Labor, schools, public health, rights, the environment, migrant reception, peace; the fight against precariousness, social injustice, the patriarchy – there was plenty of deep thought on these issues in Elly Schlein’s closing speech at the Ravenna Unity festival on Sunday. At the core, it was all about getting close to the people once again.
Schlein took the opportunity to sketch out the new form of her party and put forward its political line. She showed the way to a different direction, a different positioning; at the same time, however, she told the Ligurian Dems who left the PD because they no longer felt at home with a leadership they saw as too radical that they had been in the wrong place from the start.
These are the contradictions of a political force that has chosen to call itself “democratic,” pushing the word “left” into the far background. Within the party, since its establishment, that word has gone through all possible definitions, until it no longer had any color and meaning; that is, when the word itself didn’t make some downright uneasy.
This is the starting point for the PD secretary in her work of revamping the party, and while this may not be an impossible task, it is certainly a very difficult one. It’s not enough to adopt once again the watchwords of the left and, from the opposition benches, shout them loudly against the most right-wing government in the history of the Republic. In itself, this operation might appear to come at no cost – when in the opposition, one can invest virtually unlimited resources in this and set aside all issues of “compatibility” – but one must acknowledge that it does have a price and requires courage, in a party where it’s enough to want less investments in weapons or to question anti-worker laws to arouse dismay and disapproval from one’s colleagues. It all amounts to a half-hearted revolt, which will remain as such at least until the European elections.
This is why the secretary has a very difficult task ahead: because she must start again from the opposition, but first of all from the opposition against the “old” PD. A rally for public healthcare is a great thing, but where was the PD during the years when healthcare was being starved? For most of those years, it was in government. And where was it when military spending was increasing more and more? One can see a pattern here. And while the secretary has set out the repeal of the Bossi-Fini Law (setting up a harsh punitive regime against illegal migration – n.tr.) as a priority and is criticizing the memorandum with Tunisia, how many in the PD are still pining for former Interior Minister Marco Minniti?
One can go on: “Let’s not go back to the austerity that has done so much harm to Italy and Europe,” warned Schlein. But the PD is the party that did this more than any other, flaunting its supposed “responsibility” and lining up fully behind the rigorist dogma. How would Schlein put together her ideal budget bill if the Stability Pact isn’t softened: would she trying to force the fetters or, “responsibly,” stay within their limits? And while the criticism of right-wing tax reforms remains sacrosanct, will the PD continue to shy away from even uttering the dangerous word “capital”?
Faced with the internal minority that is waiting for the first opportunity to turn against her after the coming elections (European and local), the secretary needs a good dose of courage, not only not to retreat in the face of that wing of the party that already feels dispossessed, but also to go further than her own slogans, however useful and significant they may be. She needs to do more than that. We don’t exactly expect a leftist leader to have a non-committal reaction to the Caivano Decree [introducing harsher measures and sentences for minor delinquents] and take the line that it’s nothing more than a publicity move by the government. It’s all too clear that even when faced with a reactionary right that is lashing out against kids, this still triggers the usual reflex reaction of praising public security as such, which “is neither left or right” (no matter how much this is a loser at the polls).
And the list of party higher-ups who didn’t come to Schlein’s closing speech at the Unity Festival says it all. Even Schlein’s prominent supporters are sending a message. No matter how many local groups are set up, no matter how many new party cards are printed, no matter how much new energy can be brought in through education initiatives, it’s hard to change a party from the top, and isolated (or nearly so) to boot. Who’s going to join those groups, who’s going to come out of the city centers and really see the suffering out there? How many party higher-ups, leaders of currents, mid-level party officials and vote canvassers will do that? It’s not plausible to say that they’re all just “in the wrong place.” Perhaps the secretary’s main problem is, in the end, called the PD itself.