Thursday, June 30, 2016

An Italian Communist Views Italian And American Politics

We caught this interesting post on the Marxism-Leninism Today blog. 

Alessio Arena is the General Secretary of Fronte Popolare, a Marxist-Leninist activist group centered in Milan and Turin. He is also the author of Où Vont Les Italiens? Entre Réactions et Résistances au Nouvel Autoritarisme (Éditions Delga, 2012) [Where are the Italians Going? Reactions and Resistance to the New Authoritarianism] He visited the United States for three weeks in June, during which MLToday did the following interview.

MLT: Why are you visiting the U.S.?

AA: This is my first trip outside Europe, and I decided to come to the U.S. basically for political reasons to learn more about the culture, society and politics of the country that is the center of imperialism. Though I have seen some tourist attractions, including the Brooklyn Bridge, the World Trade Center, Wall Street, Times Square, the Metropolitan Museum, and Greenwich Village, including the statue of Garibaldi in Washington Square Park, this was not my main interest.

Mainly, I have been interested in trying to understand the prospects for the rebirth of a Communist party and left movement in the United States. For this reason, I have met with many people including trade unionists, Bernie Sanders supporters, peace activists, an activist in the Free Mumia campaign, and various communists and Marxist-Leninists, including of course those involved with

MLT: Why is this important for you at this moment?

AA: Given recent developments like the coup in Brazil and the attempts to undermine the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela and Bolivia, that there is little hope for socialist and people’s movements in the world without a strong movement in the United States to restrain the hand of imperialism. Moreover, whatever positive happens with the left in the United States has a powerful impact on the left elsewhere in the world.

MLT: Tell us something about Fronte Popolare.

AA: Fronte Popolare is a militant organization inspired by Marxism-Leninism that was founded a year ago September by a split of the Young Communist Leagues in Milan and Turin (the most important industrial and financial centers of the country) from the Communist Party Refoundation. Its goal is to contribute to the reconstruction of the revolutionary thinking that corresponds to the needs and expectations of Italians today.

There were many things leading up to this split. I myself was a Communist militant in this party for eight years. In the end, because of our differences with the party over participation in popular struggles, we concluded that the party had become hopelessly revisionist.

Fronte Popolare is small but has a young and very active cadre. The average age is 25. It has organizations in Milan and Turin. It has activists in the trade unions and works closely with the USB, the 600,000 strong public sector union affiliated with the World Federation of Trade Unions, as well as with other unions known as CUB and COBAS, and the opposition within the CGIL, the mainstream trade union federation. We have supported strikes and factory sit-ins by workers. We also work with students in high schools and universities. We work with local collectives that defend public property against speculators who are attempting to privatize it. We also work with anti-fascist collectives that defend democratic rights and the constitution against the growing rightwing threat. We have a website and make regular video transmissions for a leftwing wing video site.

MLT: Does Fronte Populare consider itself a Marxist-Leninist party?

AA: No. We do not consider ourselves a political party. A party is not only a tool but also a formation that demands a certain level of organization and the development of internal functioning and external methods of work in the society. We consider ourselves a Marxist-Leninist activist organization that is laying the basis for a party.

It would be wrong for a small group as ours to call itself a party. A party signals the stage at which revolutionaries can in some way contest power. It is necessary for us to grow in numbers, gain experience, and establish greater roots in the working class. In other words, a party must be capable of posing at all levels of the society the problem of power. In Italy at this moment no one on the left can seriously claim to have attained this level. Fully aware of its own insufficiency, our organization nonetheless recognized that the time has come to assume its responsibilities and contribute to the gathering of forces necessary to reconstitute a revolutionary vanguard.

MLT: Could you tell us something of the history of Italian Communist Party, namely what led to the dissolution of the once great and powerful CPI in 1991?

AA: We consider the history of the PCI (Italian Communist Party) fundamental to our heritage and our identity. Obviously, it is difficult in a few lines to analyze the complex process of the ideological and political decline of the PCI. Of course, this is a complicated question and the fate of the CPI cannot be separated from the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, the dissolution of the CPI also had uniquely Italian causes. You might say that the history of the CPI was related to the application of Antonio Gramsci’s theory of hegemony.

That is, for 40 years the party worked very successfully to build Communist centers of power within Italian capitalism. It controlled the largest trade union. It had considerable influence in the universities and media. It controlled many cities and towns. And in the center of the country particularly around Bologna it built a very successful cooperative movement (la Ligue des Cooperatives) that ran factories, controlled construction, did food processing and so forth. Indeed, this cooperative movement was a major player in Italian capitalism. This strategy made a lot of sense during the Cold War, when the presence of U.S. imperialism in Italy, including military bases and troops, made an open struggle for power inconceivable.

Yet, this very success generated tremendous rightwing pressure within the party. Of course, there was resistance to this pressure. But in the end, these social democratic forces prevailed. It is up to Communists today to rethink the strengths and weaknesses of Gramsci’s ideas in light of this history and our new situation.

On top of this, there was the problem of external ideological pressure during the Cold War, the state repression of the workers’ movement over dozens of years and the infiltration and treason that harmed the party.

All such analysis is necessary to go forward but not to rebuild an experience that is definitely over. The slogan of refounding the Communist Party is valuable but not as a project of nostalgia and not with the revisionists and class collaborationists now in charge of the Communist Party Refoundation. For them refoundation is just a marketing ploy. For us it means pulling the important lessons from the past to build the future.

MLT: How do you regard the European Union?

AA: The Fronte Popolare participates in Eurostop, a platform of opposition to the EU that unites many forces in all countries. A valuable presence in this struggle is the union USB. In general we consider “Europeanism” incompatible with the international and patriotic perspective that we wish to build in Italy.

We think that the struggle for political power will happen by the reconquest of national sovereignty and by the formation of institutions capable of posing the question of popular power at a national level. It is for this reason that we are preparing to fight against the constitutional reform of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi by proposing the slogan of winning back the Constitution of 1948, because this was a constitution that represented the heritage of the Resistance and that aimed to radically transform our country.

The British decision to leave the EU opens up a good prospect for this fight. We will use Brexit to build a left way for an “Italexit” and an end to the E.U.

MLT: While you have been in the U.S., Italy has held municipal elections. What is your assessment of the outcome?

AA: This election represented perfectly the state of confusion and the absence of alternatives that typifies Italy today. The country has suffered the loss of 700,000 youth who have left the country seeking work abroad, a phenomenon that duplicates the Italian past. The unemployment and insecurity destroy the hopes and expectations of people and require retirees to use their savings to support their children who cannot make a life of their own. The corrupt politicians in the service of the bourgeoisie are seen by the population as part of the problem not a solution. And thus electoral participation is reduced. All options of the so-called left are simply ignored by the people because they lack credibility.

The sole exception is Naples, where the mayor, Luigi De Magistris, is an independent leftist who has built an interesting model of citizen participation, in the context where the only national parties that support him (PRC, PCdl and SEL) represent hardly 5 percent of the vote.In the main, the outcome was a catastrophic setback for the ruling PD Party of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. The PD won in Milan and Bologna but lost in Rome and Turin to the 5 Star Movement, in Trieste to the center-right, and in Naples to De Magistris. In general, the people know what they don’t want the politics of Renzi and patrons of the UE and NATO, but the only alternative is the 5 Star Movement.

The 5 Star Movement , however, is no real alternative. It began as an anti-corruption movement spurred by the popular comedian, Beppe Grillo, and funded by a web media entrepreneur, Gianroberto Casaleggio. Though it has acquired some populist trappings, it is in fact a dangerous movement based on the promises of social media and an illusory futuristic vision of a web-based democracy. It is a movement strongly backed by Goldman Sachs.In this context, Fronte Popolare works openly for class politics in cooperation with all sincere democrats while solidly affirming its Communist identity.

MLT: What is your assessment of the way forward for the American left today?
AA: Even though we seriously study the situation in the U.S. and know the situation of the American left quite well, it would presumptuous to give advice. Still, there are obvious similarities in the situation faced by Marxist-Leninists in our two countries.

We think, of course, that it is important to be clear on one’s own ideology, but with confidence in one’s ideology one can work with all kinds of people. The most important thing at this stage is to organize and participate in action of all kinds—strikes, demonstrations, festivals, memorials, meetings, and so forth. Only action, particularly struggle, brings people to the movement. Of course, it is difficult to organize actions when your numbers are small.

Therefore, it is necessary to look for allies with groups that are willing to undertake united action. In the future, such alliances might develop into deeper unity.This at any rate is our perspective. Next month in Milan, for example we are organizing a festival with food, music, political discussions, and international participation. It will include a day devoted to the Free Mumia campaign. This is a tremendous undertaking and expense for a small organization, but we must do things like this to grow and have an impact.

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