Commentary. Opposition forces should roll up their sleeves to build a credible alternative from the grassroots up. There’s no chance of that happening, though – the impulse actually prevailing is that of a self-referentiality that is as stubborn as it is nonsensical.

The Democrats, the Left, and the lessons of defeat

The (destructive) vocation of the democratic and leftist forces for self-defeat has strong roots, which go down deep into history, and are so abundantly nourished from them that they’re only becoming more and more sturdy and thriving. It’s almost impossible to uproot them; and they are strong enough to profoundly affect the development of the plant they’re nurturing. Especially when we’re going through turbulent, dramatic and complicated political seasons.

Let us look at what’s happening in the Democratic corner after the electoral drubbing at the recent local elections. Instead of trying to understand the causes, we’re witnessing the frantic search for a culprit on whom to shift the political responsibility for the blow. It’s not that there aren’t candidates for that, but just as certainly, it’s only through blatant ignorance or ill-concealed manipulativeness that anyone could place the blame for the defeat on one individual.

The most striking example is the aggressive campaign (both inside and outside the PD, including in the media) against Democratic Party secretary Elly Schlein, accused of ideological maximalism. Coming in second are the attacks on Giuseppe Conte, guilty of thinking only about his weakened leadership of the M5S, with electoral percentages that are getting farther and farther away from double digits. Less prominent are the criticisms of the leftist minorities, “guilty” of being too small more than anything else, while Azione and Italia Viva are playing by their own rules, and it’s becoming a hard sell to include them among the ranks of the opposition.

The fact remains that, as of today, we seem to be back at square one when it comes to the parties opposing the right wing that is governing the country with arrogance, ignorance, backwardness, ideological fury mixed with petty horse trading. It’s as if we were back in the days of triumphant Berlusconism, when the man from Arcore won elections, took all the power he could and then ruled with arrogance (and one should not forget the long Berlusconi government of 2001-2005). The difference from those times is that today there’s a woman at the helm, who likewise leads a party teeming with nostalgic fascists.

But precisely because there is a reactionary, conservative, fascistoid government, the opposition forces should roll up their sleeves to try to build a credible, plausible, lasting alternative from the grassroots up. There’s no chance of that happening, though – because, now as before, the impulse actually prevailing is that of a self-referentiality that is as stubborn as it is nonsensical.

Starting with the PD, which, riding the wave of Schlein’s election, seemed to be moving forward, buoyed by the polls, towards the proverbial bright future. It’s likely that the young secretary, reassured by the numbers, paid less attention to the search for common ground with other opposition forces, valuable in order to foster alliances. The case of Ancona, with the progressive side divided, is particularly striking, and shows the tenacious instinct for self-destruction in full swing. That is also the case in Brindisi, where in the end they managed to make alliances around one candidate, but so late in the game and without real content that they lost all the same.

Then, moving along the downward spiral of former electoral greatness, we find the Five Stars, still convinced that they could once again have sway in the eyes of Italian society. They are betting on some vague notion of momentum, but the times when they were able to give a voice to the social malaise, the widespread protests, the discontent present among traditional democratic organizations are now gone, over. And if Conte insists on focusing on himself alone, if he continues to demolish any notion of a “broad field,” it’s very likely that he will condemn himself to political marginality.

Other small leftist parties – apart from SI and the Greens, who have worked to accomplish a certain model of unity, sadly with less than spectacular results – remain ideologically convinced that they are the only ones who are right. Thus, although they’re well aware that they can only garner tiny electoral percentages, they present themselves before voters as the hardliners devoted to eternal defeat. In their view, it’s better to lose with one’s own ideas than to win with those of others. However, if this means you always lose, the defeat eventually becomes era-defining. This is where we are, on this side of the fence, and the landscape looks rather bleak.

Awareness of what’s happening at home doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to what’s happening elsewhere. Right-wingers are winning in spite of the virtuous social policies pursued by governments (as in Spain), or in spite of all attempts from the opposition to keep open a path towards progress (as in Greece). Same in Turkey, with the front of the opposition forces that played the game against Erdogan, and lost.

The advance of the right-wingers is an unmistakable sign of the orientation of a large part of European public opinion. It’s true that each country is going through its own particular set of circumstances, and it might be risky to try to find common elements. But all of them exist in an era of strong disorientation, insecurity, fear (of a third world war), and inability to glimpse a future other than disaster.

The ideas of the left aren’t very popular right now. Individualism is prevailing over collectivity, decisionism over participation, the strongman (or woman) over democratic values and symbols of solidarity. Rights are shrinking down to a defense of oneself and one’s core family and social ties, rather than being extended to others, towards diversity. This cultural, social, political soil cannot help but favor right-wingers, whoever they are.

In order to try to turn the tide, it would be necessary to focus on real goals, to prioritize areas of agreement. There’s the minimum wage (there’s a lot of talk about it, but then it takes a small force such as the People’s Union to take the initiative of setting up tables to collect signatures). There’s healthcare, where everyone agrees in the diagnosis of a progressive weakening of public healthcare, but only the CGIL union calls people to the squares for a national demonstration. Same on schools, on transportation, on the climate – the list could go on.

It’s not necessary to see eye to eye on everything to fight battles against the right, otherwise there would be just one opposition party. Nor is it enough to put electoral unity first, even if that’s something necessary (and the current electoral law, which we are unlikely to get rid of, demands coalitions), because we need to look beyond that, to really build the possibility of subverting the agenda and point the country towards a possible future that would be less oppressive and violent, more participatory, more democratic.

The “long march” we were talking about after the victory of the right on September 25 hasn’t even begun yet – but it’s looking at a goal that seems unreachable from the start.

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