Interview. ‘The 5 Star Movement is nothing at all. The Italians want this kind of formless, generic thing, and they like to be told stories. With the Lega, they are seeking an evil form of identity. That’s what Salvini is about. Di Maio doesn’t stand for anything bad, he just doesn’t stand for anything.’

Rossana Rossanda: ‘The left has lost its electorate’

On Friday, Oct. 26, 2018, on Propaganda Live, a program on the Italian network La7, Diego Bianchi broadcast his interview with Rossana Rossanda, a co-founder of il manifesto. The full-length show can be found here. Rossanda’s interview starts around the 1:55 mark. We publish the transcript below, with the generous permission of the author of the interview.

In the Sunday edition of il manifesto, we published a second article by Rossanda, after her piece on abortion of a few days earlier.

You’ve just returned from France, and you told me you didn’t think you’d find Italy in such a condition. What did you mean by that?

I have been away from Italy for 15 years, and I thought I’d find a country in economic trouble, at a political low point—but not a country that has slipped to the point where it is now, with this constant fighting. No one seems acutely aware of the problem of explaining just how we got to this point, how it’s possible that today we hear things being said out loud that seemed to be unthinkable after the Second World War. The left, which has lost millions of votes, doesn’t seem to be asking itself about this—or, if it is, it’s not telling us.

Before, it used to ponder such questions.

Of course. Nowadays, I don’t know if the Democratic Party, or whatever it’s called nowadays, would be able to organize a Congress.

Those beautiful Congresses we had once.

They weren’t “beautiful.” They were even a bit tedious. But they were addressing the problem of saying where we are, what is happening on a global scale and on the scale of Italy, and what we are proposing. These are basic things, because a political force has to ask itself about what kind of world it exists in, what kind of country it’s in, and what it would do if it were in government.

Let’s make a little Congress here, just by ourselves. Have you found an answer, a reason for what is happening? On an international scale, for example, the far right is winning in Brazil. [Jair Bolsonaro was elected president on Sunday.]

It’s happening everywhere. One hypothesis is that this is because of the disappointment that has come from the left, both in places where it got to govern and in places where it didn’t. There is disappointment now. The workers are no longer voting.

They aren’t voting left anymore?

They aren’t voting anymore. The left has lost its electorate.

Are you optimistic about anything in the short term?

No. The left of the Democratic Party has not actually proposed anything very different from what the right is doing, so why should it keep its electorate?

Are you referring to something in particular?

Immigration is a unique issue because it is a new phenomenon. Of course, it was unimaginable before that one could pass something like Salvini’s latest decree, and even have it signed by the President of the Republic. The same rights that we want for ourselves, we can’t grant them to migrants. It’s just unbearable, don’t you think?

This is one of the reasons why the Democratic Party has been criticized from the left.

But what left? The left is not being represented. Indeed, the largest party is the party of non-voters. Many on the left abstained from voting, as they didn’t find any political option that could persuade them. I think it’s a mistake to abstain. When you don’t have representation, you have to work to rebuild it.

And what do you think?

I am a leftist. I was expelled from the Communist Party because I was too far left. A mild-mannered person like me was considered an extremist. I think nowadays even Bergoglio would be less likely to excommunicate me.

It was just today that Bergoglio started pontificating about abortion.

It’s a delicate issue. Better him than the Verona cabal that voted against abortion. I’d like an Italian politician who said the same things as the Pope, for example on migrants. If Minniti were a bishop, Bergoglio would have had him caned.

There is much talk about this right-wing government, about the return of fascism, of racism. I’m asking you, as you lived through fascism.

I’m not going to say it’s like we’re back in the ‘30s. I’m worried, although I don’t think the country would accept an explicit return to fascism. There are the seeds planted by half a century of democracy. But Salvini’s ridiculous “Italians First” is something intolerable. Why “Italians first”? What have they really done better than others? What does that have to do with the ideas that have made Italy what it is? The fact that the Italian left didn’t have the courage to vote for the ius soli is really unbearable. It’s not enough to be born here to be Italian? What would be enough then? I don’t want to go looking, I’m sure I’d find someone talking about Aryan and non-Aryan faces. I smell something rotten here—something very old.

You were in charge of the Communist Party’s cultural politics. Who gave you this role?


And what do you think, is there any cultural politics nowadays?

I don’t think so. Culture means values, the things you fight for. Nowadays, the Democratic Party isn’t fighting anymore, not even for equality for migrants. I have not seen the PD in the lead, or even as an ally, on women’s issues. Law 194 was passed in the ‘70s. Today, maybe they wouldn’t even vote for it.

So, being a figure from the last century can become something of a boast?

Yes, absolutely. I am from the 20th century, and I’ll defend it. It was the first century in which the people spoke out everywhere. And where they managed to do this, they did so with the support of the left.

The question that many are asking themselves, including on the left, is how to communicate. Do you use social media?

No. Zero. I have always been poor, but I wouldn’t help Zuckerberg make even 50 cents more. It’s largely because of him that we are in the current situation.

But these communication tools exist now—even, and especially, in politics.

I don’t know if this is real communication. Communicating means talking to someone you consider to have the same intrinsic dignity as you.

How can one appeal to reason and not just to appetite? The left seems to be tone deaf when it comes to either. Is it not able to express itself, or does it not know what to say?

It’s because it no longer believes. It’s not able to. If the left speaks the language of the right—or what passes for the right nowadays—it can’t get the votes of the workers. The left has to speak to the weakest part of Italy, which has the least powerful voice. On the other hand, voting for something like the Jobs Act weakens the workers’ defenses even more. You can keep calling it a contract with increasing protections, but the truth is that it has hurt the working class.

What do you think about the 5 Star Movement?

The 5 Star Movement is nothing at all. The Italians want this kind of formless, generic thing, and they like to be told stories. With the Lega, they are seeking an evil form of identity. That’s what Salvini is about. Di Maio doesn’t stand for anything bad, he just doesn’t stand for anything.

Thank you, comrade Rossanda.

Dear comrade… of course, it’s difficult to use this word nowadays. They don’t understand the meaning we gave to it. It’s a beautiful word, and it describes a beautiful relationship between comrades. It’s something similar to being friends, but at the same time different. ‘Friends’ is something more intimate, while ‘comrades’ also includes the public and social projection of a relationship where you might not be friends, but you want to work together. And this is important, in my opinion.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!