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Italy: Accidental death of a government – a parliamentary farce

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The sudden death of Romano Prodi’s centre-left government, caused by left wing senators abstaining on a vote to endorse Italian support for the war in Afghanistan, and its just as rapid resurrection exposes the lack of principle not only of Rifondazione Comunista, but the Fourth International. Dave Stockton looks back at a remarkable week in politics.

On 2 March a vote of confidence in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Italian Parliament, brought an end to the crisis of Romano Prodi ‘s L’Unione government. This had erupted on 21 February when the coalition of assorted bourgeois and reformist workers parties, lost a key vote in the Senate, endorsing Italy’s support for the imperialist occupation of Afghanistan. Two senators, Franco Turigliatto and Ferdinando Rossi, both from left parties within the coalition, refused to vote for Prodi. The executive of Rifondazione immediately moved to expel Turigliatto from the party. He in his turn resigned his seat in the Senate, a move that cannot take immediate effect.

The premier, in a deft manoeuvre, which cruelly exposed the basic unseriousness of his opponents, quickly tendered his resignation to President Giorgio Napolitano who, after a few days constitutional play–acting, rejected it and invited him to go back to the Chamber and the Senate for a new vote of confidence.

On Wednesday 28, one week after the crisis began, the Senate passed a confidence vote by 162 votes to 157: Turigliatto and Rossi voting for Prodi this time On March 2 the lower house endorsed Prodi by a comfortable 342 to 253.

Prodi positively crowed with triumph. On Afghanistan – which 62 per cent of all Italians and 73 per cent of government supporters want all Italian troops withdrawn from – and the expansion of the US base in Vicenza, which last month 200,000 demonstrated against, he said:

“I stand by Italy’s choice to ally with the greatest supporters of the United Nations, to position itself at the heart of a Europe which is linked with the United States and to remain a faithful ally in the alliances we have joined.”

On the liberalisation and deregulation of the economy he clearly indicated his contempt for the trade unions and the rank and file members of the workers parties in his coalition.
“Opening the way for greater competition irritated some categories but we went ahead just the same. And we will make other extremely important decisions.”
He even boasted:

"Through deregulation we have begun to free up some historic interests, interests which were even legitimate and established but which were hindering Italy’s development.”
The premier also claims to have hog–tied his nine coalition allies into a “non–negotiable” 12–point programme. This commits them to supporting the government’s foreign policy, including the occupation and war in Afghanistan, to supporting the expansion of the US military base at Vicenza, the building of a high–speed rail connection (TAV) to France, and the “reform” of the Italian pension system. In short it enforces surrender on all the major issues the Italian left has been campaigning about in the last year or so.

The farce of Turigliatto and Rossi’s “bringing down” of Prodi, the former’s theatrical resignation of his Senate seat, then their vote of confidence in him, is worthy of Dario Fo – ironic since Fo’s wife is also a senator and has also been involved in the threats to “vote against Prodi”. Moreover Turigliatto is not only a member of Rifondazione Comunista, of its left wing faction Sinistra Critica (the Critical Left) but he is also a member of the Fourth International.

He explained his cowardly climbdown in an interview on 27 February.
“Tomorrow I will vote ‘yes’ but I am highly critical (of the government) and will retain total freedom when it comes to voting on individual measures.”

As for Rossi, a member of the Italian Communists’ Party (PDCI), the same pathetic excuses were trotted out, “On issues such as the war (in Afghanistan), I will only vote for the government if it holds a confidence vote… Otherwise, I reserve the right to dissent.”
It is clear therefore that such dissent is totally Platonic. It has no real consequence. In action these gentlemen allow Prodi to carry out his anti–working class and imperialist measures against the workers of Italy and the villagers of Afghanistan.

Sinistra Critica at its recent conference said of Rifondazione’s participation in Prodi’s government: “The balance sheet… is catastrophic.” Yet in action these “critics” actually support neoliberal actions at home and imperialist wars abroad. Oh yes in words they are opposed but words without the corresponding deeds are just hot air.

In Socialist Worker a correspondent from Italy refers to the situation thus:
“These are sad days because they signal the end of the left alternative which Rifondazione has represented over the last few years. But it’s also a time when we can lay the basis for an alternative left and real opposition to the right. This basis is Sinistra Critica”

But these have not been “sad” days. What sort of language is this for revolutionaries to use? It is not a sad thing to free oneself from unfounded and foolish illusions in the likes of Fausto Bertinotti. But the statement that Sinistra Critica is the new alternative shows the illusions in reformism, in parliamentarism, in participation in bourgeois governments have not been shed, have not even been seriously questioned.

This is the necessary and inevitable outcome of having tossed aside compass of revolutionary Marxism, the principles developed by Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky a century ago. Is it any wonder these people get lost in the thickets of bourgeois parliamentarism? They see their votes, their resignations and expulsions as high tragedy. No, comrades, they are low farce. Italian workers will have to look for a serious alternative somewhere else.