 2000 regional elections has been a clear expression of
political dimness, fed by an absurd electoralist frency.
In Savona the PRC had a Liguria regional councillor, Franco Zunino, who is
one of the main leaders of motion one. In the framework of the local
political situation, it should be said that motion two has attained a
significant result in winning over the whole party to the position of
walking out of the centre-left administration in Savona. At the time of the
2000 regional elections, while on a national and regional level it was
clear that the Bertinotti supporters wanted an alliance with the
centre-left, in Savona there was a great deal of resistance, expressed both
by Zunino and by Bruno Marengo, provincial councillor of the PRC, and a
former PCI mayor of Savona.

During a discussion in the leading bodies of the federation, there was a
proposal that Zunino be our leading candidate, supported jointly by the
entire party, provided he formulate a commitment not to support the
regional centre-left administration, in the event of a victory. If on the
one hand Zunino did not speak in favor of this proposal, neither this was
taken up by Ferrando and Turchi, because all their problem was to put
forward the secretary as a candidate.

Given the electoral mechanism of the regional elections, each candidate
brings to the slate some votes on the basis of his/her own
political-personal prestige, votes which are then summed up to favor the
best-placed candidate.

The Turchi campaign was undertaken with the totally illusory aim of
overtaking Zunino and get elected. To this aim some of the most
representative comrades of motion two were asked to NOT stand in the
election, in order to avoid taking some votes away from Turchi, and the
resulting slate was somewhat weak, except for the two slate heads. In the
course of the campaign party branches run by the left were asked to
sabotage the Zunino candidacy, to the point that in at least one case he
was phisically prevented from entering the premise of a local party branch (!)

End result: Zunino got 1500 votes and Turchi 300. Overall in Savona we did
not achieve the necessary percentage, and the PRC elected in the Liguria
region a candidate from La Spezia, one of the most backward representatives
of motion one.

If in the course of a so badly wanted electoral campaign, your
run-of-the-mill secretary makes such a poor showing with respect to the
leader of the opponent motion, usually one resignes. In Savona we run
things differently. We dig in around the secretary, and the representatives
of motion one leave the joint secretariat.

What does then the "left-wing" of the party do? Does it leave a few vacant
posts, in order to stimulate a change of mind of motion one? Or does it
adopt an alternative solution: ie. does it use the leading body of the
federation (the "Comitato direttivo") which is left as the only body with a
joint membership, as an effective tool of political debate, leaving up to
the secretariat purely administrative tasks?

Quite the contrary: the secretariat coopts people totally loyal to the
secretary (read: comrades who do not dare to voice any dissent with her)
and the role of that body is expanded, almost entirely liquidating the
"Comitato direttivo".

It's hard to understand such actions, except as a clear will to move ahead
like a bulldozer. But to play the role of a bulldozer it's not enough to
have the will and the ambition, one must also have the energy and the
power. And especially considering that we are talking about Rifondazione,
one also needs a some ability to undertake political initiatives. Insofar
as I am concerned the choice of a monolithic secretariat has been a
wathershed, and it has undoubtedly been one of the issues that have weighed
in producing today's Congress results.

What should have we done instead?

In the 1999 Congress a plan of action had been formulated which indicated a
different role for the Savona federation. On the basis of the experience of
some of the left-wing branches, first of all the Quiliano branch, a number
of comrades of which I was one, planned to turn Savona into a reference
point to make the left-wing more visible on the national level. The
critique of motion two to the Bertinotti majority deals also with the
issues of the party, its role and its functioning.

Here, then, we had a golden opportunity to show in concrete that we could
run the Savona federation better than the comrades of the national
majority. It meant a chance, first of all, to operate in a truly democratic
and open fashion, to say to the entire party that the differences that find
expression in Congress motions should not produce fear and disconcert in
the party, but on the contrary they should enrich the party life. That
obviously required a joint leadership, which would value the skills and
quali-ties of all the comrades, regardless of their congress positions.
And then the point was to build a collective leadership, in which mutual
respect does not prevent a political confrontation, even sharp at times.
But clearly the aim in discussing is to win the other comrades to our
positions, therefore working to achieve the broadest possible consensus.

At any rate a party leadership that would put in the centre of its
attention key political issues, on the one hand international issues, and
on the other issues affecting the working people. That is, those issues
which revolutionaries can use to put an emphasis on the most characteristic
elements of their political positions, and that can be a tool to pull the
party away from the quicksand of an endless search for electoral alliances.
One can give an impulse to the party initiative, encouraging and
stimulating the work of the branches. The federation becomes a lever for
the overall work, a venue of debates and ideas and a living centre that
values collective work. The branches where motion one has a majority are
supported even more than those where motion two does, in the carrying
forward of their work, discussing in concrete politically-disputed issues
and always paying attention to avoid any semblance of prevarication.

And also within the group of comrades who supported motion two the
political debate is facilitated and stimulated, encouraging all comrades to
express themselves freely, without any forcible attempt to get them to
adhere in acritical fashion to our views.

It was only a bad dream

Anybody who has eyes can verify that the exact opposite is what happened.
In this respect the motion two operation in Savona was a worsened version
of many of the defects that we criticize in the national party leadership,
beginning with driving away from the actual running of the federation (the
secretariat) the motion one comrades.

Non only that, but insisting in pursuing not-so political aims, in the way
they are understood in a Communist party, the result has been that many
comrades, most of them supporters of motion two, have been driven away from
the party. Together with that there was a not-so veiled effort to put to a
side and block the initiatives adopted by those comrades and those party
branches that were not prepared to implement the orders from on-high.
We have had a personalistic and centralistic party management; unprepared
to relate in a serious and frank manner with all the comrades; a leading
group unable to pay attention to the problems of the working people; a
federation which refused to work together with those branches that
expressed the capacity for an autonomous judgement and initiative. In the
end not a political leadership, but the embryo of a burocratic, opportunist
and electoralist apparatus. The exact opposite of the positions for which
the party left-wing fights.

If such a wrong methodology had been the tool for a very advanced political
program, our criticism should take this into account. But it was not so. In
relation to our activity toward the working class, starting with the
Workers Conference of the PRC in Treviso to the CGIL Congress, the
federation attitude has been a combination of lack of interest and/or open
boycott. And now there is a sneaking criticism of the comrades who are
working within the CGIL, perhaps guilty of fighting for communist positions
within the largest mass working-class organisation in this country, rather
than in some "rank-and-file trade union".

What is the aim of all this?

Who gained from all this? What were the advantages for the party as a
whole, and for motion two in particular? Even the attempt to
self-perpetuate one's position of "power", so to speak, has not been helped
by such a myopic, sterile and personalistic leadership approach. On a
political level one can echo detective Marlowe: "crime does not pay".
Leading is not an activity made up of issuing directives right and left,
and then blaming the more or less clumsy executors of one's scatterbrain
orders. At the highest level to lead means to foresee, and obviously this
is a rare ability. But at any level, in order to lead we must be first of
all prepared to listen to other people, to discuss about our difficulties,
and to look together for possible solutions. To lead is, in the end, a
collective endeavor, a division of labor between a wide number of comrades,
who always ready to take in new contributors and contributions. And not a
closed and tight group, made up of "chosen people" who lord it over a bunch
of pawns. All this would be serious enough if this kind of deviation had
been somehow inflicted upon the national leadership of motion two, and by
it tollerated. But that's not the way things stand. It was the national
leader himself of the motion, comrade Marco Ferrando, who ran, counselled
and aided the secretary in carrying forward this line. There have been
repeated attemps to convince him of the need to rectify such a line. In
personal discussions, in meetings of our group, putting forward concrete
political proposals. Each time, as we asked to undertake a balance-sheet of
our work, and take up seriously the problems of the party federation, we
banged against a rubber wall, filled with "yes, we could, but later", "now
is not the time", "if we discuss it now, we favor motion one", and so on
and so forth.

Basically, the political balance-sheet that comrade Ferrando demands
(rightly in my opinion) for the party as a whole, cannot be had precisely
in a federation run by motion two: a rather bizarre way of conceiving the
democratic life of the PRC!

And then we have to take up a fundamental issue. Is it perhaps possible
that precisely in Savona, in these last few years, the left-wing has lost
some key elements of its nature and of its main views?

In other words, could we raise an hypothesis: that in some way in Savona we
have elements of a process of degeneration of the party left-wing?
If it were so, this would be a dramatic phenomenon. Sure, for the time
being, this does not find expression in the official political positions of
the left-wing. The document put forward by motion two can be agreed upon in
the main - especially if one integrates it with the correctives contained
in the amendments put forward by the comrades of the journal Falcemartello
- but the problem is a different one.

There is a growing gap between what is written and what is done in
practice. In a general sense, it is well known that when a set of
theoretical and political formulations does not find a corresponding
practice, we are faced with a serious political problem, which will be
solved, either with a recovery in the concrete practice of the theoretical
positions, or in a repercussion in the theoretical field itself, of the
practical elements that are counterposed to it.

It would be desirable that bringing to the attention of the entire PRC
left-wing the Savona situation, with its unhappy results, could allow us to
find on a national plan the force to start a rectification and correction
process. And this is one of the main objectives of this document. However,
we are afraid that the second unfortunate possibility (that is, the
"repercussion in the theoretical field itself, of the practical elements")
is the most likely, given the weight and the role played by comrade
Ferrando in motion two.

What should be done in Savona?

The other element motivating this document is searching for a way out of
the political stalemate in Savona. A document adopted by some branches, and
which will be a factor in the discussion for the second session of the
local Congress, ends thus: "In conclusion, the branch Congress expresses
the need for a change-over in the leading group of the Federation, in order
to build a secretariat that would be really capable of unifying the efforts
of the entire party, in the clarity of the political positions of all the
comrades, no matter which congress motion they voted for."

Here is the task for the whole party, first of all in Savona. Working
patiently to re-establish a political relationship among all the comrades;
the practical implementation of a work method that would help us in finding
common ground for work, fully respecting each other's positions. This is
not a given. It can be only done if there is the will to understand and
also to learn from one another, and from the mistakes and the limitations
of everybody. To give a new impulse to a party that should be really
capable of facing the current level of social struggle.


Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org



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