Review. For how long will the Italian Democratic Party postpone the reckoning with all the errors of its long history before it reaches a point of no return? Hasn’t it already reached that point?

The party that lost the people

In his interview with Andrea Bianchi, the political philosopher Mario Tronti, progenitor of Workerism, gave an account of his current outlook on the situation in Italy. His verdict makes up the title of his most recent work, Il popolo perduto. Per una critica della sinistra (“The Lost People: Towards a Critique of the Left,” ed. Nutrimenti, 2019): “the people” have been lost, meaning the have-nots, to whom the current upheaval of the political scene can be traced. Who has “lost” them? First and foremost, the Democratic Party, which Tronti has never abandoned, and in which he is still putting all his hopes.

However, he is an unsparing judge of its mistakes at every stage, although he also tries to absolve himself of all guilt for his own errors—indeed, the leitmotif of the book is Tronti reproachfully recalling the many warnings he has given out in recent years, but which went unheeded.

He isn’t fully forthcoming toward the reader, however, because for him, in the end, loyalty to the Democratic Party’s leadership always came first: that’s the only point which I find objectionable in this very dense text, because it is in the name of this principle that Tronti ended up imposing the line of thought of the majority in the Democratic Party on his own thoughts—and this is also what led the party to fall into error—or, at the very least, commit a sin of omission—in ’90 and ’91.

“It was, therefore, the ‘right error’ to make”—this is the book’s interpretation of those events. As always, the unity of the party seems to Tronti to be the main purpose of political militancy; even when he happened to have other ideas, he always chose to express them exclusively within the halls of the party.

That was also what he did when critical voices were condemned and cast out, like Pietro Ingrao and il manifesto—and Tronti takes care to never explicitly say to what extent he agrees or disagrees with these critical voices, whose absence (or silence) is now showing its negative effects on the party.

Throughout his book, Tronti repeatedly recalls the past of the “workers’ movement,” to which, however, he thinks it’s impossible to return.

In truth, this is a choice that is actually preventing him from proposing changes to the party line, and it is, in my opinion, a highly questionable one: what great benefit did the Democratic Party gain from the choice to break with that tradition? It didn’t forestall electoral losses, nor the shrinking of support, as Tronti seemed to hope.

In Tronti’s view, the party as such can never be wrong, and homogeneity is its first and main goal—a thesis that stands at least partly discredited after the recent years, as it didn’t allow the party any way to avert the consequences of its mistakes.

It follows that the unity of the party is not the only essential aspect, but also its “organizational structure,” as Tronti admits. However, one must note that, in this view, the party would have an effective safeguard so that it could correct course without becoming weakened, and—to state the obvious—this has not worked out in practice.

In fact, the party seems to be quite unsure of itself in its latest incarnation, from which all reference to “class” has been studiously removed—something which was still present, albeit weakly, in its previous platforms, and an element that the Democratic Party in the United States has remained centered around.

For how long will the party be able to postpone the reckoning with all the errors of its long history—starting with Stalinism, and the many others that followed—before it reaches a point of no return?

Hasn’t it already reached that point—indeed, some time ago—and hasn’t it gotten itself irretrievably lost? This is the question that cannot be avoided forever.

Tronti’s other proposals are good ones, but I would say they are late in coming, to say the least. It would have been necessary, I think, for the party to have spared itself the long Renzi period, so it would not enter the inevitable course correction in a weakened state. A political change of course is not just about the “what” and “how,” but, in my opinion, also crucially about the “when.”

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