Opening Speech of Fausto Bertinotti

Autor: Fausto Bertinotti <(at)>, Téma: International, Vydáno dne: 29. 10. 2005

Speech at the 1st Congress of the Party of the European Left, Athens, October 2005

The Party of the European Left was set up a year ago. The year that has gone by is an important year. Carlo Levi, a famous Italian writer, in order to describe a very intense period, began a book of his as follows: “Long years have passed, years full of war and of what is called history”. Only one year has passed, sadly another year full of war. War continues to mark the world and life within it. It is a special form of war: the pre-emptive war of the Bush administration and it is one of the worst kinds of war we have ever known. At the same time, we have seen an increase in terrorism and the war-terrorism spiral that marks our time, a time that is also marked by disasters, and not only natural disasters, indeed, all too often these prove to be the result of a plundering and destructive development model. The tsunami and the New Orleans hurricane have shown us what type of development this really is. In New Orleans, as well as the destructive fury, we saw what levels the civilisation crisis of this world has reached. There is a historic need that is becoming ever more evident: the need to build an alternative society.

The movement of movements had sensed this very strongly and expressed it with the formula "another world is possible". A movement that continues on its way, a karstic way as we know now, a way that is highlighted by major appointments, that pierces through the visible surface, but continues to work in the depths. A movement that will soon have an appointment of extraordinary importance for us, for the world, for Europe, that is the Hong Kong appointment, where another one, and we hope, the definite failure of the WTO Round, after the ones in Seattle and Cancun could take place. There emerges therefore, a new historic need, a need for an alternative society and, within this historical need there emerges also the need for a Europe that plays a leading role in this task. Not the Europe we see today, another Europe. The famous motto “The king is dead, long live the king” is valid for Europe too. The Europe of the market is dead, buried by the vote of many peoples and many countries, now the birth of the Europe the world and its population need is possible. A Europe that plays a leading role in conquering world peace. Peace meant not only as lack of war, but as a new system of international, social, economic and cultural relations.

The French philosopher, Etienne Balibar, rightly said of this system: the Europe of translations, the Europe that is able to act as a bridge between the north and the south of the world, that is able to open its arms to the migrants of the world, to become a place where a different civilisation can be built. A civilisation that needs radical criticism, needs to challenge neoliberal policies, needs to build a new economic and social system. A Europe that bases its role in the world and its different economic and social system on democracy, a special form of democracy: participatory democracy, a democracy that is built on the constructive management of conflict, of social conflict, as well as conflicts that rely on critical thinking. The democracy as expressed by the participation of the people, organised from the bottom-up, thus building new chosen communities.

If we had not already created the Party of the European Left, we should certainly have to do so now. One year has gone by. We have travelled part of the way and along the way we have underscored the need for a new role for an alternative left, an alternative left in Europe for a another, different Europe in the world.

We have travelled part of the way and it is indeed worth stressing two major events in which we played an active part. Events that would not have come about without the concrete presence of the movement, the Social Forums, the movement for peace, the revival of social conflict in Europe. Events for which the credit goes mainly to the forces that generated them in the various countries.

The first of these events concerned mainly France, because of the importance of this country for the building of Europe, because of the vital experience gained from the referendum against the European constitutional treaty, later rejected also by the Netherlands. In France, not only did we see the attempt to build a Europe based on the treaties and on the primacy of the market disavowed, we also saw the birth of a popular left-wing Europeanism. We, as well as others, helped to shape it and this extraordinary experience is tantamount to a test that will be telling in the future.

In Germany, we saw the birth of the Linkspartei that was very successful in the elections. It is the first time since Bad Godesberg that in this country, which is the home of the largest social democracy in the world, we see the birth of a united, national left-wing movement, which is open to Europe and belongs to the European left, that is positioned left of the social democracy. The results of the elections are an encouragement to all our ventures.

What these two events represent is something of extreme importance: the end of the reformist monopoly over the European left. This monopoly developed during the historical moment of the collapse of the eastern European regimes on the one hand and the birth of the restoring capitalistic revolution called globalisation on the other. The end of this reformist monopoly is creating in fact a Europe with two left wings. The alternative left is taking shape in all our countries and for the very first time, it really can hope to achieve something concrete: to put an end to its days as a minority element and become a political force that is capable of truly influencing the economic, political, cultural and institutional social dynamics throughout Europe.

Our tasks are thus taking shape and becoming more obvious: to acquire a systematic, strong and persistent presence among the movements that exist in European society is the first task without which there is no future. The relation between these movements and the European Party of the Left is not only a fundamental element of this force. It is our future.

The second element has to do with our ability to utilise our presence to intervene in the crisis dictated by a lack of future prospects for social democracy, precisely when neoliberal policies have proved in many ways to be a resounding failure in all European countries. A crisis deeply involving also society in the former Eastern bloc countries, as the victory of an extremely populist right-wing force in Poland, where social democracy has been swept away.

Social democracy is facing difficult choices, the events in Germany have made this clear. In theory, the Spd had the possibility of creating a government open to the left, an alliance with the Linkspartei and the Greens. They chose the grosse Koalition, that is an alliance with their electoral opponents and the neoliberals, against whom they had pitted the entire electoral campaign. This result shows what degree of contradiction social democracy is capable of when it chooses to avoid a dialogue, even a critical dialogue with the alternative left.

The same issue was addressed by a man who certainly does not belong to the history of the French alternative left, Laurent Fabius, when he said that at the next congress the French socialists are going to have to choose between a line and a prospect that is liberal\socialist, liberal\democratic actually, and, as he put it, a strong anchorage to the left. And again it was Laurent Fabius who said that only a strong anchorage to the left can create a future for the left.

The European Party of the Left cannot expect to live simply as the critical expression of social democracy. It can and it must intervene in this political reality, but it can do so only if it has its own autonomous political project, based on a political culture critical towards the present capitalism, its own autonomous programme, its own autonomous relation with society and the movements.

In short, the European Party of the Left will become a main actor on the European scene only if it is able to develop fully the promises on which it was built. The movements are our great opportunity to establish a culture that wants to transform society.

The objective of establishing a new culture for the transformation of society and with it also an organised force able to become the lever of this transformation culture, emerges again very strongly in the form of a historical need to create a left-wing way-out from the labour movement crisis after the 20th Century defeat. This task can be performed today very effectively, but we must be aware of the difficulties involved, because it is connected to the reformism crisis, which in turn is both an opportunity and a risk.

The risk is that this too could open up a further gap, thereby separating the masses, large parts of the masses, from politics thus creating a divide between the upper and the lower echelons of society. This is indeed one of the characteristic features of politics in our time. Alongside the historic left–right divide and the political government–opposition divide, there is a new fracture that is developing between the upper and the lower echelons of society: the outcome of this fracture could be good, in other words it could trigger a powerful change process, which is what European society needs, or on the other hand, it could lead to a crisis of politics with the affirmation of populism.

Populism and liberalism are, in the west as well as in the east are the most dangerous answers to the crisis of politics. This is why we absolutely must look into and follow very carefully the movements, to judge their potential, critically assess their limitations and we must set ourselves the goal of contributing together with the other forces present in the movement to start up a process of unification, of socialisation of movements. A process of unification among the various movements that exist and are represented and are taking shape in all countries, because none of them taken singly, has the power to become a self-sufficient transformation phenomenon, but their web of relations, of connections can pave the way for the construction of a large reformation movement to then unify the experiences of the various countries, still too far apart from one another.

We can but lament the inadequate character of our European dimension and the European dimension of the existing movements and parties. On the other hand, it is possible to acquire this dimension, as is illustrated by certain struggles. Simply take the latest struggle, against the Bolkestein directive that produced European demonstrations and national demonstrations in various countries, however this experience should make us reflect again on the limitations of our action, of the movement, of the trade unions. We are being challenged on extremely slippery ground, because liberalism in crisis does not mechanistically mean the end of liberalism, on the contrary, if we do not create an alternative, it could lead to a dramatic drop in the living and working conditions of the people and even to an institutional crisis.

We are at this congress here in Athens also to stress how high the expectation of a relation on our part with the movement is. Indeed, the next ESF will take place in Athens and we will follow it with great interest. So, we must create this framework. We must recreate an overall political framework, not one that fences in movements but rather one that allows the movements to grow and to become inter-connected also by creating networks. This context can be created to a large extent by initiating a bottom-up process to build Europe.

The failure of the European constitution based on treaties and intergovernmental relations must prompt us to reopen a bottom-up constitutional process turning the European Parliament into the prime forum in which to open this debate, to re-open this debate. However, our contribution must be to combine the political action in parliament with the fundamental action in society. Even the debate on the European constitution is a debate that must be carefully interwoven with those fields of actions where we already exert our social and political efforts.

This is the backdrop against which we must be able to bring about, first of all, the growth of a new campaign against war, against terrorism, for peace, that will promote the withdrawal from Iraq of all troops of all European countries. This, along with the action that is already under way following the brave choices made by the Spanish government after the elections and the action of other European countries that have always refused to take part in this dramatic adventure of imperial war, will help us mark the construction of the first pillar of a Europe of peace, a Europe open to the Mediterranean and through the Mediterranean to the third world. This Mediterranean dimension is absolutely essential for us, it is the dimension of inter-ethnic dialogue, of inter-religious dialogue, of dialogue between civilizations. The Mediterranean can set itself against the idea of a war of civilizations and offer a basis and a foundation for peace and within this foundation it must be our constant task to contribute to peace in Palestine, to the construction of two states for two peoples, As well as we have to promote any effort to give back rights and hopes to the Sahrawi people and the Kurdish people. A European Left for peace in Europe, for a Europe open to relations with the world through the Mediterranean, first of all though political action.

This is why we suggest that one of the first undertakings of the European Left be to organise a meeting, a dialogue with the South American left. President Chavez, very much interested in our undertaking, to advance this proposal for an exchange of experience and promotion of a political reality, which, also in Latin America, could gather different political subjects and movements, which share the will to defeat neoliberalism and war. This undertaking is all the more important for us as it allows us to show the course of the European Left, at least symbolically. This course begins with its political presence in Europe, the main field of its action, but it always links the destiny of the European Left to that of all the lefts in the world. A Europe of peace, a Europe that finally departs from neoliberal policies.

The political and social struggles against the Bolkestein directive, the struggles of migrants for their rights have indicated some of these possibilities. The struggles of the workers who are fighting harder and harder against the attacks on their living and working conditions that neoliberal policies launch on workers all over Europe, teach us that we must use these struggles in order to obtain concrete results that will create the possibility not only of building policies that allow us to depart from neoliberal policies in the long run, but also of introducing contradictions immediately thus obtaining results that go in the opposite direction to the neoliberal policies, as it is already the case in some countries. What we must do now is intensify the fight, extend the scope of the struggle in order to defeat the inspiration that lay behind the Bolkestein directive once and for all.

We must organise the fight with native populations and migrants side by side to achieve at least some result for civilization, like shutting down the CPT (Temporary Detention Centre) in Lampedusa (Sicily), that has become a outrageous symbol of the practice of imprisoning migrants, whose only fault is, as illegal, to be on the search for a hope for their future. We must succeed in opening the Spain enquiry. The case of Ceuta and Melilla, so tragic as it is, should teach us that the right to life for migrant men and women is equal to ours. The upsetting tragedy occurred a couple of days ago proves how the Europe of jail bars is not compatible to the openness of our Europe, and that we cannot defend the European civilisation if the governments do not stop their barbarity against migrants.

We must undertake the task, the long-term task related to the labour conflict that is becoming once again an ever greater issue in all European countries. Labour is being attacked by a form of politics that has a tendency to present it as that which can define general social relations as a whole. This is why policies of delocalisation mean the creation of an instrument of aggression against collective agreements, the achievements of the workers, and their history of civilization. A fundamental instrument in the globalisation policy in response to which there is a deliberate non-reaction on the part of the states that evade their responsibilities, are totally absent or even become accomplices. On the more general plane, precariousness has become the general rule. Precariousness is today’s small-lot and single-unit processing of the Ford-Taylor cycle. In this capitalistic cycle, labour is systematically reduced to precariousness, through the organisation of the economy and the labour market, through new legislation, through new labour relations based precisely on flexibility and precariousness. Precariousness is not just the automatic result of the organisation of a capitalistic economy, it is also a strategic choice made by the dominating classes that have by now lost the ability to organise consensus on their positions in order to dismantle any possible social opposition to neoliberal policies.

The construction of a new alliance between the new workers of Europe and the traditional working classes is, I think, one of the strategic goal of the Party of the European Left. The construction of this new labour movement is what is needed to open a new season of rights and universal rights, not based exclusively on this new working class but on the indissoluble combination, which was sought, wanted and is practised, with other liberation forces, first of all women’s movements, for women are not simply an additional element in our policy, they are a key to reviewing our entire political and cultural structure.

This patriarchal capitalism presents the issue of liberation to us in new, very different terms if compared to past, it is a challenge we must be able to take up even in the face of more fundamentalist impulses that again stem from ecclesial religious phenomena and that are challenging once again secularism of the state and the rights of the individual, that are instead being presented with force as the new terrain by gays, lesbians, transsexuals whose request to be able to live their emotions and their sexuality freely expresses a new concept of citizenship, which, on a completely different plane, is what migrants seek. This opens the issue of new universal rights and urges Europe to become the homeland of these new universal rights. And these new universal rights will give body to the idea of a new public space. We must be the main actor of this goal.

A public space is needed also to intervene directly in order to modify the market and the economy. What is no longer possible is to build a social compromise, a dynamic social compromise through a compensation mechanism. Capitalists say: “Let the market do its part and then we will build the social state”. But the social state according the present government policies contains the dramatic consequences of the primacy of the market. To defend what is conceded is a wrong and impossible operation. It would be like taking water out of the sea with a spoon. In actual fact, the main challenge is precisely to succeed in achieving a real social protection. It is the economy that must be challenged, it is the ability to criticize the economy that must be rediscovered and one of the living elements of this criticism of the economy is embodied in the concrete experience of the defence and promotion of collective goods. Proof of this is the extraordinary experience of the world water contract, as well as many other local experiences. But from water to culture, what we see forcing their way through is repeated attempts to withdraw from the market goods we must consider collective goods, that belong to us all, that are the lever for a new construction of our future society, the lever for a living criticism of the gross domestic product paradigm and the start of a process that makes it possible to achieve the social and democratic compromise, a basis for the other Europe, the Europe of peace, the Europe free of neoliberal condemnation, the Europe of participatory democracy. This will become the main task of the Party of the European Left.

Dear comrades, during this past year our members and our influence on the European political scene have increased. We have been able to take advantage from our relations with our comrades at the parliamentary group GUE/NGL at the European Parliament, and to develop the largest ever institutional action against the neoliberal policies proposed by the European institutions.

We have established new relations and new alliances. This is why, by keeping going and strengthening this way, the Party European Left can aspire to become a main actor of the social and political struggle in Europe.

It’s really true what the slogan of our Athens congress says: Yes, we can change Europe!

I wish you and ourselves a successful congress!

Czech translation can be found HERE.