Interview. The former minister: ‘The conditions for a synthesis are there, as the criticisms of the current model of development are coming from different cultures: socialist, Catholic and environmentalist.’

Andrea Orlando: If the Democratic Party swerves to the center, it’s dead

Andrea Orlando, as outgoing minister of labor, is among the Democratic politicians searching for a viable path forward for the party after successive election failures. In an interview, he said this must start with a true critique of capital.

Mr. Andrea Orlando, the question of the PD’s support for Letizia Moratti seemed settled. On Wednesday, however, an authoritative leader, Luigi Zanda, said he was in favor of her after all. What does this division say about the health of the PD? 

I respect Zanda’s opinion, but there are no conditions in place for an instrumental operation that would backfire against the PD. The origin of Moratti’s shift from the right to the center is so obviously a ploy that it makes even a bold tactical operation impracticable. But I want to distinguish between those who, like Zanda, would like to do this kind of operation – whom I don’t agree with – and those who are downright scandalized because the PD is saying no to Moratti. It is clear that the latter envision the transformation of the PD into a centrist force, significantly different even from its original project from 2007. Such a drift would be fatal for the survival of the party.

Letta has envisioned a constituent congress in which a new common ground of values shared by all is found before electing the leader. Will you manage to find it? 

The conditions for a synthesis are there. However, I am concerned that for some people this process is seen as just a waste of time, a bureaucratic nuisance. If we want to involve external parties, we cannot be complacent. I don’t think that nowadays we can be enough on our own. But if the constituent congress is just something to be endured with great annoyance, then it’s better to leave it alone.

Meanwhile, you are under attack from both Calenda and Conte. 

These are two hostile operations which I think are short-sighted, because by attacking us they are weakening the prospect of an alternative to the right-wingers. And as they’re ganging up, there are obvious skirmishes back and forth between them. At this stage, we need a common front within the PD to respond to the attack that is proving the most effective: that of Conte. And a possible response is to focus on the position on the war and clarify our recipe for responding to the social crisis. Only a PD with clear positioning on social issues can face the competition of the M5S and bust open their contradictions.

Conte remains one step ahead on the war, despite your participation in the demonstration in Rome. 

Our presence in Piazza San Giovanni is only a first step in the direction of a further development of our policy line. We must dialogue with the pacifist tradition, with which a large part of our people identify, with great clarity, something that has not always happened in recent months. It is not enough to take an assertive stand on Ukraine; we also need a proposal on the political and diplomatic front.

Some Dems took part in the demonstrations in Milan with Calenda and Renzi. 

That was a mistake: that demonstration had been called only to put the PD in a tough spot. I repeat: the participation in Rome is only the beginning, now we must move forward. But the crucial point is our position on social issues, on which we need more clarity.

Goffredo Bettini said that two cultures coexist in the PD: one that espouses the current model of development, another that proposes a critique of capitalism. Is that just a utopia in 2022? 

Only in Italy is this debate on the development model considered taboo. This is the main tangle that the PD has not managed to resolve. And it is not only a strategic problem, but an extremely relevant one: it is from these principles that one derives the policy proposals on issues such as the taxation of extra profits, the minimum wage, industrial policies and poor and precarious labor. On issues such as Europe and civil rights, the PD has found a true synthesis, but on the social agenda we often limit ourselves to mixing up different recipes in our daily actions and we get confused: this leads to incoherent nonsense about today and silence about the future. Unraveling this tangle is vital for the survival of the party.

Do you really believe that such different prescriptions can still live together in the same party? 

There are great difficulties, and the outcome of the constituent phase is not a foregone conclusion. The conditions for a synthesis are there, as the criticisms of the current model of development are coming from different cultures: socialist, Catholic and environmentalist.

Who could be the candidate of the PD’s internal left? 

There must be a candidacy in the field that explicitly stands for this perspective, it is in the interest of the whole PD. We will evaluate the best proposal together. The fundamental point is that the candidates should try their hand at these issues and say what they think. There’s a strategic vacuum that can’t be filled with a beauty pageant for aspiring leaders. As the left, our first task is to bring a contribution of ideas to the constituent congress.

Stefano Bonaccini, the leading candidate, says one should not get too philosophical and focuses instead on the new regasifier in Ravenna. 

The regasifier came in response to an emergency, but it does not define a political identity. I do not believe that kind of decision says anything to those in difficulty, to the working poor. Pragmatism is a necessary condition, but it is no longer sufficient to guarantee social grassroots support.

Tomorrow [Nov. 11] you will attend the launch of Bettini’s new book with Conte. There is already talk of the birth of a left-wing force allied with M5S. 

Those who think that will happen are displaying a certain intellectual laziness. The real allies of Conte are those who want to move the PD to the center in the name of the war on M5S. If a centrist PD emerges from the congress, this would hand Conte a huge and undeserved win.

What alliances will be pursued for the regional elections in Lombardy and Lazio?

We shouldn’t be chasing after anyone. The PD has taken the necessary steps towards an alliance, and Conte’s response is troubling. When Draghi fell, it was possible to confuse genuine reasons and pretexts between us, but in Lazio there was a coalition united behind Zingaretti, and the M5S did not incur any disadvantage. This is why Conte has to explain why he is breaking up an alliance that survived even the Rome incinerator affair: if he thinks he can do an encore and capitalize once again on a break with the Democratic Party, I think he’s wrong on that.

What about Calenda?

As a matter of dignity, before sitting down again at the negotiating table with him, we need a real explanation for the unilateral break-up in August. We can’t act like nothing happened, otherwise we won’t have any credibility.

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