Interview. We talked to the il manifesto pioneer Rossana Rossanda about the way forward for Italian leftists. “Where there are exploitation and suffering, there should be “revolt” or at least an attempt to build an alternative.”

Rossana Rossanda: We must not simplify the Italian political problem

Rossana Rossanda is a co-founder of il manifesto. A veteran of politics and the press, we interviewed her about the current turmoil in Italian politics.

“To tell the truth, the questions you are asking deserve a whole book. After all, in the 1980s I already thought il manifesto should be a workshop to get people involved around some main themes.”

The election was a win for two “anti-system” political forces, the “populist justicialist” 5 Star Movement (M5S) in the South and, among the right-wing coalition, the populist-racist Lega in the North. What dangers do you see?

I don’t believe the separation between the North and the South of Italy is the biggest disaster — it’s not even new. Italy has never been so far right-leaning as it is after this election. That’s the major problem.

In particular, one of the most important European Lefts has been annihilated.

In 1989, Achille Ochetto [the former Italian Communist Party (PCI) secretary general between 1988 and 1991], basically accepted Craxi’s proposal to scapegoat the Italian Communist Party even though its identity could still have been defended because it never denied its identity — even when it caused friction with other communist parties, like the French one.

It does not help to insist on the “pile of rubble that is left” as a theme, in which il manifesto too has indulged.

Maybe not enough attention was paid to the “resentful society,” as the last Censis [Italian Center for Studies on Social Investments] report said? Is it the consequence of a view of Europe as subordinate to monetary logic and the financial obligation, which Italy added to its Constitution [in 2012]?

I keep supporting the thesis that the very same officials of the Communist Party threw away the theoretic and politic base, on which it would have been possible — and it still is — to effectively analyze the processes that Italy has been experiencing for almost a century.

The resentment expressed in the vote, as Censis has already observed, is also partially based on this inability to examine those processes.

How do you think we could put the fight for work and at work back at the center of politics, considering the widespread fragmentation of work itself (different professional profiles, geographically scattered but also culturally and productively isolated), with the expansion of precarious work to every sector? The working class as we knew it doesn’t exist anymore, yet its diffusion around the globe has never been so vast. How shall we read this discrepancy between numerical expansion and the destruction of political consciousness?

I don’t think the fight to defend work is in trouble because of a particular fragmentation. Fragmentation does exist, but it’s merely physiologic: we could start again, if we really wanted to, from the crisis of Fordism and with Gramsci’s analysis of its nature and end.

There are also more recent analyses, such as Luciano Gallino’s, which would be very useful (and they would also explain some of the electoral flows).

In short, the old Brecht exclamation “Comrades, we shall all bear in mind the relations of production” should be and must be kept even today. But we should deal with the liquidation of marxism that has been done in the second half of the 20th century, which not even il manifesto really opposed.

At the beginning of 2003, Luigi Pintor wrote that “the Left we used to know does not exist anymore.” What remains of that thing that we keep calling “Left”? Are Renzi’s anti-worker reforms (such as the Jobs Act) really over, after the Democratic Party’s defeat? Or does neo-liberalism still live in other dimensions? How much does that “pile of rubble” hinder reconstruction?

Pintor’s words are still relevant today. And by the way I don’t think we can define Matteo Renzi’s reforms as “anti-worker,” even if we agreed that that definition itself had a meaning.

Renzi simply obeyed the neo-liberal majority that took over Europe and encountered only agreement from the Italian ruling class: think about Marchionne’s decisions on Fiat.

Why is there no left-wing force in Italy with ties to the new anti-capitalist movements around Europe — with similar size and persuasion power — such as (being aware of the many differences among these groups) Podemos, Linke, Syriza?

I don’t think our situation can be compared to that which gave life to Podemos, the now old Linke and Syriza. An interesting route might be an update of the Italian economic situation on the themes proposed by the European Union.

European Union obligations have eroded democratic powers and processes, in fact destroying democracy’s founding spaces and social transformation goals. Is the European Union, merely reduced to a single currency, still on the same side of advanced and progressive democracy?

I believe we should think about the fact that more than attacking a so-called communism that never really existed in Western Europe, what has really been under attack after the fall of the Berlin Wall is the keynesian interpretation that characterized post-war European constitutions.

I wrote something about it the year in which I left this newspaper. I think in September.

Trump became president of the US because he was rewarded by the populist promise of protectionism. But “the world’s only superpower” is not so powerful anymore, neither economically nor politically, and risks to become the main weapon of an ideology of conflict, isolationist and racist. What is left of democratic arguments of the neo-liberal West?

Speaking of Trump’s victory and his localization, I’d recommend Marco Revelli’s book Populismo 2.0. But another problem is that in Europe too there are populist movements spreading everywhere, and they often don’t even have the same origin. This is happening in Eastern Europe in particular: Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, where it seems they are shaping up as whole “systems.”

It would be interesting if il manifesto observed their main goals and arguments; they are different from those of in the US.

Do you think it is possible to activate movements around new international class issues, starting from the 1989 analysis?

A long, shared international work on Europe’s economical evolution would be essential: as for Trump, there’s not much to say, and above all we lack common positions with those of the US Democratic Party. They’re really different from those of Europe.

In Italy there’s now a debate about the political subject matter, after the electoral slump and the weak results of leftist groups, like LeU (the Free and Equal Party) and Potere al Popolo (Power to the People). After 1989, the end of the PCI, of the reduction of politics to technocrats (reinforced by the latest declarations of the centrist Macron), and considering also Renzi’s now gone era of protagonism, what do you think about the ongoing discussion?

I think the discussion is inadequate. We should start from the fact that the electoral result was not unexpected but a logical consequence of the “liquidationist” positions of the PD and of the complete disappearance of socialist parties.

Macron’s statement in France is a simple adjustment to the choices of the majority in the European Union, especially the German CDU.

Where there are exploitation and suffering, there should be “revolt” or at least an attempt to build an alternative.

I don’t see any consistent trace of either in Italy: the most interesting positions are those of a union like Fiom [the Metallurgical Workers Federation], but a party has got a different duty and more politically radical.

And probably this would also require an analysis that has not been done about the so-called “real socialism.”

That would mean to do what Stalin forbid, a concrete balance of Leninism at the end of Lenin’s life, embedded in the theoretical attempts of conciliarism, that in Italy started to just after 1972.

In short, we can’t avoid starting with the profound grassroots work that has not been done in Italy in the last half-century.

The “Togliattian line” should also be examined deeply, but I remember that I was not so lucky trying to follow this path, not even in our newspaper.

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