Archives. An in-depth reflection on the Italian center-left and the Democratic Party by Alberto Asor Rosa, published in il manifesto June 18, 2010.

The missing link: A handbook for a party that doesn’t exist

What now? Now it seems to me that things have gone exactly in the direction set out and predicted by the “plan.” I am not even talking about the “big tent government,” not for the most part at least. In that regard, I will limit myself to expressing the view, of a very general nature, that there is not, nor has there ever been, a government that is above parties: a government is always partisan, it is for someone and against someone else. The compelling nature of the “big tent government” – that inclination to profoundly change the system of representation in Italy, an inclination that, for example, was not and could not be represented by a “technocratic government” – results from the fact that a new and unprecedented articulation is being formed more and more clearly at the center, between government and parties, which is more visible and perceptible from an ideological and cultural point of view than it is strictly political, and which brings people from the center-left and people from the center-right steadfastly side by side, for the goal of proceeding for the long term (I emphasize: for the long term) towards this common direction. The “big tent government” could become, judging by what we’re hearing and seeing, the incubator, if not of a new political formation, of a common political culture, destined to determine the orientation of both formations in the future as well.

But the decisive point is whether and how the PD will be able to get out of the vise in which it has been caught, and in which it caught itself. I’ll say from the start that I do not agree with the dirges that some have quickly begun to sing, with great enthusiasm, around its supposed corpse. If the PD is lost, we will have to work, or someone else will have to work for decades for a new process to begin. So, as long as it isn’t lost, we need to make efforts to prevent it from becoming so.

Of course, having said that, the picture is bleak. The satisfactory result in the local elections only shows that, as the PD manages sometimes to hold its head above water in the tsunami of abstentionism, it still enjoys, in spite of everything, an electorate that is loyal to it, together with the center-left; which is also affected by abstentionism, but less so than others, sometimes much less so. But the striking fact is the exponential increase in abstentionism, the result of a crisis of mistrust in the whole system, so it would be vain to think of the center-left’s result in the administrative elections as the positive outcome of “big tent” politics. Instead, this result should be read precisely as a rejection of the “normalization” line that has been dominant in the past months. From here, a new reflection on the nature and fate of the PD, and consequently of the center-left (understood as the engine of the whole process), must start again – if it ever does.

For my part, I will list a number of points and paths that no one inside the party is talking about, and few outside of it; and I don’t fear that I might be refuted on this, in all possible senses.

1) I assume as a starting point that there must be a “party,” democratically organized, and not “fluid” in the M5S (or Berlusconi) mold. But: who does this party represent? What interests does it defend and protect (beyond or above the “national interest,” which has always been the eye-catching façade covering up some “particular interest”)?

How is it possible to not even attempt to answer this question? It hasn’t been answered for years, perhaps decades (a historical reconstruction should take us back to ‘89 or so). And nowadays, in times of crisis, the lack of such an answer tends to have dramatic consequences.

Anti-politics is not the result of a generic condemnation of political behavior generically understood: it is the result of the total absence of any correspondence between interests and representation. If this correspondence existed and was practiced with absolute clarity, deputies and senators could even increase their own salaries, and no one would find anything to complain about.

2) The absolute self-referentiality of this party as it is and of its internal discussions is tolerated more and more by its members. There’s not even a glance to what is outside the smoke-filled rooms of power. Italy is full of movements, committees, centers of action and workshops, criticism and proposals. Nothing even remotely resembling the extraordinarily lively exchanges of long ago: take, for example, Enrico Berlinguer and his mass consultation initiatives outside the party. Those were other times, you say? Yes, indeed, but where is the diversity today? Perhaps in the fact that the party has submissively adapted to the civilizational practice of spectacle and fiction? The battles waged over the public character of water, for common goods, for new forms of popular participation, all stop, ignored, at the threshold of the party machine. The osmosis process has disastrously broken down. Not exactly “Italy, a common good!” Empty buzzwords, unless they are filled with myriad particulars as their content.

3) What about labor? Is it possible that no one is noticing, and pointing out, that among the many Italian anomalies there is also the absence of a Socialist Party (except for a few remnants)? Now let us leave aside the old diatribe about labels, for the sake of brevity and clarity. But how is it possible that the renunciation of the label has led to this colossal renunciation of the representation of the social classes linked to production and labor, and more forced to bear the brunt of the crisis of the latter, which at this moment is the determining factor for the fate of Italy as a country?

If the PD doesn’t take up the task of that representation in a clear manner once again, it will not accomplish the transition that could ensure more than just stunted survival: a large-scale recovery in the social realm, and therefore (in my view) of the country as a whole.

4) Is there or is there not a “moral question” in this country? A “moral question” which affects individuals, organized groups and whole pieces of the system, and increasingly takes over institutions, politics, and even common sense?

There is a striking silence about this whole sphere of public action, which now carries water for the most unscrupulous operations. The answer to this question depends on an important, indeed decisive, part of being a political organization of one kind and not another. Can a party like the PD fail to unearth the “moral question” and make it into its banner?

5) The PD functions better, exists better, in the periphery than in the center. I am not thinking of the Tuscan “scouts”: I am thinking of the administrative choices, often out of the control of the party apparatuses, in cities like Milan, Genoa, Cagliari, now Rome, and with Rome the Lazio Region. Such methodologies to structure the party apparatus and choose candidates should be adopted at the national level as well. Am I talking about generalized primaries? Not only, and not so much: but the approval of choices, whenever a major one is made, within a framework of permanent transformation. A perpetually transformative party, not a fossilized one.

6) There is no new politics in Italy if there is no new Europe in Europe: everything I have said so far should be set against this background. So far, Europe is a set of constraints elaborated and managed by the Brussels oligarchy. Either we get out of this sphere, recovering different capacities and possibilities for development from the present day, or we must resign ourselves to a fourth or fifth-rate role, and future. Here we see a great example for how a particular interest (labor, participation, citizenship) is a condition, not a reminder or obstacle, for the general interest (the good of the country).

Now, the question with which to conclude this argument is: is it still necessary in the post-modern era to reflect on the general coordinates of political action or not? 

If the answer is no, then political action will be reduced, as it increasingly is, to gestures, improvisations, spectacle, banter, power play, raw primal screams, and, above all, to the personal and career interests one is defending: in which case we are no longer interested, we’ll gladly leave it to others, to all those whom Mithridates taught well.

If the answer is yes, however, we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work. In fact, putting all these things together (and others, of course) – democratic and participatory organizing, the defense of interests and the social world, the representation of labor, the outside-in osmosis, the center-periphery relationship, a new Europeanism – means building a “project.” Does the PD have such a “project”? No, it does not; or if it does, no one has noticed so far.

This “project” is the missing link, which is needed to hold together criticism and morality, political action and participation, consensus and dissent, concrete proposals and the far possible future. We will give our confidence to that leadership group that will show us this missing link in concrete form. If no one shows us the missing link, we will withhold our confidence.

From the il manifesto archive, article dated June 18, 2010.

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