Commentary. The reasons behind the “left by proxy” approach are understandable: reforming the PD from within is like swimming against the tide, not exactly a simple and natural task. However, the risks loom very large.

The danger of a left by proxy

Making someone your proxy is the unilateral legal transaction by which one person gives another person, called the proxy, the power to represent them in all legal acts, or only for a particular transaction or deed. In practice, by making someone your proxy you allow them to represent you before other people. From the legal domain, the term has entered the daily public discourse these days as a consequence of the invasion of Ukraine, called by some commentators a “proxy war” of the U.S. against Russia, in which Ukraine would be the proxy. Quite another “proxy war” is taking place today in Italy’s political landscape, this time confined to the national level and fortunately not involving any deaths, invasion or destruction.

This is a political proxy being conferred by the Democratic Party to some initiatives linked to it, in a relationship of autonomy and with a view to future coalitions. These initiatives define their message and their political content through “red-green” themes: equality, social and environmental justice, rights, welfare. Economic issues and social conflict remain more on the margins, if not excluded altogether. As of now, it’s a project without enemies, characterized by messaging that focuses on positive things to support.

This is the project of the “broad field,” which Sinistra Italiana is also eyeing with interest and which was also referenced by Enrico Letta at the Article One congress, in his exchange with Roberto Speranza: “If we put together the left that Italy and Europe need, we’ll be right there,” said the secretary of Article One. “My intention is to build a victorious left for the country,” replied the secretary of the PD.

Elly Schlei’s project is also moving in the same direction: the “common vision” founded on the union between social and climate justice, highly attentive to civil rights and gender issues. It’s an initiative that is receiving support and consensus across the board, from Alessandro Zan to the deputy Rossella Muroni, the MEP Pier Francesco Majorino, all the way to well-established figures such as Lazio regional councilor Marta Bonafoni, the spokeswoman of Green Italia, Annalisa Corrado, and Veneto regional councilor Elena Ostanel.

This “broad field” leverages what is already there and plays an active part in inventing, setting up and organizing new platforms and networks able to connect with new public figures, new parts of political cohorts and new kinds of content. The “Democratic Agoras” are going in the same direction, at least in terms of the selection of content to be brought “inside” the PD. The latter remains a party choked by internal third rails and cliques, which is trying to connect with the unmet left-wing demand across the country through the construction of a “left by proxy.”

The upcoming local elections in June will be a first test of this strategy, not only with respect to the electoral outcome, but above all regarding the stability of this experiment and its actual ability to create real new proposals. The main risk of a “broad field” operation – a move that has its own tactical intelligence – is the lack of a solid strategic perspective. Thus, it might end up reduced to a simple redistribution of a few constituencies, and it might get lost in bilateral and short-term collaborations, putting together content and words that “work” without giving shape to coherent and consistent political proposals.

The reasons behind the “left by proxy” approach are understandable: reforming the PD from within is like swimming against the tide, not exactly a simple and natural task. However, the risks we mentioned above loom very large. Above all, this is an operation that can be easily undermined by its potential supporters and that relies on a combination of the credibility of the people involved and the capacity for widespread mobilization. These are characteristics that the PD is showing less and less, as witnessed by the coalition primaries before the last local elections.

Most importantly, the construction of a “left by proxy” is limited to the attempt to connect to the demand for a left without questioning either the organization of the party, its model of recruitment and selection of the political class, or the mechanisms for the construction of its identity (“who are we?”) and political agenda (“where do we want to go?”). When it comes to the big, decisive questions – like the current war, for example – how can a “proxy” model work?

These are limitations that could be put in stark relief by a “left without proxy” approach, which would directly take on the burden of constructing a political offer that would focus on economic issues and the inequalities associated with them, without any taboos: tax justice, the minimum wage, public employment and welfare, the ecological transition. A plural coalition, yet one that wouldn’t delegate to others the radicalism necessary to address the difficult challenges of our time.

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