Our country’s present and its democratic future significantly depend on the political and social weight of progressive and leftist forces. In this historical phase, especially after the victory of the right-wingers in the September 25 elections, this weight counts for little, is hard to ascertain, and is affected by endless polemics that actually amount to a surrogate for bland political identities, particularly evident compared to a right-wing which has turned its own identity into the key to its rise to government.
The PD is the symbol of this tarnishing, of the deep disconnect between the name and the reality, because, after the blow suffered at the ballot box (more political than electoral), it is the party that has taken the strongest blow to its image, so much so that Secretary Letta has had to step aside in order to initiate a radical re-foundation through a constituent process, all in the direction of a new political force and a new secretariat.
Despite the importance of the challenge, the opening act we are witnessing is not particularly enthusing, given that, at the moment, almost everything seems to revolve around the figures running for secretary, instead of allowing a debate to take place on the contents, the program, the nature and positioning of the new PD. As if the constituent process actually recalled the movie The Leopard, a vain attempt to paper over the reality of a party that still has a considerable following but has reached the end of the line.
It is a party that is present but lifeless, because it is deeply divided, poisoned by power struggles, by the spirit of adhering to conflicting currents, by the destructive legacy of Renzism, itself only an epiphenomenon, the last outbreak of a long crisis.
But a novelty has just emerged before progressive public opinion. It could mark a rupture with the decade that, from 2011 to the present, transformed the PD into a governmental, centrist, neoliberal force, losing in the process a large part of that social democratic identity that had made it the strongest heir party of the historical left – an heir that wasted their inheritance, to the point of erasing the uncouth word “left” from its name as well.
Elly Schlein, with her candidacy, aims instead to revive this lost soul of the left, without, however, hiding the fact that her political background is not tied to post-communist history, being and declaring herself a “Democratic native.” And she does so by putting her own identity forward: a feminist, a lesbian, an environmentalist, a socialist (as her family history testifies).
She is a young woman free from old habits and open to other fellow travelers (at the Rome rally where she presented her candidacy, she addressed those present with the traditional and deeply meaningful “comrades”). In many ways, she is part of the family of other leaders of environmental and progressive forces across European democracies.
The issues she has highlighted as priorities would push the PD towards a forgotten political radicality, putting inequality, precariousness, the environment and social justice at the forefront, aiming at a different model of development that would abandon economic neoliberalism – and also abandon the most recent incarnation of the PD, entranced by the Draghi agenda (public spending without vision and without structural reforms). It would ultimately put front and center the challenge of creativity and inclusiveness that were already in evidence with her “Courageous” list, which ran in the last Emilia administrative elections.
It’s true that good intentions and words are simply that until they become reality. On the other hand, we all see the tall mountain we have to climb to stretch our own perspective. But the mere announcement of her candidacy has ignited a barrage against her, visible in newspapers, in TV debates, on social media.
Right-wing newspapers are using the weapons of derision (“Schlein is a nutcase”) or conspiracy (“Her godfathers are Prodi and Soros”). The mudslinging machine (calling her an “avid lesbian,” which is violent sexism) has been set in motion.
In the PD, she has to contend above all with the orphan children of Renzism, supporters of the other candidates for secretary, among whom the Bonaccini-Nardella tandem is the most prominent, both close heirs of the wrecker from Tuscany. The Tuscan-Emilian axis is invoking the “party of mayors” and lowering the bar for change in order to make it coincide with pragmatism: always necessary, but always insufficient to restore meaning to the utopia of an eco-socialist force of this day and age.
It is not difficult to imagine a strong reaction of rejection toward Schlein the outsider, who, however, was previously a PD member, only to leave after the conspiracy of the 101 against Prodi; then she was a MEP with a great voting record.
We, who are participants in the debate and not just observers, are interested in Elly Schlein’s candidacy because, if nothing else, it is a breath of fresh air for that long-buried, hidden and denied leftist political culture.
Many years ago, we titled a political survey “There is life on the left,” giving the floor to a large political-cultural community. With Schlein, we can say that there is still new life on the left. She probably won’t be able to win this battle for the PD secretariat, but bringing the left back into the spotlight is already an effort that deserves proper attention.