Commentary. The problem with the PD is that it’s still overly permeated by old ideas: at every attempt at reform, there’s some old leader turning up his nose and threatening internal chaos.

Schlein’s PD is delivering the renunciation of Meloni that Italy needs

Giorgia Meloni and her so-called patriots are organizing a large convention in Rome on September 24 to pompously celebrate a year of supposed government successes. However, as everyone who looks objectively at Italy’s situation knows all too well, there’s really nothing to brag about. The drop in GDP in the second quarter, with a paltry 0.7% increase for 2023, and the latest unemployment figures confirmed what we can all plainly see: the country is going through great suffering and this government has not come up with any plan to improve things.

The economy is limping along, domestic demand is falling, and Italians are more and more impoverished and, worst of all, are left without any hope of being able to reverse this trend. With the known numbers, the budget law will not be able to improve living conditions. Quite the contrary: without the necessary investments, public health care is also at risk of collapse.

What about the opposition forces? Schlein is credited with resurrecting the PD in just six months after becoming its leader. In September 2022, after the party’s electoral suicide, going into the general elections without major allies in the name of supporting the nonexistent “Draghi agenda,” the Dems had reached the lowest point in their history. With a few left-wing watchwords, Schlein managed to get the bandwagon rolling again, and the reception the party is getting at Unity rallies shows that its new course, in spite of the many doomsayers, is not going badly at all.

The party’s relationship with potential allies, first of all M5S, is also slowly recovering, not on the basis of empty talk but on right initiatives: the minimum wage, the protection of public health care, the fight against precariousness. On the latter issue, the PD leader also floated the possibility of supporting a referendum by CGIL to restore Article 18, abolished by Renzi’s PD. The referendum is only a possibility at this point, no signatures are being collected, but already in (practically all) the neoliberal newspapers one can read indignant screeds about the PD reneging on its own policies and contradicting itself.

Perhaps not everyone is aware that this has always happened among the big progressive parties: with different times and different leaders, the view of society’s needs also changes, and the proposals to be put before the voters change accordingly. Schlein has always been against the Jobs Act; she left the PD during that period, so she has no problem saying that it was a big mistake, as Enrico Letta has already done. And she has no reason to shy away from pointing to the last three decades of “reformism” as the real reason that has driven the most disadvantaged away from the center-left parties. The optimistic and progressive reading of neoliberal globalization that was adopted back then was mistaken, and now that everyone can see this it would be absurd to remain beholden to those prescriptions. This is not just about the Jobs Act, but about all the choices made since the 1990s, including by the center-left, that have boosted precariousness by claiming it was good for the economy.

The problem with the PD is that it’s still overly permeated by these ideas: at every attempt at reform, there’s some old leader turning up his nose and threatening internal chaos. And there’s also the fact that Schlein, beyond using the right watchwords, hasn’t yet showcased a government agenda that would be an alternative both to Meloni and to the post-1989 center-left. This is far from an easy thing to achieve, but it’s a necessity.

It’s not enough to bring up Spain’s example to make a dent in the mountain of precariousness; nor is it enough to call for more public health care. What is needed is a notion of radical redistribution, which, starting from the tax lever, would take resources away from the predatory actors and evaders who have amassed wealth even in times of crisis in order to decisively boost welfare in favor of the most disadvantaged, and the no less than three generations under 50 who are eking out a living between low-quality jobs and mortgages guaranteed by their parents. The real risk Schlein is facing is not that of too much reformism, or turning into a branch of the CGIL, but of being pulled back in line by the economic and media powers that are pining for the old PD, which happily supported the Monti and Draghi governments.

It’s the same on the issue of the war: rearmament is a direct consequence of the European engagement in Ukraine. If a ceasefire isn’t reached, any talk of cutting military spending is just smoke and mirrors. After a year and a half, merely calling for “a more active role of Europe for a diplomatic solution” is an equally futile rhetorical exercise. War is already shaping our economies and weakening the welfare state. If even the Americans are beginning to send signals that the Kyiv war effort cannot go on indefinitely, it’s time for Italian progressives to change their watchwords as well.

There is no peace that will meet Zelensky’s demands 100 percent; one must get their hands dirty by negotiating with the Russian enemy as well. And if the government is starting to run out of steam, it’s time for the opposition to finally step out of its comfort zone.

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