EUROPEAN AIRS: UNITY OF THE LEFT – Chimera or Reality?

Linked with Linked with Gaither Stewart – USA, with THE NEW CLASS AND THE WORKERS,  and with THE WEB OF PRECARIOUSNESS – Chi non lavora, non fa l’amore.

Published on Cyrano’s Journal Online, by Gaither Stewart, April 20, 2009.

(Rome-Paris) Four parties and movements of the quarrelsome and divided Italian Left have allied for the European parliamentary elections next June. That is good news. Communist Refoundation, Party of Italian Communists, Socialism 2000, and United Consumers have agreed to unify their meagre forces in order to surpass the 4% electoral barrier so that Communists, with their red flag with the hammer and sickle emblem, can again sit in the Assembly of the European Union.

For many years now such unity on the Italian Left has been painfully absent, its former voters, bewildered and confused, wandering from center-left to right, in an electoral diaspora. Running separately in national elections in 2006, the two parties using the name Communist garnered a total of 10% of the vote. In comparison to today’s numbers those were the good old days. For during the breakdown of Left unity, proletarians in the Rome periphery even voted for the neo-fascist National Alliance and workers in north Italy cast their votes for the rightwing Northern League. Communists now hope to win back their traditional Left vote that once – though today almost a political relic – counted one-third of the nation’s electorate …

… Opposition reactions to Berlusconi’s proposal of the party-speaker-vote in Parliament have been violent but limited in effect. “The confrontation in Parliament and dissenting votes are not just fastidious noises, as the Prime Minister believes,” an opposition spokesman said. “Our chief of government should play an institutional role, in defence of the Constitution and Parliament itself. His proposal has nothing to do with Parliamentary democracy. Our Prime Minister thinks he can govern alone, since, in reality, his ministers are only his emanation. Berlusconi’s authoritarian impulses re-emerge cyclically: his lack of a constitutional culture, his insuppressible dislike for democratic rules and his proprietary vision of the institutions—and that, despite his overwhelming parliamentary majority.”

Even the President of the Chamber of Deputies, Gianfranco Fini, Berlusconi’s major political partner and boss of the former neo-Fascist National Alliance which recently merged into Berlusconi’s party, said that Berlusconi’s proposal was impossible since it was unconstitutional and could never get the necessary two-thirds vote – another reason, by the way, why Berlusconi wants to scrap or change the Constitution.  Italian Communists sum up Berlusconi in their comparison of the Prime Minister with Mussolini: His proposal that only group leaders vote in Parliament means elimination of Parliament. After threatening Italy’s President Giorgio Napoletano (for defending the Constitution), after swamping the Chamber of Deputies with decrees so that the executive governs more and more by those decrees, now Berlusconi has launched an attack on Parliament itself, demanding in effect its closure. His goal is always the same: to cancel every space for democracy.

Again in France, last week the Paris leftwing daily, Liberation, revealed President Sarkozy’s embarrassing judgments of several chiefs of state during a lunch with French parliamentarians at Elysée Palace. According to the French President, Spanish chief of government Zapatero is  « perhaps not very intelligent (pas très intelligent), the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel remains « fixed in her own position », Italian Premier Berlusconi « has been reelected three times, » and Barack Obama is « a subtle spirit who has never headed a ministry in his life. »

Such Sarko-isms were quickly echoed in the international press, including The Guardian (U.K.) and The New York Times, which noted Sarkozy’s love for bragging and his mocking of his colleagues who run the world. The entire Spanish press, including the rightwing ABC, lashed out at Sarkozy for his « superiority complex. » The Paris government issued the usual denials, while the establishment press of France toed the line, preferring partial autocensorship rather than risk their access to the government.

By now the world knows of Sarkozy’s predilection for outlandish statements such as: « There are some very intelligent persons who are always good but yet they are the ones who never get elected. » French people are used to Sarkozy’s methods of tearing down other leaders in order to enhance his own image as the best on the field. But other Europeans and Americans consider his arrogance detestable. His is most certainly not a superiority complex, but rather the contrary:

on one hand, his efforts to be more French than the French themselves because of his Hungarian origins and on the other his inferiority complexes about his limited physical stature. The latter is an important link between him and Berlusconi. One reason he and Berlusconi like to meet in public and be photographed together on the steps of the Elysée Palace must be that neither has to stand on a higher step or a stool or huffle around in group photos so as not to stand next to a tall Scandinavian. They are both very small men, short, stunted … and ashamed of it. It is curious and often forgotten just how much physique has to do with the art of governing in the age where leaders are always on stage.

Maybe short men have to more arrogant than others, which of course hardly speaks well of the quality of political leaders. To return to the question of unity of the European Left and the future role of European Communists, I offer this last consideration: Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent reflux of West European Communist Parties, the question facing Communists – especially in Italy and France, Spain and Germany – has been and still is, What should they do after the disappearance of Communism from the world scene? Commit suicide, as one Italian Communist once commentated?

For at least the last fifteen years it has been claimed that ideologies are dead and that Left and Right are the same. The great rush toward the center of the political specturm would seem to confirm that claim. Yet, today, the reality is that the central social question of reducing inequalities without sacrificing social freedoms has become more critical than ever before. We all know that inequalities have never been greater, and social injustice more rampant. How this question is settled will always distinguish Left from Right. It would seem that the very first step must be pointed toward poltical unity of the Left. (full long text).

(Gaither Stewart is Senior Editor and European Correspondent with Cyrano’s Journal Online. His political analyses are read on hundreds of websites across the Internet, often translated into other languages. He’s based in Paris and Rome).

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